Exploring South Korea’s Outlying Islands: Hongdo & Heuksando

South Korea is a beautiful country. I think it’s easily one of the most underrated countries in East Asia. From the stunning national parks to the bustling cities, Korea has a lot to offer. I was lucky enough to live and work in Korea for a year. During this time, I explored as much of the county as I could. One of the more remote areas I explored was the Southwestern part of the peninsula near Mokpo. From here, many outlying islands can be accessed, including Hongdo and Heuksando where I spent a weekend exploring. The ferry terminal in Mokpo also services Jeju and most islands to the west.

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Our first destination of the weekend was Hongdo (Red Island). This tiny island is located  to the southwest of Mokpo in the Yellow Sea. The island is a part of Dadohaehaesang National Park; Korea’s largest national park. The entire island itself is declared a National Monument and therefore people are not allowed to enter areas other than the villages. Visitors cannot bring out even a stone from the island since it’s protected land.

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The only way to the island is by boat so you won’t see any cars on the island, just a scooter or two. There are two tiny villages on the island with only a few hundred residents combined.

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After two and half hours aboard the ferry from Mokpo, we arrived at Hongdo just before noon. I was instantly taken aback by the island’s stunning scenery and simple charm. The pace of life was far removed from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. There was no sound of traffic, only the sound of a gentle sea breeze and rolling waves in the distance. The air was the freshest I had breathed in months. The salty air was welcoming and very refreshing. Since I grew up most of my life along the ocean I felt right at home.

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As we made our way past the dock and through the narrow alleys of the village, I knew it was a place I was going to enjoy. We found a quaint minbak (homestay/bed) with a balcony that had amazing views of the harbor. After settling in and eating some ramen, we walked back to the dock and purchased tickets for a boat tour around the island.

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The boat tour was a two hour journey along the island’s stunning coastline. Most of the coastline is made of rocky vertical cliffs reaching hundreds of feet high. The deep turquoise sea seemed to beautifully contrast the red rock while evergreen trees blanketed many of the rocks and peaks. The views around the island were amazing. It didn’t look like anything you’d expect to see in Korea. It looked more like the green shores of Ireland.

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After the boat tour we spent the evening enjoying the island’s relaxed atmosphere and trying some it’s unique seafood, including 소라 (sora) which is similar to an edible sea snail/conch.

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The next morning, we explored some of the island’s trails and pebble beaches. That afternoon, we slowly packed up our belongings in preparation for our next destination. We really enjoyed our stay on Hongdo, it’s a great place to relax and take in beautiful scenery.

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Our next destination was Heuksando, an island about an hour from Hongdo. Heuksando is a larger, more developed island, but still just as peaceful as Hongdo. We stayed in the island’s main fishing village. The fishing village was much like the ones you’d see in New England and was well stocked with plenty of fresh seafood.

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The next morning, we took a bus tour around the island with a group of friendly Koreans. The weather wasn’t ideal, but we were able to see some of the coast as the weather eventually cleared. Late that afternoon, we got back on the ferry to Mokpo.

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The southwestern islands of South Korea are worth checking out if you’re living in Korea or  backpacking through the country for an extended period of time. The area is remote and isn’t easy to get to making it an ideal place to get some local colour. If you have the time, I definitely recommend hopping on a ferry in Mokpo to explore some of the remote islands in the region.

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