JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS COUPERTHWAITE FROM ULLEUNGDO ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA!
MC Adventure Blog is run by Chris Couperthwaite and Monique Hill. In 2016 they realised they were stuck in a rut and decided that they needed a big change in their lives. They completed a TEFL course and in 2017 made the move to South Korea to work as English teachers. To keep a record of their personal adventures and much more they started MC Adventure Blog. Their main focus is on ethical travel and how to be a better traveler. Monique, a qualified Drama Therapist, is also working on growing a travel and mental health section of their blog. And obviously they write about general travel tips, advice and their stories. While teaching in Korea they had the opportunity to take up positions on Ulleungdo, a tiny island in the East Sea, an opportunity that they jumped at. They have been living there for nearly a year and have made it their goal to explore the entire island!
Why should one visit Ulleungdo Island? Does it have a history?
Ulleungdo is a very off the beaten path destination for any English tourist in South Korea and it can be difficult to get to but that shouldn’t put you off. Ulleungdo has some of the best views in South Korea and boasts many unique experiences. The island was formed by a volcanic eruption around 9000 years ago which has created beautiful coastal views and magnificent cliffs and mountains. The island is also covered in a thick, primeval forest so you can go from ocean views to forests to mountains in a matter of minutes. The ocean is crystal clear and in the summer months is great for a swim.
Ulleungdo boast that there are 3 things you will not find on the island, pollution, thieves and snakes. The locals are friendly and are more than willing to help out a lost tourist if you’re willing to work through the language barrier. If you are interested in visiting the island we have put together the most comprehensive English guide to Ulleungdo with a free downloadable guide.
The main historical point of interest is Ulleungdo’s history relation to another, smaller island called Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks). There is a lot of tension between Japan and South Korea over who has rights to this island and if you’re interested in international relations then you may be interested in learning about it at the many museums across Ulleungdo.
How to reach Ulleungdo Island ? Is it an easy journey to take?
Ulleungdo is only accessible by ferry from one of three Korean cities, Pohang, Gangnueng and Mukpo. This is possibly the hardest part and biggest deterrent of visiting the island. You can book ferry tickets from Pohang at daezer.com but the site is only in Korean and can even give local Koreans some difficulty. In our guide to Ulleungdo you can find a video tutorial and a breakdown of how to book a ticket.
I would suggest leaving from Pohang as it is the largest of the three cities so if your ferry is cancelled it is the easiest to find last minute accommodation. There is a KTX line from Seoul to Pohang which takes around 2 hours.
The ferries are very weather dependent and the East Sea can get rough very quickly so it’s relatively common for ferries to be cancelled. There are plans to build a small airport on the island but that is only just being started and will take several more years before it is complete.
When is the best time to visit the island? How is the weather on the island generally?
If you want to beat the larger crowds of Korean tourists the best time to travel to Ulleungdo would be around May or October/November. The weather is more unpredictable but it is generally still warm enough to be comfortable. Summer is a great time to visit because the main festivals are during this time but it can get busy.
Ulleungdo island is cooler than mainland Korea in summer and warmer than weather in winter. It can get very humid in summer so be prepared. It also has the deepest snowfall in South Korea.
How long is enough to see the island for short-term visitors?
You can see most of the main attractions on Ulleungdo in 2 or 3 days if you plan carefully and don’t mind just stopping for a quick photo before moving on. If you want to see more of the quirky sights and enjoy the relaxed island life then I would suggest giving yourself a week. Pretty much everything worth seeing on Ulleungdo is outdoors so if the weather is bad it could ruin a short trip, but if you have some days to play with it will give you more options.
What are the four best things to do on the island?
Hiking up Seonginbong : Seonginbong is the highest peak on Ulleungdo and it offers some incredible views over the island and the East Sea. The whole hike is through the lush forests of the island and you can hike from one side of the island to the other in about 6 hours.
Gwaneumdo : Right next door to Ulleungdo is the even smaller island of Gwaneumdo. It is connected to Ulleungdo by a large suspension bridge. You can walk around the entire island in about 30 minutes and has a great view back over Ulleungdo.
Ulleungdo’s Sea Walkways : There are 2 main sea walkways on Ulleungdo, in Dodong and in Taeha. Both paths follow the volcanic cliffs around the edge of the ocean. They are stunningly beautiful and a must-see if you are visiting the island. The sea walkway in Dodong also has a variety of pop-up restaurants that serve some of the freshest fish you will ever eat.
Nari Basin : The caldera of the volcano that formed Ulleungdo is the only flat piece of ground on the whole island. You can visit traditional houses, go for forest walks and enjoy the local Bibimbap at a variety of restaurants in the basin.
Which is the best beach on the island?
Ulleungdo is great in that you can basically find any part that looks good and jump into the ocean. That being said, the best beach is Hakpo beach. This beach has a variety of water activities during summer and offers great snorkeling. Most of the beaches on Ulleungdo are rocky so don’t expect just to throw down a towel and bask in the sun!
Which mode of transport to use when on the island? Is there a way to rent a car?
Ulleungdo has a public bus system that is efficient and is the easiest way to travel around the island. There are 2 main routes, from Dodong East to Jeodong and from Dodong West and around to the North. There is no road that connects the East and Northern part of the island yet but that will change in the near future. The buses to Jeodong run every 20 minutes but the buses North only run every 50 minutes so make sure to plan. You will find a breakdown of how to use the buses and timetables in our Ulleungdo guide. There is an App for the island which makes this much easier as it has the bus schedules. There are lots of taxis but they mainly stay around Dodong. They can also get pricey if you are only relying on them to travel. A bus ticket from Dodong to Cheonbu is only KRW 1,400.
I would only recommend renting a car if you are fluent in Korean. The options are available but it will be very difficult for an English tourist. Other options for getting around would be to get on a tour run by groups like Adventure Korea.
What is the local food of the island? Is it vegan/vegetarian friendly?
Ulleungdo is most well-known for its seafood and particularly its squid. One of the island’s mascots is a squid! You can also eat special beef that is fed on herbs unique to the island and black pork which is found on Korean islands like Jeju. Some other fun foods include squid-ink pizza and pumpkin egg-bread.
The island is not particularly vegetarian or vegan friendly but you will be able to find options on the menus if you look carefully. If you visit Nari Basin you can have Wild Bibimbap which is just rice, foraged vegetables and pepper sauce.
What accommodation facilities are available on the island?
Ulleungdo has a huge variety of accommodation. Again if you do not speak Korean you will struggle to phone and book a hotel or hostel so I would suggest using Airbnb or booking.com. You will find hostels, hotels and homestays around the whole island but booking a room in Dodong or Jeodong would be best as these are the main port towns.
Don’t expect luxury even in your hotels. Most tend to have the traditional Korean sleeping mats as opposed to beds but they are generally well kept.
How expensive is the island? What to bring when packing for this island?
Ulleungdo is only slightly more expensive than the mainland. A coffee will still cost you around KRW4000. There are no large shops so if you need something special make sure to bring it along. You will find standard pharmacies but if you need special medication, bring it.
Make sure to pack for rain as the weather can change very quickly. Pack for a few extra days as your ferry may get cancelled and you have to stay a little longer than you planned! Sunscreen is also very important as there is very little shade on the beaches.
How safe is the island? Is it a tourist friendly place?
Ulleungdo island is exceptionally safe. Crime is almost non-existent here because the population is so small. If you come during the peak tourist season obviously still be careful.
As an English tourist you may have some difficulties travelling on the island but keep a translator app to help you and you shouldn’t have any problems. My parents visited for 2 weeks and they have never been exposed to Korean before. They had a fantastic time and still talk about their trip here.
Do you want to give any helpful tip to the visitors coming to the island?
A visit to Ulleungdo should be viewed as an outdoor holiday. You will be doing lots of walking, hiking and swimming if you want. It is difficult to get here but it is worth it. The natural beauty of this island is breathtaking, everyone is friendly and you will have an amazing time if you like to explore.