Sunrise at Manseong-ri Coast
It was the sixth day of our summer trip around the southern coast of Korea. We woke up early and were lucky to watch sunrise from the bedroom of our pension house. It was the perfect way to kickstart our road trip. We were staying next to the coast of Manseong-ri Beach, in Yeosu, and it would take two or three hours to drive to Namhae — the neighbouring island.
Driving from Manseong-ri to Yi Sun-sin Bridge
It’s important to fill in the correct address before starting a road trip, especially if you’re not familiar with the roads. Names, in Korea, can be surprisingly similar, across provinces, and you need to check the street with the province name. We drove to downtown Yeosu, passed the industrial complex (a tourist sight), and entered the bridge that connected Yeosu to Myodo Island.
Yi Sun-sin Bridge
We crossed Myodo Island and entered Yi Sun-sin Bridge — the longest suspension bridge in Korea, and fifth longest in the world (source: Korea Times). The two towers of Yi Sun-sin Bridge are 1,545 m apart and it’s a rather long ride to get to the other side. This bridge connects Yeosu City, via Myodo Island, to Gwangyang City. Gwangyang City is also home to a large steel facility for POSCO.
Practical Advice for Exploring Namhae
Namhae, an idyllic island that’s a poster child for the tourism tagline: Korea’s Grandest Landscape, lives up to the hype, however, not without a fair bit of challenge. If Seoul is fast paced, super-connected, and a paradigm for Korea’s rapid development; then Namhae is a place where time stands still and technology is a distant dream. The contrasts couldn’t be more pronounced and surprising. Therefore, plan your trip before you go to Namhae — to avoid getting lost or stuck in-the-middle-of-nowhere. We rarely (never actually) saw local buses and the roads were mostly desolate — with few elderly locals riding tractors or motorised three-wheel scooters. Renting a car is the best option to explore the island at your own pace. Alternatively, the local tourism offers taxi tour guides to get around the island.
Our Route Map
We reached Namhae very quickly and didn’t have trouble with the directions. There are 2 bridges that connect Namhae to Hadong County. Our GPS guided us towards the newly completed Noryang Bridge — which is the third longest suspension bridge in Korea (source: Pulse News). The distance between the two towers is 890 m and the total length of the bridge is 3.1 km. We missed spotting the iconic (older), Namhaedaegyo Bridge, that runs parallel to Noryang Bridge.
We had entered Namhae via Noryang Bridge and missed Namhaedaegyo Bridge — an iconic landmark of the island. Fortunately, on our way to Tongyeong, we got to pass through Namhaedaegyo Bridge.
This 660 m long suspension bridge was built in 1973 and overlooks the site where Korean naval hero, Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fought the Noryang Battle.
Noryang Bridge leads directly to a tunnel with a replica of the turtle ship at its entrance. We had originally thought of driving directly to the German Village, but followed the direction boards to Yi Sun-sin Memorial Park instead.
Historic Site Related to Yi Sun-sin at Gwaneumpo
We were probably the first visitors to the park. It was nearing 10 a.m. and the park was practically empty.
A memorial monument and monument house was built on the site where Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s coffin was first brought to the mainland. The memorial is hidden under a thick cover of trees.
We followed the sign leading towards the observatory and entered a pathway in the woods. An ajusshi sat on a bench and soaked in the calm of the surroundings. He was pleasantly surprised when we greeted him in Korean.
The Korean summer isn’t the best time to travel in the country and I was happy to spend most of our time under the shade. Cheommangdae Pavilion is a short walk from the memorial monument.
The pavilion offers a bird’s-eye view of the neighbouring islands and sea. It would have made a stunning picture if the sky had been blue.
Main Exhibition Area
We parked our car at the parking lot and walked towards the exhibition area that was built in the shape of a ship. The restaurants and tourist information centre hadn’t opened yet. We picked up brochures from a friendly tourist information officer on our way back.
There are 3 main exhibition halls inside, each dedicated to a different historical aspect of Yi Sun-sin. Giant boards give a historical background of the naval admiral’s path to become an iconic Korean hero. Life-size exhibits display the armour and weapons from the Joseon (Korean Empire), Ming (Chinese Empire), and Japanese Dynasties. Visitors also get an opportunity to view the movie, The Admiral.
The Memorial Wall is the world’s largest ceramic wall (according to park brochure) with a height of 5 m and length of 200 m. The paintings on the wall are made from 3,797 pieces of ceramic — each measuring 50×50 cm.
We wandered around and found a wooden deck that was bang opposite the sea. It was a peaceful and calming place to sit and relax.
Going Around in Circles
We had reached Namhae earlier than expected and had already visited one tourist attraction. We didn’t have a rigid itinerary and wanted to live the slow-life. We decided to go to the German Village and have lunch there. We didn’t realise that it would take longer than we thought. We were probably going around in circles because all the roads looked the same and we may have missed a couple of important turns. Yes, we had the GPS, but we thought we’d also follow boards. Not a great idea here.
Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
The joy of discovering places like these is definitely one of the many highs of driving in Namhae. In fact, we thought: the tourist places of attraction didn’t always match the beauty of random scenic spots — we found scattered all along the island.
Finally, we reached the German Village. It was a steep drive to the main parking lot on the top of a hill. We walked around for a bit and went straight to find a place to eat. The German Village also features in the Top 100 Must-Visit Tourist Spots in Korea for 2019 list.
The German Village was built for Korean workers who returned back to their home country, between the sixties and seventies, after working in Germany. We normally find such themed villages, in Korea, to be a tourist trap, but the views more than made up for the kitschy representations of a German village. Many houses have been modified as pension houses (Korean bnb). Convenience stores are hard to find in this rural getaway and the German Village is a good place to stock up your supplies before heading to your pension house.
We were on our sixth day of our Korean trip (not counting that my last trip outside Korea was in February) and we were craving for global cuisine. I get dismissive looks, by visiting friends, when I suggest anything other than Korean food. But, when you’re staying for so long, in any place, you will crave for diverse cuisine. The fried chicken tasted more Korean than German, but it was better than having sausages for lunch.
Windbreak Forest of Mulgeon-ri & Namhae Yacht School
Mulgeon-ri Windbreak Forest was a short drive away from German Village. A million trees form a windbreak forest along the 1.5 km beach. We didn’t find it too alluring and felt there were many better paths we’d seen before. We got a glimpse of Namhae Yacht School from the forest.
Hallyeohaesang National Park
Hallyeohaesang National Park is a marine national park and spreads across 6 different districts along the southern coast of Korea. We had visited a part of it in Odongdo (in Yeosu) and would visit another section in Tongyeong as well as Geoje.
Once again, we spotted random viewing spots, with stunning views of sea and green cover. I’m not sure if this island is Nodo Island of Literature.
Sangju Silver Sand Beach
Sadly, we couldn’t find a spot to click the panoramic view of Sangju Silver Sand beach from the top. It wasn’t safe to stop on the road because cars drive pretty fast when the roads are practically empty.
Sangju Silver Sand Beach is stunning and these pictures don’t do it justice. I guess we were too tired (the navigation, driving, and heat can get to you) and Basil’s camera started acting out.
I think this mountain, in the background, is Geumsan and it’s where Boriam Temple is located. We would hike up to Boriam Hermitage on the next day.
Bus Stop Views
This bus stop was built at a stunning location — offering panoramic views of the coast and village below. The bus was the only thing we hadn’t seen so far.
We drove past a scenic coastal road and once again couldn’t stop to click pictures. This road was absolutely stunning.
The diversity of the landscape is spectacular. Hazy mountains tower in the backdrop to be quickly replaced by lush green paddies — that eventually lead to narrow village roads. We barely saw a soul in sight and had the road to ourselves for most part of the road trip.
We decided to call it a day and went in search of our pension house. We passed the American Village on the way and stopped to click pictures of the paddy fields. The American Village has a similar theme like the German village and we were too tired to explore it.
Blue & White Pension
Our pension was hidden in a narrow offshoot of the main road and we nearly missed the turn. Parking was quite a challenge and the owner was pretty helpful. He asked us where we had come from (in Korea) and was impressed that we lived in Seoul. I forget the weightage it carries in Korea. His pension was modeled on Santorini and blended perfectly with the view.
The pension had its own private access to the coast below. We walked for a bit and came back when we spotted weird (pre-historic) crawlies walking with us.
It had been a good day and we were happy to end it with this gorgeous view of the setting sun.