Although startlingly underrated on an international level, Daegu is famed across South Korea for its ancient Buddhist sites, European-style churches, one of the country’s finest city lakes and a reputation as the nation’s so-called coffee capital. But perhaps its biggest draw, domestically at least, is that Daegu is home to Yangnyeongsi, Korea’s oldest traditional medicine market. Dating back to 1658, you can find it right in the heart of the historical district where even today it deals with over half of the country’s herbal trade!
It’s also the place to come for a visit to Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Museum, where I got the chance to a) enjoy a fun, well-presented overview of Daegu’s medicinal history and b) dress up in costume and look like a complete idiot. Needless to say both boxes were emphatically ticked. I think Wonderboy was more than happy to be on the other side of the camera for this one.
Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Museum is spread out over two floors. The first hall presents the market’s early beginnings, through a series of dioramas and touch screens.
You’ll also get to meet the museum’s somewhat silly mascot. We never did find out his name, but he appears to be a walking teapot with a herb sticking out of the side of his head. Nice work if you can get it.
One of my favourite parts of the museum was the highly amusing cartoon about Yangnyeongsi’s very existence being threatened during the Japanese occupation. Any sense of intense drama is wonderfully undone by the cartoon’s plodding pace, clunky animation and a snarling, mustache-stroking bad guy whose unveiled plan to bulldoze through the market and construct a highway is swiftly followed by a cackling “ha ha ha ha ha!!!” that goes on for what feels like several weeks. From start to finish the entire production is brilliantly awful.
On the second floor there’s more of a general “this is how herbal medicine works” shtick, with a full rundown of all the major leaves and their different values.
I also learned that in traditional Korean medicine there are four so-called body types and that, based on my physical condition and eating habits, I’m a “Taeyang” type. Which apparently means I’m “sociable and ambitious”, should pile up on rice and buckwheat and probably lay off the peanuts, white flour and sesame oil. Hmm…
Elsewhere I was able to take my blood pressure for the first time in years and of course dress up in the aforementioned traditional costume before we found ourselves positively swarmed by a local school group.
Amid a hailstorm of chatter and flicked V signs, one boy kept repeating “hometown Daegu, hometown Daegu” over and over, while another told Wonderboy he looked like Jack Black. Eventually their frazzled looking teacher stepped in to drag them away. “You’re so handsome!!!!” cooed one girl, popping her head around the corner before promptly disappearing again. Only in Asia.
Our self-guided tour of Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Museum concluded with a walk through the small shop selling red ginseng tea, ginseng cookies and ginseng chocolate bars.
There’s also a herbal foot spa where you can soak your feet in… yes, you guessed it, more red ginseng. Having been on our feet for the whole day this seemed like an excellent idea, so we paid the required 5000KRW (£3.30/€3.80/$4.20) for a 20-minute soak. The perfect way to cap off a unique day in the Korean city of Daegu!
Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Museum is free to enter and open daily (except Mondays) from 09:00-18:00