Jumping in Jecheon

weeeee!
Weeee!

What else is there to do on Thanksgiving weekend when you’re 6000 miles away from home and you can’t find any turkey or pumpkin pie?

It all began several months ago, when I was on an
Adventure Korea trip last spring. Taking a ferry across the beautiful, yellow-dusted waters of Chungju Lake, our peaceful journey was interrupted by terrified screams as we came across ChungPung Land’s bungee jump. I later discovered that this was the biggest jump in Korea at 62 meters (203 feet), which also makes it the third highest jump in Asia. And I immediately vowed not to leave the country until I had made the jump.

Unfortunately, ChungPung Land isn’t very close to Ulsan, and so it was another 6 months or so before I was able to make it back – just in time for the last jump of the season, and my last chance before leaving Korea.

Cheong Pung Land

ChungPung Land is in or just outside of Jecheon, a 4.5-hour, aggravatingly slow train ride from Ulsan. The website had suggested taking a local city bus out to the bungee jump, but other blogs reported the bus could take an hour, a highly unappealing prospect after just getting off the train. Instead we opted for the easy option and got a couple taxis, who probably ripped us off a bit charging 25,000 won, but at least it was quick.

The taxi ride out to the jump was adventurous in itself, down a narrow road with a daring taxi driver, passing in no-pass zones and rounding sharp curves recklessly. It was a good warm-up for the events to come!

When we got there it wasn’t very crowded, with only one other group of foreigners around. We bought tickets for the “big 3” which included an Ejection Seat, Giant Swing, and the bungee jump. The bungee itself was 40,000 won, and adding the other two for only 20,000 more seemed like a pretty good deal.


The ejection seat was up first. It didn’t look like much at first, but looks can be deceiving. The two-person seat is in a little metal frame suspended between two bungee cords, which is sling-shotted by a giant metal arm, launching you incredibly high into the air and spinning in circles before gradually making your way back to earth.

I felt very secure, with no details being spared in fastening us to the seat. We wore a safety belt and harness, something over our legs and they even had me cross my arms over my chest, harhar. According to my friends, there was a very likely danger of my boobs getting stretched, which I hadn’t found any backing evidence of on the internet but better safe than sorry!


Next we were suited up for the Big Swing, which seemingly required the help of 1-3 staff members per person. The staff was entirely university-aged Korean guys, of whom there seemed to be way more than necessary working for the slow customer-flow of that afternoon. Lucky for us, they spoke some English, which went something like this: “You, here. Step. Catch. Go. Now.” Where they learned this blunt manner of speaking, I have no idea.

As we headed over to the swing, a group of people had gathered to watch. To start, you were hooked in at the shoulder and ankle and suspended at a rather awkward angle as they finished securing everything. Then it was a slow, slow ascent, which suddenly (and terrifyingly) jerked to a halt at the top. But the scariest part was having to pull the release cable yourself to start your fall. Which required a bit more force than expected, and so there were several false starts of tugging and not falling. Quite terrifying. But also ridiculously fun! Although my description may not do the experience justice.

Finally, it was time for the bungee! We changed into bungee gear and were weighed, each of us getting a little card of a different color. We took a very tiny elevator up to the top of the crane, where there were already people waiting. It was a bit cold and windy at the top, and the view looking through the crane beneath our feet did nothing to comfort our nerves. Unfortunately, we had quite a while to wait for everyone in front of us to jump.

The color of our cards determined the order we could jump, which apparently meant I would go last. After watching so many people go, I was incredibly impatient for my turn to come. When it finally came time to strap the giant cables around my ankles, I wasn’t really nervous. It was exciting to finally be doing something I’d been looking forward to for so long. They led me to the edge of the platform, between some hand rails. Even then, I still felt quite secure and ready to go. Then they instructed me to put my feet halfway over the edge of the platform. Ok, no problem. And then I was told to look up. And take my hands off the handrails to hold them above my head while they counted to 5 for me to jump. Which is where the nerves kicked in.

As soon as I’d look away from my feet and took my hands off the handrails, I’d lose my sense of balance and it was as if my feet were on something as thin as a tightrope. Haphazardly flailing over the edge was not the way I wanted to go. After a lot of false starts of putting my hands up and back down, we eventually worked something out where I did a one-arm up kinda dive.

And. it. was. AWESOME!

Safe landing
Actually, as soon as I landed I felt like I forgot everything about what it felt like to bungee jump. And I wanted to go again. The fall was somehow less scary than the fall on the swing. The bouncing around part after the initial bit was strange, as you’re like a ragdoll at the end of the cable being snapped back and forth. But it was also ridiculously fun!

After a while, it got pretty annoying to be upside down. Especially because after you finish bouncing you get lowered very slowly down to the guy in the raft, whose been waiting for you in the ‘safety pool’ under the crane. It felt like I’d been upside down for far too long by the time I made it to the raft, but that was the only negative feeling of the whole experience.

The view from the jump
The calm view from the jump.

Besides Chungpung Land, the area around Chungju Lake is beautiful and must be amazing during the summer. Although it is very resort-y, with prices to match. We went to a cool-looking restaurant for some post-jump dinner where we found dalk kalbi for 20,000 won per serving! Which was a bit much, to me. The owner of the restaurant was a Korean man with impressive English speaking abilities and equally impressive long, wild gray hair – a rather unusual site in the country. He was curious about what we were doing in town and how we had found his restaurant, and then was incredibly considerate in having someone drive us back into town for free. I’d recommend his restaurant but I’ve forgotten the name. It’s the really cool looking place on the way to Jecheon though, and if you ever get the chance you should go.

We found a ridiculously cheap love motel (50,000 for two rooms!) near the train station and headed out in search of the local nightlife. And then we spent about an hour or so wandering around without any luck. There seemed to be a highly disproportionate number of shady-looking girly bars for such a small town, but I guess for the resort season. Eventually we found some young people in a trendy cafe who sent us to the part of town where all the bars were. From there we met some other foreigners who took us to a big party at “Foreigner Bar”, and our night was set.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any good close-ups of my bungee jump, which just means I’ll have to do it again! Perhaps in Macau

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23.5 hours in Shanghai

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The Bund looks like the future.

As an American, getting a visa for China sucks – it’s $200 for a dual-entry visa that’s only good for six months. (And as an American in Korea, there’s a extra stipulation about how much time you have left on your Korean visa for some reason.) But there is a small exception – Americans can spend up to 48 hours in Shanghai visa-free. Which was good news for me, as I ended up with a 23 and a half hour stopover in the city on a flight from Korea to Taiwan for my summer vacation.

With so little time to spend in the city, the was no time to waste. Luckily, the process of getting into the country without a visa was relatively hassle-free, with only a small delay waiting on a special passport stamp. Hopping onto Shanghai’s extreme high speed “maglev” train took us the 18.5 miles into downtown in under 8 minutes. Not bad.

Originally, my travel buddy and I had thought we’d try to spend all 23.5 hours exploring the city without sleeping, but after a late night of packing, we decided to check into a hostel. The Blue Mountain Youth Hostel was just off a busy shopping section of East Nanjing Road, not too far from the Bund. We immediately headed out to start exploring, only to be greeted by a torrential downpour, and so sought shelter in a cozy little restaurant resembling an American diner. There we ordered some awesome dim sum, which was served ala carte. Many dumplings, some pink guava green tea and kumquat juice later, the rain had let up enough for us to head over to the Bund.

On one side of the river, the skyline on the Bund looks like the future. I think the architecture would be much better accompanied by some flying cars and hovering space stations than the ordinary accoutrements of the present. On the other side, the Bund is lined with buildings that seem better suited to Europe a couple hundred years ago:

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It’s an interesting contrast.

Probably the most fun way to get across the river is the Bund sightseeing tunnel. The sign at the entrance gave us some pretty high expectations:

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We headed down a sizable escalator to the tunnels’ entrance. An usher quickly pushed us into what looked like a tiny, glass-walled subway car with 6 other passengers and away we went. The awesomeness of the ride itself was simply too great for my measly camera to capture, so instead I will provide you with as close of an approximation as could be found on the internet:


It was basically the same, just a bit less psychedelic (and a bit less Gene Wilder).

The city on the other side of the Bund was all newly built-up from the city’s World Expo in 2010. There was an elevated pedestrian walkway that reminded me a bit of the Highline in New York City. It took us right past several western fast food eateries, including a Dairy Queen, where I enjoyed a black tea and red bean Blizzard. Which may sound strange, but was actually really good.

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From there we headed back to our hostel to see if we couldn’t find some fellow travelers to join us in checking out the nightlife. The hostel was a nice enough place, but also gigantic, with tons of rooms spanning a couple floors in a giant apartment building, so it didn’t have much atmosphere. That night they were having a “luau party”. We met some local college students, who recommended a rooftop bar on the Bund. We headed over with a 19 year-old from the nearby city of Hangzhou, which I was rather embarrassed to admit I had never heard of after learning it was bigger than NYC.

The Captain’s Bar was actually on top of another hostel, but was unlike any hostel bar I’ve ever seen. It was very fancy and quite expensive. The bar was completely dark, only illuminated by the lights of the skyline. The view was great, so we decided to stick around for a couple Tsingtaos despite the expense. After so many months of Korean beer (not my favorite), Tsingtao tasted pretty good.

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East Nanjing was packed with people making their way to the Bund. Despite the crowds, I did notice there was quite a bit less pushing than what I’m used to in Korea.

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A bit further down the street, there were some open-air dance lessons. It made me miss living in New York, where coming across these sorts of random happenings on the street is an everyday occurrence (not so much in Ulsan):

Open air dance lessons

Another interesting mix of old and new:
Old meets new in Shanghai

The street back to the hostel off of East Nanjing was lined with food vendors selling durian and other unfamiliar fruits, meat on a stick, and dumplings. If I could, I would spend more time in Shanghai just to eat more dumplings. But with only 23.5 hours, so many dumplings, so little time…

A bit of an aside about Shanghai: the road traffic there is crazy. I thought the driving in Ulsan was bad, but it’s nothing compared to Shanghai. So many scooters and bicycles, going every which way, and loaded up with anywhere from 2-5 people. I think the record number of people I saw on a scooter in Shanghai was 5: one adult and four children. I’d never seen anything like it.

The next morning, we woke up early to check out the old French area. It was early enough that the city was just starting to wake up: old women washed vegetables on the sidewalks, next to old men in their undershirts chasing children stacked three to a bicycle down the street. We bought some dumplings and spicy sesame pancakes for breakfast from a street vendor for under $1. I was extremely happy to find a sesame pancake, as it’s something I’ve been searching for since having them at my favorite dumpling store in New York.

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The French district was incredibly ritzy, with tree-lined streets and a super-expensive pedestrian-only shopping area.

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It was almost as if we had stumbled into Europe.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard a lot of people say that Shanghai “isn’t really China.” I get what they mean, as the city is in no way a representation of the rest of the country. East Nanjing Road has more expensive shopping malls and designer stores than I’ve ever seen, probably in my entire life combined. When we first hopped off the subway, I saw a giant advertisement for BOSS with Ryan Reynolds and one for Avril Lavigne’s new album. But Shanghai isn’t just like a European or western city, either. I don’t see why people feel the need to classify its culture as one way or the other, as “authentically” Eastern or not. Shanghai has its own culture, entirely different from anything else. It’s “authentically” Shanghai, and I don’t see why people seem to think it should be any less a city for not being something it’s not.

Just down the street from the French district was a big antiques market, where old men were selling all kinds of interesting knick-knacks and old communist propaganda. I wanted to stay to look around, but unfortunately we were out of time and had to head back to the airport.

In 23.5 hours in Shanghai, we didn’t make it very far from the Bund. But it was definitely worth the detour.

WTF: Ulsan Amethyst Cave World

The Amethyst Cave wasn’t my original destination when I set off for Eonyang, the western outskirts of Ulsan, at 8:30am one Saturday morning. My friend Paul and I were in search of Paraeso Waterfall, but after a 2+ hour trek out to Eonyang, we missed the only bus. We tried a taxi, but the driver claimed it would take 50,000 won or something ridiculous to get us all the way there. Not wanting to waste our time in Eonyang, we asked him to take us to another one of the city’s 12 “scenic locations”, Jakgaecheon, a stream. The driver said that would only be 7,000 won so away we went. But once we made it to the stream, the taxi driver mumbled something about wanting to take us to a “cave” and took us there instead.

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I was quite surprised to find we were in the middle of a tiny amusement park, overrun with groups of small children. I had heard of the Amethyst Cave before, but nothing had quite prepared me for their quirkiness. The Cave seemed a good alternative to our failed attempt to get to the waterfall, so we got our tickets and made our way inside.

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The cave is divided into several sections, featuring exhibitions that seemed to have been selected using the random button on Wikipedia, or some other such nonsense method.

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Egyptian hall

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Forever preserved in Child’s Pose.

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A Buddha statue and mats for praying.

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The exotic Papa New Guinea tribal section.

And of course, there was a hall claiming Dokdo:

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There was also a little bit of Amethyst…

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…but it was mostly in fogged-up glass boxes, and sometimes rather difficult to see. There were also little holes in the cave walls, where you could see “real” un-mined amethyst, but it wasn’t all that much to see.

By far the best part of the caves was an acrobatic/contortionist performance, performed by a group of kids from a SE Asian country that may have been the Philippines. They were amazing.

As is commonly found in Korea, these anatomically-detailed statues marked the entrance:
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Amethyst Cave World also has a giant indoor ice sculpture section:

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But we decided to skip it. I hear it has a nice toboggan run.

Down below the caves was a kids-size mini go-karting area, with some very loud cars that sounded in desperate need of mechanical repair. This was positioned right next to a nice little temple, with a big pond full of lily pads.

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Up above the cave was a tiny zoo, with an excellent “Chickens of World” exhibition:

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This French chicken was my favorite. His style seems a bit reminiscent of Bowie.

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These floppy-mopped Polish chickens were a close second.

The rest of the zoo had some really awful cages for its animals, without any attempt to recreate a habitat. I would really like to find a way to write City Hall or someone to complain…these conditions were just awful.

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Bear cage.

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Monkey cage.

The Amethyst cave world is definitely a quirky place, and certainly worth the visit for anyone with a prolonged visit to Ulsan. I think the easiest way out there is a taxi from Eonyang, as I didn’t really see any buses.

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—————–

We had finished our tour of the cave by mid-afternoon, and decided to see if we couldn’t walk to the waterfall. We easily found our way back down to Jakgaecheon, and walked along the stream for a couple hours until we were blocked by Sinbulsan, one of Eonyang’s biggest mountains.

Signs near the entrance to the mountain told us that another, smaller waterfall was an easy 15-20 minute hike up.

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There were some rock climbers descending and taking video. They looked pretty badass.

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And so we found a waterfall after all! It made a very decent substitute for Paraeso.

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The day ended with some delicious mountain vegetable bibimbap down at a tiny restaurant at the base of Sinbulsan, as every hike should.

While it would’ve been nice to have found Paraeso, stumbling onto the Amethyst Cave definitely made for an interesting day of exploring.

Gettin dirty at the Boryeong Mud Festival

Boryeong Mud Festival

Of all of Korea’s festivals, the most infamously famous is the Boryeong Mud Festival. For the past fourteen years on a weekend in July, foreigners from all over the country have converged in the small town of Boryeong to play in their famous skin-healing mud. But a bunch of mud + the beach + summer + cheap alcohol + no open container laws = one out-of-hand party. From what I heard, last year’s mud festival saw people getting covered in mud and drunk and deciding to rinse off in the fish tanks outside seafood restaurants. Nice. Needless to say, the festival has a certain notoriety in Korea for drunken foreigner shenanigans that generally leave the locals with a distaste for the waygook population.

Hearing all of this in the months leading up to the festival, I wasn’t really sure it was something I wanted to be a part of. But as it is the biggest festival in Korea, and an opportunity to play in the mud, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign up with a group of foreigners traveling there from Ulsan.

We departed Ulsan at 11pm the evening before the festivities, packed onto our private tour bus of 40-some (mostly) foreigners. It seemed to be the general consensus of those on the bus that the mudfest party started right then and there: everyone had boarded with an evening’s supply of alcohol and no plan to sleep. Luckily, the bus was equipped with a karaoke machine, complete with two microphones and a tambourine. Our poor, poor bus driver…

As I found out the next day, our journey was being paralleled by many other buses full of jovial foreigners making their way to mudfest from all across the country.

Arriving in Boryeong at 5am, we all promptly passed out into our motel rooms to catch a few hours of sleep before hitting the festival. By 11, we were out on the Daecheon beach boardwalk, and were greeted with a ridiculous rain storm! Within mere seconds, everyone was completely soaked. But playing in the rain is almost as much fun as playing in the mud, so the rain was a good warm-up to the day’s festivities.

5,000 won bought us a wrist band into the “mud experience area”, a fenced off part of the beach filled with mud-themed activities including a wrestling pit, giant slide, big inflatable tug-of-war, a mud “jail” and little mud painting stations. One trip to the mud wrestling pit was all it took to be covered in mud!

Boryeong Mud Festival!
The mud festival area was guarded by security and these gates.

With all that I had heard going into the festival, I was expecting something like this:
muddy mud festivalmuddy mud festival

But what I found was a lot of this:
waiting in line at the mud festival

which is a lot of people waiting in line. The mud area was a bit …tame. It was waiting in line for 45 minutes to go on a big inflatable slide where someone splashed you with a bucket of muddy water at the end. I was hoping for a bit more getting buried in mud, being able to pick up big glops and drop them on people… but alas, there was none of that.

After playing in the mud for a bit, we headed to the beach.

party on the beach!
Party on the beach!

It was great to jump into the ocean and rinse off all the mud. At one point, a truck pulled into the crowd to spray everyone with mud and water. Another truck discretely pulled up with big buckets of mud-filled balloons, leading to a giant mud-balloon fight. This was by far the best muddiness of the day.

After a final rinse off in the ocean, we traded our wristbands in for some Boryeong mud soap, which was awesome and smelled great and worth the trek out to Boryeong alone. In the evening, we headed to a beach-side restaurant for some seafood. A couple of my friends had the most expensive sam gyup sal in Korean history, being charged 24,000 won for three strips. Which must be 4-5x the normal price. After trying to argue in Korean and English and sign language, we managed to knock a couple thousand won off the price, which didn’t do a whole lot but was something. It was unfortunate, but nothing could damper our mud festival spirits!

In the evening, as they do at Korean festivals, there were fireworks on the beach. Most people were still hanging around the beach, despite many local clubs efforts to lure them away with their trucks-blasting-music advertisements. Being on the beach was almost like being back in the US, it was so full of foreigners. My friends and I found some people playing music out of a tent and joined them. They were US military. People passing by stopped to dance for awhile, and it was nice to be on the beach, in the open air, dancing under the stars for a while. Well, it was nice despite the not infrequent streakers streaking past… I guess mudfest isn’t mudfest without some drunken shenanigans.

The next morning, our bus left early to get back to Ulsan. It was a very quiet bus ride back, which I hope made up for the way there with our bus driver.

While it was a bit tame, and didn’t have nearly enough mud considering it was the “mud festival”, Mudfest was a pretty amazing weekend. I don’t think I’d go back, but I’m certainly glad to have had the experience. Next year, I’m already planning a mud festival comparison back in Michigan

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Woooo! Mudfest!

Seonyudo

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Memorial Day weekend came a week late for this American this year, as Korea’s version of the holiday is June 6th. Luckily, it’s still celebrated with a Monday off of work, and I decided it would only be fitting to usher in the spirit of summer with some camping – on a small island off the west coast of Korea. Seonyudo caught my attention way back in November, when I stumbled across some random blog raving about the islands’ beauty and enticing combination of bike paths, scooter-rentals, and lack of cars. I didn’t want to get my hopes up or anything, but online reports made it sound like our trip would be nothing short of an epic adventure.

About camping: I am by no means an experienced camper. Luckily for me, hiking and general outdoorsy-ness are incredibly popular in this country, so cheap gear is everywhere. I picked up the cheapest tent I could find – 30,000 won at Lotte Mart (Korea’s Wal-mart). Combined with a 10,000 won waterproof picnic blanket from Home Plus and the cheap sleeping bag left behind from the previous tenant of my apartment, I hoped I’d be set.

Getting to the islands from Ulsan is no easy task, to say the least. It required 3 buses, 1 train and 1 ferry, starting on a late Friday evening KTX to Daejeon. Travel wisdom from the weekend: book trains well in advance on a holiday weekend in Korea. In Daejeon, we stayed at my favorite love motel (my favorite for its name – the Bijou Motel, close proximity to the train station, kind ajumma who runs the place, and being the only place I’ve stayed in Daejeon). After one stop at a chicken and beer hof, we called it an early night in anticipation of waking up to catch a 9:30am bus to Gunsan.

Gunsan is a small port city in the middle-ish of the west coast. There were a surprising number of foreigners milling about the bus station for such a small city; apparently we weren’t the only ones taking a weekend island trip. We had a bit of trouble tracking down the #7 city bus to the ferry terminal, which we never would’ve found without the help of a very friendly young Korean woman. After a 30 minute wait for the bus and a painfully slow 45-minute ride all through town, we finally made it to the ferry.

Seonyudo & Gogunsanislands map

Waiting in the ferry station, we found a rather intriguing English map of the islands, featuring what appeared to be several small villages, some beaches, no fewer than three ‘Mud Flat Experiencing Fields’, and the mysterious Golden Rain Tree Colony. Oooooooh.

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The ferry ride was a pleasant but rather unexciting hour and a half. Apparently it’s also possible to ferry to China from Gunsan, which – considering the speed of our ferry – must take about a week! But something fun to think about nonetheless.

And finally! We were on Seonyudo. Many golf cart-taxis waited around the port, taking people to pensions or on island tours. We walked over to the beach to set up our tents. On the way, we came across a big group of scantily-clad, already drunk foreigners, and decided to set up our tent far, far away.

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The camping area was a small strip of beach separating the sea.

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Tent set-up successful, ready to tackle the wilderness.

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Our camp-site. Perfect! Except for the lack of showers…

By the time we got our tents set-up, we were hungry and eager to sample some of the island’s seafood. We chose the most inviting seafood restaurant on the main road and ordered three of the cheapest things off the menu – raw fish with rice, seafood noodle soup, and 산낙지. For those unfamiliar, 산낙지 (san-nak-ji) is live octopus. It’s not actually alive, but just recently chopped up so that the legs are still wriggling about. Like how chickens run around after their heads have been chopped off. This more or less made the dish look like a plate of live worms. Yummmm! But it actually tasted great – much better than worms, I’d imagine. By far the freshest tasting octopus I’ve had in 8 months!

Here they are in action:



Eating live octopus can be a bit of a challenge. The tentacles still suction to the plate, and also the insides of your mouth. Apparently they can also suction to your throat on the way down, which is a potential choking hazard (but mainly only if you’re really drunk). The tentacles very conveniently wrap themselves around your chopsticks, which makes picking up the thin little ends much easier. All in all, considering my rather recent 4.5-year stint as a vegetarian, I wasn’t nearly as grossed out as I expected. I’d even do it again!

Our energy sufficiently replenished, we decided we couldn’t be there another minute without getting on some scooters. I was pretty anxious about getting them, as the walkways were pretty packed with golf carts and people walking and biking, but the excitement of driving a scooter quickly triumphed over any anxieties.

The process for renting a scooter went like this: find bike/scooter rental stand. Wait while the owner tracks down five scooters/borrows one from random guy riding past. Pay 15,000. Get a 30-second demo of how they work, and a quick reminder not to drink and drive. And go!

No license? No ID? No insurance? No problem. Seonyudo is perhaps the easiest place to rent a scooter anywhere. I guess the scooters aren’t allowed on the ferries, as they didn’t seem at all concerned with us running off with them. They also didn’t seem particularly concerned with anyone’s safety, but I guess people don’t really sue each other so much over here.

Aside from a near-crash trying to avoid a golf-cart-taxi on a steep hill approximately 45 seconds after starting, I found scooter-driving to be pretty easy, and very fun. There’s nothing quite like zooming along the coast, wind blowing through your hair, nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see to either side…

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Scootering around, we passed many groups of touring Koreans, the older and drunker of which thought it was very funny to wave and shout hello! and cheer us on. The people we met on the island all seemed to be on vacation, and much friendlier than normal.

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Seonyudo connects to two other islands by small bridges, which are bikable, and pose an interesting challenge when full of other tourists.

In an hour, we found we were pretty much able to explore all the island paths reachable by scooter. The islands are beautiful, but certainly not very big. As far as the strange sights listed on the map, I’d say Korean Tourism advertising has a tendency to give a name to every little spot that doesn’t necessary merit such a significant title. There was unfortunately no “Golden Rain Tree Colony” to be found (although perhaps there was and we just didn’t spot it). There were plenty of mud flats open for experiencing, but we did not partake.

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Returning to our beach at dusk, we were surprised to find this land bridge connecting the beach to a small island. Many people were out with flashlights, seemingly scavenging for something. Oysters? Seaweed? We weren’t sure.

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I quickly realized I had forgotten to bring bug spray, a potentially very hazardous mistake. Apparently unavailable anywhere on the island, we settled for some bug-repellent incense and hoped for the best. Burning that while hanging out in the evenings, and staying inside my tent for the rest of the night, I came away from the weekend with only 4 mosquito bites – a record low for me and camping weekends! Maybe I’m not as attractive to Korean mosquito, or there’s something in this bug-repellent incense – either way, I like it.

We spent our evenings on Seonyudo making our own entertainment on the beach with some drinks, some music (in particular this one), and a deck of cards. At one point we were joined by some jolly, drunk and bicycling Seoul National University professors, who I was surprised to find had recently moved back from Ohio. Apparently, the pensions back in the main part of town provided more entertainment – bonfires, drumming, fireworks and noraebangs all night. But I was much happier to have some peace and quiet on the beach.


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Is there anything better to wake up to? I think not.

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And on the other side of our tents: some mud. Prime for experiencing!

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The morning sun blanketed the beach in mist. Many people were out on the sand in the low tide, digging for more things. You could actually rent little shovels for 1,000 won to dig for things, right next to the bike rentals.

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“The ghosts of Seonyudo”

After a rather ridiculously long breakfast/lunch at the single restaurant we could find that served something other than seafood (which we all agreed we couldn’t stomach before noon), where we met a few more groups of vacationing foreigners – including one from Birmingham, my neighbor! – we rented some bicycles from the scooter guy.

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“We are on a tandom bicycle.” Cute.

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I was stuck on a small ridiculous bike for some reason, completely inept at handling the island’s steep hills. It’s name was “The Raging Dwarf”, as given by us.

On our bike ride, we found many interesting things:

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A lighthouse shaped like two praying hands.

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Being reclaimed by nature.

Some big rocks beckoned us off-trail for a while, where we found many giant gross bugs. Luckily, they were quick to scatter wherever we were walking. There were so many running over the rocks, it reminded me of the masses fleeing from Godzilla or some such.

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They ranged in size from 1-3 inches. Really. Eeeeewwwww.

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Our private beach on the other side of the buggy rocks.

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A refreshing foot bath in the sea.

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A view of our beach, or what would be a view of our beach if you could see it through the mists.

Midway through our second day on the island, we were all feeling a bit in need of a shower. But without any sign of a jimjilbang or public facilities anywhere, the only option seemed to be the ocean. The water wasn’t very warm – quite freezing, actually – and it was a rather gray day, but we could not be deterred. Bathing in the ocean in your clothes is a surefire way to attract a lot of attention, by the way.

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The islands rise out of the mists…

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…and into more mists.

Our bike tour ended with the steepest hike in my life, which involved going both up and down on (mostly) all fours.


More island eats”

The most popular seafood on the island appeared to be cuddlefish, sea slugs, and these giant, flat, crazy-eyed guys–

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Mmm…looks…delicious?

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These kinds of fish were hanging up drying everywhere. I think they look super gross all mangled together in that bag. Blech.

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Our last night on the island got really cold. Unfortunately, the camping area doesn’t really have anywhere to build a fire, or much to use to make one. Some guys had one going in a big oil can, but unfortunately we hadn’t come so prepared. We gathered what sticks and dry things we could find and were given some charcoal by nearby picnicers. Alas, pine needles only last for so long, and so I spent the night shivering in my sleeping bag. Next time, I’ll be better prepared!

The only other thing we needed to complete our American-style Memorial Day weekend was some barbeque. Lucky for us, bbq is ridiculously omnipresent in this country. While searching for a spot, we found some older Korean men who insisted on giving us all shots of whiskey and some raw fish. It was extremely fresh, as they were taking the fish still wriggling from a bucket and slicing them up right in front of us. I’m not sure why Korean people tend to be so willing to share their food with strangers, but that’s one cultural difference I’m a pretty big fan of.

Our last morning on the island, we had a very nourishing breakfast of Korean-twinkies and Doritios, quickly packed up and went for one last walk. Where we came across a rather startling sight:

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It’s difficult to see, but this is a group of ajummas, high up the side of a mountain, climbing a sheer rock face sans any harnesses. I wish I could describe this scene better. They were cackling away as their friends scrambled up to join them. There seemed to be some ropes you could hold on to for support, but from our view down below it looked like a climb better suited to climbing harnesses and ropes. Crazy ajummas.

Seonyudo had a whole nother breed of ATV-riding, rock-face-scaling ajummas, really not to be messed with.

On the ferry home, many people had water bottles and containers filled with things from the sea – small crabs, shellfish, some animal that looks like a little stick. It was interesting. We sat next to a woman who kept offering us shrimp-flavored snacks. She didn’t want anything to do with our Doritos. Again, I’m a big fan of the Korean food-sharing culture.

And thus began our somehow-11-hour journey back to Ulsan… Book train tickets ahead on holiday weekends! Lesson learned. A 3-hour delay in Daejeon can be improved by checking into a Love Motel for a shower.


Quite a long post for such a small island, I realize. While they’re a bit touristy, the islands are a ton of fun and I’m definitely glad I made the trek out to visit!

Beware of Brontosaurus!

A brontosaurus!
As seen out the bus window, somewhere between Gwangju and Wando. How awesome is that?? Are there more giant dinosaur murals on mountains in Korea?? Hopefully I can stay awake on some more bus rides to find out!

What’s a ‘descending life line’?

Seen on an otherwise empty wall in a hallway of my favorite downtown Daegu love motel:

What exactly is a 'descending lifeline'?

According to my phone the Korean translates to “stubbornness”. hmmmm.

If anyone knows, I’m very curious.

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