*** Brad's Note ***
This post reminds me why I don't post on my blog very often...brevity isn't always my strongest suit. If by some chance, you're interested in going to Ulleungdo, first off, go! Second, here are a few tips that may be helpful:
- The only way to get there is by ferry. At the time of this writing, three cities offer ferries: Gangneung, Mukho, and Pohang. Make sure you arrive at the terminal at least an hour before, as check-in closes about 30 minutes prior to departure. More info here.
- Bring seasickness medicine (멀미약). I've heard that capsule form is better.
- Since Ulleungdo takes some effort to get to, there aren't a lot of English speaking facilities, so your Korean skills will be put to the test. If your Korean isn't up to scrap, don't let it keep you from going. With a good Korean friend, a translation app, or the right mix of gestures, you'll be fine.
- It's best to secure lodging well before your trip. You may want the help of a Korean speaker here, as many of the lodging providers I found could only be reached by phone...Air BnB, Couchsurfing, and Agoda yielded few (if any) results. Here's the page I used to find a place to stay.
- Local food is pricey, anywhere between 10k won to 15k won. I depended quite a bit on convenience store food just to save money, but I also had my fill of squid. Which reminds me, if you're not a seafood person, your options are a bit more limited. Available (especially in Dodong), but limited.
- The temperature was steady and cool on the coast in late April/early May, but the more inland I got, the warmer it got. Wearing layers is a good idea.
*** End Note ***
In early April, I was reminded that I had a week off later in the month. Though it may have been wiser to stick close to home since it was going to be a busy week, and though I figured I'd done enough solo trips to keep my cup filled for a bit, I wanted to get out of Dodge regardless.
After thinking about a few options, I decided to go to Ulleungdo.
- Be born there.
- Take a ferry there.
It was a bit late for me to choose option 1, so I went with my only other option. Coming from Seoul, I had to get myself to the coast to take a ferry. Since there was a direct KTX train to the port city of Pohang, I decided to go that route. It would be a 2.5 hour train ride to Pohang followed by a 3.5 hour ferry ride to Jeodong, a small port town in Ulleungdo.
It was simple enough.
Or WAS IT?!?!
Nope. The ferry company called me the day before departure to let me know that they bumped the ferry trip up a few hours so that it would leave at 4pm instead of 6pm. The problem here was that my train was set to arrive at 3:30pm, and by then the ferry terminal (a 10 minute or so taxi ride from the train station) would have stopped the check in process. The only thing I could do was get an earlier train. And I did.
Thanks to some dear friends who let me stay at their place (who will be leaving Korea in a few short weeks and are really gonna be missed but more on that another time), I was able to make it the the train station and get to Pohang without incident.
I soon learned that Pohang was a nice little place.
After roaming around the beach, going to a jjimjilbang (Korean spa) to clean up a bit, and grabbing some food, I made my way to the terminal, took some nausea medicine (thanks Gloria!), and boarded the ship.
Please note that the following statement was applicable to me and may have been written differently if the seas or skies were upset: I had a fine ferry ride over to Ulleungdo.
|Bed. I stayed at Dokdo Guesthouse. It felt like I went back in time a bit, especially since the indoor common area had ashtrays full of used cigarettes. But hey, I got my own bathroom and the location was pretty great.|
It was also windy.
Matter of fact, it was so windy that the coastal sea walk was closed. After puttering around town for a bit, I decided I may as well go on a hike.
|Daewonsa Temple. This was a short detour on the hike, and it was nice to see it all decked out for Buddha's birthday.|
|Ulleungdo is a pretty small volcanic island, so it's no surprise that any hike on it will have some epic incline. That said, this concrete ramp was probably the most challenging part of the hike...to my memory.|
|In spite of the haze, it was a nice hike up.|
|Made it to Seonginbong (984 meters) without much difficulty. Definitely a good idea to bring layers. It was hot in the forest, then windy and chilly at the peak.|
I could have gone down the way I came (aka a familiar trail), but that's no fun. I went down a different way instead. Sure glad I did.
|Naribunji, a large, flat caldera basin. What's inside? Let's look.|
|This little foot soaking area where you can meet fellow hikers.|
|Sanchae bibimbap (mountain vegetable mixed rice).|
|This old house that a family lived in.|
The trail led me to a small village called Chusan at the north of the island.
Arriving at the coast was a pretty surreal experience, particularly for Korea. There was hardly anyone around (minus a police car and another vehicle or two).
The downside of this is that the buses don't come very often, and when one did finally come, they told me that I was waiting on the wrong side of the road. I waited for an hour and a half before the bus came. But this was my view, so I can't really complain that much.
The bus came and I gazed out the window as we drove around most of the island. The roads were pretty windy and the bus driver was going pretty fast (this presumably wasn't his first trip), but the scenery was so dramatic that I didn't mind the jostling.
Finally, we arrived back at Dodong just in time for this dusky shot.
Note: If you come to Korea looking for a hip nightlife scene, maybe go anywhere else but Ulleungdo. That's not to say that Ulleungdo doesn't have anything for night owls (I saw one noraebang and heard about a PC bang, woot woot), but it wasn't really my goal to hit the town and the options would have been limited even if I wanted to. That said, there's a cafe that I frequented. I found out about said cafe from a stranger-turned-friend named Eunmi back in Pohang. She told me that her mom ran the place. I stopped by and enjoyed a choco-banana smoothie. And the cafe itself.
You may think that after being in Korea for over three years that I'd be a bit more accustomed to sleeping on the floor. You would be wrong. Maybe you wouldn't have made that assumption at all. Anyway, I was up with the sun and excited to explore again.
I had a short moment of dismay when I saw that the sea walk was still closed, but for some reason, I decided to wait. Glad I did, because a man with a neon jacket, a pair of rubber boots, and some keys opened up the gate. I was off.
There was a trail that branched off and went to a lighthouse. Heck, I wasn't on any schedule, so I went. Glad I did.
Throw in a light breeze and perfect temperature and you've got yourself a good memory.
After soaking it all in for a bit, I was excited to continue the trip...until I found out that a bridge had collapsed.
Thankfully, there was another path to Jeodong (my destination). I found out that it was steeper, hotter, and more bug-filled than I anticipated, but it was there. After a bit of slow progress on the way down, I finally arrived.
|Not included: The beagle behind me raising Cain at my presence.|
Then I thought, "you know what, I'll go to Dokdo."
If you don't live in Korea or have a knowledge about Korean international land disputes, you'd be forgiven for not knowing about Dokdo. Dokdo is a grouping of small islands/large rocks that belong to Korea, according to Korea. Japan claims the islands as Takeshima. Understanding that I am sitting in Korea while writing this, I have to say that it seems like Korea has more evidence on their side.
And they take this claim seriously.
|This sign is in Pohang (mainland Korea).|
|Start 'em off young.|
|Model of Dokdo located in Ulleungdo|
|At the Dokdo Museum|
|Ticket from Ulleungdo to Dokdo|
|This trip was my first (and most likely last) time trying pumpkin jelly.|
|Behold Dokdo, comprised of Seodo (West Island) and Dongdo (East Island). Seodo has a house where a fisherman's family lives. Dongdo has a small security station. Korean flags abound.|
After an eventful trip back, I made my way back to Dodong and hiked up to the cable car. I say hike because Ulleungdo is pretty rich in elevation gains/losses and fairly poor in flat land.
|Dodong from above|
'Twas a full, awesome day. After dinner, I got another choco banana shake, soaked in a Korean bathhouse where I met a strange university professor who wanted to compare the size of his calf with mine...why, and hit the hay again.
Next morning, a new friend (not the previously mentioned strange professor, thank goodness) and I went on a boat tour around the island. I took a load of pictures but I'll try to have some discretion here.
|Gwaneumdo connected by bridge to Ulleungdo|
|Back to port|
After that, I took a really crowded bus to a little hamlet called Cheonpu where I transferred to Gwaneumdo (mentioned above).
What's that? More pictures? Sure thing.
|Underwater observatory in Cheonpu|
|A slug that I observed in said observatory|
|Gwaneumd'oh my gosh what a bridge!|
|Jukdo in the distance|
Eunmi, the daughter of the cafe owner, had this place has her top recommendation. It took some time to get to and from there, but it was even more peaceful (if possible) than most of Ulleungdo and I'm glad I went.
The last morning was pretty easy. I went to the Dokdo Museum and learned quite a bit about Dokdo. All the pictures I took at the museum were of descriptions. I figure this entry has enough words for now, so I'll spare you the pictures of words. But I will post these pics, like it or not.
|Hope you like seafood. If not, perhaps some Gorgonzola pizza?|
|It's not Ulleungdo without the mascots. Pictured here is Ojingeo (squid) Man.|
|And don't you forget Hobak (pumpkin) Wonder.|
|Mascot in training|
Basically, I had a chill morning otherwise as I made my way to the ferry terminal and prepared to board. I was a bit nervous at this point, because I had a few friends who visited Ulleungdo long before I had. On their return trip, everyone on the ship (save 2 people) were seriously nauseous if not vomiting. I took my seasickness medicine (thanks again, Gloria!) and hoped it would be a smooth trip.
After a (thankfully) uneventful trip, I arrived in Pohang.
The timing worked out well. I got to catch the sunset as I was leaving the KTX station...
...then someone called and the video stopped. Them's the breaks.
People. If you got all the way here, I am amazed at your dedication. Or maybe it's a long day at work? I'll go with the former.
I can't finish this without mentioning the people I met who made it amazing. Here are pictures of a few of them.
|On the bus to Gwaneumdo, this guy started talking. His English name is Andrew, he lived in New Hampshire for a bit, and he's a drone fanatic. He showed me a few videos he took in Ulluengdo and they are legit.|
Basically, the good weather, the awesome scenery, the (mostly) friendly seas, and the great people I met made this one of the best trips I've gone on in a while. Go if you can. Just steer clear of the pumpkin jelly.