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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Jeollabukdo – Chungcheongnamdo

By Deirdre Madden

This is part two of my Chuseok road-trip adventure with my boyfriend. Part one was Jeollanamdo, or the South Jeolla Province. Here, I’ll take you through the North Jeolla Province, and into South Chungcheong Province.

After driving along the southern coast, we turned northward at Mokpo, a small city with a rather similar vibe to Ulsan, as it’s home to Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries, the world’s 4th largest shipbuilder. We tried to drive up hwy 77, along Amhae Island, but while hwy 77 continues on the next island, and though Naver maps says there’s a ferry there, the bridge is currently under construction, and the only ferry we saw may have been an old man with a motor boat who was helping people back and forth – no way for a car to cross. It wasn’t a total loss, however, as the island was very pretty.Our next stop was the Jeokbyeokgang Cliffs, which are on a small hook of land near Byeonsanbando National Park. We stopped for a walk along the rocky shore, and watched the intricate life of the tidal pools where hermit crabs and tiny fish become stranded during low tide.

This is a movie set we stumbled upon near the cliffs, sadly just after it closed for the day. I can find no information about it on the internet, but it seems to be called "Seongsan Gyohoi 성산교회"

Throughout the trip, in both North and South Jeolla Provinces, we’d noticed signs everywhere for Blue or Flower Crab Soup (꽃게탕). We were both intrigued by this dish, as it seemed to be a regional specialty, but we never seemed to find a place when it was time to stop for a meal. This night proved to be the right night for us, though. Driving along a coast road, almost at sunset, we were going up a hill and around a bend when a restaurant appeared before us, perched on a cliff-top, overlooking the sea and neighbouring islands. It was one of those old places that looks cobbled together from bits and pieces of materials cast off building sites, with hand-painted signs out front telling you the menu. We had already decided to stop at the next place that listed the Flower Crab Soup on it’s menu, and this place had the perfect setting and a look that said we were in for an authentic, homecooked meal.

Homemade banchan (side dishes), including the oldest, sourest kimchi you’ve ever tried. It was amazing!

The soup was spicy and rich, just loaded with seafood and veggies. Our only complaint, as pampered North Americans, would be that the shells were on everything, which makes it a time consuming and messy meal. But it was well worth it. The food was tasty and satisfying, and we left with full bellies.

The view while we ate - sadly, while eyes will ignore telephone lines, camera lenses will not.

The next day, we drove out along a causeway that encases a huge plot of ocean that is slowly being drained to reclaim the land for farming. The Saemangeum Seawall is the world’s longest man-made dyke, and runs for 33 kilometers, from Byeonsan to Gunsan. It is really impressive to see, as they have built parks all along it, with kids playgrounds and observation decks. It’s also very controversial, as you can imagine draining 400 km2 of sea to make land is going to play havoc on natural ecosystems.

A view of the Saemangeum Seawall from a beach a few kilometers away

From there, it was just a short drive into Chungcheongnamdo, and to Boryeong’s Daecheon Beach, home to the famous Mud Festival each summer. Having been to the debauchery that is Mud Fest in the past, I had always wanted to see the beach when it wasn’t flooded with drunked waygooks covered in gray mud.

Daecheon Beach is actually a very beautiful location, and I’d highly recommend for anyone to visit outside of July.

Slightly different from the Mud Fest scene - photo taken mid-week in September.












We lingered on the beach for a while, sunbathing and wading in the chilly ocean, before wandering up along the quiet beach front street that is lined with restaurants and bars, all of which have English menus and staff speak decent English, which is usually fairly rare in small towns. After lunch, we headed for the ferry terminal, as we decided to take the car ferry over to TaeAn HaeAn National Park. Our final destination was the town of Seosan, where a friend of mine lives, and TaeAn’s Anmyeon Island was a nearby sight that was highly recommended.

Leaving Daecheon/Boryeong

Blurry. Sorry.

Though the young woman at the ticket counter spoke no English, we were able to get our tickets sorted for the right island (there are several destinations from this port), and she explained where to take the car, and that I had to wait in the terminal, and board as a foot passenger. After the car was loaded on, my boyfriend joined me on deck for a while, but we spent most of the trip down by the car, as we had our small, nervous, not-great-with-crowds dog with us. We stood looking out over the railings, and watched the small islands pass us by.

The drive up Anmyeon Island lived up to it’s hype – it’s a very pretty area, with views of the coast tucked in between pine-covered mountains. We found a wide open stretch of beach to watch the sunset over the water. There were a handful of people around, but the beach was practically deserted. Sadly, I couldn’t get my camera to capture the true sunset, as I’m just not knowledgeable about photography, and no amount of fiddling with the apperture and shutter speeds seem to make a difference. Instead, the photos showed almost the opposite of what our eyes were seeing, which was a pale grey sky with a fierce red sun.

Oooh, pretty. But pretty much exactly the opposite of what we actually saw...

We then spent a couple of days visiting with my friend in the town of Seosan. There’s not really much to distinguish this town from any of the hundreds (thousands?) like it on the peninsula, but nearby there is a pretty neat little fortress, with a pretty horrific history (as fortresses often have).

Haemi Fortress (해미읍성) was originally built in the early 1400s, for protection against the Japanese. It was a “high castle” that was charged with giving military commands and keeping society secure for about 230 years. The military command was then moved to Cheongju Fortress in the 1650s, and the site became the regional office and governor’s quarters. It was during its role as the governor’s office when it’s history took a very dark turn.

The main difference between Korean and Japanese built fortresses is the angle of their walls. Really.

There was a strong Anti-Catholic sentiment during the late 1790s and 1800s. Approximately 1000 Catholics were rounded up, jailed, tortured and killed on these grounds between 1866-1882. The accounts are pretty horrific, and the literature you can pick up on the site gives some details that I won’t mention here. The area has become a Catholic pilgramage, where people come to pay homage to the martyrs who died for their beliefs.

The grounds of Haemi today betray little of this horror, beyond the recreation of the jail area, complete with life sized mannequins depicting a few of the punishments.

The jail, where hundreds of Catholics were confined before their execution as "political offenders".

One of the nicer forms of punishment for those who would not denounce their religion.

The rest of the rather expansive grounds have been turned into a beautiful park setting, with recreations of traditional homes, areas to buy traditional food, and places to play traditional games, including flying kites.

Traditional food cooked on traditional stoves

Part of the traditional weaponry display. Possibly the coolest looking arrow shooting device I've seen. Not sure if it actually worked.

Traditional houses, with kites flying in the background

Traditional houses, with kites flying in the background

Gaeksa, where government officials gathered for bi-monthly rituals for the king.

If you find yourself in the Seosan area, Haemi is definitely worth the visit, as it is a beautifully restored and tended site. The grounds are large, there’s plenty to explore, and you can even try your hand at archery, for about 2,000won for 10 shots.

In my previous life, I was Robin Hood.

As in many of the traditional areas, there are often performances. The spinny-hat drummer guys are one of my favourites in terms of Korean traditions, as I have a lot of respect for anyone who can keep their hat-thingy spinning, walk and drum in time to a beat, and not get so dizzy they fall down. The best part of this particular performance was the next-generation drummer out giving it a try. He was probably about 4, but actually had impressive skills.

Traditional drumming performance

All in all, the trip up the west coast was a great time. We thoroughly enjoyed the views and vistas, and stuffed ourselves silly with delicious Korean food. The drive back from Seosan along the express ways would take about 3-4 hours in normal traffic. Sadly, we thought we’d beat the Chuseok rush by heading down on actual Chuseok Day, but so did everyone else, so we ended up crawling back at speeds up to 40km/h for a good portion of the journey. It was a rather grueling end to a road trip, and at one point the GPS took us off the highway and through downtown Daejeon, so in a way, our trip ended as it began, with an unintended detour through one of Korea’s largest cities (see the Jeollanamdo article for that the beginning of the trip).