Friday, December 16, 2016

Seollal Travels Part III: Geojedo

Winter sunshine in Geojedo

Before traveling, I didn't do a lot of research about where we were going last Seollal, so I really just booked places to stay in Tongyeong and the large island right next to it called Geojedo simply based on the recommendations of a friend. I still can't believe how lucky we got on that trip - everywhere we went was beautiful, and thanks to Seollal, quiet.

Geojedo is a big island just south of Busan and just east of Tongyeong. You can reach it easily through either of those cities, both of which have bridges linking them to Geojedo. We spent a couple days in Tongyeong and then caught a local bus over to Geojedo (it only took about 20 minutes.) The one mistake I made in not researching the trip as much as I should have, was booking us a room at a guesthouse on Airbnb that was very difficult to find when coming by bus.

We took a local bus to where we thought the guesthouse was located, realized we had gone way too far, and were now the only people left on the bus as it got farther and farther into the countryside. Luckily our driver knew something was up, actually pulled the bus over, and proceeded to give us the best directions he could given my limited Korean abilities.

View of the bridge to Busan from the beach by our guesthouse

In the end, we were still totally lost, but one phone call to our host and a 20 minute wait later, we got a ride to the guesthouse. The place we were staying was on a small beach on the northeast side of the island, with views of the long bridge linking Geojedo to Busan. There were a couple of similar guesthouses there, all under construction, and not much else in the area except for one mini-market that was only open when the owner felt like hanging out in it.

Despite that, the location was actually great. We had a gorgeous beach mostly to ourselves, with great views of the bridge, and once we figured out how to walk to the local bus stop, we could get around the island pretty well.

Hakdong Pebble Beach

Clear waters

There are a lot of beautiful, natural places to see on Geojedo. One of the first places we stopped at was a beach famous for its pebbles (I think the idea is that walking on the pebbles will massage your feet). It's called Hakdong Pebble Beach, or 학동 흑진주 몽돌해변 in Korean. The beach was nice, but as you would expect, rocky. There were a lot of good cafes and restaurants in town but we grabbed some street food and had a quick snack on the pebble beach.

From Hakdong Beach, you can catch a bus that goes to Geojedo's most famous landmark, Haegeumgang (해금강). The bus will also stop at Windy Hill, another attraction that seemed to be really popular with all the young Korean couples on the bus (after Windy Hill, the only people left on the bus were us and a few elderly Koreans that were dressed for hiking.) I didn't stop at Windy Hill, but from the bus it looked very touristy - there was a large windmill that seemed to be the main attraction and some restaurants and cafes.

Little temple and kimchi pots along the trail to Haegeumgang

Windy cliff-side trail

A tour boat circling Haegeumgang

For me Haegeumgang was definitely the better place to see. There is a trail from the parking lot where the bus drops you off that will lead through a little forest and eventually out onto the cliff tops that look out toward Haegeumgang, a small island with beautiful rocky cliffs. There are boat rides that will take you on a little loop around the island, but I found the view from the hiking trail to be good enough on its own. 

Back by the main parking lot and bus stop is a very small town, just a few houses and shops and a good number of restaurants serving up fresh seafood. If you're in the mood to try something exotic from the ocean, this would be a good place for it.

Pretty great way to ring in the Lunar New Year

We spent the rest of our time in Geoje just soaking in the sun and the warmth on the little beach near our guesthouse, before it was time to go back to cold, windy Pohang and work. There are a lot more interesting things to do and see on Geojedo, so I definitely would love to go back again. One of the main things on my list is visiting the Geoje POW Camp, a place that my grandfather actually visited during his service in the navy in the 1950's. There are also some museums, fortresses and a castle that can be seen, and there is a small island named Oedo that is a popular attraction, as the island has been converted into a garden that I've heard is really beautiful.

I highly recommend a trip to Tongyeong and Geojedo, both places are full of history, culture and gorgeous nature - and it's a great place to go if you're looking for a break from the typical South Korean winter.

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