Last Monday was a national Holiday in Korea - officially 석가탄신일 referred to as Buddha's Birthday, thus providing me with a three day weekend. Having the extra time I knew that I wanted to take full advantage of the weekend, so Sara and I decided to explore Geoje Island, South West of Busan, but accessible by bus. The weekend snuck up faster than expected and we had failed to look into train tickets early so we wound up on the 6:55 am train from Waegwon - really not a problem as it provided us with more time on Saturday. Travel to Geoje went better than expected and we were on the island enjoying a lunch by noon.
Our next mission was finding a place to stay, not even two blocks down the road we entered the A-Ju Park Hotel where a sweet little Ajuma (old woman) was working, she spoke minimal English but told us to wait a minute. Soon I was on the phone with the hotel manager who spoke [near] perfect English and next thing you know we were checked in. After a quick face wash and change of clothes we were out to explore our new town. Thankfully Sara and I can both read Korean or we may have been stuck in Okpo - we found bus 11 and took it towards the port and ferry terminal (and what was supposed to be bus terminal - although that was never really located).
We rode to the end of the line only to discover there was not much there, after walking around for a bit we got the bus back towards town and attempted to make our way to a beach. Geoje island tourist map might be the worst map I've ever tried using. The sights are easy to find, but there is little to no direction on how to get to them. We wanted to get to Hakdong Pebble beach which was on the south end of the Island but were having no luck finding a bus to take us there. After some frustration and lots of wandering we decided to just suck it up and pay for a taxi, we hoped once we were there it'd be much easier to navigate our way back.
After relaxing at the beach (and yes it was relaxing albeit covered in pebbles) with a beer and some snacks we eventually made our way back home. We had taken note of the bus routes in town before departing and were able to spot one that would take us back. I thought the taxi ride to the beach was interesting, speeding through the winding hills and coastal roads, I didn't realize how much more fun the bus would be, especially riding in the WAY back. By the time we were back in Okpo by bus we were about ready to pass out, I guess the 6 am wake up got us. Instead of exploring the bars of Okpo (which seemed to be harboring a few creepers) we opted for showers (in a real bathtub!), romantic dinner catered by Mr. Pizza, and a little Korean baseball - all before passing out around 10pm (p-a-r-t-a-y a-n-i-m-a-l-s).
The next morning we were up early, ate breakfast and were once again on our way to the ferry terminal, this time to buy tickets for the ferry out to Oedo-Botania and Geoje Haeguemgang. We knew the city was busy thanks to the holiday weekend but I think we underestimated just quite how popular this trip was. Upon arriving at the terminal at about 8:30 am we found out the first available tickets were for the 4:25 pm ferry, without hesitation we bought our pair.
Since we had time before our ferry we decided to go explore Gohyeon. Our lovely map listed two different spas in the city so we thought we'd start there and spoil ourselves with a massage. Unfortunately the "spa" was not quite what we expected - basically just a sauna and jimjilbang (get naked and hang out with other Koreans in baths) whereas the massage was a totally naked scrub down from some Korean women - also not what we were looking for. On to plan #2 - okay well there wasn't really a plan #2 so we consulted our shitty map and selected Mt. Gyeryongsan and the Oksangeum-seong Fortress as our next destination. I'm really not sure how far we walked but we eventually arrived to what we assume was the fortress.
After a simple lunch it was still only 1:30, but we determined there was not much more to see in Gohyeon and decided to make our way back. It's a good thing too because thanks to the holiday traffic our commute took about an hour and 45 minutes as opposed to the 30 minutes it should have been. We got in line for the ferry at about 4pm (as instructed earlier that morning) and were joined by hoards of tourists (Korean and foreign alike). Of course all the announcements and instructions were only in Korean but with our limited ability and help from some friendly Koreans we made it aboard our ferry and were off to the Botania.
The island was beautiful, one huge botanical garden and felt nothing like the Korea I knew so far. Upon leaving our ferry boat made it's way to Geoje Haeguemgang island which means Mt. in the sea and is also referred to as the Sea Diamond of the South Sea. The island is part of an official "green area" in South Korea and contains Shipjagul cave at the center. The views were amazing and we were lucky enough to be there at the start of sunset.
As soon as it started the weekend seemed to be ending. Our ferry got back to the port around 8 pm and we sat on a rooftop patio for dinner - fresh Seafood risotto! After that it was back to Okpo for some much needed sleep. Monday we packed up, took a walk around our town, found a cafe to enjoy a morning coffee and then it was time to pack up and begin the venture home. (2 buses, subway, train and one more bus - I would complain but it all cost < $20 and was comfortable and efficient). After the 2 buses and subway ride we took a break in Busan and met up with Grace (my roommate from orientation who's teaching in Ulsan) for lunch and some shopping. Although it involved hours of travel and early mornings this visit to Geoje was a complete success, I got to see a new part of Korea and enjoy some nature.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.