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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan


Jeju is for honeymooning, Geoje is for shipbuilding. Where is a person supposed to go for a relaxing weekend away? Namhae. Namhae is actually 3 different places. Nam Hae is the name of the South Sea, Namhaedo is the name of the 3rd largest island in Korea, and Namhae Eup is the name of the town on the island in the sea. That would be Namhae on Namhae in Namhae if you were to give directions.

Namhaedo is a beautiful island connected to the mainland by 2 bridges. It is on the border of Gyeongnam and Cheonam provinces between the cities of Yeosu and Jinju. It is a calm and quiet island with countless bays, beaches, fishing villages and garlic. Ah, garlic. Where would Korea be without garlic? Imagine samgyupsal or kimchi without it. Namhae is the garlic capital of Korea. There is even a garlic museum you can visit.

Namhae is for touring, as has a good regional bus system, so even those without cars or bikes can enjoy exploring this wonderful land.

Unlike much of the mainland, Namhae has been spared from Korea’s relentless drive to modernize, develop and otherwise ruin. The countryside is covered with rolling hills, great vistas, and a complete lack of high-rise apartments and industrial wastelands. The island is also home to two very unique places; it has both a German and an American village. Both are like small towns filled with stylised pensions and houses, and they even have retired westerners. It’s both wonderful and odd to discover a German village nestled in the hills of Korea. Both villages have pensions for rent, if you are looking for a weekend away from Korea, in Korea.

Historically, Namhae was vitally important during the Imjin war (1592 Japanese invasion). Namhae’s central location on the coast was a keystone in the Korean defense, if they had lost the island, the entire west coast would have been opened up for the Japanese fleets. The battle of Noryang, which involved 500 Japanese ships and 150 Korean and Ming ships, was the final naval battle in the war. Admiral Yi Sun Shin had been kicking Japanese ass up and down the south coast of the peninsula, and this was the Japanese’s last attempt to destroy the Korean fleet. The massed Japanese ships stood no chance against the genius Yi who used the natural currents against his enemy.

The Japanese combined navy was so decisively defeated that they were to retreat from the peninsula and sue for peace. Sadly, towards the end the battle, Yi was shot by a Japanese marksman. There is a small pagoda built on the western tip of the island where you can overlook the bay where the admiral saved the nation but lost his life.

The best beach on Namhae is Sangju, on the southern end of the island. The water quality is superb, and if you get there on the right weekend before or after swimming season (end of July to the end of August) you might get the beach entirely to yourself. Older hotels with a view of the beach will cost you 25 000 won, and that’s a sweet deal for one of the most beautiful places on the peninsula.

There are no direct buses from Ulsan to Namhae, however, from the Ulsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take a bus to Jinju and transfer there to a Namhae bus. Other options include transfering at Suncheon or Masan. This link has schedules and costs.  (Updated June 2013)