Wednesday, October 2, 2013


We arrived at the island of Ulleungdo, 120 km off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, after a three and a half hour hydrofoil ferry ride. Unfortunately, unlike our last ferry, this ferry had no outdoor deck on which to stand and be blown about. In fact, there were not even any windows, so the ride was akin to sitting in a large waiting room while feeling a bit sea sick.

We had read that Ulleungdo was famous for two things: squid and pumpkin taffy. In fact, the entire island is decorated with cartoon pumpkin and squid mascots. Since the squid didn't interest us, we decided to buy some taffy as soon as we docked in the town of Dodong-ri, and it did not disappoint -  it was delicious. When we left the island a few days later, we were armed with bags of the stuff. As for the squid, we saw divers fishing for them off the coast, and every market and restaurant had live ones on display. They are actually pretty cute.

Although we usually don't reserve a room until we arrive at our destination, Ulleungdo is a popular summer vacation spot in South Korea, and we wanted to make sure that we wouldn't be stranded on the island without lodging when we arrived. So months before we left on our trip, Emilie had reserved what looked like the best deal on the island. We hired a taxi from the dock to take us to the nearby town of Jeodong-ri and our ominously-named hostel, Attack Camp. After wandering around for awhile in search of it, we finally found it, only to have the owner inform us that it was full. We replied that we had made a reservation months ago from Canada, and that we had even received a confirmation email just the day before. After much discussion, he realized that there had been a mix-up between himself and his daughter, who handles the internet reservations, and she called to apologize to us and offer a private mountain cabin for the night at no extra charge. Figuring we had hit the jackpot, we happily agreed and quickly headed to pick up some groceries before being driven up to the remote chalet to spend the night. The cabin was lovely, with several rooms and a kitchen, and we proceeded to have a very relaxing evening. The only down side was a few centipedes that we saw in the living room, but Emilie swiftly killed them, and we figured we were safe to head to bed. Moments later, we were awoken by the sound of Yann and Emilie swatting centipedes, first a few here and there, and then with an increasing urgency as they kept creeping out of the walls like in a nightmare. They had to change rooms to escape them. Luckily, we got away without any in our room, or at least any that we noticed, which sometimes has to be good enough. 

The following morning, we were awoken abruptly by an insistent knocking and a man pleading with us to open the door. It was our driver, who wanted to drive us back to Jeodong-ri immediately. So we rushed to get ready and decided that we would eat the breakfast that we had bought the night before once we were at Attack Camp, which should now have had our room ready. When we arrived at the hostel, we were very hungry and we decided to sit down at the communal dining table to eat. But as soon as we had done that, the owner entered to announce that he would be eating his breakfast before we could, so we would have to wait in our room until he was done. He led us to two separate rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, that we would have to share with strangers. However, we had reserved a private room for all four of us. Apparently that was not available. While we sulked in our room waiting for the owner to allow us to eat our breakfast, we started to wonder if there was a better deal out there. James and Yann were appointed to go try to find another hostel, and after awhile they returned to report to the still-sequestered girls that sure enough, there were nice motels available at the same low price. We scurried out of Attack Camp without saying a word to the owner, and into a motel where we had two separate, private rooms with private bathrooms, air conditioning, TV and internet. We learned again that it never pays to book ahead of time. Finally we ate our breakfast and we were ready for our first full day on the island.

Our first adventure was an hour-long walk along the beautiful sea wall back to the town of Dodong-ri. The walking trail is built along the cliffs of the island and offers great views of the sea crashing against the rocks and the gorgeous turquoise water stretching across the Sea of Japan as far as the eye can see. 

From Dodong-ri, we took a taxi to the town of Sadong, where we planned to take a sight-seeing boat trip around the island. The first leg of the boat trip was very rocky and made all of us sea sick until we realized that it was better to be on top of the boat on the deck, in the fresh air. 

Poor Emilie was especially affected by the waves and stayed below to nap; she ended up sleeping away most of the ride. On the deck, we immediately noticed a large flock of seagulls that had followed the boat from shore and were flying right along with it. It was clear that they were familiar with this particular boat, and they tagged along for the entire ride around the island for the free snacks - people would buy chips on board to feed the seagulls, who would snatch them right out of their outstretched hands. 

The views of the island from the boat were beautiful. We gazed at the tall cliffs of the island and the interesting rock formations that jutted out of the sea.

When we had completed the circumference of the island after an hour and a half, the boat docked and we looked for a taxi at the terminal, but didn't see one immediately. We did spot a tour bus full of older Korean ladies, and Emilie decided to ask if they could take us back to Dodong-ri. Initially the driver turned us down, but some of the ladies must have convinced him otherwise, because we heard honking as we were walking away and when we turned around, he was waving us back. They made room for us where they could, but there weren't quite enough seats, so Emilie and Antonia had to sit on the console between the front seats, facing everyone else.

That afforded quite an amusing view once the driver popped in a cassette and suddenly the bus was full of ladies with perms and sun visors (the uniform of  most elderly Korean women) clapping, singing, and whooping along.

The oldest of the ladies directed everyone else by swinging a water bottle wildly from side to side. When the bus arrived in Dodong-ri, we were bid farewell by these very cute ladies and we set back towards Jeodong-ri along the beautiful sea wall. This time we took a slight detour to climb up a hilly, jungly trail to a lighthouse that provided excellent views of the sea.

Back in Jeodong-ri, we discovered an inexpensive and delicious pizza place that we would become very familiar with over the next few days.

The next morning, Yann and Emilie left early to start a hike to the summit of the island; we had chosen instead to see a few other sights. We started by taking a taxi to the Mineral Spring Park in Dodong-ri where we boarded a cable car that took us on a steep ascent over forested mountains. 

At the top, we followed a trail to a very high observation deck over the town of Dodong-ri, and then we followed another steep trail down into a valley and then up another peak for views over the sea.

After taking the cable car back down, we found the mineral spring that gives the park its name. This spring is reputed to have special healing powers, and so we decided to ignore our usual tourist safety protocol and try a sip. It tasted like a very mineral-y lemon-lime soda, complete with carbonation. We are proud that we were brave enough to drink out of this:

After a quick lunch of ramen from a convenience store, we hopped in another taxi to a large park closer to Jeodong-ri that boasts a famous waterfall. As we walked through the park toward the waterfall, we came acorss the Natural Air Conditioner Cave, which naturally remains at 4 degrees celsuis year-round. We stopped in to cool down and marvel at the geothermal phenomenon. 

Antonia is very cold.
We continued walking on the very pretty trail to the waterfall, and rested there to admire it for awhile.

We walked back to town and met Yann and Emilie at the motel. We were all tired from our day, but since rain was forecast for the next day, we decided to make the trip to Sunset Point Pavilion, lauded in our guidebook as the best place to see the sunset over the ocean. We boarded a bus to the town of Namyang and then wandered around until a local man pointed us toward an unmarked set of stairs that were almost completely grown over with brush. It became clear that the pavilion wasn't such a big draw anymore as we climbed the steep path, often having to forge our way through tall plants that had taken it over. We finally arrived at the pavilion, which indeed had a lovely view of the ocean and rocky cliffs, and, of course, we had it all to ourselves. But the sky was very hazy, and it seems that we hadn't timed things quite right, because the hazy sun was still very high in the sky.

We waited long enough to spot a rat in the grass next to us, and to be overrun with ants, and then we realized that we didn't particularly want to be going back down the overgrown path after the sun had set. So we hurried back down wielding long bamboo sticks to ferret out any rats or snakes on our path, since by then we were convinced that there was way too much untouched nature around us and it would be difficult for anyone to help us on this remote and abandoned trail. But we made it safely out of the bush and hopped on a bus back to Jeodong-ri.

For dinner, we hit up Pizza Jung for the second time. We were greeted again by the young man who seemed to be the pizza chef, waiter and delivery boy all in one, and who had been very welcoming to us the previous evening. James decided that we should splurge on the 'cheesy bite' crust this time. After we ordered, the chef/waiter used a translation app that read out in a robotic voice, "I will do cheesy bites as my service." It took us a very long time to decipher that he wanted to give us the cheesy bite crust for free. It was so sweet.

After our meal, we each used our translation apps back and forth to say, "Did you like the meal?" and "It was delicious." Everyone was delighted. Here is our super cute pizza boy:

The next day, the couples split up again because Yann and Emilie decided to take the cable car that we had taken the previous day, and we wanted to try the monorail along the north coast of the island. We took a bus to Taeha-ri and found the monorail, but unfortunately it was closed due to high winds. It was a bit stormy that day; in fact, ferries to and from the island were cancelled. We later learned that the cable car was also closed, so Yann and Emilie were out of luck, too. We crossed our fingers that the ferry would be running the next day so that we would be able to start our journey to Seoul.

Instead of taking the monorail, we walked along a sea wall and took in the stormy and tumultuous seas. 

We decided to follow some Korean tourists inland on what appeared to be a fairly unused path through the woods. The path quickly became difficult to navigate and soon our leaders decided to turn back. We decided to venture on and the path led to a pretty valley of flowers. Once out of the woods and on our walk back into town, we had to run from large waves that came crashing onto our platform.

Back in Jeodong-ri, we peeked into a cafe that we had been wondering about since we arrived, because it was reserved specifically for playing the ancient Chinese game of go. Unfortunately, no one was playing at the time - it must be cooler to play the board game at all hours of the night.

Finally, we stopped at a bakery to pick up a goodbye gift for our pizza boy, and ordered one last pizza to go, which we ate in our hotel room as we packed to leave for Seoul the next day. The last thing we did before boarding the ferry in the morning was to buy a snack from this kind baker on the docks of Jeodong-ri.


  1. Thanks for super pics and info. Do you have the name of your guesthouse for me please. we were looking at Attack Camp but are having second thoughts ! We are going over at end July 2015

  2. Thanks for your review, actually I had similar problem with Attack Camp... they wanted to me change my room for a room with no light (!!) as if it was normal. And no "sorry", the only thing the woman said to me is "smile"! Worst guesthouse ever