I made the decision to apply for graduate school in October so posting on my website took a bit of a backseat. Since I submitted in December I’ve been burnt out (I applied to a writing program). I’m posting my monthly updates in restrospect just to get myself back on track!!
There were many holidays this month and thus, lots of opportunity for travel. Covid numbers have been dropping fairly consistently, almost all cases are tied to churches it seems, and I’m always wearing a mask when out. It seems like travel is back on for the time being 🙂
Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and Pohang
This was only my second organized tour that I’ve been on, and through the same company of Adventure Korea, to visit the small island of Ulleungdo to the east. It’s known as the Mystery Island, because hardly anyone has heard of it and only around 9,000 people live there. They’re known for their squid and pumpkin production, and it’s proximity to the disputed territory of Dokdo. Almost everything on the island is related to at least one of those three things.
And it’s freaking beautiful.
I think it’s in my top five places I’ve been in this country (and I’ve been to a lot of places now, over 40). It’s simply charming. It’s mostly just a big rock in the sea, but they’ve done a lot with it. The landscape is uncompromising and yet they’ve been able to, quite literally, carve out a niche for the people who live here.
They are currently in the process of building an airport that should take around 4 more years to complete. I’m normally not a fan of bashing tourism or complaining about crowds. But part of me cannot help but bemoan the fact that this tiny island will soon be overrun, mystery lost. It’s one of the only places I can confidently say it’s unlikely I’ll ever return to. The three hour bus on top of the four hour ferry, the struggle to get there was part of the adventure and I’m not sure I want to see it when you can hop a flight from Seoul.
Dokdo is, in my opinion, a necessary place to visit if you’re heading to Ulleundo. Don’t expect to always be able to step foot on the small rocky island disputed between Korea and Japan, though. The sea is often too rough to dock. And in my case, a typhoon a month earlier had damaged the docking area. But the guards came out and waved at us!
They really are very pretty rocks. Even more important was seeing the reaction of the Korean’s around me. It was like Disneyland, and boy were people pushy! Korean’s write speeches and essays throughout school, and people own all sorts of Dokdo paraphernalia as a matter of course. My coteacher wears a Dokdo mask to work a lot. I think you’re getting the point. Just seeing the reaction of the Koreans around me, many of whom thanked me for waving a Korean flag before the island, was eye opening. To see how much an entire nation of people cared about these rocks in the middle of the sea kept me from pushing my way through the crowds to get better pictures. For many Koreans, being able to visit these islands is considered a lifetime goal. By virtue of not being Korean it could never mean as much to me, but it was incredible to watch how much it meant to them.
Pohang was a huge let down, sorry to say. Most places in Korea that have “nothing to do” such as Daegu, Ulsan, or Daejeon I’ve found the exact opposite. I had great times there. Pohang has quite literally nothing to do. It’s a nice enough looking city, their relationship with the steel works company is quite sweet, but otherwise? Meh.
My second trip to Jeonju, but this time with company! I had two main reasons for going on this trip:
- Actually getting to try some of the famous food.
- Staying in a very fancy hanok with a mile long history.
Of course, I also like Jeonju! I recommend this city for dressing up in Hanbok as it is far cheaper than Seoul and there is still a lot to do in your dresses. The food was good but somewhat sadly I didn’t actually try anything new Korean wise. Most of the famous options were either bibimbab or had seafood, neither of which interested us :/ We went for Indian and bought some Moju instead!
The fancy hanok, known as Hagindang, was incredible. What a fantastic and unique stay. If you have the money to splurge out, I highly recommend it. The website is entirely in Korean but we didn’t have too much difficulty navigating with the aid of Google Translate. The family has owned this home for many generations. It’s one of the largest private properties I’ve seen in Korea and it was fascinating to see how that select few lived in the past. It’s also a filming location for Mr. Sunshine and a popular place to have photoshoots done.
Jeonju is right up there with Gyeongju in my list of must-visits on a trip to Korea. So many people only visit Seoul, Busan, or Jeju. There is so much more to see!
And that was pretty much it for October! To Jinju for some dim sum, to Busan to start laser hair removal, and that’s it. My November travel report is coming up soon!