As I mentioned previously, this past weekend was a long weekend due to Buddha’s birthday. In light of this, I rounded up some of my female friends and we planned a trip to Goeje Island. Goeje is on the south eastern tip of Korea and was rumored to boast some stunning scenery and is also known for being the home of the world’s three largest shipyards -Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. and Samsung Heavy Industries Co.
The long weekend kicked off in Cheonan where I met Kerissa and Faraaz. We went to an Indian Restaurant called Hindustani to have a celebratory dinner for her birthday. The food was good, the ambiance classy and the menu was extensive. The only downside was that they close early (10pm) and considering we only met at 21:15, it was a bit rushed. Nevertheless, we bid farewell to Faraaz in Cheonan and moved the party to my apartment where Kerissa blew out her candles, cut her cake and skyped her family. I hit the pillow at midnight and set an alarm for 6am the next day.
By 7am, we met Landi at Cheonan-Asan Station where we sleepily said hello and waited for our train. Once we were on our way to Busan, I began to feel excited about the fact that I had been organizing this trip for so long and the weekend had finally arrived. After 2 hours, we were on the other end of the country and I emerged from the train happy to be in my favourite Korean city. At Busan Station we met with Joelene and her friend (who will be referred to as Sue throughout this post).Then we began the next step of our journey to Goeje Island.
There was a subway and a bus involved. Scroll down to the end if you require the details. We arrived on Geoje Island at exactly 12pm and set about finding a place to stay near Gohyun Bus Terminal. Despite our concerns that all accommodation might be fully booked due to it being the long weekend, we found place at the Corcor Charnil (Coco Chanel) Motel one street away from the bus terminal. It took a while to communicate to the lady at reception that although there were 5 of us, we only needed 2 rooms for 2 nights. But eventually we got our room keys and opened the door to a spacious and clean room with a large mirror on the ceiling (!!) and a hug flat screen TV mounted on the wall. Finally I felt like we could breathe because we were here and we had a place to sleep. *Big sigh of relief*
After shedding our stuff, we headed off to Okpo to have lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Okpo is an area that seems to rely on foreign investment and foreign workers. And as such, the city caters to foreign needs. Since it was Sue’s birthday we decided to go somewhere exotic for her birthday lunch. The halal restaurant, called the Turkish House, is just off the main road in Okpo was cozy with Turkish decor and had a large window to the kitchen through which patrons could watch their food being prepared by a smiley Turkish chef. Pictured here are Kerissa and Landi’s meals:
The food was delicious and everybody enjoyed their meal thoroughly. Well, I think so. Sulky Sue was unresponsive throughout lunch and dismissive of any birthday wishes and numerous attempts to draw her into the conversation. It was exhausting to continue to try and engage such an unresponsive person so when Joelene suggested that she and Sue would head back to the motel after lunch to rest, we agreed quickly and on we went to explore Goeje.
We walked past the wharf, snapped some pictures and then took a cab to the closest beach. Deokpo Beach is rated as one of the top 5 beaches on Geoeje Island but when we got there, we saw that it was quite empty. As we got closer though, we realized why. The beach was strewn with litter with lots of junk floating in the water. We were bitterly disappointed at this because of course, you don’t want to arrive at an island to find a filthy beach. After getting into the water, we ran back out when we discovered some strange red substance that was in the water. Oh dear. Deokpo beach proved to a disappointment and we left promptly.
We were wondering how to get back to our motel since we could not see a bus stop and no cabs were in sight when an old Korean man started shouting things at us which we couldn’t understand. Eventually we realized that he wanted to give us a lift to the town and we piled into the back of his Daewoo. Now this might sound strange to anyone who has never been in Korea before, but this is totally normal and accepted behaviour here. The crime rate is super low and Korean people are always trying to help the foreigners, especially in small towns. Our driver picked up another old man on the side of the road who kept turning to peer at us in the backseat much to our amusement. He dropped all his passengers off in town and we thanked him profusely. From there we caught a cab back to our motel and washed that polluted beach right off us.
After we were squeaky clean, Sue and Joelene smsed to say that they wanted to go out for some cake and drinks to celebrate Sue’s birthday. None of us we very excited at the prospect but Kerissa and I did not want to ruin anyone’s birthday so we got dressed and waited for the other 2. Landi pleaded heatstroke (really?) and declined the invitation.
Gohyun is a lively area full of bars and coffee shops. Just a walk down the road from our motel we went to lovely little cafe where the staff spoilt us with free tiramisu and cheesecake in addition to the chocolate fondant and waffle we ordered. Sulky Sue remained unresponsive and ignored us for most of the dinner while she chatted to people on her phone. Except when she smiled for pictures so that, “her mother could think that she was having a good time”. Kerissa and I kept exchanging looks especially when we saw how much of effort Joelene was putting in to ensure that Sue had a good birthday. After the disastrous meal, Kerissa and I declined to go for drinks and headed back to our motel where we woke up Landi with refreshments and proceeded to have a slumber party.
We had all agreed to meet and set off for more exploring at 9:30am. By 9am Kerissa, Landi and myself were ready and waited for the other 2 while we ate some breakfast at the Angel-In-Us cafe down our street. But by 10am, after breakfast had been savoured, our travel companions were still not ready and we had to head without them. We caught a bus from the terminal and then endured a long bus journey full of traffic to Jangseung Ferry Terminal. A 30 minute bus trip evolved into a 90 minute one due to traffic and we were so glad that we had not waited any longer. When we arrived at the ferry terminal we were just in time to buy tickets for the last ferry of the day (16:15). Ferry tickets cost 19 000 won and after the 30 minute ferry ride you pay an island entrance fee of 8 000 won. With no word from our other travel companions, we purchased our tickets and walked around the surrounding area for a while, buying ice creams and snapping pictures. We went up to the roof of a hotel and enjoyed the panoramic views of the island. Since it was lunch time, we settled at the hotel restaurant and ordered some lunch.
Around 2pm, we heard from our other 2 companions that they had finally reached the ferry terminal but were unable to get ferry tickets. They didn’t seem very interested in meeting up with us so we just carried on our day without them. We spent most of the afternoon relaxing and just after 4pm, joined a large crowd of people getting on ferries to head to Oedo Island.
The boat ride was very scenic; we passed many islets and rock formations. Haegeumgang is a series of rock islands in the seas ofGoeje. Although it can be confused as a ‘gang‘ (강, river) with the name Haegeum, it’s actually named after the breathtakingly beautiful Geumgang Mountains.The highlight of the trip was when the boat went half way into a narrow cave of the rocky island after which the driver did a tricky 3 point turn and reversed us out of there smoothly. People were allowed on the side deck to take photographs. The deck was so narrow that we were standing single file, but I managed to place my skinny behind on the ledge and hold on to the barrier while shooting. While Landi and Kerissa practiced their titanic poses, I noticed that the entire boat was staring at us and the captain was gesturing furiously at us to come inside. The boat was dead silent as we walked through to the captain; we wondered what he was going to tell us? But he just explained how long we had on the island and what time we had to catch our ferry back. And we thought we were in trouble for doing stupid poses on the boat. Haha!
Visiting Oedo (‘Wee-Do’) island was an altogether interesting experience. The whole island has been transformed into a beautiful botanical garden, and is a showcase of many beautiful flowering plants from all over the world. As the story goes, a fisherman was lost in stormy rough seas when he stumbled upon Oedo island. In gratitude to the island for ‘saving his life’ he turned it into this beautiful garden. The island really is beautiful, with over 3,000 different species of plants, all weeded, trimmed and shaped within an inch of their life. The only way I can describe this island is if someone middle class all of a sudden became a billionaire, bought an island, went on a shopping spree for random Greco-Roman statues, put together a hodge-podge of architecture features from various time periods and combined it with a bunch of gorgeous flowers to make their island look “classy”. That being said, it was certainly beautiful and I enjoyed standing on my make-believe terrace overlooking the ocean and imagining that I was some sort of Disney princess.
We spent over an hour on the island, taking in the breath-taking scenery, snapping photos and fighting the Korean crowds. After which, we made a mad dash to catch our ferry we relaxed on the boat ride back and caught a bus to Okpo from the terminal. We enjoyed a leisurely supper at a restaurant called Contiki. We each ordered pasta while Kerissa and Landi unwound with some cocktails. We reached our motel after a long day of bus journeys, picture-taking, boat rides, ice creams and exploring.
Joelene and our “travel companion” had early morning trains home and checked out before we were awake so we did not see them again. We spent all morning packing our stuff, leaving the island and waiting for our KTX train at Busan Station. I arrived home yesterday afternoon and reflected on the trip.
Despite Goeje Island not being a popular tourist destination for non-Koreans, I think its worth a visit to escape the city and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Whoever said ‘travel broadens the mind’ forgot the crucial latter half of the sentence ‘and shortens the temper’. During this trip I learned that you cannot bend over backwards to please a reluctant traveler in the hope that you and them will have a good time. Its much more effective to do the things that you want to do instead of wasting precious time and effort trying to please people who do not want to be there. If nothing else, I also learnt to appreciate people who make the best of travel and always try to keep a positive attitude even when others try to get them down… so thanks Kerissa & Landi!
Points to note if you are traveling to Goeje Island:
- There are direct buses to Goeje Island from the major metropolitan cities (Seoul, Daegu, Daejeon etc.) which can take about 5-7 hours depending on where you board the bus and traffic. Because it was the long weekend,we did not want to sit in traffic for long periods of time and thus, took the KTX train to Busan. From there we caught the Busan Metro to Sasang Station and walked to Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal (Exit 3). There are buses to Gohyun, Okpo and Jangseung from there. This is the quickest way to get there.There are also ferries to Okpo which leave at 08:00, 10:00 and 14:00. Ferries to Jangseungpo leave at 09:00m, 12:00, 16:00, 17:00 and 18:00. The Busan Ferry Terminal is on subway line 1, Nampo, (near Jagalchi). Its walking distance from Lotte Department store.
- T-Money cards can be used on the Busan subway as well as the Goeje buses. However, you CANNOT recharge your T-Money card ANYWHERE. People back away with scared expressions when you pull out your T-Money and ask if you can reload money on it. Instead of wasting time and money by purchasing a new transport card or paying cash, reload your T-Money adequately before you arrive in Busan.
- There is virtually NO information online about reasonably priced accommodation on Geoje Island. However there is an abundance of motels on the island in every area especially near the bus terminals. Finding accommodation once you are there should be no problem, even on a long weekend.
- When traveling by bus on the island, I recommend that at least one traveler is able to read Korean just to be able read the signs at the bus terminal. However if that’s not possible, asking the bus driver if the bus runs to your destination before embarking is also effective.
- Avoid Deokpo Beach!!!!
- When you arrive at Oedo island, remember to listen to the captain’s announcement and remember which boat you took. You have to take the same boat back to Geoje Island. It is exactly 1 hour 30 minutes later that you have to get aboard again. Keep your coloured tag handy if you can’t speak or read any Korean.
- There are loads of different kinds of cuisine available on the island due to a large expat community. So picky eaters should have no worries. Here are our picks:
Western-style dinners and steaks, on the main road in Okpo, across from the Admiral Hotel turnoff. 055-687-2088
The Turkish House
Kebabs and hookahs. Down the road from Kontiki, turn left just before the World Food Mart. It’s on the left. 055-687-6263
Ocean Best Hotel
The Arte Restaurant and Cafe is on the ground floor of the hotel opposite Jangseung Ferry Terminal. 055-681-9700
To view more pics of my trip, click here.
To read Landi’s account of our adventure, click here.