Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ulleungdo / Dokdo - Korea's Jewel Islands

It all started at McDonalds. Friday night at 11pm a mixed crew of foreigners wandered into McDonalds, loaded down with luggage and anticipating a long night, followed by a fabulous weekend. We were due to leave at 3am for the port town of Donghae to catch a ferry over to Ulleungdo. Some of us opted to meet early and get to know each other before the journey. Finally at 3am with our bellys full of cheeseburgers, our eyes heavy with exhaustion - we were off. It would be a 3-4 hour bus ride and another 3 hour boat trip.
Ulleungdo is a small island located in the East Sea about 135km east of Korea. It is actually an extinct volcano, known for its quiet harbours, jagged cliffsides and fishing boats. The island is sparsely populated with most of its residents making their living fishing and catering to the summer tourists. Our high speed ferry ended in the largest town on Ulleungdo, Dodong. Dodong looked like what it once was, a pirate,s hideaway, hidden in a narrow valley between two forested mountains and only visible when approached directly. We left the ferry with the other hundreds of tourists and made our way to the hotel where we were staying. The hotel was in a perfect location - a mere 2 minute walk from the Dodong harbour. After dropping our luggage and eating a quick lunch of bean sprout soup and rice we were off to what was meant to be the highlight of our weekend, our visit to Dokdo.

Dokdo is nothing more than 2 rocky islands in the middle of the East Sea and yet it is one of the most controversial areas in Korea. Korea and Japan have long been in dispute over who owns this land. In 1905 Japan claimed if for their own renaming it Takeshima. After WW2, the US designated the island as belong to Korea and a monument was erected. In 1952 Japan destroyed that monument and the 2 countries have disputed the ownership ever since. The land itself is of no real value but what the 2 countries want is the fishing rights that come with it.

At 2pm we boarded the boat for the 2 and a half hour journey to Dokdo - knowing that when we arrived we could only stay on the island for 20 minutes. In the beginning the journey was rather pleasant. We were able to stand on the top deck, outside, and watch the water go by.

The further we got into the journey the rougher the water became and the sea sickness started. What was a highly anticipated trip soon became a nightmare. I spent most of the journey to Dokdo either throwing up or sitting in my seat waiting to throw up. I couldn't wait to get to Dokdo just to get off the boat - even for only 20 minutes - but when we arrived the sea was too rough for the boat to dock. We had to turn around and go back another 2 and a half hours to Ulleungdo. We had come so close to touching the controversial rock and yet had to be content with only taking pictures. At this point more half the people on the boat were sick so I think most were happy to go home.

That evening my roomates and I spent quietly relaxing in our room, most of us still feeling unwell and not wanting to do much. The room we had was pretty tiny and once we all lay down there was no space to be found. Fortunately we all go along so the coziness of the room became a joke.

Sunday arrived with bright sunshine and the promise of a better day. Sadly I still wasn't feeling well but I was determined to make the best of it. I ate a small breakfast of yogert and fruit down by the pier watching the fishermen bring in their catch and the ajummas expertly cutting up the raw fish for the Koreans waiting to buy it. The pier was lined with seaweed and squid drying in the sun and big tubs filled with fresh fish waiting to be sold.

That morning we set out on a bus tour around the island. The island itself wasn't that big but the coastline was beautiful. Throughout the ride we had all the famous sights pointed out to us, which mostly involved rocks shaped like various animals - this is turtle rock, this is elephant rock.

The highlight of the morning was a monorail ride in Taehadong. It started in a place called Charcoal Cove and ended at Taeha Lighthouse with spectacular views over the harbour

After lunch most of the group opted to hike up Seonginbong Mountain but I chose instead to do a cruise around the harbour. The ride lasted 2 hours and went around the entire island. I grabbed a prime spot along the rail on the top level and spent the next 2 hours taking pictures of the spectacular coastline. The only downside to this ride were the seagulls. The Korean passengers were fascinated with these birds and spent most of the trip throwing food to them, which meant that for most of the trip I had seagulls swooping down at me, sometimes coming within inches of my face. To me they were dirty animals but for them they were marvellous. Some were more interested in these birds than the views of the island. Despite this I enjoyed myself and it was a great way to spend 2 hours.

Our last day we were due to catch the boat at 10am so some of us got up early to explore the last bits of the island. On the edge of Dodong is a cliff walk that you can take along the edge of the water. We walked on this and it took us through little inlets and caves. It was a great way to finish off our visit to Ulleungdo.

Finally it was time to go and we boarded the ferry exhausted but pleased with the trip. I will say without a doubt this has been my favourite place so far in Korea and somewhere that anyone visiting Korea should see.

1 comment:

  1. Do you smell that...smells like...rotten eggs...