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On Walkabout On: Wando, South Korea

Korea has a multitude of fine islands that are worth checking out. Some are extremely popular and easy to acces such as Cheju Island and others like Ulleongdo Island that are difficult to access and extremely remote. However, some of Korea’s islands remain very easy to access and are not overwhelmed with tourists; one of these islands is beautiful Wando:

Picture from Wando Island
Click here for an excellent interactive tour map of the island.

The island is easily accessed by a long bridge from the Korean mainland province of Cheollanam-do. The road to the island is quite narrow, filled with curves, and extremely scenic, but a new four lane highway is being built to the island that is sure to increase the amount of traffic the island receives in the near future. Wando is not really well known in the Korean tourist scene, well at least not yet, thus much of the traditional rural Korean island life is still visible on the island today.

The island of Wando is formed around the slopes of Sanghwang Peak that rises out of the ocean to a height of 644 meters:

Picture from Wando Island

The peak may not be that high compared to other mountains in Korea but it is still impressive to look at from sea level. With little flat land on the island what land is flat is cultivated for farming with most food coming from the islands surrounding sea.

The first place most people check out on the island would be the island’s only real city of Wando-eup. Wando-eup is a small provincial city located on the shores of a scenic cove that serves as a safe harbor for the many fishermen that call Wando home.  The first thing a visitor to Wando-eup will notice is the beautiful park built on the waterfront across the street from most of the new hotels that have been constructed overlooking the ocean. This new park is dedicated to Wando’s most famous local Choi Kyoung-ju:

Picture from Wando Island

Choi is a professional golfer who is ranked ninth in the world and fifth in prize money by making over $10 million dollars this year. Choi was the son of one of Wando’s many fishermen who had a dream to become a professional golfer on an island with no golf course. His dad built a driving range for him and eventually he developed enough talent to attend high school in Seoul and play more golf. The rest as they say is history and to this day the locals on the island take a lot of pride in Choi’s accomplishments.

Wando is also surrounded by many smaller islands that are accessible by various ferry boats from the harbor in Wando-eup to include a car ferry that will even take passengers all the way to Cheju-do Island:

Picture from Wando Island

One of the larger islands near Wando is Sinji-do which is the only island connected to Wando by a large bridge:

Picture from Wando Island

Sinji-do’s main attraction is Myeongsashimni Beach that is thought to be one of the best in the country. Wando-eup doesn’t have any beaches, but if you like fish this is definitely the place for you.  In Wando-eup something I highly recommend is to wake up early and head over to the local fish market. You have to get up early though to purchase fresh fish.  Getting up early though did provide us with an opportunity to watch the sunrise over the island which was quite scenic:

Picture from Wando Island

Finding the market is easy because all you have to do is walk along the water front and towards the area where all the fishing boats are heading to drop off their early morning catch:

Picture from Wando Island

You know you are at the right place when you see all the parked fishing boats:

Picture from Wando Island

The fish market is located in a large building adjacent to the harbor with all the fishing boats. Inside the building the market is extremely busy and you can watch the fishermen auction off their prize catches to the many buyers at the market:

Picture from Wando Island

The auction of the prize catches can get quite animated as the various buyers are highly competitive in wanting to purchase the best catches of the day from the fishermen. It was actually quite entertaining to watch. The fish that are not considered prize catches can be bought for negotiated prices from the various fishermen’s wives that occupy floor space in the market:

Picture from Wando Island

Picture from Wando Island

Picture from Wando Island

If you don’t like the smell of fish you might want to stay away from this place because you will definitely leave smelling like fish, but it is worth it to see the daily life of the island’s fishermen for yourself.  After checking out the market you might as well head over to the nearby restaurants and try out some of the freshly caught fish purchased by the restaurant owners from the fishermen at the market that morning:

Picture from Wando Island

There is an absolute wealth of seafood restaurants in Wando and it pays to shop around for the best deals. Some of the restaurants will actually prepare fish for you if you bought them from the market. Some of the fish at the restaurants are very expensive. For example the fish in the below photo cost 100,000 won to eat one fish:

Picture from Wando Island

Some of the more basic seafood dishes are dirt cheap and you won’t find seafood any fresher than what is being served at the restaurants of Wando-eup:

Picture from Wando Island

My wife and I actually tried the 100,000 won fish for one of our dinners while visiting Wando and it was quite good, but not worth 100,000 won. The rest of the time we ate huge seafood meals for under 20,000 won for both of us:

Picture from Wando Island

Wando has a variety of things to check out and Wando-eup makes a good base to explore from. My wife and I stayed at a hotel right on the waterfront with a large LCD TV, cable, and a computer with Internet for 40,000 won a night and were eating like royalty the rest of the time for even cheaper.

Cheolla-do usually gets a bad reputation as being anti-American (rightfully so in Gwangju), but the most friendly people I have met in Korea is in rural Cheollanam-do and the people of Wando are no different. The people on Wando are especially friendly towards foreigners because they see so few of them go there. So once on the island you will have no problems interacting with the locals and doing things; getting there is the challenge.  The only mass transportation option to Wando is by bus. There is express bus service from Seoul that takes five hours and forty minutes to reach the island. There are also a variety of buses that run from Gwangju if you want to take the train to Gwanju and transfer to a bus from there. You can view the bus schedule to Wando here.

However you get there the island is definitely worth checking out for people wanting to get a glimpse of what rural island life on Korea is like.

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