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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Jeollanamdo – Yeosu, Suncheon and Boseong

By Deirdre Madden

Over the Chuseok holiday, my significant other and I went on a road trip to a part of the country I had yet to explore, Jeollanamdo and the west coast. We began by setting off late, revising our route to make up for lost time, and then taking a wrong turn on the expressway in a moment of confusion and ending up in downtown Busan on a Saturday. Awesome.

Yeosu

Eventually, we actually made it to Yeosu, our first destination. Yeosu is a small fishing city located on a peninsula just west of Namhae Island. Last year, the previously unknown city became rather famous, as the host of the 2012 World Expo. Though the Expo was long finished, I was curious to see this area, which received a lot of positive reviews for its beautiful scenery.

Pretty!

The Expo grounds are still open to the public, and the water and light show at the big O is still performed in the evenings, drawing small crowds. We wandered around the area, but there’s not much to see aside from the Aquarium. It was much nicer to walk out along the causeway to the small island, Odong-do, and look back at the Expo site and the lights on the Geobukseondae Bridge (거북선대교).

Expo grounds at night

I wish I'd brought my tripod

Yeosu is also historically important in Korea, as it was the location of the naval base at which Admiral Yi Sun Shin designed the Turtle Boat (Geobukseon 거북선) which played a pivotal role in Korean naval victories over the Japanese during the Imjin War of the 1590’s. There is a re-creation of a Turtle Boat docked by Dolsan Park, near the Dolsandae Bridge (돌산대교) which you can go on board and look around. Most of the information is posted in English as well as Korean. If you like stories about military heros, and particularly ones in which the underdog prevails, check out Admiral Yi. He was responsible for some truly impressive feats and interesting inventions, and is probably one of the most brilliant naval commanders in history. There is a Turtle Boat Festival (this link is for 2013) in May that sounds like it might be a good time to go, if you’re considering the trip.

Turtle boat - topped with spikes to prevent boarding

Yours truly as Admiral Yi

On board a roofed ship. I'm pretty sure the garbage can is authentic to the era.

One of the highlights of Yeosu for us was discovering an amazing, old bulgogi restaurant right across the road from the Expo main gates. Tucked back off the main road, behind a wall and down a short walk, the restaurant occupies a garden and two small buildings. When we arrived, the outdoor tables were all full, so we were put in a large room that showed its age and authenticity through the galbi-smoke stains on the wallpapered ceiling. We ordered a special so-galbi (소갈비 –  beef rib meat) cut of meat, which was fantastic, though pricey (as beef generally is in Korea). The place was unbelievably busy, with the service staff practically running between tables to keep up with the demand for beer, soju and kimchi refills, and the quality of the meal clearly showed why. Of course I didn’t take a photo of the entrance, or write down the name, as that would have been the smart thing to do. However, if you happen to be in Yeosu and want to check it out, if you stand with your back to the Expo main entrance, it is almost directly straight ahead, but off to the left just a little. It looks kind of like someone’s shed with a sign on it, but if you venture down the little path, it’s well worth it.

Suncheon Bay

Our second stop on the road trip was to visit the wetland area of Suncheon (순쳔). There was a flower expo going on in the wetlands until October 20th, but as the bay is huge, we actually drove past that while looking for parking, and ended up miles away, at the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park.

When we first walked out along the boardwalk, it seemed like a rather pleasant walk, with lovely scenery but not much going on.

Then we looked over the edge of the boardwalk, down into the mud, and realized there were millions of tiny dramas playing out. Suncheon Bay is home to a huge number of species of reeds and other marsh plants, as well as lots of creepy little mud-dwellers, like various crabs and the Goggle-Eyed Goby, which is not a creature out of a Harry Potter novel, but some sort of cross between a fish and newt, which crawl-hops through the muck, leaping out of the way of crab claws. It was really fascinating to watch; the longer you look at the mud, the more life you can see.

If you can find all the crabs in this photo, you'll win a prize!

I swear, I'm not making it up

The boardwalk offers a variety of lengths of walk, but as it was roasting hot, and we were feeling like it was lunchtime, we opted for a shorter route. We also skipped the museum, as we had already decided we wanted to come back here to spend more time looking around. If you’re a bird enthusiast, it would be well-worth the trip during migration times, as this is a perfect stopping place for many species of storks, cranes, spoonbills, ducks and many others.

There’s also an Eco Boat tour you can take, which costs 4,000won for a 30 minute ride, or a Reed Train, which is 1,000won for 35mins.

We both really enjoyed our few hours here, and can’t wait to go back to explore it more thoroughly.

Boseong

One of the places I was most looking forward to seeing were the fabled tea fields of Boseong. I am an avid tea drinker, and having been to the O’Sulloc fields in Jejudo a few years ago, which were very pretty but flat, I was excited to see the rolling hills of Boseong with their cultivated hedges of tea. Perhaps it was the build up, perhaps it was because we went shortly after harvest time, when the hedges were pruned, but this was by far the biggest disappointment of the trip. The views were pretty, and the tea museum was fairly interesting, but overall, we both felt it didn’t live up to the hype. If you’re considering heading this way, make it part of a tour, not the main destination. (Edited to add an update: After comparing our trip with some friends who disagreed completely with our “it’s not worth it” assessment, we realized that when we arrived at the Boseong area, we’d taken a wrong turn, and ended up at the museum and a far less picturesque part of the area. Apparently, if we had continued on straight for a minute or so more, we’d have found the proper turn-off to the place everyone is talking about. Our friends said it was a highlight of their trip to the area, and definitely a worth-while sight.)

(Taking lessons from JJ Abrams)

This shows tea consumption by nation per capita. The Irish consume 2,980g of tea per person each year.

After leaving the tea museum, we headed down through pretty mountain vistas towards the coast, along Hwy 18. The scenery along this drive is gorgeous.

Looking across the bay towards Goheung Penninsula

One of the many sandy beaches along the coast

Another view towards Goheung, with probably Deukryang-ri Island in front

Sunset from on the expressway

So ends our journey across the southern coast. The rest of the road trip took place on the west coast, which is a whole ‘nother article.

 

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