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Bewitched by the Seonyudo Islands

Just off of Gunsan (a port city in the Jeolla-buk region), you’ll find the Seonyudo Islands, a popular tourist spot and a cute chain of some 20 islands.   According to Discover Korea‘s post, its name means “islands so beautiful that God admires it“, and this in the summer’s morning mist at first glance, seems like it would be true.

Our accidental bus tour of Gunsan enroute to the ferry

After our first successful night at a Korean Love Motel in Gunsan, we were well-rested and off. Some confusion as to where we would find the correct bus stop to the ferry led us to a kind Korean lady, convinced we were heading in the same direction she was. In essence, we ended up taking the 1 hour “scenic route” to a ferry terminal, which turned out to be the wrong ferry terminal. Didn’t stop us though, and we ended up getting to the correct terminal to catch the next ferry.


First time I’ve seen fog so thick that I couldn”t see a horizon line

We hopped aboard the Gunsan Ferry and arrived in the Seonyudo Islands mid morning to witness the islands’ moody, tranquil and mystical aura. We immediately rented bikes at a local rental (10,000W for 24 hour period) and proceeded on our way. Four of these islands — Jinrido, Munyeodo, Jangjado and Daejangdo— forge bike-able bridge paths connecting to each other and make exploration fun and easy.

There’s a haunting beauty to the Seonyudo Islands as it’s veiled in morning sea mist… like seeing a pirate ghost ship looming on the horizon with grandeur and intimidation; then, in an instant, it’s enveloped in fog.  However, like viewing places at night, viewing things in the mist, presents a similar  bewitching illusion. In the distance, little charming fishing villages appeared like colorful and lively Swiss chalets dotting the landscape, but up close, were abandoned beach houses of fishing ghost villages. Fishing ships during seasonal low tide, sat on the sand or in the mud like beached whales; while fishing nets left hanging, occasionally held dead sea carcasses. Each island had a fishing village that turned out to be deserted or seemingly abandoned.  Where were the local inhabitants or fishermen who tended to the wealth of beached boats? Seeing this, your mind enters the Twighlight Zone and turns a crossfire between wanting to think these islands are either a dive of an island, a movie location facade or a romantic haven for dead sea life!



Perhaps we just weren’t doing it right
…is what eventually crossed my thoughts as the day moved on…  Rest assured, there is a lot of unique charm and beauty to these islands and its secluded life. The crab-like shells of its local inhabitants, occasionally shows more and you may get to witness it. I was excited to discover a fisherman net-making school (photos below); unfortunately I couldn’t get much closer than I did as I was chained to my bike and couldn’t open the kickstand! Moss green rocks, an ajumma farming for sea snails, a cove that looks like it’s straight out of Pirates of the Carribean or Peter Pan and the ability to bike across a bridge over into another island, while approaching it from the angle of a helicopter tour! The islands were a perfect weekend holiday of leisure biking and sightseeing, if only just to inspire one’s curiousity!

Slideshow of the island & some of its inhabitants

Accommodations & Provisions:
It seemed that the island might still be preparing for the summer resort season to hit. Minbak (guesthouse) accommodations were thin and from the look of some of them, didn’t seem tempting during the season we visited it (late July), so we ended up rushing to catch the last ferry at 4:30P to squeeze in another city as a Sunday day trip. However, if minbaks don’t suit you or you’re low on budget, you can pitch your tent on the beach or on a romantic sea cliff overlooking another island, where you can wake up and inhale a deep “Ahhh…” (though be aware– this is a romantic notion, until you see the type of ocean centipede-like roaches you see all around the island… dont’ say I didn’t warn you)

some visitors pitch a tent

The main island of Jin-ri houses the main accommodations and provisions: the ferry port, transportation options and rentals (bike, sand dune, motorbike, group taxi, etc…), one small grocery store, some minbak guesthouses and a throng of local seafood restaurants. While I’d like to say I was a patron to the restaurants in support of the fishing villages there, I still haven’t found comfort and ease in ordering Korean food I don’t know. Thus, provisions seemed spare and this was our lunch–

Margaret enjoys her bowl of ram

Getting Around ( you have 3 options):

The islands are best traveled by bicycle, sand bikes, motorbike or you can hire one of the island taxis to get you around. I rented my bike for 10,000W for a 24hr period. No locks or chains necessary as the bikes are tagged and there’s a general feeling of Korean trust; though some of us, may need to learn how to use the kickstand properly (half the day, I was chained to my bike)


local taxis provide group transportation and tours

sand dune bikes


Getting There: Directions from Gunsan

* From Gunsan Train Station or Gunsan Terminal take a number 7 bus and get off at Gunsan Ferry Terminal. The bus departs frequently (06:20-22:46)

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* From the ferry terminal take a Seonyudo-bound ferry, which leaves 6 to 7 times a day (13 to 14 times during the peak summer season, between 07:30-16:30).

7 Comments

  1. Reminds me of when I travelled through Korea. Good memories!!

  2. Song Sharman says:

    Hi,
    I don’t know if you can help me : ) But I am trying to to book a ferry from Gunsan to Seonyudo for my husband and I and 2 young children. I am struggling due to I dont speak any Korean! Any tips? I have all our trip booked except this section. Do you know if we can just turn up to the terminal and buy tickets then or do we need to book in advance. Also due to all the accomodation is in Korean is it possible just to turn up on the island? Or do you know of somewhere to stay? Sorry for all the questions, if you can’t help no worries that you anyway.
    Thank-you,
    Song
    Australia

    • @Song: Not to worry- it’s totally not necessary to book ferry tickets in advance & if it were, it’d be highly doubtful that you’d be able to do it without a Korean credit card (which few expats even have!). The ferry goes there several times throughout the day and it won’t be booked full. Accommodations can be gotten when you show up as well- you can ask at the ferry or likely, a minbak (simple Korean guesthouses which offer a room with comforters and pillows but you’ll sleep on the floor) owner might approach you as you get off. On Seonyudo, there are a few minbaks; you can also camp on the island. Most of the minbaks and restaurants are located on the main island (the one the ferry will land on) but just a head’s up… the conveniences on the island are pretty minimal. With the minbaks, always ask to see the room before booking it. Also, there are only seafood restaurants on the island (and one, maybe two, convenience stores, which won’t offer much other than snacks & ramen). Unless you like seafood or know some basic dishes to order, you’ll want to bring some food and snacks with you.

      Our plan was to stay on the island as well, but after checking out some of the accommodations and realizing there wasn’t much, we decided to head back to Gunsan and take a bus to Jeonju. Nevertheless, if you decide you don’t want to stay there overnight, it’s possible to also just spend a day there– biking around the islands is just as enjoyable!

      Which brings me to backup plans on accommodations: near the Gunsan station, there are also love motels <post here & here At 30,000W a night they’re cheaper than a hotel and sometimes, actually better; although with kids, it can be a hit or miss idea.

      Getting to Seonyudo Islands from Gunsan bus terminal, you’ll have to take either a bus #7 or taxi. Get a map from the terminal. It’s around a 30-45 minute bus ride to the terminal and unless you follow the instructions of the person at the terminal, it’s easy to go to the wrong terminal. Here’s a link to the Korean tourism page on Seonyudo

      In general, Koreans can be very helpful and friendly to foreigners but you will struggle with the language barrier. The good news is that there are many of us expats who do the same when we travel and we end up managing just fine, whether it’s resorting to charades or working off the little English someone might speak. You’ll make it work. I’d take a phrase book as a safety backup, whether it’s to ask about Korean dishes or more specific things.

      Hope this is helpful for you and any questions, feel free to ask! Good luck!

  3. Barbara says:

    Hi Christine,
    I’m on my way to Korea (for a camp & travel) and just wanted to say thanks for all the info you post. It’s really great to get the inside scoop and all the travel details. Thanks so much! Barbara

    • @Barbara: Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found my post helpful! Enjoy your time in Korea and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me! 😉

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