We chose to go camping for our one year anniversary and decided on the recommended island of Seonyudo just off the South West coastal town of Gunsan.
It took under an hour for our bus to travel from Jeonju to Gunsan and it cost a mere 11,200 won for the two of our one-way tickets. After arriving in Gunsan, we followed instructions from the Official Korean Tourism website to exit the terminal, turn left, and walk until we would come upon a bus stop.
We found it easily enough, but must have just missed the #7 bus that would take us to the ferry terminal because the electronic bus prompter indicated that the next bus was due to arrive in a half hour which is how often they arrive. Since we had some time, we took the opportunity to back track and grab a couple of much needed coffees and granola bars from the nearest convenience store.
Eventually, our bus arrived and we headed for the terminal. We didn’t know exactly where the terminal was, nor which stop to get off at, but we figured we would know when we saw it. Unfortunately, we somehow missed the terminal (which is very obvious I am embarrassed to admit) and ended up about a 10 minute drive from it once we realized what had happened. We made the quick decision to get off the bus and to swallow our pride and to flag a taxi. The problem was that we were in quite an industrial area with little to know cars, let alone, taxis on the road. We even tried sticking our thumbs out and hitchhiking with no success. We walked in the direction we thought we’d come from, and eventually came across a convenience store. The cashier agreed to call a taxi for us, so we waited outside. Not long after, a man waved to Jonny. Jonny made the classic “Me?” gesture with his finger as he mouthed the words and pointed a finger at himself. The man nodded and again motioned for us to come over to him. We quickly realized that the man was offering to give us a ride, so we hesitantly hopped into his car and in broken English the man asked, “Perry terminalu?” We nodded yes and he said that he would take us.
After ten minutes of driving back the way we’d come with the bus, we arrived at the terminal, thanked the man, and were back on track. The Gunsan Ferry Terminal is a large enough building to spot and is not a hard place to navigate whatsoever. We walked inside and went straight to a front desk. We purchased our round trip tickets (make sure you have your ID card and a phone number – we had to give them a fake number since we don’t have phones) and were on the ferry within 5 minutes!
The ferry took a little over an hour to reach its port on Seonyudo. Once we arrived, Jonny and I not knowing where to go just followed the other people who had come from our ferry. We had turned right from the dock and simply followed the paved road until we came across a bike rental business. Each of us got a bike for 10,000 for the day. We were set, hoped on our bikes, and continued down the road with all of our gear on our backs and in my big, bike basket.
One of our first missions was to find food. We creeped past several restaurants, and back tracked not once but twice until choosing one. We ended up picking a chinese restaurant, sat on the only table outside, and shared a sea food noodle dish. It was yummy and gave us just enough fuel to begin our search for a camp site.
Now, I was under the impression that there would be more options for us to set up our tent. I WAS WRONG.
We biked past the main beach drag that I read about in various blogs and that is normally advertised in pictures. Along this drag are several ‘medians’ that have flat grass spaces used for camping. We did not like the small space, lack of privacy, and noise that the area would bring, so we decided to bike more of the islands to see if there was anything else. THERE WASN’T. After about an hour and a half of biking with 2 huge bags on our backs and several moments where cycling up a hill was impossible, we decided that the ‘medians’ would have to do. We were gullible and had forgotten that finding open, green spaces in Korea is very difficult and next to impossible. Our area of camping like we do in Canada was not a reality because realistically speaking, we were NOT in Canada.
So, we headed back for the median, found the most secluded section that we could find, and began setting up. Afterwards, we decided to take a quick rest inside the tent. As we lay there on our backs, we soon realized that sleep would probably be difficult that night as every 2 minutes, either a scooter or tour van would go rumbling by. You could literally feel the vibrations from the machinery shake you around!
Even still, we decided to play it cool and go for some more biking minus the bags. We felt perfectly fine leaving our things in the tent, except for electronic equipment, money, and anything else of absolute importance.
We biked all over between the islands connected by foot bridges. Seonyudo is nice, but I think we hit a bad time since the tide was so low that we saw little of the coast and more mud flats. Unfortunately too, Seonyudo had a lot of trash everywhere. It was surprising actually and really sad as I had expected it to be a little cleaner. Of course there were places that looked tidy and nice near the fancier hotels and pensions, but it was quite dirty there and not a place I would rave to my friends about looks-wise. The small mountains were very beautiful however, and I think with a higher tide, it’d probably look more better from the beach. It’s just strange because all of the blogs I had read about Seonyudo responded so positively about it, but I didn’t see what all of those other people did.
Despite our slight disappointment with Seonyudo visually, I will say that we have never received so many friendly ‘Hellos’ and genuine curiosity from Seonyudo’s inhabitants and Korean visitors towards us. In almost every group that passed by, at least one person would say hello or at the least give us a smile, which is a rarity in Korea. It gave us a sense of comfort, ease, and dare I say belonging? We felt welcomed and it allowed us to really relax and just enjoy what Seonyudo had to offer.
Biking around Seonyudo was great exercise and felt very freeing with various paths to take and hidden pebble beaches to stop at. Sometimes simply being in a new place is what makes the journey there worthwhile, and so I will always appreciate going to Seonyudo.
What we really liked was having our tent to come back to and a bottle of red wine waiting for us after all of our wandering. We plugged our i-pod into a speaker, stretched out on our blanket, and sipped wine while guessing the artists of each song. It was a perfect night and we hardly noticed the traffic going by.
The following day was a rainy one, leaving us little outdoor options which was sadly one of the reasons we’d chosen Seonyudo. Our ferry tickets were for 4:30 pm, and neither of us wanted to stay until then. So, we peddled to the ferry ticket booth, but to add to our frustration, there was no one there. We waited for about an hour until someone finally turned up. By then, about ten people had turned up, also eager to change their tickets. It was an absolute headache because at first, we explained that we wanted to have our ticket changed to an earlier time, but the lady refunded our ticket without giving us new ones. The reason being was because we had to go to the other ticket booth to purchase new tickets from another ferry company. Jonny got in line to purchase us new tickets, while I raced back to our campsite to take down our tent and pack our things. I only had about 25 minutes to do it all! Luckily, I have taken down many tents in my day (thanks to years of family camping every summer) and by the time Jonny came back to help, I was ready to go. We cycled back in the direction of the ferry, dropped off our rented bikes (easiest drop off ever), then power walked to the dock to board. Feeling breathless yet relieved, we walked up to the boat only to find out that there was a delay. One thing to note about going to Seonyudo, is that often ferry departures are delayed due to the frequent fog that rolls in. It just so happened to be one of those days and all we could do was wait. It stretched to about 2 hours before we finally left.
We said our good byes to Seonyudo as our ferry tugged into the fog, and the island disappeared from our view. It was a mini adventure that was fun because we made it that way. With the right attitude and curiosity, any new place can provide a good experience as long as you learn to work with it, and find what you can do with what it offers.