Sun and sea in Yeosu – Two weeks ago we went on a short trip to the south coast. Nothing too extravagant, but it was a big deal for us because this is the first time we’ve traveled outside the Seoul metropolitan area since we got back from Texas at the beginning of last year. You know, right before the pandemic came along. So we were happy to get out there for a change of scenery. My original idea for this entry was to write something short and post a few photos, but... well, let’s just say that I’ve been busy with other things, and this grew into something far longer than I had originally intended. So grab yourself a cup of tea (and maybe some emergency rations) and settle in for a long haul.
We decided to leave late Sunday morning to avoid what we suspected would be the weekend crowds. Yes, the pandemic is still a thing here as the vaccine drive is ongoing (we have not been able to sign up for shots yet, and probably won’t be able to until the end of the summer), but people do get on with their lives, and we wanted to avoid large crowds of people if at all possible. After a long drive south we arrived in the coastal city of Yeosu and made our way to our hotel, the Utop (pronounced “you top”) Marina.
A quick note on the photos before we continue: You can click on all of the photos in this entry to get a larger version (which is not how photos embedded in journal entries usually behave). I may also put up what I call a “companion gallery” in the Imagery section, which will consist of just the photos and brief caption; if I do this, I will post an update here and put a link in the RSS feed as well. There are only twelve photos, which might strike you as a bit disappointing, but it was really a question of getting something up in a relatively timely manner. I started with 389 photos and culled those down to 254, and I decided that roughly 5% of that would be a good number to aim for. Are there more photos I could have posted? Sure. But it would have taken me that much longer to put this together (on top of how long it took me to write this). Remember when we went to Europe in 2019? I said at the time that I would “eventually” post some photos from the trip... and here we are almost two years later with no photos. So I figured better a handful than none at all.
Anyway, that’s our hotel up there, around sunset on our first day. It’s quite neat in that every single room is an ocean-view room; there is a single corridor that runs along the city side of the hotel, with all the rooms on the other side, facing the water. This makes a lot of sense if you ask me, and it was one of the reasons why we chose this particular hotel. Another reason was that they were having a special offer and upgraded us to a larger room for free.
When we arrived, though, we were surprised to see that there was a huge crowd of people waiting to check in. We had to go through the usual pandemic protocol of having our temperature taken and then giving our information for contact tracing. Then we took a number and waited for that number to be called. I think the system said the wait would be about forty minutes, but it didn’t end up taking that long. Still, we were pretty floored that there were so many people there. School is not out yet, and it was at the end of the weekend, so we thought that the place would be close to empty—why would they have a special offer, after all? I guess it ended up being a pretty effective special offer.
We didn’t do too much on the first day. We arrived shortly before three o’clock, but it was well past three by the time we checked in. I was tired from the long drive and had a headache, so once we got our bags up to our room, we just went out for a walk around the area, which is where the Yeosu Expo was held in 2012. This was just under a decade ago, but we were surprised to see how old some of facilities already looked. I guess the ocean can be pretty rough on infrastructure if it is not continuously maintained.
When it came time for dinner, we decided to head out to a gukbap place that HJ had seen on the drive into the city. “Gukbap” literally means “soup rice,” and that’s pretty much what the dish is—soup with rice in it. It is a Korean comfort food, and it sounded real good to me, so we looked up the place on Naver maps and saw that it wasn’t too far away. I wasn’t interested in getting back into the car and trying to figure out where to park once we got there, so we walked. Turns out that there is big stonking hill in between the hotel and the restaurant, which of course didn’t show up on the street map.
I’ve fallen victim to this before, actually. When we visited Porto in 2019, for example, Google Maps showed that our hotel was very close to the station (that was one of the reasons we picked it) and should only be a few minutes walk. What the map didn’t show, though, was the big stonking hill that we would have to climb to get to the hotel—a hill that was so steep at one point that there were several steep flights of stairs, some of which were crumbling. I ended up having to make several trips hauling our bags up to the hotel, and I happened to pass a couple of Korean girls along the way who had despaired of ever reaching the top, so I hauled their bags up, too, being the good Samaritan that I am. And yet, even after that experience, somehow I was surprised by a hill again in Yeosu. This would be a theme of our trip, as Yeosu is an extremely hilly city—so much so that HJ said it reminded her of Porto.
We did make it to the restaurant, though, and the gukbap was a very welcome meal. We both got the “everything” version of the dish, which included ox head meat, tripe, and seonji, or clotted blood pudding—all hearty, rib-sticking ingredients. The walk back was mostly downhill when it wasn’t level, so we had a much easier time of it. We did some more walking around the area, and then shortly before sunset we headed over to the “Big O.” This is a large metal ring that shoots out both water and fire and is used for shows. A curtain of water fell from the top of the ring, and then they projected moving images onto that. We were some distance away (there are seats right in front of the ring, but you have to buy tickets for those), so we only had a partial view of these images, but we got to see everything else. Colored fountains shot water out from the ring in various patterns, and at the most dramatic points in the story great fireballs erupted on all sides. I would have put up a photo of this, but to be honest none of the photos I snapped really did it justice, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. Or you can watch some Youtube videos of it.
It was around nine o’clock when the show ended and we were beat from a long day, so we went back to the hotel to clean up and rest. We did enjoy some time out on our balcony, which was yet another reason why we chose this hotel.
Here is HJ sitting on said balcony the next morning. The Venezia hotel, in the background, was our other option in the area, and it had its pros and cons. But when HJ showed me photos of the rooms in each hotel, I noticed immediately that the Utop Marina rooms each had a private balcony, while the Venezia’s rooms did not. That was the deciding factor for me. I didn’t really care too much about the other factors, such as the fact that the Venezia is closer to the water; as you can see from that photo, we were close enough. But having a balcony, a place where we could sit outside and enjoy the fresh air without our masks on was too good to pass up. In retrospect, the balcony was the best thing about that room, and I’m glad that we had it.
It may sound trivial, but masks were one of the many factors that discouraged us from traveling earlier, and it was annoying to have to wear a mask whenever someone else was around. For those of you out there who may not live in Korea, everyone wears masks when in public here. It’s not really even a public health and safety thing—there is no government regulation that says you have to wear a mask whenever you leave the house, for example. There are regulations about wearing masks indoors, on the subway, etc., but technically you don’t have to wear a mask everywhere. People do anyway, though, because of a thing called “nunchi.” This concept has a number of connected meanings, but in this case it boils down to caring a lot (some might say too much) about what other people think of you. Basically, no one wants to be seen as uncaring or endangering public health, so people wear masks even if the nearest person is ten meters away. It wasn’t like this from the very start of the pandemic—I did not wear a mask on my morning walks to school, for example—but eventually the stares and the glares won out and now everyone wears masks whenever they leave the house. It’s not ideal, but if the other option is a large portion of the population refusing to wear masks at all, even indoors and in crowded locations, well, I guess I’d rather have this. I do wish we could find a logical happy medium, though. OK, mask tangent over.
On the second day we got up, spent some time having our morning tea and coffee out on the balcony, and then got back in the car to do some more driving (the “we” part of the driving, of course, means me). This was, after all, why we had come to Yeosu in the first place. It’s a nice enough city in its own right, I suppose, but the city itself is really just like any other small provincial city in Korea (sorry, Yeosu people!). HJ compared it to Porto, but that comparison was only about the geography—Porto is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever visited, but I can’t say the same about Yeosu. We didn’t hate it, mind you. It was fine, even nice. But I’m not driving four hours and change for “fine” or “nice.” No, Yeosu’s real merit is its location on the southern coast with its sprinkling of small islands in Dadohae National Park. (“Dadohae” literally means “Many Islands Sea,” yet another example of very direct naming.) So it was back into the car to drive down the coast, over some bridges, and onto some islands.
We drove south from the city, over a bridge, and onto the very large Dolsan Island. If you know some Korean, you might be tempted to think that “dolsan” means “stone mountain,” but “dol” as “stone” is a native Korean word; place names like this are almost always derived from Sino-Korean characters. The “dol” character here can have one of two meanings: “suddenly” or “protruding.” I think “Suddenly Mountain Island” is pretty funny, although also rather unlikely since I doubt anyone would have been surprised at seeing a mountain in the area. “Protruding Mountain Island” also seems a bit obvious (I mean, mountains protrude—that’s what they do), but is probably more likely.
We wanted to stop at a beach along the way to at least get our feet wet in the ocean—you can’t go to the ocean without at least dipping your feet in, right?—and the first beach we saw on the map was Museulmok Beach, right off the main road. When we got there, though, we saw that the beach was very rocky. I was in my flip flops and tried walking out toward the water a little bit, but it was rough going. There were also a ton of little pill bugs that were scurrying everywhere, which made me reluctant to go any further. HJ didn’t chance it at all, as she is still in the long process of recovering from her knee surgery. So we abandoned Museulmok Beach and got back on the road going south.
We did have a bit of a close call right after leaving the beach. The road from the beach merges onto the main road at a Y-intersection that is apparently dangerous enough to warrant a traffic light. So I waited patiently for our light to turn green, and when it did I slowly began to pull out, looking both right and left for oncoming traffic. It was a good thing I did, because a car on the main road came zipping in from our right and blithely sped through the red light. Had I simply pulled out as normal, the car would have run right into us. I honked loudly, more out of anger and surprise than anything else, but the other car just kept on going as if nothing had happened. I mention this just in case anyone out there has occasion to drive down in the provinces: Be careful! I hate driving in Seoul because of all the traffic, but to be honest driving down in the provinces is a lot more dangerous. Adherence to the rules of the road is sketchy at best, so you always have to be on your guard and can never take anything for granted. Also, drive slowly when you are near a populated area, because you never know when a local (usually an old man or woman, as they make up much of the population in the provinces) is going to step out into the road or scoot across on a moped. Remember what I said about knife safety in my last entry? Well, the same applies here: Assume that the worst possible thing that could happen will happen, and drive accordingly.
Anyway, we continued on south and saw that there was another beach along the way that looked promising, Bangjukpo Beach. This was smaller than Museulmok Beach, but it was much more accessible. It was also nearly empty, so we took off our masks (there were two other people on the beach, but they were about thirty meters away, which we figured was a sufficiently safe distance) and our shoes and walked out into the South Sea. This was the first and last time we got our feet in the water, but better than not at all!
Our final destination on this drive was not a beach at all, though, but practically the opposite: a hermitage perched high on a mountain overlooking the sea.
These are some of the buildings at Hyangilam, which means “Sun-Facing Hermitage,” as it faces east and the rising sun. It was quite a hike up here, but it was worth it for the views. The climb itself was also interesting, as the path up passes through a number of tight squeezes between large rocks, presumably symbolizing a shedding of worldly concerns. Once at the top, we enjoyed the views out over the sea, which were quite calming. The famous monk Wonhyo must have thought so as well, as there is a large, flat rock just below the hermitage with a sign that labels it as the place where he engaged in seated meditation (chwaseon, or zazen in Japanese). I decided not to include any photographs of the view in my allotted dozen because, while nice, none of the photographs really did the view justice, and I had better shots of the ocean from other vantage points.
After getting our fill of the hermitage, we made our way back down the mountain to fill our bellies—our bodies needed sustenance as well as our souls. There were quite a few options along the way (if you’ve ever been to a temple in Korea, you’ll know that the paths up to them are often lined with restaurants and other shops, which has always struck me as somewhat incongruous), but we had our sights set on what might seem like an odd choice: Seoul Restaurant. Don’t let the name fool you, though; the food here was very much typical of the region. We ordered marinated crab—which included a crab marinated in soy sauce and a crab marinated in a spicy pepper sauce—and soybean paste stew. The latter is a common dish throughout Korea, but the soybean paste in this region is much lighter in color than what you usually see in Seoul. We of course got a number of side dishes with our meal as well, including the Dolsan Island specialty and a personal favorite of mine, mustard green kimchi (gat kimchi). The food was excellent; if you ever visit Hyangilam and are looking for a place to eat, I can recommend this place.
As we were eating, we saw a small sign near the cash register saying that customers could get 10% off drinks at the cafe above the restaurant. We were thinking of relaxing at a cafe somewhere anyway, preferably with a view of the sea, so this seemed perfect. After we finished our meal we went up to the cafe (I’ve forgotten the name, but it’s right above Seoul Restaurant), where I got some homemade plum tea. The plum tea you usually get in cafes is quite sweet, but I could tell that this was genuinely homemade, and it tasted like actual plums and not just sugar. So we sipped our teas, enjoyed the view, and let our stomachs do their work.
From the cafe we drove back to Yeosu and our hotel. With the car deposited in the underground parking lot, we headed out to catch a bus south to the center of town. Our initial destination was a building called Jinnamgwan, which was originally a headquarters for Admiral Yi Sun-sin, a famous figure in Korea’s history (there is a statue of him towering over Sejong Boulevard in downtown Seoul). The building had burned down in the early 18th century, (being made entirely of wood), but it was rebuilt a few years later. When we got off the bus and climbed the stairs to where the building was supposed to be, though, we were disappointed to find that it was being restored. To make matters worse, they had built a huge temporary structure around the entire building, so we couldn’t catch even a glimpse of it.
We decided to instead check out some nearby murals that we had seen signs for. “Mural villages” are something designed to promote tourism to an area; they got their start with artists descending on certain neighborhoods to leave their marks and then morphed into something less organic and more deliberate. The “mural village” in Yeosu is definitely of the latter variety, and we were a bit disappointed with what we saw. It was interesting to walk through the narrow, winding (and often climbing) alleyways nonetheless, and we did get some nice views of the city and sea below (photos of this later, I promise!).
Back down at sea level, we headed toward Yi Sun-sin Square and started looking around for someplace to eat dinner. We went down one street labeled “Food Culture Street” and passed by a restaurant with photos of famous celebrities and politicians hanging in the window—all people who had eaten in this restaurant. We figured it had to be good, so we went in and got a table by the door. We ordered a hoe dish (raw fish) of a type of sole, but the red pepper seasoning was very overpowering. Interestingly enough, spicy is the one thing it really wasn’t—the overwhelming notes were sweet and sour. Dinner was also somewhat marred by a table of twelve men who were drinking and being very loud. In Seoul, at least, we still have restrictions that prohibit groups of more than four people from eating together in restaurants; either they don’t have those same restrictions in Yeosu or they just don’t care. All in all, it wasn’t the best dining experience we’ve ever had.
After dinner, we walked along the seafront as the sun went down. We wanted to find a bar or cafe where we could sit and look out over the water, and we did eventually stumble on just such a place. It was a franchise cafe that we could just as easily visit in Seoul “A Twosome Place,” for you Seoul residents), so we hesitated a bit before going in, but the second-floor terrace was perfectly placed for views of the night sea. This is something that Yeosu is famous for thanks to a popular song by the group Busker Busker, called “Yeosu Night Sea.” Once the song became popular Yeosu ran with it; I lost count of how many restaurants and bars used the phrase in their names or advertising. It was indeed nice to sit up there on the balcony and enjoy some tea and cake as we gazed out over the night sea. It would be unfair to draw comparisons between Yeosu and a place like Porto here; Yeosu is definitely no Porto, but it does it’s own thing.
We could have walked back to the hotel from the cafe, but we weren’t sure of the route and were wary of perhaps encountering more hilly streets after our long day, so we caught a taxi back and retired for another evening on our private balcony.
The following day, our last full day in Yeosu, we took to the road again, this time heading southwest toward a few smaller islands connected by bridges. As we reached the southwestern tip of the mainland, though, we saw a sign for Baegya Island Lighthouse. Baegya Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, but it sits by itself and does not lead anywhere else (unless you get on a ferry). Still, it sounded like it might make for an interesting detour, so we went for it. When we reached the end of the road at the southeastern tip of the island, a man working outside the Coast Guard station there told us that the lighthouse itself wasn’t much to see, but if we followed a path down from it we would reach the shore and a large wooden platform. We did as he suggested and ended up with some great views all to ourselves.
I would particularly recommend clicking on this photograph, even if you haven’t clicked on any of the others, because the larger version is a panoramic view from the rocks on the shore. It probably doesn’t look as impressive as it felt at the time, but it’s hard to convey the refreshing sea breeze and the sound of the waves gently crashing on the rocks. Oh, and also the fact that we were completely alone, which meant that we were free to take off our masks and enjoy breathing the fresh sea air.
From the lighthouse we backtracked to the mainland and then continued on our original path. It was quite a nice drive over the four small islands, and when we reached the mainland on the other side we turned around and drove back. In addition to the views from the car, there were a few “view parks,” or places where you could park and enjoy the views out over the ocean. I appreciated these, since it is a lot easier to enjoy the views when you don’t have to be concentrating on the road ahead. One of these “view parks” was particularly interesting, as it seemed to be built around a local shrine to a village guardian deity. The shrine itself was enclosed in a small building and inaccessible, but a sign outside noted that it was a “holy place” and asked visitors to refrain from urinating or littering there. I have no idea why anyone would want to urinate on the shrine or the sacred tree next to it when there is a very nice restroom ten meters away, but apparently it was at least enough of a problem to need mentioning.
While the views were great, one thing that these small islands did not have was a wide selection of lunch options. After searching online, we found one restaurant on Nang Island—the biggest of the four small islands—that looked popular, so we stopped there and had some seaweed bibimbap (literally “mixed rice,” meaning rice mixed with various toppings, in this case seaweed). It was unique and quite good. Our stomachs filled, we drove back to Yeosu and relaxed on the balcony before heading back out for the next item on our schedule. Here is a photo I took from the balcony, looking out toward Odong Island and catching the “jet boat” on its way back in. This is a speed boat that takes tourists out and weaves back and forth (as you can see from the wake) along the way.
Another option for tourists wanting to get out on the water is a “yacht” cruise. Our hotel had a buy-one-get-one-free special on tickets for this cruise, so we decided to go with this option. I put “yacht” in quotes up there because the word has a much larger semantic range in Korean and refers to any sort of small sailing vessel. (In truth, the boat was more accurately a catamaran, meaning a double-hulled vessel.) I might have also put “cruise” in quotes as well, because it was a twenty-minute ride that saw us leave the harbor, turn around, and then sail back in. Still, it was fun to get out on the water. The most entertaining aspect of the cruise was two girls in dresses and high heels, attire completely inappropriate for the trip but completely appropriate for taking pictures to post to Instagram. Unfortunately for them, they could not escape the reality of being on a boat, and one of the girls snapped her shoe clean in half when she misstepped. She’s lucky she didn’t end up in the water.
After getting back from our boat ride, we walked down the street to the elevator leading up to the cable car station. Our plans had originally included a ride in this cable car, which travels over the strait between the mainland and Dolsan Island. However, checking online earlier we discovered that the cable car was closed for routine maintenance on both Monday and Tuesday. HJ had been talking about the cable car for a while, so it was quite a disappointment to learn that it would not fit into our schedule. We did have Wednesday morning, but the plan was to leave Yeosu early for Suncheon Bay and then head on to the green tea fields at Boseong; the cable car didn’t start running until ten in the morning, and that was going to be too late.
As a consolation prize, though, we made our way via elevator up to the cable car station, from where we had some nice views out over the area, including another view of Odong Island and the causeway and road leading out to it.
There was also a cafe up there that sold, among other things, mugwort ice cream, so we got a cup of that and sat out on the deck. Unfortunately, the views of the ocean (and everything else) are blocked by layer upon layer of wooden hearts attached to the fencing. Maybe you’ve seen those bridges where lovers attach locks and then throw the keys into the water below, symbolizing their eternal and undying love, yada yada yada (there is something similar at N Seoul Tower). The idea here is apparently to write a wish on a wooden heart (which are helpfully on sale at the cafe) then attach it to the fence around the deck outside. These hearts are several layers thick now and are pretty much the only thing you can see if you sit down at a table outside. They must have run out of room on the fences, because they erected a number of pillars for people to attach their hearts to. Unfortunately, due to the way the hearts end up hanging, these pillars now resemble nothing less than (please excuse the image) giant wooden phalluses pointing skyward. (Yes, I got a photo; no, I am not including it in my dozen.)
We rode the elevator back down to street level and continued on through a tunnel and to the center of town. Had we known the previous day that it was so close, we might have just walked it, although in fairness we had done quite a bit of walking already. At any rate, we found ourselves beneath one of the bridges in an area that seems to have been specially designated as a sort of pocha village. “Pocha” is a shortened form of “Pojang macha,” which literally means “covered horse(-drawn) carriage.” What it really refers to, though, is tents set up on the side of the street where you can get alcohol and food. Pojang macha were quite a popular thing when I first arrived in Korea—in fact, I remember ending up at pojang macha in the wee hours of the morning after other drinking establishments had closed when I was a graduate student. They were just part of the scenery in Seoul and other cities. But then municipal governments began cracking down on them, and they have since disappeared from the streets. Now, “pocha” refers to this type of drinking establishment—serving cheap drinks and a particular type of food—but generally housed in an actual building and not a tent. Yeosu, however, decided to resurrect the pocha as part of their tourism marketing efforts. I’ll come back to these (with a photo) later; for the time being, I will move on, as we took a look at the offerings and moved on as well.
We didn’t feel quite ready for dinner yet, so we continued our walk along the waterfront to the “Hamel Lighthouse.” This was erected in honor of Hendrick Hamel, a Dutch sailor who was shipwrecked with his crew on Jeju Island, off the south coast of Korea, in the 17th century. He ended up spending a total of thirteen years in Korea before he and the crew that remained with him managed to escape to Japan. The Wikipedia entry on Hamel notes that although Hamel and his crew were not allowed to leave, “they were permitted to live relatively normal lives.” The information panels on Hamel found near the lighthouse in Yeosu, though, acknowledge that he and his crew were basically captives and slaves, even if they were allowed to live in comfort at times (depending on who had custody of them). Hamel wrote about his time in Korea after he escaped to Japan, becoming the first Westerner to give an account of Joseon Korea to the outside world.
After a quick visit to the lighthouse and a perusal of the information panels, we decided on a place for dinner. The pocha didn’t really appeal to us—not that they looked bad, but they seemed to focus more on the drinking part of the experience, and we were more interested in the food. Fortunately, very close by we found a place specializing in a famous local dish, octopus stir fry. In fact, it claimed to be the originator of the dish with a huge lighted sign above the restaurant that read, “That’s right! This is the original home of octopus stir fry.” We saw that there were tables still open on the patio out front, so we walked up and asked if we could sit there. The young man who greeted us was very keen on making sure that we understood that once we sat down, we could not switch tables. Apparently a lot of people didn’t like eating outside and later asked for an indoor table. I don’t know why you would want to eat inside a stuffy restaurant (especially if there is a pandemic going on) when there are tables out in the fresh air on the waterfront. Needless to say, we were never tempted to ask for an indoor table.
This is the octopus stir fry. There are actually two types of octopus here; you can see the bigger “dol octopus” (which may mean “stone octopus,” but I’m not sure) on the right and a smaller “nakji” octopus with its legs wrapped around the side of the pan toward the bottom. There are also two large shrimp arranged in the shape of a heart (because of course they are), two abalone below them, and a big pile of gat kimchi on the left, along with a bunch of vegetables (that’s the name of the restaurant branded onto a big slice of mushroom). Both of the octopuses had had their heads removed from the rest of their bodies, so they were definitely dead, but the abalone appeared to still be alive and started writhing when the heat was turned on. I quickly turned them over to put them out of their misery; they ended up being the tastiest part of the dish. The supposed star of the show, the dol octopus, was OK, but dol octopus in general tends to be rather chewy. We thought that maybe this one would be different from what we’ve had before, but it wasn’t. Still, overall, the food was pretty tasty. Oh, and since it seemed like the perfect meal to have with a beer, we ended up ordering a “Yeosu Night Ale.” It’s not actually made in Yeosu—it is just capitalizing on the popular connotations of Yeosu and the night sea—but it somehow seemed appropriate.
By the time we finished eating it was mostly dark, and we walked around to take in more of that famous Yeosu night sea. We first walked back out to Hamel’s Lighthouse, from where we had a nice view of the restaurant where we had just eaten.
Our restaurant is the big one on the right. This is actually an expansion of the original restaurant, which is located just to the left of that. Most of the remaining restaurants on that strip are pseudo-pocha (“pseudo” because they are in buildings and not tents), with one odd exception; if you look just to the left of the original octopus stir fry restaurant, you’ll see a place called “Joseon Pizza.” While the octopus place ended up with a continuously renewed line of at least a dozen people for the entire time we were there (people started pouring in about five minutes after we sat down), and the other pocha also had big crowds, “Joseon Pizza” was completely empty. They may have had the best pizza in Korea for all we know... but nobody goes out to this part of Yeosu for pizza. You come here to go to a pocha or a seafood place. I can sort of see the logic—“Hey, everyone is doing the pocha thing, so we’ll do something different!”—but it strikes me as a really poor decision to set up a pizza place here.
We left the empty pizza place behind and walked east, back toward the pocha. And here is that photograph I promised, taken once it was dark and the proper mood had been established.
As you can see here, they did have tents up, attached to what appear to be kitchens set up inside small containers. This is not what pocha used to look like—they had canvas flaps that came down the sides as well, and the “kitchens” were much simpler affairs—but I suppose it’s as close as you’re going to get these days. They were all quite full with young people sharing food and drinks. We did take a look at some of the food as we walked by, and we were satisfied that we had made the right choice for dinner. One interesting thing to note in this photo: That neon sign on the right-hand side, in addition to saying, “Yeosu Romantic Pocha” on the right, also says, “2026 World Islands Expo.” We saw a banner for this elsewhere, and apparently it is something that Yeosu is trying to bring to the city in 2026. The thing is, I cannot find any information on this anywhere on the internet outside of Korean results, so it may very well be something that Yeosu is trying to initiate.
Between “romantic Yeosu,” the Yeosu night sea, the many pocha, and this “World Islands Expo,” I have to say that Yeosu appears to be doing everything it can to attract tourists. This is a perennial problem for small cities in Korea, actually. Basically, if you’re not Seoul or Busan—or if you don’t have some other industry to keep the city afloat—you’re kind of screwed, so you have to find something about your city that is worth coming to visit for. Yeosu is fortunate in that Busker Busker kicked off the “night sea” craze, but they certainly haven’t been resting on their laurels since then. Yeosu had its international expo in 2012, but (as I mentioned toward the beginning of the entry) most of the facilities and infrastructure that were built for that are now in pretty sad shape and don’t seem to be used for much of anything, except for the Big O. If you want to stay relevant, you have to keep coming up with new things.
After walking around the area for a while, we made our way back toward our hotel, stopping at the cable car station elevator for some night views of the area. As we stood there on the walkway staring out at Odong Island, I started thinking. Suncheon Bay is nice, but really it is just a nature preserve area and a habitat for migratory birds. This really wasn’t the time of year for migratory birds, so I wasn’t sure what there would be there for us to see (I had been to the bay many years ago without HJ, and all I remember about it is the birds). So I suggested that we skip Suncheon entirely, get up a little later than originally planned, and get on the first cable car leaving the station. That would still give us time to get to the Boseong tea fields in the afternoon, and I didn’t mind getting back to Seoul in the evening, especially since it was the middle of the week and there wouldn’t be as much traffic. I knew that HJ had really wanted to ride the cable car, so I figured it was worth it. It didn’t take much convincing to get her to agree.
We went back down the elevator and then walked out along the causeway to Odong Island. It is about 700 meters out to the island, and then there is another 700-meter stretch of seawall leading to a lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor. Mostly everyone we saw, whether on foot or on bicycle, was heading out to the lighthouse, but it had been a long day and we were knackered, so we just walked to the island and back, and then along the waterfront back to our hotel, where we chilled on the balcony for one final evening.
The next morning we took our time getting up and enjoying the morning sunshine on the balcony. (Did I mention that we spent a lot of time on the balcony? We certainly got our money’s worth out of it.) Then we packed up all our luggage, checked out, brought the luggage down to the car, and were over to the cable car station by around 9:30. There were some people already waiting around, and we didn’t end up being on the first car out, but we were on the third car out, which was good enough. Also, while the cars usually seat about six people, due to social distancing guidelines they had only one party per car, which means that HJ and I had a car to ourselves and could take off our masks without worry. I do remember seeing people coming the other way with masks on, which baffled me, but to each his own. At any rate, the views of Yeosu and the strait between the mainland and Dolsan Island were great.
This is one of the many photographs I took from the cable car on the way over (you can see the reflection of the interior of the car off the glass in the lower right). This is an area we had been to many times before—in fact, we passed right over Hamel’s Lighthouse and the restaurant where we had had dinner the night before—but it was our first time seeing it from above. Was it worth giving up a trip to Suncheon Bay? Well, considering the fact that it also meant slightly less driving for me, yes, I think it was well worth it.
When we arrived at the station on Dolsan Island, we went up to the observation deck to look around. A lot of the people who were coming in were doing the same and then turning around to get right back onto a cable car going back to the mainland station. But we saw a park down below that we thought we should at least check out while we were there. The park itself didn’t turn out to be anything special, but there was a path leading down to an overlook over Dolsan Bridge (another bridge leading back to the mainland to the west, not the one we passed by on our way over). Yeosu does have a lot of impressive viewpoints, given all the mountains and its location right on the sea, but I think that overlook might have been the nicest view we got with our feet still on the ground.
After enjoying the scenery, we made our way back to the station and onto a cable car going back to the mainland. I put my camera away for the ride back—I had taken more than enough photos on the way over, and I wanted to enjoy the ride and appreciate the scenery with my own two eyes this time. It was still only 10:30 when we arrived back at the hotel, which was nice because it meant we wouldn’t have to have lunch before leaving for Boseong. Instead, we drove the hour and change there and ate at a simple lunch (more of that “white soybean paste” stew for me, and cockles on rice for HJ) at a restaurant near the entrance to the fields.
We then went into to the tea fields proper, which are set up as a park of sorts and require tickets costing a few thousand won (I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but it was pretty cheap). Before reaching the actual tea fields, there is a fountain and a couple of shops, and we stopped in one of the shops to look around. We saw that they had tea tasting for two thousand won per person, which was ideal—it’s cheaper than you would pay for tea in a normal tea shop, but the fact that it wasn’t free meant that we didn’t feel pressured to buy anything at the shop. The tea we had was a first flush green tea (these are the new growth leaves that are the first to be harvested that season), and it was quite nice. We brewed four cups each, and each brewing showed a different side of the tea.
Having enjoyed our tea, we finally went out to see the fields themselves. Boseong is very famous for its tea fields, so if you’ve ever seen a photograph of rounded, countered rows of tea plants in Korea, there’s a good chance that you have seen Boseong. Here’s my photograph, at any rate.
The tea is grown on the hillside, and the rows of bushes follow the contours of the land. It also makes for a very healthy hike, especially if (as we did) you climb all the way up to the highest point where you can look down over the fields and even see the ocean in the distance. The path back down was a steep, rocky trail that wound through the woods; I was worried about HJ’s knee, but she took it slow and steady and made it down with no problem. Once we were back at the bottom, we decided to reward ourselves with some soft ice cream from one of the shops—green tea ice cream, of course!
It was shortly before four when we finished our ice cream and left the tea fields. All that remained was the long drive back to Seoul, stopping for dinner at a rest stop along the way. All in all, it wasn’t a bad drive. Driving back at the end of a long weekend is the absolute worst, when the expressway turns into a parking lot well before you reach the city. But this was the middle of the week, and with a new (it’s a few years old now, I think) tunnel that skips the outskirts of the city and dumps you out right near the university, the drive is even easier. It’s a toll tunnel of course, but it’s worth every won.
And that wraps up our recent trip to Yeosu. As I mentioned at the start, I didn’t really intend for this entry to be as long as it ended up being (over 7700 words), but once I got writing it was hard to stop. I guess it’s been so long since we’ve traveled that this trip felt like it meant more than it might have otherwise. I hope you enjoyed tagging along.