Many people who visit Korea only get to the big cities such as Seoul, Daegu, or Busan; however, there is so much more to see and enjoy. One delightful trip the wife and I took was to some of the islands (called Do in Korean) in the Yellow Sea or West Sea (Seo Hae in Korean). It turned out to be quit a nice adventure.
Our primary objective was the island of Hong Do (Red Island). Hong Do is located of off the east coast of Korea near the port city of Mokpo. Mokpo is located just south of Kunsan and is easily accessible by bus or rail from Seoul.
We decided to take the KTX express train from Seoul out of Yongsan station. It only took a few hours to get to Mokpo station. From the train station we took a short taxi ride to the Mokpo passenger marine terminal where we were ticketed on a high speed catamaran headed for Hong Do.
Now here is a word of warning. Hong Do is often hard to reach depending on sea conditions. Many people have tried to get to get there and have failed. Prolonged periods of bad weather are possible depending on the time of year and you may get there and have trouble getting back. So this must be taken into account when planning your trip.
We did our trip in late spring. The catamaran was big and modern. The sea state had meter high waves. The voyage took over an hour and we were bounced around a lot. Many folks experience motion sickness and I felt a little woozy. Still, once you arrived at the pier and got the cool fresh sea air you immediate felt better.
Hong Do was a nice secluded place. Its economy is heavily dependent on fishing and tourism. Most of the businesses there on locally owned and run and definitely not what you would experience in Seoul.
We checked it to a small hotel that was in the old Korean style. It was a small room with a bathroom, a floor mat or Yo to sleep on with so quilts. We found it very cozy. After looking at a beautiful sunset over the Yellow Sea, we returned to the main village.
That night we set out to explore the small village near the pier and hotel. On the pier divers were getting fresh seafood and would cut it up for you right there. My wife loved the freshly retrieved sea urchins. Elsewhere on the island were small bars, dance clubs, and karaoke (no rae bang in Korean). All of these seemed to be very basic establishments that catered to the Korean clientele. After a night on the town we had a great nights rest.
The next day we continued to explore the islands. The beaches were small but not sandy. Instead they were made of millions of small rounds stones. Warning signs said not to take the stones with you; however, it’s hard to see how this would make any difference.
The island is small with few vehicles and you could get around easily on foot. There were nice paths to the small parks and sites on the island. The restaurants’ served basically fish and rice with a few sides. This proved to be true for pretty much breakfast lunch and dinner. The food was good but was not especially filling. After a day on the island it we enjoyed another sunset and night at our cozy hotel. In the morning it was time to go.
The next day we took a smaller and slower ferry boat to the Hooksan Do (Black Mountain Island). We said goodbye to Hong Do and spend several hours enroute to our next destination.
Hooksan Do was larger than Hong Do with more motor vehicles and closer to Mokopo. It had a nice water front with bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. Again the meals were more fish and rice.
Then it was another ferry ride to Bigeum Do Island. This was an even larger island and closer to Mokpo. During the boat ride we were treated to some beautiful scenery of all the small coastal islands in the area. Here we overnighted in another Korean style hotel that was more modern but not a cozy as the one we stayed in Hong Do.
The next day we took a tour of the island to include the famous heart bay. This is a bay shaped like a heart and the island has viewing stands built so you can have your picture taken with a beautiful view of the heart shaped bay in the background. The wife and I still have ours on the wall of the house somewhere. We ate more meals of fish and rice at mom and pop restaurants.
The next day we planned to return to Mokpo. We had passage booked on a car ferry going between Bigeoumdo and Mokpo. We went up to the open passenger deck for the slow trip back. The large size of the ferry combined with the route in between many islands to mitigate the effects of the sea made for a much smoother ride. You were able to lie down on the passenger deck and get a few hours’ sleep before the vessel returned to Mokpo.
Upon arrival at Mokpo I made an immediate trip to get a hamburger. Four days on fish and rice was enough for me. After a great burger, we went back to the train station to take the KTX back to Seoul.
Overall it was a great trip. The islands were beautiful and showed you a part of Korea most people including Koreans don’t get to see. It was a nice getaway. Accommodations on Hong Do as well as the boat trips out to the islands are limited so it is recommend you consult a travel professional before you leave Seoul or other major city. This could save you a lot of time. Still, many of the small islands off the coast of Korea are known for their rugged beauty and are definitely worth a look.
By William Harlow, Pictures provided by Sinan-gun