When you hear “Korea,” you’re probably more likely to think kimchi, K-Pop, or kim Jong-un than you are to think “Island Getaway.” I discovered this weekend, however, that South Korea’s picturesque and easily accessible Geoje Island is actually the perfect place to spend a quiet weekend away from the city.
The longer I live here, the more I realize how extremely underrated South Korea is. One of my favorite things about this country is how easy it is to travel, both to nearby destinations, like Japan and China, and within the country itself. As I mentioned in a previous post, public transportation in Korea is amazing. Even though it was just a regular two day weekend, my friend and I decided to take advantage of a break in the rain, which, lately, has been relentless, to travel down south to Geoje-do, Korea’s second largest island after Jeju. [FYI: The suffix –do means island in Korean, so Geoje can also be written as Geoje-do, aka Geoje Island.]
Getting to the island was a breeze. We caught a 12:30 a.m. bus from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul down to Busan, and then had another short bus ride from Busan to Gohyeon Bus Terminal on Geoje the next morning. An overnight bus ride may sound horrific, but catching a late Friday night bus is actually a really good (and cheap) way to maximize your time on a short weekender. Highway traffic is nonexistent and the seats are surprisingly comfortable. Even with my long giraffe legs, I still had loads of leg room.
[If you’re considering traveling to Geoje-do, there is a bus that goes straight from Nambu Bus terminal in Seoul to Gohyeon. Also, there are two bus stations on the island - Gohyeon on the East side and the smaller Jangseungpo on the West side - I didn't realize this until we were leaving. To save time and money, check which one terminal is closer to your intended destination!]
After arriving on the island we were greeted by one of the friendliest, chattiest, and most reckless cab drivers I’ve had the pleasure of riding with in Korea. "Most reckless" is saying something, as I’ve had my fair share of terrifying cab experiences, including three cab accidents in the last two months.
Between frustrated honking, hastily swerving around slow drivers, and repeatedly commenting that we were very beautiful, like David and Victoria Beckham... (his words - not mine), he still managed to get us to our destination unscathed... (in addition to finding out where we were from, where we live now, and pinpointing the precise location of North Carolina using google maps).
At the end of our very fast and the furious style drive through Geoje's winding roads, he then hopped out of the car and insisted on taking photos with and of us. Despite his questionable driving methods, I must say, his multitasking skills and selfie game were still on point.
From what I could see during my two days in Geoje, cabs and buses are the primary way to get around. In this time, I also realized that Seoul has really spoiled me as far as taxis go. If you do happen to spy a taxi driving down the road in Geoje, it's more than likely "reserved," so your best bet is having your hotel or pension arrange one for you.
We did most of our exploring on foot, but, knowing how reckless some cabbies can be, tried to steer clear of walking on the roads. Thankfully, there was an adorable boardwalk that wrapped around the coastline, connecting all of the hotels, restaurants, and beaches along the bay. While this was extremely convenient, next time, I will definitely plan to look in to bike or scooter rentals, so I can get around the island more easily.
If you know me, you probably know that I am really low maintenance when it comes to accommodation. I am in no way opposed to sleeping on floors, in hostels, bungalows with mosquito nets and no aircon, buses, or jimjilbangs (Korean bath houses). Normally, when booking a place to stay, I just go for the cheapest option because I don't intend to spend much time there anyway. This weekend getaway, however, was all about R&R (which, after months of burning the candle from both ends, I’m learning is absolutely necessary)... so I splurged.
It’s very true that you get what you pay for. In addition to outstanding customer service and free breakfast, our stay at the beautiful Hotel Inspiration Point included our own garage entrance to the room (unnecessary but cool), a comfy king sized bed (crucial), a spacious bath tub (YAY FOR NO SHOWER BATHROOM!), and an incredible view.
The hotel staff was beyond helpful. Room service closed early, and there weren’t any nearby places to get food, so the front desk manager personally ordered us delivery AND brought it to our room when it arrived. He even helped us book our bus tickets back to Seoul (as, sometimes, the English website isn’t fully functional). I HIGHLY recommend this hotel based on it's customer service merits alone. That being said, if you’re looking for a relaxing place to stay on Geoje-do, Hotel Inspiration Point offers not only incredible customer service, but a killer view from every room. (They are also home to the restaurant Big Burger... home of the big burger.)
What To Do
From hiking to water sports, Geoje Island has no lack of outdoor activities. With so many things to choose from, I finally decided on doing something I have been wanting to do for quite a long time - RELAXING! I've been on several fun international trips this year, but they've almost always been crammed in between full weeks of teaching, tutoring, and trying to keep up with basic necessities, like meals and sleep. I love adventures as much as the next person, but, sometimes, when deciding "what to do" on your holiday, it's important to remember that doing nothing is also an option.
A visit to Geoje was just what I needed. It was quiet, laid back, and so unlike Seoul that I almost felt like I was in a different country. Weekends in Seoul still mean work for many people, Koreans and expats alike, so it was nice to see so many families and friends camping out, barbecuing, and just enjoying each others company by the beach. My friend and I followed suit and spent the majority of our time wandering around the boardwalk, (and the rocks beneath it), and sipping beers at the local GS-25.
Would I Go Again?
As with most places in Korea, I noticed a surprising amount of construction and development occurring, just on the island's east coast alone. It will be very interesting to see what Geoje Island looks like in a few years time, (and whether or not it will become overrun with tourists like Jeju-do).
Though my time in Geoje-do was incredibly short, I can see why people love this charming little (but second largest) island. While I would love to go back again, there are literally thousands of islands dotting the coast of Korea. If they are anything like Geoje-do, I can't wait to explore them, too.
...So, yes, while South Korea may be more famous for its kimchi, K-Pop, and crazy northern neighbors than it is for island getaways, its many beautiful islands, like Geoje-do, along the gorgeous coastline are definitely worth noting as well.