Gyeonggi’s perforated western coast topples into the West Sea in an expanse of mud flats – the tidal range here is said to be the second biggest in the world after the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada, though this is challenged by Britain’s Bristol Channel. Whoever the silver medallist, the retreat of the tides is fantastic news for hunters of clams and other sea fare; it does, however, mean that beaches are in short supply. Fear not, Korean land rises again across the waves in the form of dozens of islands, almost all of which have remained pleasantly green and unspoilt; some also have excellent beaches. Life here is predominantly fishing-based and dawdles by at a snail’s pace – a world away from Seoul and its environs, despite a few being close enough to be visited on a day-trip. Quite a number of these have next to no traffic, making them ideal places for a ride if you can find a bike to bring along.
Up the Gyeonggi coast from Incheon is Ganghwado, an island whose dolmens betray its ancient history. Just to the west is delightfully quiet Seongmodo, home to an enchanting temple. Ganghwa is connected to the mainland by bus, but there are other islands that can take hours to reach by ferry; two of these are Deokjeokdo and Baengnyeongdo, both beautiful and sufficiently far away from “regular” Korea to provide perfect escapes for those in need of a break. Swarms of less-visited islands are also there for the taking, if you’re in an adventurous mood.
In case you haven’t guessed already, the suffix -do (도) means “island” in Korean; accordingly, you may see signs for “Deokjeok Island” and so on.Read More
Possibly the prettiest and most tranquil of the Yellow Sea isles, DEOKJEOKDO (덕적도) feels a world away from Seoul, though it’s quite possible to visit from the capital on a day-trip. There’s little in the way of sightseeing, and not much to do, but that’s just the point – the island has a couple of stunning beaches and some gorgeous mountain trails, and makes a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. Around the ferry berth are a few shops, restaurants and minbak, while a bus meets the ferries and makes its way round to Seopori Beach (서포리 해수욕장) on the other, quieter side of the island – also home to a few minbak. Most who stay here for a day or two spend their time chatting to locals, lazing or throwing back beers on the beach, going fishing or taking the easy climb up to the island’s main peak. Some adventurous souls make their way to Soyado (소야도), an island facing the ferry berth, and only a few minutes away if you can flag down a fishing boat. There’s even less to do than on Seongmodo, though there are a couple of motels and minbak if you look hard enough, and you can rest assured you’ll be one of very few foreigners to have overnighted on the island.
Four hours’ ferry-ride from Incheon is BAENGNYEONGDO (백령도), almost tickling the North Korean coastline and as such home to many military installations. In 2010 the Cheonan, a South Korean naval vessel, suspiciously sank just off the island, seriously damaging relations between the two Koreas for details. Baengnyeongdo literally means “White Wing Island”, due to its apparent resemblance to an ibis taking flight, and although the reality is somewhat different you will find yourself gawping at Baengnyeongdo’s spectacular rock formations, best seen from one of the tour boats that regularly depart the port. Some of the most popular are off Dumujin, to the west of the island, while at Sagot Beach the stone cliffs plunge diagonally into the sea.
The tranquil nature of these islands is sometimes diluted by swarms of summer visitors – it’s best to visit on weekdays, or outside the warmest months. Ferries (3 daily) head to Baengnyeongdo from Incheon’s Yeonan pier, departing at 8am, 8.50am and 1pm; return sailings are at 8am, 1pm and 1.50pm. There’s also simple accommodation on Baengnyeongdo, though given the island’s distance from Incheon – and the recent military problems – it’s best to organize this at a tourist information office before heading out.
The Yellow Sea
The Yellow Sea
The West Sea is far better known abroad as the “Yellow Sea”, a reference to the vast quantity of silt deposited into it by the Yellow River, which flows from the Chinese desert. Be warned that few Koreans will take kindly to this term, even though it’s the accepted international name; there’s nowhere near the intensity of debate that the East Sea/Sea of Japan on the other side of the country has inspired (see Victims of nautical nomenclature), but those who want to stay on the better side of their Korean friends should refer to the body of water off the Gyeonggi coast as the “West Sea”, or even better, the Korean name, Seohae (서해).