Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Overview of Ulleungdo

My friend and I had a delightful fews days in Ulleungdo, and the locals said how lucky we were to have such cheerful weather--amazingly deep blue sky, bright sun, cool breezes, calm seas. The timing was perfect, especially as we returned to Gangneung port in a storm in heavy rains and rolling waves. We used our time well on the island, and tried to see as much as possible.

Choosing ports and getting to Ulleungdo

Mainland Korea sends ferries from four ports (moving from north to south): Gangneung, Mukho (just south of Gangneung), Hupo (just south of Uljin), and Pohang. The ferries from all of these mainland ports have different ports of landing on the calmer southeastern side of Ulleungdo (moving from north to southwest): Jeodong, Dodong, and Sadong.

87.4 km
around the island ferry; ferry to Jukdo (Bamboo Island)
87.4 km

Jeodong and Dodong are by far the more scenic, quaint little towns to stay in and they are easily accessible to each other--perhaps 20-30 minutes by frequent bus or W6,000 or so by four-wheel-drive taxi. (If it's not four-wheel-drive in Ulleungdo, it's not worth much in the mountains and snow.) Etymologically, 'sa' means 'sand', and therefore, Sadong (the next town over) is a place of sand ... well, no longer since it's now a place of buildings. Sadong, though not very scenic and not much to see or do except swim, has a wider beach, and 60% of the going ferries to Dokdo. The other two ports don't have beaches but they have everything else--a range of lodgings, mountain trails, a wide variety of restaurants, and of course the Haengnam Coastal Walkway which is gorgeous at all times of the day!

Only two ports in Ulleungdo have ferries to Dokdo, usually a morning and an afternoon ferry, but whether these ferries actually go to Dokdo or better yet allow passengers to land and walk around the island for 20-30 minutes totally depends on the sea swells. If there is much swelling at all, the ferry will circle Dokdo but not land. The workers booking ferry tickets told us that only one in five ferries actually can allow passengers to disembark for those few minutes at Dokdo.

Staying in Jeodong

We stayed in Jeodong in a pension operated by an elderly woman, who loved us to much, she even cooked a couple of meals for us. Her place was spotless and had a large sunny-in-the-morning and bright-all-day central room with a large sunny bedroom and a smaller bedroom at the back. It was the off season so we paid W40,000/night for the large room. During peak season of course the price in the whole area will go up. The elderly gentleman next door was always over and told us to stay with him next time; he had another very reasonably priced room with easy access to the central area and a great view of the harbor. Both of these places are directly behind the Jeodong ferry terminal, but on a slightly higher level giving a view over the terminal. Excellent location!

the ubiquitous Ulleungdo cuttlefish
The higher floors in the pension are no longer owned by the lady. Her knees troubled her going up and down the stairs so much so now her pension is two rooms in her home. Wonderful home, and she's easy to get along with.
Jeodong harbor shots -- You just have to love those giant bulbs for luring the cuttlefish to the nets.
Jeodong harbor at dawn and dusk.
Comparing Jeodong harbor in 2016 with its 1970 appearance.
Seeing some of the Ulleungdo sites

Day 1: We did the little touristy things like going over to Dodong, the next town over, and taking the cable car that put us up near the peak of Manghyang. On clear days people say Dokdo is visible, but it wasn't quite clear enough. Under the cables of the car, the large Buddha in front of a field of lily-like cement circles looks like Buddha is standing in a pond afloat with lilies--pretty spectacular, especially as the water lily is a symbol of Buddhism.

At the boarding site for the ferry is a local museum, which was small but very interesting. I think it is a tiny summary of the larger Dokdo Museum which doesn't open until peak season which is later in July. Rather sad about this because the little museum was a whole new sub-culture of Korea, much like the Jeju Museum.

Daewonsa Temple, the temple with the Buddha "in the pond amidst the lily pads" was recognizably Korean by its temple colors, design, the Dharma bell, but area around the tall Buddha had stylized bamboo carvings and the background was a cement panorama in bas relief of Buddhist teachings. Fine artwork and clearly a storyboard of mythical traditions and beliefs.

From the cable car we wandered down the mountain to the town of Dodong to find some squid-ink bread and walk part of the Haengnam Coastal Walkway. Dodong is definitely smaller than Jeodong, and the port can only have one or two large ferry boats in it at one time. Very small, but also very quaint. A lot of conveniences here and would be a great little town to get a pension for a few days. Very centralized.

Day 2: A ferry to Dokdo. Yes, we made it! The weather was phenomenal and we were able to walk around on the island. The 20-30 minutes is all a person needs because the places where one can walk is very, very limited.

Day 3: Around the island bus tour - W25,000 + W10,000 for the ferry from the far northern point to Jeodong port. The around-the-island road is still under construction but when we bought the round-the-island bus ticket, we weren't told that. However, the driver said we could go back via road the way we came (would have taken a long time back around 3/4 of the island) or we could all pay W10,000 for bus-and-passenger fee to go onward via a barge; if we opted for the barge, all 20+ passengers in the bus had to be in agreement.

Beoseotbawi or Mushroom Rock -- consists of tapilli-tuff layers from fragmented pyroclasts
when magma erupted underwater.
Albong -- a small lava dome which was formed by lava but due to its weight, collapsed to form a caldera. Afterwards, magma erupted from the fissures and formed the Albong approximately 5,000 years ago.
Only a few pictures of the very, very, very many unique rock formations at various locations around the island.
We all agreed to pay the barge fee and the route turned out to be magnificent -- very, very scenic! Ulleungdo is a geopark and the rock formations around the whole island are truly spectacular. Just going out to see some of the coastal rock on this short segment was totally impressive. Next time I come to Ulleungdo, I plan to take the round-the-island ferry, which wasn't running the days we were there as the summer tourist season was just starting.

Taking the ferry to complete the round-the-island tour which was started by bus.
This last segment was GORGEOUS! Well, so was everything else in the geopark.

Day 4:
On the a.m. of the day we were to leave, we wandered up the mountain behind our pension and saw the 25-meter high Bongnae Falls. Supposedly the town gets its water from this falls, which is surprising as the falls was nowhere near a massive flow of water, but then again, this is pre-rainy season. On the way up to the falls were punghyeol or "wind caves" that blow cold air out through vents in the volcanic rock. I believe it was used long ago as a place to store food as well as get cool in the hotter months.

Other Ulleungdo bits and pieces

The food on Ulleungdo was tasty and much more natural tasting than on mainland, which is not deep-frying way to much, using too much flour and cheese, canned foods and pre-packaged food. Fish and seafood of course was everywhere, canned food (unlike mainland) was virtually non-existent as imports are horrendously expensive, and so they use mostly local food. Not many veggies grow on the island because of the rock and because of lack of space, but the veggies and herbs and seaweed on Ulleungdo are different. People come here to taste those differences and now Ulleungdo is preparing those unique seaweeds and herbs for export to the mainland. Most export products are sold directly to the tourists.

Like everywhere, a lot of food is fermented, which I try to avoid, so I took several of red and yellow bell peppers and a lot of carrot sticks (ugh on allergies) and the pension owner was so surprised. Each pepper would cost about W3-4,000 each on Ulleungdo. Carrots last longer so are easier to import, but still, if a person buys them there, they are significantly pricier than mainland. So if planning a trip to Ulleungdo, fresh mainland veggies make a good gift to a local or pension operator, or to munch on while moving around the island. Following are some of the Ulleungdo local foods. (click to enlarge).

Random Ulleungdo Trivia

  • Piam Tunnel is a very dangerous place. It's a reinforced concrete tunnel allowing traffic to safely skirt the coastal road. However, rocks are always falling in this area, and some had just fallen causing severe damage to the tunnel. Traffic could still carefully sneak by but reconstruction was under way. 'Piam' mean 'avoid' + 'rock', very appropriate name.
  • Near Piam Tunnel is the only area in the entire island with traffic lights. There are two--one of each side of the tunnel which has only a single lane going through it.
  • Provinces that Ulleungdo has been categorized in: first in Gangwon-do, then in Gyeongsannam-do, and now in Gyeongsanbuk-do.
  • Ulleungdo is lacking in three things: no thieves, no snakes, no pollution.
  • Seasonal jobs (tour drivers) 7-8 months. Most drivers go to the mainland. Only about 10% stay and are needed in the off-season.
  • In the area near Albong, there's a strange anomaly: a beautifully sculpted and well-cared-for soccer and baseball fields. A huge flat space (rare on this island) is used only for these sports.
  • Taeha port, is the biggest and longest operating port on Ulleungdo, and yet, it's not a port that has a passenger ferry route to the mainland or to Dokdo.
  • A large wind turbine stands on one of the innermost peaks of a mountain. This wind turbine evokes a lot of laughter from locals. The turbine cost W150,000,000 to buy, transport and install, and it was to provide natural energy to the islanders. But, "Ha ha ha ha", roared our round-the-island bus driver, "It has refused to work!"
  • Ulleungdo never has a drought.
  • Locals refer to the mainland as 육지 and mainlanders as 육지사람, which my friend says sounds really cute.

We met an older man (originally from the southern part of Korea) on the ferry, and he was driving his car to Seoul so asked us if we'd like to go with him. On the way, I offered to pay for the ride or gas or something, and he laughingly called me 촌닭 which means 'country chicken' implying 'country girl'. 돈놈 is the male equivalent.

Ulleungdo as a Geopark

Throughout Jurassic Ulleungdo is tourist information on rock formation. Columnar joints that are prismatic columns, tafoni with its cave-like features in granite rock, caldera and lava dome, basalt and phonolite gravel, vertical joints of rapidly cooled lava and tafoni, ignimbrite, epiclast deposit, vesicle and amygdale, unconformity, and other geological features like clinkers, dikes, lava flows, margin, lapili-tuff, and contracted magma. The Ulleungdo guide map paid a lot of attention to the island's rocky features, but then it has been named a National Geopark.

(click to enlarge)
all of these geological features can be seen along the Haengnam Coastal Walkway
(click to enlarge)

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