After visiting Seoul twice in the last five years, I’ve never really given much thought to going to South Korea again, until the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) Singapore started championing the less visited (at least to the foreign traveller) areas in South Korea. For us, it was a trip of epiphanies because despite the left hand drive, we realised that South Korea is perfect for those of you who love road trips.
There are plenty of things to see along the coastal routes and the drives are relatively short – the longest we did was two and the half hours.
We started our road trip in the south on the second largest island in South Korea (behind Jeju Island), Geoje, followed by a whirl in the port city of Tongyeong – both of which have been dubbed by KTO as “The Naples of Korea”.
Unfortunately, the closest airport is in Busan but there are currently no direct flights there from Singapore. You can either fly into Seoul (Incheon International Airport) and take a domestic flight from Gimpo Airport or take a stopover flight with airlines like Thai Airways via Bangkok or China Airlines via Taipei.
Alternatively, a KTX train from Seoul to Busan takes slightly over two and the half hours.
62 buses run daily from Busan’s Sasang Intercity Bus Terminal to Geoje’s Gohyeon Intercity Bus Terminal via the Geogadaegyo Bridge, taking about 1 hour and 10 minutes one way. If you rent a car in Busan (the best option since the island is huge and it’s easier to get around), take the Chojeong IC – Garak IC – Seongbuk IC – Cheonseong IC – Gadeok Undersea Tunnel – Geogadaegyo Bridge.
Dubbing itself the “Blue City”, the beauty of Geoje stems from its endless, natural coasts lined with beach coves and pine forested cliffs. The two largest settlements are Okpo and Gohyeon and most of the tourist attractions lie between the two. Okpo’s coast saw one of the greatest military victories over Japan in the 16th century, where Korean armor-plated turtleships led by Admiral Yi Sun-Sin repelled Japanese invaders. These days, Geoje hosts both Samsung and DSME shipyards.
While Geoje has an inner city public bus service, the lack of signage makes it difficult for visitors to use it efficiently. Taxis are rarely seen out of their designated stands, so having a car at your disposal is the ideal scenario. Plus, the highway Daegeoje-ro loops the island and give access to almost every attraction. Spectacular views of the ocean and coastline are guaranteed.
See and Do in Geoje
Haegeumgang. Two rock islands in the Hallyeo Marine National Park, the highlight of Haegeumgang is the Shipjagul Cave in the centre. Meaning ‘cross’ in Korean, the 100mx180m cave is so named as it looks like a cross when viewed from the sky. Go on a tour to see the rock walls and insides of the cave up close. Take a ferry cruise from the southern ports like Dojangpo Whaf.
Oedo. Home to Oedo-Botania, the island is four kilometres from Geoje and is pretty much one big marine Western-styled botanical garden. April is the best time to go since all the flowers would be in full bloom! Ferries to Oedo are usually included as a stop with ferries to Haegeumgang.
Windy Hill. A grass-covered steep hill that features a Dutch-type windmill, Windy Hill sits on a peninsular that affords views of the sea and cliffs. Fans of K-dramas like Eve’s Garden (2003, SBS) and Merry-Go-Round (2004, MBC) will recognize it as a filming site. With tall grass in the background, this is definitely a photo-op.
Sinseondae Observatory. Close to Windy Hill, the observatory offers scenic views of the surrounding islands and fascinatingly-shaped rocks against the ocean. Be sure to walk down the stairway to the lookout point. Located on the coastal highway near a gas station.
Eating in Geoje
Seafood lovers will find Geoje a heaven, especially when it comes to sashimi restaurants. Sliced raw fish is considered by the city council to be a signature dish of the island. Another island specialty was something new to us – gejang (게장), raw crabs marinated in either soy sauce or a spicy chili pepper sauce.
The dish is served as a main in a traditional Korean setting, with the requisite side dishes, stew, and rice. While my guide slurps the crabs up happily, I found the taste to be rather acquired. Since the fresh crabs were marinated in robust sauces, the delicate sweetness and fleshiness I was thought to appreciate crab for was more of less absent. Still, the Korean delicacy is worth a try. It’s easy to find restaurants specialising in gejang; prices usually range from 10,000 – 15,000 won per person.
Located in the Goseong peninsular, Tongyeong is a charming city blessed with bountiful seafood (anchovies in particular) and a gentle climate. Temperatures rarely fall below 0°C in winter and above 30°C in summer.
If you’re driving, a bridge connects Geoje to Tongyeong on the mainland. Less than an hour’s drive, the bridge also passes through the Tongyeong Marine National Park, so it’s quite a pretty one.
Those looking to take public transport will find buses at Jangsungpo, Okpo, and Gohyeon going to Tongyeong.
See and Do in Tongyeong
Jangsado Sea Park. Also known as Camillia Island (camellia trees make up a lot of the island’s 100,000 trees and they bloom in winter), Jangsado Sea Park is just 400m in width and 1.9km in length. Other flora and fauna you can expect to see include fairy pitta birds and silver magnolia. It’s a 40-minute ferry ride from Tongyeong Excursion Ship Station (유람선터미널). Popular K-dramas My Love From the Star (SBS, 2014) and One Warm Word (SBS, 2013) also filmed at Jangsado Sea Park.
Admission fee is 8, 500 won while the ferry ride coasts 22,000 won. There are lesser ferries during the low season and during the weekdays, so it’s best to check the day before you go.
Dongpirang Mural Village. With no wall left uncovered, Dongpirang Mural Village started attracting visitors when the Tongyeong Agenda 21 association called for people throughout the East Asian nation to paint murals in 2007, and they answered. Not only is the quaint village good for photo-ops and your social media feed, the view overlooking Gangguan Port is worth the walk about too.
Tongyeong Jungang Market. With almost 400 years of history behind it, Tongyeong Jungang Market is a must-go before or after you visit the mural village. Located next to Gangguan Port, you’ll find fresh seafood, dried fish, mother-of-pearl inlaid wares, and restaurants dishing out local food. A great place for the sights and sounds of a traditional Korean market.
Eating in Tongyeong
A particularly tasty snack we tried was the notorious Tongyeong Honey Bread. These little deep fried balls are sticky sweet treats filled with the likes of red bean, sweet potato, green bean, citron (yucha), and chestnut, and then honey-glazed with sesame on the outside. There are a few stalls next to the entrance of the Tongyeong Jungang Market. It’s usually good for 10 days if you refrigerate it, so they might make good souvenirs. Usually priced at 1,000 won each.
While we didn’t get to try the other specialty of the city, the Chungmu Gimbap (seaweed rolls of plain rice with radish kimchi and spicy squid), we did have our fill of fresh seafood. There are restaurants along the coastal areas of Tongyeong that are situated right beside the farms from which they harvest the seafood they serve. For lunch, we had spicy seafood stew, fresh rock oysters, fried sea bass, loads of white fish sashimi, and mussel soup.
We wrapped up our day trip with dinner at a Korean barbeque restaurant. Specialising in ogyeopsal (five-layer pork belly), 15, 000 won per person scores you 220grams of meat per person and you also get the leaner cut of pork with the sinful, fatty cut. Served with two types of dipping sauce – anchovy and garlic -, lettuce, and steamed egg, it was an indulgent reprieve from all the seafood we’ve been imbibing so far. Pro tip: if you don’t drink beer, have Chilsung Cider (it’s non-alcoholic), Korea’s answer to Sprite. It’s helps to cut through the fat and you don’t even need dessert.
This post was made possible by Korea Tourism Organisation Singapore.
Top Image: Tongyeong Jungang Market