Home‎ > ‎

Ulleungdo, Welcome to Mysterious Island

posted Feb 20, 2011, 10:08 PM by Ryan Small   [ updated Feb 21, 2011, 10:49 AM ]
[Originally posted October 21st 2009 @ foundatron.com]

I went to Ulleungdo earlier this month.   The weather was great and the island was beautiful.  Ulleung-do, or Ulleung Island, is situated about 150 km off the east coast of Korea.   The island isn't very big, and not much of it is developed.  In large part due to it's remoteness, the the beauty of the island and the surrounding sea is relatively intact.  If you're looking for a nice get away for a few days I recommend Ulleungdo.  There isn't a ton to do there but there is enough to keep even the easily bored occupied for a  few days.  If you live in a big city, or just miss the ocean give it a chance. I was only there for two and half days, but I wish I had four or five to explore everything.

Getting there

To get to Ulleungdo you have to take a ferry.  You can either take a ferry from Mukho Ferry Terminal in Donghae, or you can take one from Pohang Ferry Terminal , in Pohang.  As I live in Seoul, I took the ferry from Mukho.  It's closer to Seoul, and consequently cheaper than the ferry from Pohang.   There are express buses from both Express Bus Terminal Gangnam and Dong Seoul Terminal to Donghae, and I believe Pohang is accessed by express buses as well.  If coming from Seoul, plan for at least 7 or more hours of travel, as the bus ride is aleast 3 hours and the ferry ride is about 3 hours as well.  I opted to take the bus to Donghae, stay in a motel, and then take the ferry to Ulleungdo early in the morning. Remember you need to bring your passport for the ferry, as they require your passport number, and they may ask to see it as well. From Mukho, there are two ferry boats that you can take: one makes you sick (TheSeaflower), the other doesn't (The Hangyeore).  If you are lucky,  each way you will get the Hangyeore, a hydrofoil ferry.  This boat has a wing  in the water that allows the hull to come out of the water, limiting  seasickness causing movements.  If you are unlucky, you will get the standard type ferry.  I took the latter back to Mokho and spent 3 hours desperately trying to hold down my lunch.  While I didn't vomit, others were not so lucky.  From what I observed, the people who invested in motion sickness medicine faired much better.

Do what I did

Get around
There are a few hamlets scattered around the island. The main town being Dodong, where the ferry drops you off.    My initial instinct was to bring my bicycle and pedal  around the  island.   I'm glad I didn't obey my urges.  Ulleungdo is very rugged and it has one main road that circles the island.  It is my opinion that this road is too dangerous for bicycle traffic.  The road is not wide and it has many blind corners and tunnels. There is also the chance of falling into the ocean.  But don't worry, you can get to most places with road access using the public buses or the taxis. The main road encircles about 80% of the circumference of the island.  From one end of the road to the other, it's my guess that it would take two hours or less by public bus.
Get a motel
When you get off the ferry there will be some pushy locals trying to get you to stay in their motel or minbak.  Don't feel pressured to stay at the first place you get pushed towards.  In Dodong there are more than a few motels, hotels and minbaks to choose from.   If you continue to walk up the hill away from the harbor and the pushy minbak women, you will find there are several more legitimate looking motels to choose from. We ended up staying in a decent motel (by Korean standards) with a balcony for 40,000 won a night.  I thought his was fair for Chuseok weekend.
Take the cable car to the Dokdo Observatory. Attempt to observe Dokdo. Buy a Dokdo is Korea T-shirt.
 If you don't feel like climbing the mountain quite yet, you can take the Dokdo Observatory Cable Car up to the top of Manghyangbong Peak.  I believe the cable car only cost about 8,000 won.  To get to the cable car from Dodong harbor, walk through the town away from the harbor.  Eventually you will see the cable car lines coming down the back side of the peak on your left.  Follow the signs on the road, taking a left up the hill to the cable car building.  Next to the cable car building is the Dokdo museum...I didn't feel the need to go in.  From the peak you can look over the South East part of the island, Dodong, and if the weather is really nice you can see Dokdo / Liancourt Rocks (I didn't see it). From the observation platform you can enjoy a very nice view with a cold beer purchased from the gift store.  There is also a gazeebo about a half mile down that you can walk to from the viewing area. It is closer to the water, and gives you a better view of the coast.
Walk the Seaside Walk
When you get off the ferry, the terminal will probably be on your right, bathrooms will be in front of  you,  and the town will be to your left.  If you walk towards the bathrooms, and turn right behind the ferry terminal you will see a staircase.  This is the beginning of the Seaside walk or Haengnam Shore walkway .  I thought it was great.  Ulleungdo's water is a wonderful deep turquoise blue, and crystal clear.  Throughout the walk you can see lots of fish swimming in the waters beside you.  Its pretty neat if you like little fish.  Near Dobong there were a couple restaurants for outdoor eating along the sea walk.  I stopped at one where I drank beer and ate steamed muscles for just 20,000.  They were large and tasty. As you walk farther you will reach a small peninsula with a lighthouse on it.  You can hike up the peak (there are lots of peaks on Ulleungdo) to the light house, or you can skip it and continue walking north-east towards the next town, Jeodong Harbor.  On paper you should reconnect with another seaside walk that will take you to Jeodong. This is the section with the famous rainbow foot bridges.  Unfortunately,  we found that this  section of the path had been closed for some reason or another.  The gate was locked shut and there was a banner draped over that it that I assume said the equivalent of "Danger!, Watch Yourself!, NO!".  This was a shame because I was really looking forward to that part of the island. Hopefully the closing of that section was only temporary for Chuseok.  As you can see here, it looks like its a really nice section.  Not defeated, we chose to back track a little and walk over a semi treacherous path over the steep hill to Jeodong.
Climb the mountain
The island is quite rugged and has a few good hikes. It takes about 3 hours to hike from the main town of Dodong to the highest peak on the mountain.  Your calves might hate you the next day, but you won't regret it as the view from the top is very nice.  There are some picnic tables near the top if you want to bring a picnic. Be warned, it can be a lot colder at that top than at the bottom.  So if you plan on stopping for lunch bring an extra sweater.  From the Dodong side of the mountain you have three routes that you can choose from. The island authorities have set taxi prices for certain places.  Our taxi had a card on the dashboard that gave the prices for about 20 destinations around the island.  If you choose to take a taxi to  one of those locations the fee is  higher than if they were going by the meter. Most of the locations seemed to be off the main road, and require 4 wheel drive.  So I suspect you are getting what you pay for.  The main peak to hike  on the island is called Songinbong.  It's not a particularly easy hike.  By the end I was stopping every 10 meters or so to rest.
Map Key Path begins at: (Name) Time to the top Taxi price from Dodong
A Anpyeongjeong 1.5 hours 20,000 won
B KBS Relay Station 2.0 hours 10,000 won
C Daewon Temple 3.0 hours Just walk up the hill from Dodong.
After you get to the top,  if you want to continue hiking to the north side of the island you can continue downwards, following the signs towards the Nari Basin.  The walk from the "summit" to Nari Basin is about 2 hours.  To get back  to Dodong from the Nari Basin without climbing back over the mountain you need to take the bus to Cheonbu, and then change buses at Cheonbu to get to Dodong or whever else you may want to go.  When you are coming off the mountain, heading toward Nari, you will emerge out of the foods to find a tourist restaurant.  The bus stop is just down the road a bit.  Don't try to walk to Cheonbu over the road that the Bus takes, like the main island road, this one is dangerous.  It's better to be on the inside of a bus than the outside of one. The tourist map says that the whole trip, up the mountain and down to Cheongbu,  should take about six hours, and that's more or less correct.  The bus ride back back to Dodong from Cheonju  took about an hour.  Personally, for us, it took about 7.5 hours. 
The official line from my tourist pamphlet is that "Ulleungdo food is crude and you feel the maltreatment and the taste deep because of the manly figure of the island itself." Now, unlike the person who does the public relations for the island,  I actually liked the food.  I ate some delicious bulgogi squid, excellent haemulcheon (seafood/green onion fried pancakes), and amazing steamed mussels. While there were no shortages of restaurants on Ulleungdo, there didn't seem to be much variation.  The majority of restaurants were either squid, raw fish, or fish stew orientated.  Which isn't a problem, because this is exactly what you'd expect to find on an isolated Korean island.  In Dodong, most of the restaurants were near the harbor.  If you go down to the boats, you can buy a fresh caught fish or squid, and they will chop it up right there for you.  You can then take your fish to the restaurant and they will prepare it for you.  If its not very cold, I recommend walking down the sea walk a little ways till you get to the cove with small restaurant with the tables on the shore.  Here you can get a big bowl of steamed mussels for 20,000 won.  If you don't want to walk the five minutes to the cove, there is a peculiar restaurant inside a cave at the beginning of the seawalk.  There wasn't much more than a couple fish tanks, a food preparation area and two tables.  Unfortunately it was closed for Chuseok when we were there, but given the chance I'd surely have eaten there.  Who wouldn't want to eat in a sea cave?  On the other side of the harbor there is another outdoor fish restaurant, it was also closed but it looked like it would have been really fun..

Do what I didn't do

Go to Dokdo

From Ulleungdo you can take a boat Dokdo.  Depending on which boat and tour you take, it will take about three to five hours.

Go to the waterfall

Bongnae Waterfall looks pretty, and apparently its the only source of drinking water on the island.

Go to Jukdo Island

Its a smaller island than Ulleungdo.  That makes it cuter right?

Go to the  Namsujeon sunrise obseratory or the Namseo sunset observatory.

I really did want to do this, I just couldn't find the time to fit it in.

Go snorkling or scuba diving

The water around Ulleungdo is crystal clear.  I've never snorkeled or scuba dived, but if I was going to, this seems like the kind of water you'd want to do it in. 

Maps and links.

Ulleungdo's goverment page can be found here.  They have a lot of information about tourist stuff, and how to get to the island.  Like most places in korea they have tourist map.  This one is pretty good. You can pick up a paper copy from the tourist information center when you get off the boat.

View the

Google Map

Download the .kml file

Ulleungdo = Mysterious Island-ish