How Not to Plan a Korea Travel Itinerary
There’s a strong Korean Wave (Hallyu) that’s sweeping across the globe. It pulls die-hard Kpop & Kdrama fans from different parts of the world. This wave fuels the billion-dollar Korean skincare industry and Korean tourism. Discerning travellers might find it hard to wade through the tide of escapism and cute overkill. One could feel a little lost in this world of surrealism. We’ve been there. I don’t know any Kpop band other than BTS and have a poor knowledge of Korean skincare brands. Sadly, most people who visit Korea for the first time, can’t look beyond these key drivers of Korean tourism. The locals have the last laugh, because they have found a way — to keep the best natural spots hidden from mass hysteria. Information is spotty as you go away from the cities and you’ve got to have a high tolerance for translator apps. And that’s the adventure of travelling off-the-beaten-path in Korea. Clearly, it’s not for everyone. I put together the above itinerary, on the eve of our trip, because I thought I was being overconfident about travelling in Korea. It’s not something I’d suggest if you’re a newbie. Opt for a local tourism or private/group tour. You’ll thank me later. We’ve completed 3 years in Korea and this was our way of celebrating our Korean journey and testing our Korean.
Yeosu is connected to all the other major cities in Korea by bus, air, and KTX. We rented a car, in Yeosu, for the next duration of our trip. Although, you don’t need to drive to explore the best sights in Yeosu. The local tourism has a tour bus that stops at all the major tourist spots in Yeosu City. Alternatively, you can ride bus 111 around the city. Cabs are easily available, unless you’re outside downtown. Kakao T (taxi app) can be a very handy tool.
We left Gwangju by evening and reached Yeosu City within 2 hours. We got off at the wrong stop and it took longer to reach our hotel for the first day. Even taxi drivers get confused with bridges and roads despite using GPS. Our hotel had a wonderful view of the port and Geobukseon Bridge. It had been a long day and I just wanted to sleep.
The hotel didn’t have any convenience stores around it. Most local tourists had driven their cars. We decided to explore the sleepy neighbourhood that had a fair share of hyperactive guard dogs. Dolsan Cable Car Station was a steep climb from here and I was too tired to walk up. Most local restaurants served raw fish and we settled for ramyon that we bought from the hotel’s convenience store.
The next morning, we checked out and struggled to get a taxi. We had some difficulty finding the exact location of the car rental outlet. There were some frustrating moments and we finally realised that the outlet was inside Yeosu Intercity Bus Terminal. I will write another post about driving in Korea at the end of this series.
Basil took a while to get comfortable with the car and get adjusted to driving on the other side of the road. After a few nervous moments of doubting the car gps, we reached the parking lot of Yeoso Expo. There are 2 entrances for Yeosu Maritime Cable Car (여수 해상케이블카) and the gps lead us to a parking lot that may have been closer to Jasan Entrance. We used Naver Map, on my phone, and that lead us to Dolsan Park entrance. We had to buy a return ticket because we had parked at this entrance.
Cable Car Ride
The cable car ride gives you a panoramic view of Yeosu City. Most of the development is clustered around downtown Yeosu. It’s possible to spot some of the main sights from above.
The port was bustling with activity and we spotted speedboats cut across the water.
I’m not too good with heights and we opted for a cabin with opaque flooring. Crystal cabins are more expensive and are perfect for those who don’t fear heights.
We didn’t have time to visit the Mural Village in Yeosu and were happy with a peak from above. Lighthouses are also pretty popular in Korea and make good pictures.
Geobuksan bridge looked stunning from every angle on ground and above.
We passed Yeosu Expo just before reaching Jasan Cable Car Entrance.
There’s so much to explore around Jasan Station. A bridge connects the cable car entrance/exit to an elevator that goes to ground level. We took the walking route to the pavilion.
A boardwalk connects the pavilion, to a long concrete walking route, that leads to Odongdo Island. The boardwalk is quite popular with young couples and bears the weight of young love.
The view of Odongdo from the pavilion and the boardwalk is quite stunning.
It’s a long walk from the base of the boardwalk to Odongdo. It was scorching hot at noon and each step was heavier than the previous one. There’s a mini train that takes passengers to the musical fountain. I’m not sure if the speed boats were just fun rides or a means of transportation. Anyway, it was too much to figure out for one day.
These murals distracted me and kept me going. I’m in love with these bright colours and happy faces. I guess, I’ve also succumbed to everything cute.
Odongdo Island has multiple walking trails and will look stunning when camellias are in full bloom. The shade was a welcome change from the heat and humidity. We would have liked to spend more time on this small island.
There’s a lot of walking to be done on these trails. It’s not difficult if you had someone ferrying you around or had figured the plan for the day. When you have to do everything yourself, each step can feel like torture. The views were worth it though.
Dragon’s Cave was hidden behind the rocky coast and we had to walk further along to spot it. It was scorching hot in the month of June.
Seoul is landlocked and we rarely get to see Korea’s beautiful coastline.
There were benches for people to sit and take in the quiet of the woods. The trees did a wonderful job of cutting the sun.
We made it to the lighthouse, but were disappointed that we couldn’t enter inside. The view would have looked stunning from the top.
Another trail lead to sunrise place and we were the only ones who explored this part of the trail. This path was hidden by dense bamboo cover on either side.
There were some interesting trails that we chose to skip. We followed the music and that lead us to the water fountain.
The musical fountain was quite an entertaining show and we found a bench to take some rest.
On the way back, we took the mini-train to the elevator that connects Jasan Entrance. We took the cable car back to Dolsan Station and had lunch at the local Lotte Burger.
Yi Shun-Shin Square
The drive from Dolsan Park to Yi Shun-Shin Square wasn’t too far. Although, it’s hard to find parking at this busy crossroad. Most of the cities, on the southern coast, will have at least one memorial dedicated to South Korea’s greatest naval admiral.
A giant replica of admiral Yi Shun-Shin’s famous turtle ship stands tall at the main square.
The night views of Dolsan Bridge would look pretty spectacular, but we had to skip that part. There’s a traditional market that’s popular for local delicacies just next to this square.
Hero Street is just a stone’s throw away from Yi Shun-Shin Square. This street is also called Jinnamro Shopping Street and possibly comes alive in the evening.
Jinnamgwan was the naval base for about 400 years during the Joseon era. The main wooden building was closed for renovation on the day of our visit and we had to make do with the views of the pavilion at the entrance.
We headed for Yeosu’s Coast (next post) after this and spent the next two nights at a sleepy pension along the beach.
Last Day in Yeosu
After exploring the neighbouring provinces, we had to come back to Yeosu to return the rental car. We chose to spend the night in a hostel that was right opposite a shipyard. Sea Star Hostel was also located in the heart of a popular seafood neighbourhood. On the last day, we walked through the narrow lanes of this quaint neighbourhood, and peeked inside the small houses that supported the seafood packaging industry.
Soho-dong boardwalk was a long walkway that rose above the water and offered amazing views of the neighbouring islands.
We had to wait for hours for our train to Seoul. Yeosu KTX Station doesn’t have much to do and we decided to explore Yeosu Expo.
There are many eating options under the digital dome. The complex is huge and there’s lots to explore. The aquarium is quite popular with families and Big-0 lights up at night. We found a quiet spot and watched the clouds drift by.