Water, Water Everywhere . . . Also SquidUlleungdo, an island off the east coast of Korea, looks like a giant forest drifting on the sea. The island, which slopes precipitously off into the sea and is covered in fresh green trees, is well known for its scenic beauty as well as for its produce, which includes ojingeo (squid), in abundance in the surrounding seas, and hobakyeot (pumpkin taffy).
It takes about two or three hours to get to Dodong harbor, Ulleungdo's main port of entry, from either Mukho harbor in Kangwon province, or Pohang, North Kyongsang province. Dodong harbor is alive with the comings and goings of ships, sailors and islanders.
The first thing most visitors wish to experience at the harbor is the delicacy mulhoe, slivers of raw fish and squid seasoned with soy sauce, crushed peanuts and roasted sesame seeds and served in cold water as a kind of soup. Mulhoe, with its cool, refreshing taste, is supposed to be good for relieving seasickness.
If you've emptied your bowl of mulhoe, you are ready for a tour around the island.
The best way to conquer the island is to take the road along its south coast and drive through the areas between Dodong, Namyang and Gu-am. Along the 14.6 kilometer seaside course, you will spot many fascinating rocks resembling, for instance, bears, lions or pigs. There are so many animals lurking in the stone here that you may feel you've stumbled across a zoo.
The road along the south shore ends at Gu-am, and from there begins a steep and narrow ridge called Taeharyeong. You can reach the north part of the island only after passing through the ridge, which is a habitat for plants such as hemlock spruce (solsong in Korean), nut pine tree (seomjat) and beech trees (neodo-bamnamu).
The parade of rocks continues along the north coast between Taeha, Hyeonpo, Jukam and Seommok. There is an alligator opening its mouth toward the sky and an elephant drinking water from the sea. There is also one rock that resembles three angels. Folklore has it that the angels turned to stone when, distracted by the beautiful scenery of the island, they missed their ride back to heaven.
At Seommok, where the road along the north shore ends, you can take an excursion boat to Jeodong harbor or Dodong harbor. Boats to these destinations run every two hours and take about 25 minutes. On the way, all boats stop at Jukdo, the biggest of the islands around Ulleungdo. Here you can enjoy trekking along a path through groves of bamboo trees (dae-namu) and silver magnolia trees (hubak-namu). The name Jukdo means bamboo island.
Another attraction of Ulleungdo is Seonginbong, the island's 984 meter peak. The peak is considered to resemble a holy one, and hence its name, seong-in (saint). The most popular climbing course to the peak starts at Dodong and goes via Anpyeongjeon. It is, however, better to take a taxi between Dodong and Anpyeongjeon than to walk, as the paved road between the two areas is steep and boring. For more information on Ulleungdo tours, visit www.ullung.kyongbuk.kr (English available) or www.ullungdo.com.
If the island had not been blessed with seas teeming with squid, the food offered on Ulleungdo may seem a dull and drab affair. Ulleungdo ojingeo, seasoned and cooked in a variety of ways and sometimes served raw, is truly delicious. Naejangtang, a soup made of squid intestines, is a dish rare elsewhere. Another seafood dish popular on the island is honghap-bap, rice cooked with chopped mussels. Mussels caught around Ulleungdo are about four times the size of mussels sold on the mainland. If you like your seafood raw, try some fresh doldom, a kind of parrot fish. For dessert, have some sweet taffy made of Ulleungdo pumpkins famous for their superb taste. If you are interested in watching hobakyeot being made, visit the factory at the town of Seo-myeon (054-791-0165).
During peak season, it is hard to get a room without a reservation. Most hotels and inns are located around Dodong harbor but if you prefer some place quiet, look for guesthouses along the shores of Namyang, Taeha or Cheonbu. In general, the quality of accommodations on the island is a little poorer than the standard in Korea.
Ferry boats to Ulleungdo leave from Mukho or Pohang once or twice a day. There are parking facilities at the ferry terminals but it is hard to find space during peak season. Once you are on the island, rent a car or reserve a cab for a tour. Taking a cab costs between 70,000 won (about $55) and 80,000 won for a half-day.
by Sung Si-yoon