Mokpo to Chejudo
Koreans are known for their friendliness and wonderful hospitality, as attested by my experience in Mokpo, a port situated on the southern tip of South Korea. When we arrived in Mokpo by train, an elderly man whom we befriended from Seoul placed us in the hands of the local police near the train station. He seemed to have some clout, for we stayed in an exclusive inn and were driven around by the innkeeper who became our guide, translator and devoted friend. We later learned that the kind, amicable gentleman, who was on home leave for the winter holidays, held a high official position in the South Korean government.
With a population over 260,000 and an expanding economic growth, Mokpo has its charm with rocky seashores and a busy fishing harbor. It boasts an extensive seafood market with a wide selection of seaweed, fish, and shellfish, including the famous small octopus with spiny tentacles. Regarded as a local delicacy, the palm-sized octopus, saebalnakji, is dipped in red pepper sauce and then swallowed whole. It's not surprising the daily catch ends up as raw fish on the menu in many restaurants. In addition, coffee shops present a special brew of coffee that is unusually rich, smooth, and nutritious. Their secret - raw egg yolk. Furthermore, the spicy taste in Korean food derives from the combination of three ingredients: ginger, garlic, and red peppers. A typical pekpan consists of rice, soup and multiple side dishes, and the hearty pulgogi offers marinated beef, pork, or fish cooked at one's table. As a custom, every meal is served with the national dish, kimchee, as well as a stick of gum for refreshment.
Although Mokpo hasn't been overwhelmed with foreign tourists because of its obscure location, it is, nevertheless, the heart of South Korea with common people living out their ordinary lives. We left Mokpo with a deep appreciation of its warmhearted people, gracious hospitality and enriching cultural experience.
The three-hour ferry ride crosses the sea to the largest and most celebrated Korea's islands which lies 97km off the southern peninsula. With a population twice as large as Mokpo's and an area of 1,825sq km, Chejudo now thrives in tourism, drawing in both domestic and international visitors.
Due to its remoteness, Chejudo has for the most part of its history enjoyed autonomy, retaining its own culture and traditions. Not until the Koryo Kingdom did it step into the limelight of Korean history. The Mongols, who ruled Korea for 100 years, brought horse breeding to Chejudo, which has become a major vocation for the islanders. During the Chosan Dynasty, it was treated as an isolated exile for political scholars. After the fall of the Japanese colonial rule, it became the only island province of South Korea in 1948.
It is said that Chejudo possesses three things in abundance: rocks, wind and women. Walls made of porous rocks have shielded the houses and fields from strong sea winds. Traces of a matriarchal society still linger where men stay around home to care for their families while women divers, Haenyo, work for a living by gathering abalone, conch and a myriad of other marine products among craggy coastal rocks. It is also said that Chejudo lacks three things: beggars, thieves and locks. Living in a pleasant and economically self-sustained society, the trusting and honest local people often leave their homes unlocked.
Considered as a honeymoon paradise for South Koreans and a fascinating place for foreign travelers, Chejudo is a must-see destination as part of Korea with significant points of interest: all year round mild weather, unique world natural sites, and a "living" preserved folk village.
In the dead cold of winter, snow usually descends upon the mainland, blanketing everything white, while touches only a few mountaintops of Chejudo, leaving the rest of the island green. With the average annual temperature of 16° Celsius, the mild weather in Chejudo has given rise to more than 1,800 different types of indigenous plants. Sunbathers and swimmers can relax and enjoy themselves at the clean beaches surrounded by the coral blue sea.
At the center of the island looms Mt. Halla (1,950m), the principal mountain that dominates the horizon of Chejudo. The dormant volcano with a huge crater at the peak provides at least five hiking trails to the summit for climbing enthusiasts. On the eastern end of its gentle slope, cattle and horses grazing in vast meadows make an idyllic post card picture.
More importantly, Chejudo hosts two of the world's natural wonders: Changbang Falls and Manjanggul Cave. The former is the only waterfall in the world that plunges straight into the sea. Changbang Falls (23m high) has become a favorite photo spot for honeymooners, especially, when a rainbow appears across the cascade. The latter is the longest lava tube in the world. Designated as a Natural Monument in 1970, Manjanggul Cave (13.4km long, 13m wide, and 15m high) contains animal-shaped lava stones and impressive pillars found throughout the long gray tunnel. Not only would one be mind-boggled by the sheer length but also by the formidable size of the magma that surged through the mountain to form this tubular cave.
In the midst of natural beauty breathes a living historical village that has existed since 1423 with all its traditions, culture, and language still intact, including shamanistic sorcery. Declared as a heritage site, Seongpo Village (900,000sq m) is located 8k north of the hamlet of Pyoson-ri at the foot of Mount Halla.
Visitors can freely roam the premises to view historical buildings, old tombstones, mills, abundant artifacts, and traditional clothing worn by residents. The statutes of Tolharubang, a powerful fertility god, are found everywhere throughout the village. Their functions have been debated over the years whether they served as legendary guardians of entrances. Carved from basalt, these neckless sculptures with broad grim faces and stout bodies have become the symbols of Chejudo. Around 600 traditional houses made of mud, stones and thatched roofs are still occupied as living quarters.
Seongpo Village preserves Korean shamanism as a valuable part of folk tradition. The largest and most vital shaman ceremony is the village kut, a social function that promotes village pride and a sense of community. The main purpose of the kut is to pray for village harmony and prosperity. The event covers offerings of food and liquor, decorations to the gods, dances, songs, prayers, and witty banter. It also serves as a village festival with a variety of entertainment, such as tightrope walking, rock fights, fun games, and masked dances.
Seongpo Village is exemplary of tourism development in South Korea - attracting thousands of tourists and they, in turn, provide economic basis to keep alive the local culture, heritage and lifestyle.
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Mokpo to Chejudo
Ferry boat: 3 hours and 10 minutes
Near Mokpo, domestic flights are faster and cheaper: 35 minutes
Bus to Manjanggul Cave: Take Pyoson bus from Cheju City
Bus to Seongpo Village: Take Pyoson bus from Cheju City
Bus to Changbang Falls: Take Sogwipo bus from Cheju City
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Published on 12/11/03