the best off-the-beaten-path islands in South Korea
Doegudo, Geumildo, Saengildo, Soryangdo
Among the almost 4,000 islands of South Korea, during our bicycle journey here we visited about 20. We fell in love with the atmosphere of Korean islands, especially the tiniest and less touristic ones, to such an extent that we kept on exploring random islands anytime we had the chance.
So after visiting the islands in the Northwest, next to Seoul and Incheon and a really remote one in the west coast, plus having hopped where we could using bridges in the southwest, we explored our last group of off-the-beaten-path islands here in the south of South Korea.
We wake up early and arrive at the port of Wando. It’s smaller than the one in Mokpo, more bicycle friendly, and there are fewer boats. Easier for us to pick a random destination. Everyone goes to CheongsanDo island, pretty famous because is the location of an equally famous Korean drama. Too many tourists for us, we don’t want to go there. So again, given the infinite number of Korean island, we will try one (or more) at random.
1 – Doegu Do
Having managed to get a map at the information center we decide to go to DoeguDo, another tiny rock unknown to tourists. We take the ship of 3 pm, while boarding the crew won’t let us in, thinking we are taking a wrong ferry!
The old ladies (with the usual mandatory perm) on the ship, make us realize that on the island there are no roads where to ride a bicycle. A guy offers us a beer and speaks for the whole trip in Korean.
We arrive, to the general amazement. The island is wild and beautiful, the few roads have slope around 25%, and no secluded beach here, or better to say no beach at all. This island also hasn’t more than one km of roads overall.
There is a small village hanged on the steep slope of the hill, probably a few hundred people in total, living on shellfish and seaweed farming and traditional fishing. A guy leads us to eat at his mother’s home, fish soup, eggs, kimchi, small fish, rice and beans, and seaweed.
We go to sleep in a small field on the cliff, the view is wonderful, above the mussel farms, but the mosquitoes are killers, looks like they saw no human there for a while.
After a good sleep we salute the island and take the ferry of 11:30 am. The fishermen and the wives are fixing nets, there’s a great silence and everything looks out of a movie, stuck in a timeless moment.
In the waiting room, there is WiFi and I take this opportunity to try to update the blog. In Korea, the free WiFi is really everywhere. The guy who offered us dinner last night is back this morning with juice and cookies!
2 – Saengil do and Geumgok Beach
The ferry drops us to another larger island, SaengilDo. There is no one around, only large nets to dry out algae. We take a bath at near the jetty, where there’s a big pebble beach and the water is clear enough. We start cycling the only road, to get out of here we must arrive on the other side of the island, where ferries depart to the next one. At first, the slopes are heavy then it improves, the scenic route is beautiful as usual in the coastal Korea.
Arrived at the other end of the island we find that the ferry is at 4 pm, we have three hours to lose and wait in the gazebo next to the ticket office. There she comes, a little old lady all mad that speaks a lot and smiles a lot. She goes to buy the Soju and soy milk. A really nice old lady.
While I doze, Daniele goes to see a beach on the other side of the island, Geumgok Beach. It is beautiful and huge, near the forest and with clear green water. We find out it was just recently connected by the road, just a few years ago it was only reachable by boat. But no tourists on this island, all the hotels are closed. Evidently, it is not fashion. But if they shoot a drama here, everything would change.
3 – Geumil Do
Upon awakening the weather has improved a lot, the storm is over. So we have time to realized we just slept beside another beautiful beach, Geumilmyeongsa Beach. Also this one is deserted, wide, long and backed by pine trees. There are many shells in the sand. (find more information about Geoumildo here)
We wander in search of the port, the next ferry to get back to the main-land is at 2:30 pm.
4 – Soryang do (Sadong ri)
In the meantime we go to visit the nearby island connected by a bridge, Soryang Do. The village (Sadong ri) is very beautiful, the houses are made of drywalls and roofs are coloured with a strange substance, that maybe keeps the roofs clear from the effect of salt. There are narrow alleys going up the hill and a true fisherman atmosphere.
Back on Geumil, we go to see the Geumilhaedanghwa beach, the waves here are strong. We almost lose the ferry because Daniele gets a flat tire, or rather, he had a spoke of a wrong size that has punctured the tube.
The ferry from there is expensive, 18.000 won, but it will breing us back to the mainland, in the Goheung county, a big peninsula.
The trip takes an hour and a half, we eat noodles and speak with a gentleman who works on the ship, he is 70 years old but looks 50. He says he works 12 hours a day and has 5 days of leave per year…
Back on the mainland, Goheung peninsula
The ferry ride is pleasant, passing along some more islands. There are some very nice floating igloo that are used by fishermen who can then sleep there.
We arrive back on the mainland, at the port of Nokdong-gu, and after a bit of waterfront road we are back in the countryside. We meet two fishermen from East Timor, we continue on the road of the interior, there is a nice climb. We stop to sleep in the usual gazebo, this time in the midst of beautiful rice terraces. This pavilion is not made of wood like most, but metal, overnight rains so it makes a lot of noise.
Conclusions: what are the best islands in South Korea?
Making a post about the best islands in South Korea is impossible, there are too many and every now and then some get fashionable and some get forgotten. Our advice is to explore whatever you can, and don’t be dragged by the crowds.
South Korea is a maritime nation, and its true culture and traditional lifestyle is to be found in the islands. Particularly the tiniest and less touristic ones.