Monday, May 04, 2009

Geoje Island: another corner of Sparkling Korea!

Last weekend Jules and I headed off to Geoje Island. This was the last weekend we would have free for a while as May and June are chock-a-block full with weekend English camps, so we decided to do something interesting and travel slightly further afield than we usually do.

We had set our sights on the islands of Oedo and Goeje which lie south of Busan off the coast of Korea (an hour's ferry ride from Busan, which is 3 hours bus ride from here). Goeje is the 2nd biggest island of Korea (after Jeju) and has quite a few tourist attractions and some beautiful scenery, a trip to the smaller island of Oedo being one of these.

I must admit that after all the travelling there and back we were quite exhausted but we had a great time. This weekend happened to be Buddha's Birthday - so a long weekend for many Koreans - and we hadn't quite anticipated how many other people had the same idea as us: it felt like half of Korea was in Geoje-do with us! This in itself gave the weekend a more intensely 'Korean' flavour than we had expected and made for much amusement at the Koreans and their very different ways!

Once we arrived on Geoje island we were almost non-stop in queues to buy ferry tickets, queues to get onto the ferries, queues to get off the ferries, and so on. The two highlights in terms of must-sees of our weekend were Jisimdo or Camellia Island and Oedo Botanical Island. We reached both by ferry from the port town of Jangseungpo on Goeje island.

Jismido is a small island with a few humble local homes which are opened to holiday makers and fishermen (a guesthouse like this is known as a Minbak in Korean), but most of the island is uninhabited and the vegetation is almost pristine and very lush and almost sub-tropical: very beautiful and refreshing! There are lovely forests of Camellias, pines and other trees and beautiful views over the ocean and the rugged rocky coastline and small islets dotted all around. The vegetation seems to be a strange mix of pines and other coniferous trees with more subtropical undergrowth - rather unique. This island is famous for the Camellia Flowers (the blooming of which we had sadly just missed) and a small songbird which seems to have a close association with this plant. We did hear and see a few birds but didn't really have enough time to creep around in the forest long enough to see the 'special bird' whose name I haven't yet figured out!

Visiting Oedo island was an altogether different experience to that of Jismido. The whole island has been transformed into a beautiful botanical garden, and is a showcase of many beautiful flowering plants from all over the world. As the story goes, a fisherman was lost in stormy rough seas when he stumbled upon Oedo island. In gratitude to the island 'saving his life' he turned it into this beautiful garden. The irony is that he ripped out all the native vegetation and with it probably a multitude of indigenous animals etc. Anyway, the gardens are beautiful and well-tended. The CATCH with our visit to Oedo was however it's extreme popularity amongst Koreans, the effects of which we experienced yesterday! As I mentioned, getting tickets to the ferries getting onto the ferries etc etc took quite some doing as there were just masses of people everywhere. This feeling intensified as we arrived on Oedo as we were just pushed along with the masses along the paths that lead through the garden - we had very little choice in the matter. I still can't get over how many people there were. Did I tell you that there were a lot of people? So many people!

We counted 15 ferries docking at the island's small wharf and each could take 100 people, so at any one time there could've been up to 1500 people on the tiny island. If one then considers that each of these ferries brings at least 10 loads of tourists to Oedo everyday that is 15000 a day! That is of course only on peak days like this weekend but it is still an incredibly high number of people for such a small island. I hate to think of the damage the ferries must be doing to the sea life around and between these incredibly popular islands...anyway, as long as they can still get their grubby fingers on it and eat it the Koreans don't seem to pay soo much head to any creature living in the sea (or anywhere else for that matter...). So sadly, a place which could be peaceful and tranquil and provide a refreshing experience in nature has been turned into a tourism goldmine. We had a good time amusing ourselves at the people around us though! Whenever Koreans visit any tourism highlight the first thing they do is take photos, and that's also generally the last thing they do. Very little time is spent on appreciating the sights or taking time to experience a place - and on Oedod this was proved to us once again! As crowed as the pathways in the gardens were, this didn't stop people from stopping to have pictures of themselves taken ate every faux-greek/roman statue, column or other item of interest in the garden!

Anyway, on the way to Oedo island our ferry took a detour past Hegeumgang, which is a beautiful rocky island jutting high up out of the sea. This is one of the icons of Geoje Island and is a really beautiful sight. The funny thing is though, we didn't even get a chance to have a good look and enjoy the beauty of the rocky islet, as our ferry ran headling into one of the narrow coves or crevices and rammed into it! This was a very narrow space, and at first I thought that the driver of the ferry had made a mistake, but no, he rammed it again. Then we had to reverse out as the other ferries were queueing to give their customers the ramming experience! I cannot actually explain the sheer exasperation I felt with this experience: there we were amidst beautiful blue sea, amazing nature and scenery but we can't just sit back and enjoy it, we have to get right in there and ram our boat into the cove, WTH??? I really don't understand this logic!

So all in all we had a good weekend - amused ourselves at the locals, enjoyed the sights and had a good time seeing another part of Korea. It was a rather expensive weekend in terms of time (travel time vs.relaxing time) and money and we couldn't help compare the places we could go and the things we could do for that money elsewhere, but we are after all living and working in Korea, and it is important for us to get to know the country better and visit some of its highlights!

So below are some pictures from our weekend. I'll post them in order and by these headings: Jangseungpo (the port town on Geoje Island), Jisimdo/Camellia Island, Oedoe Island and Hegeumgang.

Janseungpo: a cute little port town.

View from our 'Love Motel': the best view we've had from one of these yet!

and Jangseungpo by night:

Geoje Blue City: every city in Korea has it's slogan. e.g. Daegu-Colorful City, Seoul -Soul of Asia,Busan-Dynamc Busan etc. Geoje-Blue City!

Jisimdo - Camellia Island:

A "Searchlight depository" - sorry, a WHAT? :)

Oedo Island:

A Korean couple in the classic 'His and Hers' outfit: many yong couples in Korea like to dress in matching outfits: this come sin varying degrees: from hoodies, to shoes right down to underwear!

A brave bird in the crowds on Oedo - any guesses what it might be?

The ferries 'closing in' on Oedo!

Jules inamongst the masses: as conspicuosly non-Korean as ever!

A lovely view over the ocean: complete with FAKE!! Wistarias hanging from the beams above! Can you believe it, FAKE flowers in a botanical garden!
Only in Sparkling Korea!

These cute innocent-looing boys posing in front of one of the more manly greek statues were just too irresistable for us!
Thanks to Jules for this kodak moment!
(And many more inamongst the pics on my blog posts!)

Hegeumgang: the ramming experience. It's a pity it was a bit overcast and rainy on this day so the pics don't quite do the sites justice!

we're going deeper and deeper into this narrow crevice...

...and now we can't actually go any further! Craziness!


EEbEE said...

I have to say, 10 points Jules for that Mmmasterpiece!


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Anonymous said...

Really lovely story and photos. Heading down to Goeje soon and wondering you know the name of the place you stayed at?