Ulleungdo island had been on my Korea travel bucket list for quite a long time before I finally got the chance to visit in May. It looked stunningly beautiful in photos, and now that I have been there, I can certainly say even the photos don’t do it justice. There’s never a dull bus ride there because the scenery is so amazing.
Part of the reason why I didn’t get to Ulleungdo until last month, despite wanting to go there for more than a year, is because I wanted to go during a three day weekend, but ended up too busy to go during the few three day weekends I had last year. I tried going over the past Buddha’s birthday, but the ferry was all booked (I checked a month in advance). I was disappointed, but it turned out the next week was my students’ exam week so I had no classes. I decided to take that Friday off and go to Ulleungdo that weekend.
Booking the ferry and accommodation ahead of time for Ulleungdo requires a Korean speaker, so I asked my co-teacher to call the ferry service leaving from Gangneung, as it was the easiest port for me to get to. The other ports for Ulleungdo are in Donghae and Pohang. I gave her the name of a motel located in the main town of Ulleungdo, Dodong-ri, and she called to reserve a room. The motel is called the Blue Motel, and it’s a very nice and new motel walking distance from Dodong port, and an easy taxi ride (about 10 minutes) from Jeodong port, the second biggest port. The ferry from Gangneung goes into Jeodong port. The ferry was fairly comfortable, as long as I was sitting down I didn’t feel too seasick, but I did take some seasick medicine (called 멀미약) which is sold at the ferry terminal. I believe it was 1,000 won for a small bottle but I’m not totally certain. The ride was a little less than 3 hours. My passport was required in order to board the ferry.
Once I arrived in Jeodong port, I ate a lunch of cold noodles, then went to the information counter and picked up an English language map and tourist brochure of the island, and hopped in a taxi to my motel. All of the taxis on Ulleungdo are SUVs, and even in the short ride I noticed how curvy and steep the roads are there. They frequently go up the mountains on the coast of the island which provides beautiful views.
When I asked my coteacher to book my motel, I asked if she could ask for a room with a bed, rather than sleep ondol style on the floor. They told her that they only had ondol rooms available, so I took that since I don’t mind ondol (but prefer a bed). However, someone who booked a Western style room cancelled their reservation, so I was given a room with a bed.
The Blue Motel was 60,000 won per night. For people who want a cheaper room, there are two hostels on Ulleungdo that I am aware of, the first being Attack Camp and the second Sum Guesthouse. I can’t personally vouch for either however. Minbaks cover the whole island as well. The motels in Dodong seem to book up ahead of time (one motel I considered staying in was booked when my coteacher called) so probably best to get a reservation rather than just show up if planning to stay in a motel in town.
After checking into my motel, I went to some of the attractions around Dodong. The first being the Dokdo observatory cable car. As most people living in Korea know, Dokdo, or Takeshima to the Japanese, or the Lioncourt Rocks to neutral parties, are two small islets that both Korea and Japan claim are theirs. The islets are being administered by Korea, and the only way Koreans can reach them is through Ulleungdo. I decided not to go to Dokdo/Takeshima/the Lioncourt Rocks since I wanted more time on Ulleungdo, and the ferry from Ulleungdo takes 3 hours round trip.
I didn’t go on the Dokdo observatory cable car to see Dokdo, but rather to get a view of Dodong-ri. Supposedly Dokdo can be seen from the observatory on a very clear day, but I couldn’t see it. But here’s another picture of the view from the cable car (the other posted above).
Right next to the cable car station is Yaksu park, a park with a small spring of water with supposed medicinal properties. It tasted like regular water, but then again I’m not sure what medicine water is supposed to taste like. There’s a small temple on the way to the park.
Past the temple is a forest where the spring is located.
After Yaksu park, I went to the waterfront to do the coastal walk from Dodong to Jeodong. The walk was very nice, but ended up turning into a hike in the mountains, which wasn’t that difficult but a bit steep at parts.
I’m not a big hiker, so I was really happy when I caught a glimpse of Jeodong-ri from the mountains.
From Jeodong, I caught a taxi back to the motel and grabbed dinner. One food Ulleungdo is known for is it’s beef, known as “medicine beef” because the cows are grass-fed healthy herbs. I had wanted to try this, but beef restaurants only serve the particular dish to two or more people. So I ate at a standard Korean restaurant and got some galbitang, which was really good. I had been a bit concerned that Ulleungdo would have limited dining options besides fish (information I had read made it seem this way, anyway) but it actually is not difficult at all to find non-seafood Korean food. After that, I decided to relax in my hotel and get to bed early.
The next morning, I took a ferry to Jukdo. Jukdo is a very small island close to Ulleungdo, pictured here.
A ferry plus the entrance fee to Jukdo cost about 15,000 won. Ferries go from Dodong port at 9 am and 2:30 pm.
The ferry took around 20 minutes I think. I bought a ticket an hour before boarding. Seagulls tend to swarm the boat because passengers feed them. Since I do not like seagulls at all, I eventually went to the lower deck.
Once on Jukdo, there’s a long flight of stairs to climb before getting to the top of the island, where there’s some beautiful farmland and views of Ulleungdo.
The name Jukdo means “bamboo island” and Jukdo has small bamboo growing all over the island.
Jukdo and it’s views were gorgeous and I was really glad I made the trip there.
After arriving back on the main island, I grabbed lunch and got on a bus to Taeha. Taeha is a small town on the northern part of Ulleungdo, which has a monorail leading up to an observatory of the Taeha cliff. Songgot bong, a large mountain on the edge, and Gongam, or elephant rock, are visible from here. Elephant rock got it’s name because it looks like an elephant dipping its trunk into the water.
The monorail is pretty easy to find from the bus stop in Taeha. There’s a sign nearby that can be easily followed, as well as a map of Ulleungdo where the bus drops off.
After Taeha, I had planned to go to Nari basin, which is the only flat land area in Ulleungdo, but for some reason the bus turned around and went back to Dodong. I probably should have gotten off and waited for another bus, but I wasn’t sure of the bus schedule in the small villages and why the bus I got on even turned around in the first place. So I stayed on the ride back to Dodong (which was about an hour) and then tried to decide what to do. I figured I could go to Jeodong and see Bongnae falls, or head back to the northern part and try to get to Nari basin or at least get a better view of Songgot bong.
Since I wanted to see as much of Ulleungdo as possible, I decided to get on a bus headed for Cheonbu, a village on the northern part which had a good view of the Songgot bong rock and a sunset observatory according to my brochure. So I went on the same hour long bus ride to Cheonbu, the last stop on the bus. I was quite hungry for dinner, but restaurant options were pretty limited. Eventually I found a restaurant and ordered bibimbap. The lady who owned it was quite friendly but didn’t speak English. My Korean is very limited, but I did understand when she asked me where I was staying. When I told her Dodong-ri, she informed me that there was no bus to Dodong from Cheonbu after 7 pm. It was already 7:30. She told me the only way to get back was hitch hiking.
I panicked and didn’t finish my meal. I had to be on the ferry at 8 am the next day, and my coteacher had left a text saying that I had to be at the terminal by 7. My options were to either hitch hike or stay in a minbak for the night and catch the earliest bus back. I kicked myself for not reading the bus times carefully and not staying in the Dodong area. I didn’t really want to stay in a minbak without my stuff, and I was more comfortable being near the ferry terminal since I had to be on the ferry early. I waited for cars to pass, but the area was quiet. I did get some nice pictures of Songgot bong, and one of the sunset (not the best but I cared more about getting back to my motel at the moment).
After a little while an older man asked me what was wrong and offered to take me back to Dodong in his van. To be honest, as a woman alone I wasn’t fully comfortable with that situation, but I really, really wanted to get back. Thankfully, I made it back to the motel safely and in one piece, and to the terminal the next day.
That morning I had some Ulleungdo pumpkin bread for breakfast, which is pretty good (not as good as homemade pumpkin bread but still good). I also bought an extra box for my coteacher as a thanks for her help. I was really glad to be on the ferry safely after my faux pas the night before.
Overall though, it was an excellent trip and I highly recommend anyone living in Korea to visit Ulleungdo at least once. The scenery is stunning and well worth the effort to get there. I attracted quite a bit of attention from both the mainland tourists and locals alike for being a foreigner alone, but everyone was quite nice. I got a free bag of tomatoes from a lady sitting next to me on the bus on Ulleungdo as well as a canned coffee from a man on the ferry. The people from Ulleungdo were really friendly despite not knowing English. Ulleungdo is one of my favorite places in Korea and I hope this blog post can help someone planning to go there.