Island Hopping in South Korea: Floating Mountains & Distant Ships


This post is part of my Bucket List Challenge series. I’ll be completing all 15 things on my bucket list over the next year; join me in the adventure during my time as an EPIK teacher in South Korea!

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As soon as I felt the breeze in my hair, I knew I was where I was supposed to be in the world. The never-ending water with a backsplash of mountains, bridges mixing with nature, and sea breeze carrying seagulls behind and around our ferry… it all took my breath away. It was so beautiful that I made a photo essay with my favorite image from our trip. 

Just a week before, I saw a little sparkle on the Internet in the form of a Facebook invitation. It read, “Island Hopping Off the Beaten Path.” I clicked it, and my brain immediately turned to mush – all I could think about was the possibility of stars. Growing up on an island means that it gets pretty weird when you can’t see stars in the sky, and the Daegu lights are not exactly the perfect atmosphere for night specks.

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Can you believe this describes the west coast of Korea? I never imagined that I would find so much splendor, but here I am and I can’t seem to get enough. If you’re interested in taking trips throughout Korea, When in Korea (WinK) offers plenty of excursions that are a bit on the “road less traveled” side of tour buses for expats. They’re also very willing to accommodate for larger groups and overall offer a very relaxed atmosphere (sometimes a little too relaxed, but that’s a story for another day).

Getting there was fairly easy – our tour picked us up in Daegu, but if you’re fending for yourself look for a bus to take you to the Mokpo Port Passenger Terminal. Here you can jump on a ferry to a number of islands on the west. Visit the Korea Tourism website for more information, which will have details about ferries departing to and from other parts of South Korea, as well.

Day 1:

Depart at 11:45pm on Thursday night from Daegu en route to Gwangju to pick up a few new additions to the group. Board the ferry at 7am destined for Bigeumdo or Dochodo (it was actually a bit unclear what the islands name was). Experience an ethereal sunrise with ever broadening views as we sail into the horizon. I swear, this is exactly how it happened, and that’s why you have to go! We enjoyed the views and then took long naps on the floor, because Korean ferryboats have nap rooms with cushioned floors. Heaven on earth…

Bridge

Arrive at 9:30am where we had the entire beach to ourselves and were able to explore the smaller of the two islands off the shore.

Tip: It was definitely sweater weather, but I can imagine the sun bathing opportunities summer months would present; we were just a few weeks too late. I definitely recommend going in June, July or August.

Our tour leader, William, ordered fried chicken and beer for the group, and we enjoyed a freezing day on the beach with delicious food and good company; well worth it.

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I learned that Bigeum-do was named after Do, meaning island and greum derived from the Korean word for bird. Bi comes from biengi, which means fly. They named it because the island shape forms a bird. William showed us the “beak” and “wings” looking over green-yellow rice fields – and just as I looked up a hawk flew right over our heads and straight over the crops. I wasn’t quick enough to snag a picture, but it’s my favorite mental snapshot of this island.

We ended up stranded on Bigeumdo and Dochodo for the night because of a typhoon warning and found a nice place to sleep. Be warned – many hotels and pensions in South Korea offer mats on the floor instead of proper beds; we made do with 8 people in one room. We enjoyed a nice samgopsal dinner on the outdoor Korean BBQ, drank soju and played games until the wee hours of the morning. I even got to see a sky full of stars.

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 Day 2:

Depart Bigeumdo and Dochodo to Uido Island where my expectations were over-exceeded. We docked on this little, tiny space of earth – honestly, I almost missed it! I was half asleep when an Ajosshi (older man) waltzed into the nap room and started saying lots of words in Korean, waking us up. We scrambled to get our things together, but by the time we made it out to the front the ferry they were about to take off again. Two ajjumas kindly yelled and yelled louder when they realized we couldn’t understand, I’m assuming words to usher us off the boat. We made it, though! Close call.

It was a quick walk up a small hill to the pension house we stayed at that night. The floor was far less comfortable than our first hotel, but the view was amazing and the “Minbak lady,” as William called her, was kind as could be. We had a strange view of crop fields outside our window, but for some reason I found them absolutely fascinating. Look how the sun shines on the red dirt…

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Tip: There’s a lot to do on Uido Island if you’re interested in going:

  • Swimming on the sand beach
  • Taking a boat out to fish
  • Hiking
  • Two beaches to visit
  • Building a campfire
  • Camping on the beach

We only had time for one hike, which was spectacular. It was a bit tough to get to the top, not gunna lie and say I wasn’t dying (especially with the pounding head cold that took over me the Thursday before our arrival), but it’s doable. Take note that you will have to climb a rope, but it’s for a tiny hill and you don’t really need it for going up.

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That night the Minbak lady cooked us a beautiful seafood dinner, complete with fresh fish and crab stew. Her husband is the local fisherman of the island and she cooks whatever he caches that day, so you never know quite what to expect, but it’s always delicious!

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Later, we had a campfire by the water and drank a little more soju for good fortune.

My verdict of island hopping in South Korea was positive: It’s something you absolutely can’t miss, whether it’s on the coasts of Mokpo or any of the other beautiful locations on the peninsula. We had some mishaps on the way, which I’m so excited to tell you about because they’re quite hilarious, but overall we returned back to the everyday life of an EPIK teacher with a little more ease in our step and a significant weigh lifted off our shoulders. There’s nothing more relaxing than laying by the beach, no matter the weather.

It was refreshing to see such a scenic part of South Korea, and experience a part of this country I wasn’t quite expecting to find. If there’s one thing I can recommend to future expats in Korea it’s to get out of your comfort zone and see it’s beauty! Don’t stick to the booze buses departing for festivals every five days (although those can be lots of fun, too!). Next time, choose the invitation stating, “Off The Beaten Path.”

GroupOnFloor Stay tuned for a photo essay of our trip, including all the spectacular views from island hopping.

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Have you ever been on a vacation that offered unexpected results? I wanna know about them! The good, the better and the hilarious.

Previous 5 Ways to Make New Friends in South Korea
Next The South Korean Peninsula: Photo & Video Essay

17 Comments

  1. October 14, 2014
    Reply

    I’ve really been itching to island hop, and your post has definitely convinced me to do it (if I wasn’t already convinced before!) I like that you honestly describe the difficulty of the hike you went on… I think that’s something a lot of people want to know about, especially if they have any physical ailments and find themselves in the middle of a mountain with no way up! Great post.

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      haha yeah it was definitely a touch one! If I made it, though, anyone can.

  2. October 14, 2014
    Reply

    This looks like a great trip. I’ve already been in Korea 18 months and there is still just so much to see! Shame it was so cold though, I think I’d also enjoy this trip much more with a little more sunbathing and leaving my sweaters at home!

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Taylor,
      It’s such a diverse country that there is almost too much to see! I’m trying to hit all the main, important places, thoug.

  3. October 15, 2014
    Reply

    Wow, this trip sounds awesome! I got burned out on a lot of the big ‘party-bus’ events, this sounds more up my alley–something chill and amazing. I really like that picture of the stars! I’ve tried to get some good pictures of the night sky here in Tajikistan, but haven’t had much luck. Any tips?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Nathan,

      I’m still practicing night photography myself, but my biggest tip would be to purchase a shutter release cable. Use it to play around with your shutter speeds, and of course, always use a tripod. With this particular shot, I didn’t use a shutter release, I just set my shutter speed to the slowest possible setting (30″ or “30 for my camera – I forget what it looks like), and then I put it on a 2 second timer to avoid movement. It worked ok, but this shot would have been 10X better with a shutter release! 🙂

  4. October 16, 2014
    Reply

    It was good to read about something I love to do here. Island hopping is perfect and this country has so many islands to see. I’ve heard and seen about great things on Bigeum-do and happy that you shared that. There’s something special about being on a boat, no matter where you are. Very fun read here. Great post!

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks Duke, and thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  5. October 16, 2014
    Reply

    This island seems like a great place to visit just for that amazing night view. It probably wasn’t such a bad thing that the typhoon left you stranded..the view in my opinion totally makes up for it! There are so many islands around Korea but I have only been to Jeju-do. I hope somewhere in the future I can see visit an island here with a view like that!

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Rafiqua,

      You definitely should! I haven’t been to Jeju yet, but it’s on my list of “must-see” places before I leave Korea.

  6. October 17, 2014
    Reply

    I had never heard of Wink, will have to check it out. When I first got to Korea I tried Adventure Korea which was ok. My favorite part of the hopping was definitely those night photos with the stars! Just beautiful

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Scott! 🙂 They were a good group to go to, but I’ll be posting a bit about the downside of the trip this week. There were definitely some bumps in the road.

  7. October 20, 2014
    Reply

    I am probably so close to these islands that I should make every effort to do this. That shot of the night sky is enough to convince me to just go~

    Thanks for sharing~

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      Nailah, you definitely should! It’s a bit too cold now, in my opinion, but the hikes are beautiful and it’s definitely a perfect recipe for a very relaxing weekend :).

  8. October 20, 2014
    Reply

    This sounds like a great way to spend the weekend! I will have to add this to my ever
    growing ‘things to do list’…Thanks for including the links and travel info. There are so many amazing places to explore in South Korea, it will be a challenge to fit it all in over the next couple of years!.

    • October 20, 2014
      Reply

      All challenges are meant to be conquered, right!? We can do it!! 🙂

  9. […] or Jeju Island. I decided that I wanted to do something a little different, so I booked a trip to Island Hop from the coasts of Mokpo off the South West of the […]

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