This past weekend, I joined a trip organized by Discover Korea to Tongyeong, a city located on the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. After a less than sound sleep on the overnight bus, our group of 70 arrived at the city known as the “Napoli of Korea”. The sun hadn’t yet risen but I was quickly snapped out of my grogginess at the sight of the sea. The main attraction of the tour was a hike on Jagged Ridge Island, but the hiking itself looked pretty intense and I opted to take the route to So Mae Moor Do, an island known for its stunning views and natural beauty. Our group loaded up into taxis and boarded the ferry at the terminal. It was a bit too windy to ride on the deck, so we chatted and got to know one another on the hour and a half ride to the island from the inside. I had wanted to catch a glimpse of the islands as we boated through the Hallyeo National Marine Park, but I was enjoying meeting some new friends. It’s hard to find like-minded people here so I was glad to have the opportunity to do so.
Immediately upon docking at So Mae Moor Do, the winds took control of my hair and the aromas of gasoline and salty air captivated my senses. Sea gulls squawked overhead and sea spray splashed us as the waves crashed on nearby rocks. It was an environment I had been away from for far too long and I was loving it, though I could feel a tinge of homesickness bubbling up in my stomach. The island is basically inhabited by fishermen and there seemed to always be someone carrying around a net of the morning’s catch from here to there or a woman sitting on one of the small dusty roads selling a bundle of dried seaweed. Trying not to get blown a way, our group didn’t waste a minute to head up the mountain for better views.
Fishing boats embellished the harbor’s dock.
Exhausted and tipsy, but satisfied with good food, good company, and an overall good day, I headed back to the room and crashed. It was an early morning and after a breakfast of egg and cheese sandwiches (oh, how I’ve missed them!) we headed to the harbor to see a replica of the famous turtle ships. Lee Sun Shin, a Korean naval commander during the 1500s, is known for being one of the best admirals in the country’s history, being victorious in almost every naval battle he commanded. He utilized turtle ships in his battles- vessels that had a top deck covered with an armored shell adorned with spikes to discourage the enemy from coming on board. Lee forever became a hero to Koreans when he defeated a Japanese attack of over 300 ships with just 13 turtle ships of his own. He was a pretty cool ass dude if I might say so myself, so it was cool to see the ships.
We took a different route back to Seoul to check out the Jinhae cherry blossom festival. With the weather still being a bit chilly, the flowers had only bloomed 20% but they were still quite beautiful. We walked along the city’s stream on the wooden bridge that stretched for some distance. As with all festivals, copious amounts of soju are involved and we had free entertainment from some old men who had had just a bit too much of the firewater. As they removed various items of clothing- a handkerchief here, a belt there- they used them to resemble instruments. Their violin-belt playing had us laughing and it was a good way to end the trip.
Although tired upon arriving back in Seoul, I was so happy that I had gone on the trip. I could really kick myself for waiting this long to start exploring the rest of Korea, but Tongyeong was a good place to start. It was a beautiful, friendly city and having cool people on the trip was a total bonus. The only problem now, however, is figuring out where to go next.
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.