I can’t believe that it’s already been a year since we visited the southern coast of Korea. Last summer was hotter with lesser rain. We had spent a week exploring famous cities, mountains, cultural hotspots, sandy coasts, and Buddhist temples. We spent the seventh day of our summer trip in Namhae — exploring Boriam Hermitage and Gacheon Daraengi Village (last post).
Driving from Namhae to Tongyeong
Driving in Korea can be enjoyable or stressful depending upon the route you choose. Basil would disagree with me because he loves driving. Most rental cars are equipped with English navigation and you need to enter the correct address with a pin code or phone number. However, it’s always better to have a printed road map of Korea and Naver Maps set on your phone. The drive from Namhae to Tongyeong passes through dark tunnels and a rather long expressway (IC). Vehicles don’t always follow the speed limit and 100 km/hr is the standard here; so it is scary if someone changes a lane suddenly. The speed of the car is directly proportional to the cost of the car.
The tricky part is staying alert when you have to take the correct turn (whilst exiting the expressway) or you’ll end up in another city (like we did on our way back). If you do skip a turn or even the lane for cars at the toll (like we did), remember the name of the toll you passed and pay the fine at the office — at the next toll booth. The staff don’t speak English and having a Google Translator will go a long way. I struggled with my Korean and the lady at the counter was really sweet.
Alternatively, it might be better to take transportation from Seoul or Busan directly to Tongyeong. Korean public transportation is very efficient and special precautions are in place during the pandemic.
It’s always great to get a head start when you don’t have too much time in a city. We reached Tongyeong pretty early and the drive from Namhae took a little over an hour. We had to go to the southern most part of the city and it was nice to have no traffic on a Friday morning. We didn’t have time to truly explore Tongyeong. There’s lots more to see and the local tourism website has some great tips.
Tongyeong Cable Car (Ropeway) & Skywalk
We had some difficulty figuring the way to Tongyeong Cable Car. Our navigation lead us to the Tongyeong Luge. After a few heated words and going around in circles; we found the entrance to the cable car.
The Tongyeong Cable Car (or Hallyeosudo Viewing Ropeway) is a quick and easy way to reach the top of Mireuk(san) Mountain. I was hoping for blue skies with powder puff clouds, but I’ve also learned that you cannot control the weather. The lush green forests were an absolute treat for our tired eyes.
First View of Hallyeohaesang National Park
Tongyeong wasn’t on the first draft of last summer’s travel itinerary. Our Korean teacher recommended a visit and we squeezed in a half day to explore the city. We had researched about Korea’s Marine & Coastal Parks for this trip and had visited a part of Dadohaehaesang National Park (in Yeosu). Namhae gave us a sneak peek of Hallyeohaesang National Park. But, nothing prepared us for the panoramic beauty of Hallyeohaesang National Park from the top of Mireuksan. It was worth the effort.
Maps & Direction Boards
I was surprised to find instructions in English. It’s quite easy to follow the short trail after getting off the cable car. We wanted to visit Miraesa Temple — about 20 minutes down from the starting point. It also takes about 30 minutes (without photographs) to trace the different viewing points on the trail to the top. We skipped visiting the temple and decided to focus on the view.
When the sky is overcast, it’s not easy to capture the true beauty of this scenic location. Basil’s camera was on a different setting (from Namhae) and the lighting didn’t help the photographs. My phone can’t capture such sceneries unless there’s direct sunlight with clear skies. We were a bit disappointed with how the pictures turned out.
We decided to take different trails on the way up and down. This must be a very popular tourist spot (for Koreans) because the trail was very well marked.
The first leg of the trail is covered with trees and it’s perfect to escape the summer heat (humidity). The whole trail is a series of easy ascending and descending wooden stairs. The loop starts and ends at the cable car entrance.
The Sea Battle of DANGPO Viewpoint
Sadly, most information boards were printed only in Korean. The Battle of Dangpo was one of the most important naval battles fought by Korean Admiral and local hero, Yi Sun-Sin, against the Japanese in 1592. Many important historical sites, along the southern Korean coastline, are dedicated to one of the most successful naval admirals of all time.
Each viewpoint is equally stunning and offers a different angle of the islands dotting the water. Tongyeong is often dubbed at the “Napoli of Asia”. We couldn’t visit Napoli in 2010, so I’d have believe the local tourism organisation. Although, it beats me: why do two places have to compared to each other?
It was quite hot under direct sunlight and it was hard to appreciate the natural beauty around us. I made a few friends along the way. A Korean lady spoke with me and encouraged me. I truly enjoy these small interactions that we can make as tourists. Expat life is way different.
Mireuksan isn’t a very high mountain at 461 m above sea level. However, unlike many Korean mountains, it offers fantastic views of the sea and islands around it.
The top isn’t very exciting and people waited (in groups) to take pictures with the plaque. We squinted and got a picture for memory.
We didn’t stay for too long and chose to take the other route to get to the cable car entrance.
The views on the trail to Sinseondae Viewpoint were better than what we had seen on the way up. Tongyeong City hugged the green coast of the island.
Sinseondae Viewpoint offers a closer panoramic view of Hallyeohaesang National Park. The sea and sky blended together and tiny islands disappeared into the background.
The islands were coated green in summer. There weren’t many information boards in English, so we couldn’t find the important islands.
The Great Battle of Hansan Viewpoint
We had explored the whole trail pretty quickly and reached the last viewpoint by noon. The temperatures were rising and we couldn’t spend more time here — if we wanted to explore another place in Tongyeong.
The Battle of Hansan, in 1592, was another important victory for Admiral Yi Sun-sin against the invading Japanese Army. Every year, the city celebrates, “Tongyeong Great Battle of Hansan Festival” in honour of this historical event.
Most festivals have been cancelled due to COVID and you might want to check with the local tourism office before planning travel dates.
The Tongyeong Ropeway (according to the local tourism website) is the longest in Korea and spans a distance of 1,975 meters. Everything changes quite rapidly in Korea and it’s possible a newer ropeway would have taken the top spot.
Yi Sun-sin Park
Since we finished pretty early, we decided to visit another tourist attraction in Tongyeong. The parking lot for Admiral Yi Sun-sin Park was practically empty on a Friday afternoon. We should’ve eaten something at Mireuksan. There were only few street food stalls at the entrance of the park and not many options to choose from.
Korean summers can get pretty hot in the afternoon. The walk to the admiral’s statue is barely 10 minutes and takes you through a nice pine tree trail. This park is dedicated to the great Korean naval admiral.
There are some nice walking trails in the park. Visiting on a weekday had its advantages and the trails were literally deserted.
Hydrangeas were in full bloom (in June) in the park and were a sight for sore eyes.
We were happy to walk under the shade and take a moment to soak in the beauty around us. It had been a rushed day and we had a long day ahead of us.
Tongyeong deserves more than half a day of exploration. There’s a lot to explore and experience. I wish we had more time, but we were also approaching the end of our trip. By late afternoon, we were on our way to the neighbouring island of Geoje — our last destination on this long summer road trip.