Ulleungdo - 울릉도

Dear reader, 

Well, we completed our last vacation here at DGEV before we leave!

We took a long four-day vacation to go visit Ulleungdo (“Do” 도 means island in Korean.) Ulleungdo is a volcanic island and looks straight out of a Jurassic Park movie. It is a small island with only around 10,000 residents so it has a quaint, intimate island community. 

I first heard of Ulleung because teachers at DGEV have been sent on our STEAM-Up! and Fun Bus program to teach students there. A hotel is provided by DGEV and you spend 3-5 days on the island. It was also listed as a wonderful place in my handy-dandy Lonely Planet Korea book. I wanted to make it to another island here in Korea before we left, and Ulleungdo looked magical and mysterious. 

I read that it was difficult getting there, so we tried to buffer as much time into our schedule as possible. Getting there is definitely not easy and takes a large amount of time to travel to Ulluengdo, so if you are planning to go prepare for a full day of travel to arrive. You will probably be taking all types of transportation: train, bus, ferry, and taxis. Purchasing tickets for all of the transportation needs to be flexible with plenty of cushion for timing as the ferries getting to Ulleungdo can be delayed or leave early due to the variable weather and ocean! The ferry (boats) are NOT large, they can’t handle very rough seas or weather. I am used to Washington State ferries that are enormous and can hold a hundred cars or more, the ferries here are big yachts and do not absorb the waves well - you feel it all. 

Is that foreshadowing enough?

So those with stomachs that don’t do well on boats or small boats be warry - there is no other means of getting to Ulleungdo other than by boat. (Whispering says Korea is planning on building an airport in Pohang to travel to the island, but that will probably take a fair bit of time, especially building something on Ulleung in particular.)

Buy your ferry tickets in advance! Try to purchase at the beginning of the summer. The website is not easy, it is all in Korean, so you will need a translation app to help navigate if you are not fluent. 

We had to purchase our ferry tickets out of two different cities because we were late in booking and we did not want to lose any of our time off. So convenience flew out the window. There are 5 ports you can leave from: Pohang 포항(closest to Daegu), Gangneung 강릉, Mukho 묵호, Hupo 후포, and Donghae 동해. We preferred leaving out of Pohang as it is the closest, only a 45-minute train ride, but had to leave out of Donghae on Friday because we could not find empty seats on the Pohang ferry. We did secure tickets on the ferry traveling back on Monday. On our ferry to Ulleung we did not have any issues traveling, we did take some Korean motion sickness medicine that eases stomach issues. It came in a mysterious little glass, potion-like bottle ~ when in Rome. 

I booked (하얀펜셴) Hayeon Pension along the southeast coast of the island, there are hotels on the island but for us those are very expensive, a great affordable option is Guesthouses which are lovely! (but were all fully booked for our weekend.) This is the pension we booked, it is an ondol Korean style room aka: sleeping on the floor with floor mats and comforters. I knew we had a tough time sleeping in Andong with these types of beds but I wanted to give it another go because it was RIGHT by the ocean and was very affordable. I also wanted a kitchen because I wanted to limit the amount we spent eating out, which always adds up to a lot of money when traveling. 

We arrived Friday night, secured a taxi from the port. Spoke to our first taxi driver telling him where we were going, showed him on our map, then he drove us a little ways pointed to another taxi car said ‘he will take us’ - we pop out tell him our location - he points to the taxi in front of him - finally this dude takes us. He must be the Hayeon Pension guy? Who knows. We make it! Traveled up steep, winding roads with granite rocks and green all around us. We were greeted by our lovely mother and daughter duo at the pension, we made instant ramen by the ocean and ate on the deck we had for the next three nights. 

The whole week before our vacation I eyed the weather reports and they all were saying nothing but rain and grey, temperatures were to be in the low 60’s. It started forecasting better weather a few days before but nothing much better, well we end up having sunny days and temperatures in the 80’s! Wow. It seems the weather really does turn on a dime in Ulleungdo. Eric had worked hard on an adult KITA program so he didn’t want to do too much galavanting around, and with the weather forecast I just kept it low key.

Well turns out our location was perfect! We had a small public beach a five minute walk away, all beaches are rocks not sand -FYI. But the cove was protected by wave breakers out in the ocean so the water was warm, seriously almost tropical and so salty! We jumped in. There was a small little kids pool as you first walk to the beach but we went further and found an isolated spot - I wanted to get my exposed bikini body away from those small Korean eyes :P (they all wear long shirts and shorts, not many bikinis anywhere in Korea.) 

Saturday we explored our area, walked the coast taking pictures, picked up milk for our granola, found our beach, had lunch, and went back for a swim. 

Sunday we ventured up to the Dokdo Observatory cable car, ate ice cream at the top, bought a Dokdo t-shirt, went back to our pension, swam at our beach again, ate dinner, and relaxed in our apartment - we watched two shows for the night The Bear (highly recommend) & started Ted Lasso.

Monday we ate breakfast and grabbed coffee at a shop right near us called 582 화답 Hwadap, they do not open until 11 am, typical so no early risers, went back and packed our bags to head to the ferry. Our ladies called us a taxi and we were off. 

We did land at the wrong ferry port, the office at Jeodong Port didn’t open until 1 pm, so we sat there for 30 minutes waiting, then were told to go to Dodong Port, had to rush to a taxi, but still landed with 20 minutes to wait. 

Our ferry ride back was a bit wilder than our arrival. We walked out onto the ferry deck and were met by huge gusts of winds, people in line were “whooing and awwing.” We load onto the boat and find our seats, it is when I looked out the window and saw the boat rocking back and forth that I realized it was going to be a very different boat ride back to the mainland. 

Everyone gets settled on the boat, the crew is getting ready, one crew member walks to the front of the boat and announces something to all the passengers. After that announcement all of a sudden we see maybe a dozen or more Koreans stand up and walk directly to the back of the boat. Eric and I are confused, a nice Korean man in front of us turns back towards us and says: 

“Ah the captain has made an announcement, the weather is rough and he says the ocean is going to be… ah… how do I say… ahh very violent.” 

A pause from us. “Ahhhh, thank you for letting us know.” - Eric

Haha, Eric turns to me and asks ‘have you been on the high seas before?’ I look at him and laugh. The answer is no I haven’t, other than our previous ride out to the island. 

The boat gets going and we pull out into the wide ocean and start to pick up speed. We hit 5-7 foot waves, you feel and see the boat hit a wave and go air borne, then wait for the boat to land back down again. Everyone in the boat exclaims, there is laughter, it was fun for the first 15-20 minutes but reality sets in that we have a 3 1/2 hour ferry ride in these waves. I believe the medicine has a bit of a drowsy effect because some how I miraculously fall asleep and so does most of the passengers on board. I didn’t feel ‘comfortable’ on the boat but I did not feel nauseous at all, when I woke up, maybe half way through, I just listened to an audiobook and was totally fine. Eric was watching TV on his phone and reading book, he was completely fine with the motion. 

We made it back to Korea safe and sound, it was quite the experience and end to our trip! But so glad we made the journey and sought the adventure of Ulleungdo. 

Tips for Ulleungdo:

  • Make sure you have enough time around your ferry departures.
  • Can’t use Kakao Taxi on the island - have to rely on local taxis or locals to call a taxi for you. The local bus schedule was kind of impossible to figure out for us.
  • Not many shops/stores come prepared with anything you can’t live without. 
  • All local food, not many western-style options, which is just a warning for those looking for that type when traveling. So much seafood!
  • Everything does seem hard to get to, but going to the island just to relax and explore what was around us was enough for our vacation goals.

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