This last weekend, I did one of the few remaining things on my ‘before I leave Korea’ list. Korea is a country with many islands. 3,579 to be exact. Of these, Jejudo is the largest and most famous. Known to some as ‘the Hawaii of Korea’, it is the number one destination for honeymooners and vacationers in Korea. I didn’t go there. I went to the second largest island known as Ulleungdo. Smaller, less touristy, and a heckuva lot closer to Pohang; it was a much more appealing option for me. And let me tell ya… it was AMAZING. If I had to describe the island… it would be like this: Take the geographical traits of Hawaii, the city-planning of the Cinque Terre, and the stamp of Korean culture and lock them in a room until they have babies. That baby would be Ulleungdo.
To give you an idea of how popular these places are, I tried to reserve a ticket over a month ago and was told the ferry departing from Pohang was booked. More than a little bummed, I resolved to show up anyway and try and buy a ticket without a reservation. Luckily, a friend gave up her ticket to attend a beach party, so I scored a reservation. After talking to people, it seems the Pohang ferry is the busiest… the other port is in Mokho. Just for reference.
Anyways, I got on the boat. Awesome. It was myself and a ragtag assortment of friends against a horde of Koreans as we secured our tickets and boarded the boat. I lucked out with my seat and landed one on the third deck. Instead of lounging in a stiff seat with no capacity for adjustments and limited leg room, I scored a cushy seat with ample leg room and a spiffy reclining feature. So, pro tip… if you take the ferry, go up to the third deck. The seats are much better, and there are usually a lot of them free, since a lot of passengers seem content to sit on the floor and eat/socialize/be loud.
After a ferry ride just over three hours, we landed in Dodong-ri, which is the main port on the island. Not wanting to waste any time, we set off along the coastal path and began our adventure. The scenery was gorgeous. The island is formed mainly from the runoff produced from a stratovolcano that blew it’s top off over 9000 years ago. As with many volcanic islands, it is rugged and stunning to see. The path hugs the side of porous and jagged cliffs, the brilliant blue water of the sea crashing up against the rocks below. Huge flows of hardened lava and slabs of rock arch over the walkway, making you feel like an ant as you make your way beneath them.
What we failed to notice with our cursory skimming of the map was that the roads connecting that entire corner of the island weren’t exactly roads. They were more like dirt paths. Dirt paths that the buses don’t go on. We knew something was up when we ended up back in Dodong-ri, and again when the bus driver started laughing at us when we told him where we were going. AN HOUR AND A HALF of windy, Road-to-Hana-esque roads later, we finally got out at Cheonbu-ri. Turns out we had to go all the way around the island. No matter. We got to see the entire coast. Now to transfer to the other bus….
The buses had stopped. Just peachy. We all sat and pondered our options. Some of us (myself included) didn’t really care where we spent the night. Others were set on spending it in the crater of a volcano. That camp won out, and we decided to try to hitch a ride (with 8 people) up the mountain. Walking there was brought up, but the map we had was clearly not to scale, and we’d already experienced the size of the island during our hour and a half long bus ride. So, hitching. Luckily, Joe saved the day and found a group of girls who spoke perfect English. They managed to get a guy with a big van to come, who took us up into the crater for a few bucks each. Awesome!
We secured a campsite and proceeded to hang out and play some games. It was a lot of fun, but I was tired so I turned in and attempted to sleep on the gravel site we’d found for our tents. Not exactly the most comfortable place to sleep, but at least I had shelter! Morning made up for all the aches, however, when I opened my tent flap and stared in wonder at the mountains surrounding on all sides. Truly a magnificent thing to wake up to.
In the crater of the volcano
Next on the agenda was heading back to Dodong-ri to catch a bus up to a nearby waterfall. By now we were all pros at the Ulleungdo bus system, so we took one aaaaaaall the way back around the island and made it back to our starting point. In Dodong-ri, we met another foreigner who used to teach in Pohang. Turns out, he wanted to go to the waterfall as well, so he tagged along. Yay for the snowball effect!
The waterfall was gorgeous, but also fenced off. That didn’t stop some of our group, though! Several of us stayed behind, but the others jumped the fence and got into the water to play and frolic (as you should do in the water). Turns out they had it fenced off for a reason. That stream supplies the drinking water for a lot of people on the island. Yikes. Just hope they have a purifying system!
Stolen from: http://www.ulleung.go.kr/English/page.htm?mnu_uid=582&
Dishing up the hobak makgeolli, a traditional pumpkin rice wine.