An increasingly well-traveled islandJust a few years ago, the islands near Incheon harbor on Korea’s west coast seemed to barely register on the tourism radar.
But since Incheon International Airport opened in 2001, Yeongjongdo island and the smaller islands around it have been attracting more and more visitors.
Like a chameleon, Yeonjongdo and its neighbors have many colors. And springtime might be the best time to see them ― especially those parts of the islands where nature still exists almost untouched.
Yeongjongdo brings out the most nostalgic sentiments, with its cool ocean breezes and the smell of fresh clams wafting through the air. And while there are parts of it that are raw and natural, the bright lights of Gonghang New Town, built on reclaimed land, give the area a modern, yet distinctive feeling.
Mud, clams and the Buddha
Before the airport was built, this entire area was covered with mud, and the island’s eastern region still looks that way. There’s no warm white sand on this beach ― it’s covered with mud whose depths are hard to judge with the naked eye.
A natural channel formed at low tide is, it turns out, three to four meters deep. The scenery is both frightening and oddly pleasant, and the mud suggests why clams from this region are popular.
The best way to see the muddy area is from a small port called Yedanpo. There are not many tourists around, nor are there conveniences to service any who might show up. For these reasons, the eastern region has a distinctly untouched quality.
There is one treasure on the island (besides the clams): a 1,300-year-old Buddhist temple, Yonggungsa. The temple sits on the peak of Mount Baegun, which is 256 meters above sea level.
A port flourishing with life
The best way to understand an island is by boat, and Yeongjongdo is no exception.
Start from the Wolmi ferry at Incheon (call (032) 7629-8880). It costs 1,000 won (85 cents) for one and another 500 won for a companion. Vehicle owners pay 5,000 won. The ferry runs every half-hour from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; it’s a 15-minute trip.
The ferry will arrive at an old harbor at a far eastern point of the island. This was the island’s main entrance before the Yeongjong bridge connecting it to the mainland was built.
A lot of seafood gets harvested in this harbor region, which makes it an excellent place to shop for ingredients to make a hefty meal later.
Better yet, you’ll find some entrepreneurs cooking clams and the like right on the spot, which means you can eat in the open air, with the salty sea breeze brushing your face. This outdoor dining will run a family of four about 50,000 won.
From the harbor, there’s a bus to Yedanpo, the airport and Eurwangni beach. For detailed information on the bus routes, call (032) 746-4491~2.
Beaches swamped with tourists
Even before the airport was built, Yongyu beach was relatively famous.
It first opened in 1963 and was named a national tourism site by the Korean government in 1986. It’s on the island’s western coast, which stretchs about six kilometers (3.7 miles) and also boasts Wangsan, Geojampo and Masiran beaches. No wonder the island draws crowds.
The roasted clams sold at Yongyu beach are exquisite; they’ll cost a family of four about 30,000 won.
Going for a night drive
Night brings out the beauty of this place, and anyone who comes over by car should definitely fire up the engine for a drive around the island after dusk.
The drive along Gonghang Buk road, as the streetlights whiz past, is mesmerizing.
The best part of driving on the island is the 4.42-kilometer Yeongjong bridge. Nearby is a building commemorating the construction of the bridge ((032) 560-6400). It has a 24-hour open observation tower from which the entire bridge can be seen.
The Incheon airport itself is quite a sight. From the Chosun Hotel Panorama Lounge, open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., you can watch the planes take off and land while enjoying a good meal or a cup of coffee.
You can also see the airport from the Gonghang observation platform at the top of Mount Oseong, 172 meters above sea level; it’s open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. A cafe on the first floor sells light snacks and beverages.
Mountain hiking and grim history
For those who prefer mountains to the sea, the perfect place is Muuido island, to the southwest. Mount Horyonggok and Mount Guksabong have good hiking trails for adventure seekers.
Just northwest of Muuido is the notorious Silmido, where South Korean guerillas were trained 35 years ago for an assassination mission to North Korea that never happened.
Much of the recent movie was filmed there, though no traces of the set are left. When the tides are out, you can cross from Muuido to Silmido on foot in 15 minutes.
The ferry to Muuido island leaves from Jamjin harbor (call (032) 751-3554~6, or visit www.muuido.co.kr).
The ferry runs every half-hour from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; it costs 2,000 won for a round trip, or 10,000 won if you’ve got a car (plus 1,000 won per passenger). It’s a 10-minute trip, but sometimes the ferry is stranded in the harbor for as long as four hours because the waters are so shallow.
Good fishing, and a sculpture park
North of Yeongjongdo island are three smaller islands, Sindo, Sido and Modo, which are popular with some fishermen. Those who are more interested in the arts might want to visit the scultpure park on Modo.
Hourly ferries to these islands run from Sammok harbor between 7:10 a.m. and 5:10 p.m.; call (032) 884-1864.
by Sung Shi-yoon