Since I came to Korea in ’09, I have lived in Yeosu, Jeollanam Province. I will admit it was by chance that I ended up here, but for a variety of reasons I am glad I did. It really is a beautiful place, even if it is about as far from Seoul (physically and mentally) as you can get and soon may acquire just a bit of international fame as the host of Expo 2012, which will be about the biggest thing to happen in these parts since Yi Sun-sin came down and made some Turtle Ships. In just the short time I’ve been here the Expo has done a lot to change the face of Yeosu, mostly for the better, however even with this event I don’t feel that there is enough Yeosu information out there to guide the would-be traveler. This post will be the first in a, hopefully, continuing series of guides and recommendations mined from the time I’ve spent here. To start, here is a quick run-down of what I think are some main points and must-dos if you make the trip, starting with:
While it’s certainly not Hawaii, the Yeosu area does have some of the best beaches I’ve seen in Korea. As it’s a very contained coastal area, the seas are very calm and the views are always dotted with the nearby islands. In most places, these islands are parts of the same geological formations as the coastline, making for very dramatic views as wooded hillsides dive down to the water and peaks rising back up out to sea. Speaking of islands, there are somewhere around 300 of them that are considered part of Yeosu. Most are tiny and uninhabited, but some are reachable via ferry (such as Sado or Gemeundo) to get even further away from metropolitan life.
As far as where to go, the Yeosu guidebooks and websites will talk up Manseongri (만성리) as it is the only “black sand” beach in Korea, however I put “black sand” in quotes because really it just looks dirty. All in all, I think it’s about the worst example of Yeosu beaches and I would only recommend visiting on summer nights. This is because the beach does have a little boardwalk-type area with small carnival games, fresh seafood restaurants that serve on platforms overlooking the beach and shops to buy fireworks to shoot into the night sky. Nearby, for a much better daytime experience head to Mosagum (모사금 해수욕장) which is just a few kilometers away. This is a small beach in a crescent cove with nice soft sand, good views and plenty of room for swimming.
If you’re willing to spend some time getting out of town and further down the peninsula, then my absolute favorite is Jangdeung (장등해수욕장). This is a long, open beach with great water and USUALLY isn’t crowded, in fact if you’re out of the “beach season” from June-August, you might be one of the only people out there. I highly recommend bringing a tent, building a fire and camping out on the beach here. No one will bother you and it’s a great experience.
Temples and Shrines
One of my favorite things about being in Asia is visiting the various historic and cultural areas such as temples. Everything is just so different than what I grew up around that they are one of the few places I can really feel Korea anymore. There are a wealth of Buddhist temples and shrines in Korea and Yeosu is no exception. Known to most is a place called Hyangiram (향일암), an area on Dolsan Island that has multiple temples and shrines located along a trail reached by climbing 291 stone steps. One of the main buildings (the Gold Temple) burned down last year, but the main attraction here is the nature and setting of the cliff-sides overlooking the South Sea. This is also one of the most popular points from which to view the first sunrise of the New Year and the temple hosts a Sunrise Festival during this time. Be aware that this area can be quite busy with tourists on nice days and requires a good bit of walking and hiking, but it’s a Yeosu landmark for good reason.
For a little more peaceful experience, I would recommend Heungguksa (흥국사) a decent sized temple complex located in the mountains north of Yeocheon. It’s pretty much only visited by locals and hikers and over the half-dozen times I’ve visited there’s never been more than a handful of people. The most popular time to visit is undoubtedly during the spring when the hillsides are in bloom with bright purple azaleas. Year round, several hiking trails begin and pass through the temple and inside are several sights and artifacts from the over 800 year history of the temple where monks trained to fight during the 16th century Japanese invasions.
There a few other locations in Yeosu (such as Odongdo or the new Expo areas such as Yi Sun-sin Square) that are well covered by other resources and they are worth a visit as well. As said above, I will try to add more information and more locations as time goes on.