Looking west from Mokpo’s Yudalsan peaks, you’ll find a sea filled to the horizon with an assortment of islands – there are up to three thousand off Jeolla, and though many of these are merely bumps of rock that yo-yo in and out of the surf with the tide, hundreds are large enough to support fishing communities. The quantity is so vast, indeed, that it’s easier to trailblaze here than in some less-developed Asian countries – many of the islands’ inhabitants have never seen a foreigner, and it’s hard to find a more quintessentially Korean experience.
Much of the area is under the umbrella of Dadohae Haesang National Park, which stretches offshore from Mokpo to Yeosu. The two most popular islands in the park are Hongdo, which rises steeply from the West Sea, and neighbouring Heuksando, a miniature archipelago of more than a hundred islets of rock. Further down the coast are Jindo, which owes its popularity to the local tide’s annual parting of the sea, and Wando, connected to the mainland by road, but surrounded by an island constellation of its own.