Riding the wavesAir travel, naturally, is the preferred way to get from one country to another, assuming one can afford it. But there are those who can’t ― and there are those who prefer to travel at a more leisurely pace. And then there are those who simply love the sea.
It’s easy to travel from Korea to its neighboring countries by ship, assuming you’ve got the time to kill, and assuming you aren’t bothered too much by motion sickness ―your own, or your fellow travelers’.
As new routes are launched, travel by sea is becoming a more popular option for Korean travelers. The number of sea passengers between Busan and Japan, for instance, went up from 730,000 in 2002 to 810,000 last year.
Here’s a guide to traveling to Russia, Japan and China the old-fashioned way.
How to take a slow boat to China
The relatively low fares, and the pleasures (for some travelers, at least) of spending a night at sea, make the ferry an attractive option for many China-bound tourists. Weihai, Dandong, Yantai and Rizhao are some of the ports that can be reached from Korea.
Koreans will need a tourist visa; they can get one on the ship for $20, which is less than it would cost at the Chinese embassy. This option is limited to Korean citizens, however.
Generally, ferry companies will only get you from port to port; tourists will have to schedule their travel within China themselves or use tour companies.
It takes 15 hours by ship to get from Incheon to Weihai, a port in Sandong province. Departures from Incheon International Passenger Terminal are at 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; the ship arrives at Weihai at 8 a.m. local time. Second-class travel, in a Japanese-style room with tatami mats for 8 to 16 people, is 110,000 won one-way. “Royal class” is 160,000 won; this can mean a single or a double room. (Rooms are assigned just before the departure, so if there aren’t enough singles available, passengers might have to share.) Reservations are taken starting a month before the departure date. The ship has a sauna, a video arcade and other facilities. Call (032) 777-0490 or go to www.weidong.com/english.
The city of Dandong, also known as Andong, in Liaoning province is near Mount Baekdu, the mountain on the border with North Korea which, according to legend, is the birthplace of the Korean people. There are no direct flights to Dandong from Korea, and so the ferry is a popular option; since 1998, the ferry to Dandong has averaged 300 passengers per trip. Reservations generally must be made at least 48 hours before departure. The ferry departs from Incheon International Passenger Terminal at 5 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Economy-class fare is 115,000 won, and a suite costs 210,000 won. Call (02) 713-5522 or go to www.dandongferry.co.kr.
Departures from Incheon for Yantai, on the Shangdong Peninsula, are at 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; it’s a 15-hour trip. First-class accomodations, at 110,000 won, include a room for four with a bathroom, television and refrigerator. The “VIP” fare is 336,000 won. VIP rooms are double rooms that are saved until the departing date for senior officers, so reservations are not available. Passengers have access to an arcade room, a putting green and even a comic book room. There are various restaurants on the ship. Ferries also depart for Yantai from Busan. Call (032) 891-8880 or go to www.hanjoongferry.co.kr.
Rizhao, in Shandong province, gets its name, which means “sun rises early,” from the tradition that it’s the place in China from which the rising sun can first be seen. Ferries for Rizhao depart from Pyeongtaek; it’s a 17-hour trip. Departures are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; fares range from 110,000 won to 350,000 won. Call (031) 682-9120 or go to www.ferry-ys.com.
Hunchun is another port used by tourists headed for Mount Baekdu; ferries depart from Sokcho in Gangwon province. Tourists should keep in mind that this ferry’s actual destination is in Russia, not China (see Russia section above). The ferry docks at Zarubino, a small Russian port, and travelers can continue on to China by bus. Tourist visas for both China and Russia will have to be secured in advance. One-way fares to Hunchun, including bus fare from Zarubino to Hunchun, range from 156,000 won to 300,000 won. Call (02) 720-0271 or go to www.dongchunferry.co.kr.
Japan by sea... and train, too
Overnight ferry, and more
For 10 years, Hongik Tours in Korea and Nippon Travel Agency in Japan have been offering “Korea-Japanese Through Tickets.” Instead of flying direct from Incheon to, say, Osaka, passengers take a more meandering route by boat and by train, with sightseeing opportunities along the way.
Passengers take the train for the Korean portion of their journey, departing from Seoul, Busan, Daegu or Daejeon.
They arrive at the Korean Highspeed Shipping Company ferry terminal at Busan, where they board the overnight Bugwan Ferry; it departs at 4:30 p.m., and takes about 14 hours to reach the port city of Shimonoseki.
From Shimonoseki, travelers board their choice of Japanese railways, including Shinkansen, West Japan Railway, Kyushu Railway, Central Japan Railway, East Japan Railway and Hokkaido Railway. “Passangers choose this option because they get to reboard twice without additional ticketing,” says Hongik Tours’ Huh O-jeong.
The train connection opens up destination options. These include Tokyo, Osaka, Satpuru, Sendai, Nagoya, Gobeye, Okayama, Hiroshima, Dukyama, Ogori, Dakamas, Gochi, Dokeshima, Matsuyama, Gokura, Hakada, Saga, Nagasaki, Sasebo, Gumamoto, Ishigagoshima, Oita, Miyajaki, Gobe and Okayama.
Ticketing costs vary, depending on starting point and destination. A round-trip ticket from Seoul to Osaka costs about 345,000 won ($324). Travelers who simply want to take the ferry can call Busan Ferry at the number below.
A faster trip
A quicker option for sea travel to Japan is the Beetle, a hydrofoil service that takes less than four hours. It departs from Busan daily at 12:15 and 1:45 p.m., arriving in Hakata.
From Friday to Monday, there is an additional departure, at 2 p.m.
Tour guides recommend that Koreans apply for a visa at the Japanese embassy two to three weeks in advance. Seats can be booked on the day of departure, but for weekend travel, it’s advisable to book in advance.
Hongik Tours: (02) 717-1002
Busan Ferry: (051) 465-6111
Train service in Japan: www.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/
Russian ‘gateway’ now a destination
Russia certainly has its attractions, but for years, its main advantage for many Korean travelers has been its vicinity to China.
Since the spring of 2000, Dongchun Ferry has been moving cargo, vehicles and tourists from Korea’s Sokcho port to the Chinese city of Hunchun, by way of the Russian port city of Zarubino.
Korean tourists have been using Zarubino as a gateway to the shortest overland route to the Yanbian Korean Autonomous District in China’s Jilin province, home to many ethnic Koreans in China and the location of many attractions for South Korean tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. These include the ancient tombs at Mount Longtou, where the eight-century mausoleum of the Bohai Kingdom’s Princess Zhenxiao can be found.
Two years ago, Dongchun Ferry added service to Vladivostok. Since then, Russia itself has become a popular destination; nowadays, about half of the company’s passengers specifically want to travel to Russia, according to Dongchun Ferry’s Choi Gyu-sik.
Vladivostok is the easternmost point on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It’s located less then 100 kilometers east of the Chinese border and across the Sea of Japan from the Japanese island of Honshu.
Because of its importance as a naval base, the city was closed to foreigners until 1991; a New York Times article ealier this year reported that English-speaking guides now lead tourists, “largely Chinese, Japanese and Korean, through once-closed coastal artillery emplacements and into long-secret networks of catacomb defenses.”
Passengers board the ferry in Sokcho Mondays at noon. The ship sails at 3:30 p.m. and arrives in Zarubino at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The ship sails again and docks in Vladivostok at 4 p.m.
Passengers are able to spend the night in Vladivostok before the ship departs Wednesday at 2 p.m. for the coal mining city of Ussuriysk, where it arrives at 4 p.m.
The ferry stays for two nights in Ussuriysk, which has direct rail access to the Manchurian city of Harbin. Friday at 2 p.m., the ship sails again for Vladivostok, where it docks at 4 p.m. and stays for the night. At 10 a.m. Saturday the ferry sails again for Sokcho, arriving at 10 a.m. Sunday.
The cost for this route, including hotels at each stop, is 1,090,000 won. Other service includes one that stops in Zarubino, then takes passengers by bus to Mount Baekdu (a two-hour ride). Dongchun Ferry adds more services during the summer months.
Visas are required to enter Russia; to get one, an official invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is needed. It’s best to get one through a travel agency. Some organizations will sell invitations; you can look online, but be careful of frauds.
An exact itinerary is required to get an invitation; up to five cities can be listed. Three-month tourist visas are available, but require proof of hotel reservations. Business visas are more flexible, but tend to be more expensive. Getting a visa can easily take two months, so plan ahead.
Donghun Ferry can be reached at (02) 720-0101. The Web site is www.dongchunferry.co.kr.
by Joe Yonghee,Joe Eun-hye