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Geoje Island and Damned Monsoon Season

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Funky Umbrellas

After having such a great time in Gyeongju, we immediately planned out our second day trip from Busan — Geoje Island. Unfortunately, this excursion was doomed to failure, thanks to the torrential rains of South Korea’s summer monsoon season.


While doing our initial research on Busan, we read that it monsoon season would be from late June to late July. But we ignored that inconvenient fact, and soon forgot it completely. Who wants to waste time thinking about monsoon season? Turns out, willful ignorance is no defense when reality comes knocking. The past few weeks have seen horrible weather; rain almost every single day. And every day, we shake our puny fists at the heavens, cursing our luck and feeling freshly outraged. It’s not fair!

So, our trip to Geoje Island wasn’t much of a success. We arrived in the evening, and ran through the rain to the first love motel we could find. The next morning, the rains were even heavier and the tour we had planned to join was cancelled. The thought of venturing out into the whipping winds and the Noah-worthy deluge was laughable. We sat at the window of a cafe for a couple hours, coming up with ever more vicious and creative ways to curse God, and then went back to Busan. Utterly defeated.

But usually, Geoje Island is worth a visit. Although it no longer fits into the days we have remaining in Busan, here’s what we would have seen.

Oedo & Haegeumgang – Oedo is a gorgeous island just off the coast of Geoje that doubles as botanic garden, with sculptures and open-air art. It’s called a “Paradise in Korea”. Haegeumgang is a smaller island made of rocks, with soaring cliffs and columns. These islands sound cool, but sipping coffee in a cafe is even cooler, so I guess we won this round.

Gujora Beach and Hakdong Pebble Beach – Gujora is home to excellent swimming, with soft sand and shallow, warm waters, and was the former site of an ancient fortress. Hakdong is 1.2 kilometers of beauty, ringed by Camellia flowers and covered in a unique kind of pebble called “Mongdol”. Sounds alright, but our café has wireless internet and we’d rather spend the day checking Facebook, anyway. So, whatever. Hey look, Jimmy just posted another picture of his kids. Beth likes War Commander. Hmm!

The Hill of Wind and Sinseondae Observatory – Found near a picturesque fishing village, this hill juts out unprotected into the East Sea, exposing visitors to the ocean winds. The observatory offers unparalleled views of the rocks set against the ocean. Sinseon means “mystical beings”; the area is said to be so unforgettable that even the supernatural come here. Pffft. I highly doubt it can compare to the doughnuts that we continue to stuff into our faces, in this incredible cafe.

Geojedo P.O.W. Camp – This former camp once housed over 170,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war. Today, it’s been converted to a historic park, which recreates and describes the conditions inside the camp and lives of the prisoners who spent their days here. Must be fascinating. But we wouldn’t know. Damned monsoon.

Location of Geoje Island on our Map
The bus to Geoje leaves from the Seobu Bus Terminal, found here.

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Geoje Bay
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July 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm Comments (4)

The Eulsukdo Island Bird Sanctuary

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Bird Watching Gear

With a prime location where the Nakdong River empties into the East Sea, the small, sandy island of Eulsukdo has long been a paradise for migratory birds. However, our trip there couldn’t have been more poorly timed, since the birds only visit in the fall and spring. But we’ll be gone by August, and didn’t want to pass up a visit to this interesting bit of nature.


Upon arriving at the island, we toured a couple of sparkling new ecology centers. The first was dedicated to the Nakdong, the longest river in South Korea, with exhibits that underline its importance. The second center was focused on the Eulsukdo Sanctuary. Spanning two floors, with an observatory on top, this was an exhaustive collection of the various birds and animals which can be found here. Decently cool, but there were a ton of schoolkids there, and the place was sweltering hot, so our visit was very short.

Once outside, we discovered with some disappointment that most of the sanctuary was off-limits — the paths were nearly all closed for renovation, and much of the park is permanently inaccessible to tourists. It’s understandable; Eulsukdo Island has been heavily affected by human tampering. Fifty years ago, this was Asia’s most active location for migratory birds, but only a small number still visit today. Although the island is now protected, construction and land reclamation projects in the latter half of 20th century did irreversible damage to the ecosystem.

So, we walked up and down the one path we were permitted on, saw a couple swans and a crane, and called it a day. Eulsukdo is quite beautiful, but probably only worth visiting in the fall or spring, when the number of visiting birds increases dramatically.

Location on our Busan Map
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July 6, 2012 at 9:32 am Comment (1)

A Ferry to the Oryukdo Islands

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Korean Folklore

We first spotted the Oryukdo Islands toward the end of our hike down the coast of Igidae Park. A string of rocky and uninhabited landmasses, these islands are the most notable feature along Busan’s coastline. In order to get a better look, we took an evening ferry trip which looped around them.

Busan Islands

The ferry left from the Mipo terminal at Haeundae Beach, and cost ₩19,500 ($17.55) apiece. A little expensive for the hour-long round trip, but the views of Haeundae, Gwangalli Beach and the Diamond Bridge were worth it.

For the fishermen and merchants approaching Busan from the sea, the Oryukdo Islands have always been the city’s symbol. The profile of the five (or six) islands is certainly memorable. The name “oryukdo” comes from the fact that, depending upon the tide, there appear to be either five (o) or six (yuk) islands (do). Except for the furthest in the chain, on which a lighthouse has been built, the islands are completely barren. Nothing much could be built on these craggy hills of rock.

The evening ferry runs approximately once an hour from Mipo and more frequently during the weekends. We left at 17:10, but could have delayed our journey by an hour in order to see the sun set behind the city.

The Oryukdo Islands on our Busan Map
Catch the boat from here
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May 30, 2012 at 9:36 am Comments (0)

Hiking through Igidae Park

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Hiking Gear

The mountains and hills of Busan are easily its best feature, both helping to confine the city’s sprawl and offering parks and natural refuges for residents to escape the stress of everyday life. Among Busan’s wide range of nature walks, the one spanning Igidae Park is among the most popular. We hiked along its 5.2 kilometer coastal trail on a sunny afternoon.


Jangsanbong Mountain occupies the stretch of coastline just south of Gwangalli Beach, and had been under military control until 1993. The whole mountain is now open to the public, though nearly all visitors stick to the popular coastal walk, which takes about two-and-a-half hours. It’s a perfect hike, with magnificent views over the ocean and city, and only slightly strenuous.

Possibly even more than the beautiful nature, the path’s flawless infrastructure most impressed us. Steps and handrails in perfect condition, plentiful information posted in a variety of languages, modern suspension bridges, benches wherever the view is especially good, and even toilets are found along the trail. Busan has clearly invested a lot into Igidae Park, and it’s heartening to see a city so concerned with improving the quality of life of its citizens.

The name “Igidae” comes from a legend set during the Japanese occupation of Busan. Shortly after conquering the city, the Japanese had a victory celebration at the fortress on Jangsanbong Mountain. A few Korean “entertaining women”, or Gisaengs, were brought along to dance for their new lords. Two of them, possessed by nationalistic furor, grabbed one of the drunken Japanese officers and jumped off a cliff, sacrificing themselves for a small taste of Korean revenge (which I bet tastes like kimchi). The name “Igidae” refers to the “two Gisaengs”.

The hike went by in a flash. The park was decently crowded for a weekday afternoon, mostly older people out for a bit of exercise, but we also spotted a lot of fishermen along the coast. Though clearly marked, the path allows for digressions up into the hills, or down to the water. On one of these, we found an expanse of rock marked by the footprints of an Ultrasaurus — an awesomely-named dinosaur native to Korea. Further on, there was a curious rock formation, said to look like Buddha carrying a baby. To me, it looked like an old Korean woman with a bundle on her head. You judge:

Stone Tower Busan

As we approached the southern end of the hike, the Oryukdo Islands came into view. These five rocky islands are just offshore, and uninhabited. They can be circled by ferry — an adventure we would soon embark on.

Igidae is an excellent, stress-free hike, easily accessible from the city. If its popularity on a Thursday afternoon is any indication, I’m guessing the narrow paths can get claustrophobic on a sunny summer weekend. But regardless of the number of other hikers, an enjoyable day out is almost guaranteed.

The Location of the Hike’s Start on our Map
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End Of A Hike
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May 21, 2012 at 7:54 am Comment (1)
Geoje Island and Damned Monsoon Season After having such a great time in Gyeongju, we immediately planned out our second day trip from Busan -- Geoje Island. Unfortunately, this excursion was doomed to failure, thanks to the torrential rains of South Korea's summer monsoon season.
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