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Geoje

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Geoje [1](거제, 巨濟, also Geoje-do), formerly romanised as Koje, is an island in South Gyeongsang province, South Korea.

Understand

Beatiful coastline of Geoje Island

Dubbing itself the "Blue City", Geoje is not so much a city but an island -- Korea's second largest after Jeju in fact -- and a loose collection of villages and settlements scattered in coves around the coastline. The two largest of these are Okpo (옥포) on the east coast and Gohyeon (고현) on the west. Most of the tourist sites lie between these two settlements around, and just off, the southern coastline. The intercity bus terminal is in Gohyeon but services also run from the odd remote bus stop.

The key attraction of the island is its natural coastal beauty. Outside of the two cities it is a near-endless series of calm blue beached coves and sheer pine-forested grey cliffs overlooking the sea.

Geoje actually has a significant role in Korea's naval history. The coast of Okpo is the setting for one of Korea's greatest military victories over Japan, during early stages of the 1592-1598 Imjin War. United under Admiral Yi Sun-sin, Korean armor-plated turtleships successfully repelled Japanese attackers from taking the Jeolla region. Although this ultimately did not stop the war in its tracks, it did slow the invasion a little and provide a morale boost to the nation.

Today, Geoje is a shipbuilding powerhouse hosting both Samsung and DSME shipyards. Despite the large number of foreign residents employed to supervise these facilities and subsequent notably high foreign presence in Okpo and Gohyeon, English signage on the island varies between minimal and non-existant.

Get in

Prior to December 2010, access to Geoje was limited to ferries or over the one bridge connecting to the mainland at Tongyeong. With the completion of the dual bridges and tunnel that comprise the Busan-Geoje direct expressway link, access by both express bus and car has been made significantly faster and easier.

By bus

Buses leave approximately hourly from the Busan Seobu bus terminal and take 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach Okpo via the new bridge (in reality it's actually a bit shorter). Note that where the bus drops you off is often not where you can pick it up again. Services to Okpo for example will simply drop you at a local bus shelter outside the Geoje Museum from where you cannot return. To escape the island, you must make your way to the Gohyeon Intercity Bus Terminal to get to Busan. Alternately, the area around Windy Hill has an obscure intercity link to Masan that runs every 2 hours until 8 pm.

Intercity buses also still service Geoje from Masan via Tongyeong (and also Busan, although this route being now superceded is likely to be phased out) taking roughly 2 hours and 1 hour respectively.

By ferry

The coast of Geoje is littered with ports. Public ferry services run from Busan to Okpo, but taking the expressway bus is likely a little faster.

By car

Private cars can take the toll expressway from Busan to Geoje. One key advantage to this is that you can take a brief break at a rest stop constructed on a man-made peninsula besides the undersea tunnel, the view from here being stunning.

Get around

By car

This is the ideal scenario and the transport of choice for Korean visitors. Daegeoje-ro (대거제로) is a highway that loops the island following the cliffs closely and offering near continual spectacular views of the ocean and coastline as well as passing by practically every attraction.

If in a group, hiring out a taxis could provide an alternative, but they are rarely seen outside of the designated stands.

By bus

Geoje has an extensive local "inner-city" (cough) bus service catering towards locals. For tourists, it is a disaster, plain and simple. There is no single service that takes the Daegeoje-ro around the entirety of the island. Instead, the island is divided into a bunch of color-coded regions matching up with number-coded buses (for example, 10-19 and a weak-green color represent greater Okpo and Jangseungpo). The catch here is that there is only one stop where adjacent service regions match up and it's not announced nor explictly signposted. And then if you do find it (it is almost never on Daegeoje-ro but instead on a small unmarked detour off the road) there may be more stops than there are sides of the road with no signage in English nor Korean pointing you towards which services your next region. Outside of the two cities, services simply stop at sundown, stranding you wherever you may be.

Full maps of the bus system in Korean exist on roughly every second bus stop. If you attempt to tackle the full system, try to pay attention to the colors first, then the individual numbers. The square is not where you are now but the Gohyeon Intercity Terminal.

The most important route is the number 11 anyway and this is a frequent (roughly every 15 minutes) service that passes through the major cities and Jangseungpo Port.

In theory, it should be possible to loop the island using the number 11 to pass through the two cities, then transferring on to a blue coded 50-series bus for the rest. In theory, communism works.

If you do manage to figure the system out, bus fees are 1100 won in cash, or 1000 won using a transport card. For foreign cards, Busan Mybi, Daegu cards and Daejeon Hankkumi are not accepted, but Seoul T-money is.

By ferry

Many of the attractions of Geoje lie on smaller island and islets just off the coast so ferry usage is mandatory. Specifically, close vantage of Haegeumgang and access to Oedo and Camellia Islands require it.

Each port along the south coast hosts a different ferry company that service Haegeumgang and Oedo, however, even if just visiting Haegeumgang you will likely be railroaded into a 1.5 hour stopover at Oedo. What you cannot do is use the ferry to travel between coastal ports as you must leave Oedo with the same company with whom you arrived.

In practice, ferries departing from Jangseungpo Port are the most useful as this is a mere one bus away from Okpo (take the #11 to the Art Centre). Furthermore, access to Camellia Island appears possibly limited to this port.

On foot

With settlements spaced approximately 5-20 km apart, walking between individual attractions would mostly be a foolish endeavor. However, one can easily traverse Okpo and the nearby Great Victory Park on foot (likely faster than bus in fact). Similarly, the area around Windy Hill on the peninsula leading up to Haegeumgang can be covered on foot with ease.

See

  • Haegeumgang, (Via ferry cruise from any port on the southeast coast.). Designated "Korean National Scenic Site #2, this is a must-see location. Essentially just a locally famed island consisting of tall cliffs. However, the ferry cruise around the island will actually thread its way through the extremely thin cliffs leading into the island into a sea cave before backing out and departing through different route. Spectacular. Round trip three hour cruises including both Haegeumgang and a 1.5 hour stopover on Oedo from Jangseungpo will set you back 19,000 won for an adult and 12,000 won for a child. A 2000 won discount applies in off-peak season. Note that actual admittance on to Oedo incurs an extra fee and inability to pay will leave you at the boat twiddling your thumbs.
  • Oedo Island (외도), (Take a ferry from any port on the southeast coast.). Typically included in cruises to Haegumgang, this is Korea's first privately owned island and host to the Oedo Botanica. It's somewhat of a cross between a botanical garden and one of East Asia's infamous "country-themed themeparks" and designed to make you think you're somewhere in the Mediterranean. Beatifully landscaped and covered with greco-roman statues. Actually a bit prettier than the brochure describes as the gardens follow a tight valley surrounded by sheer cliffs. Take a detour to the bathroom as the off-the-path views from outside a couple of them are among the best on the island. Conceived by a couple that crossed the 38th parallel after the war quite literally penniless. Worth the trip and has a restaurant and coffee shop at the highest point that mostly only serves tea (Udon 4000 won, coffee 4000 won, tea 2500 won). Admittance 8000 won adults, 4000 won children..
  • Camellia Island, (Take a ferry from Jangseungpo Port.).
  • Great Victory Park, (A short drive northeast of Okpo around the coast, or a 2.5 km walk around the coastline. From Okpo walk towards the port in the direction of the abandoned themepark atop the cliffs and follow the scenic boardwalk around the coast. At one well signposted point the path will cross a road. Turn right here.). Closes 6pm. A war memorial for the 1592-1593 naval battle against the Japanese. Next door lies a shrine to Admiral Yi who lead the Korean forces to victory plus a small museum explaining the details of the war and Korean naval strategies. English explanations exist, although when browsing try to keep count of how often you read extremely biased language (answer: a lot). Free.
  • Windy Hill and Shinseondae. A picturesque cliffside hill with a windmill on one side and a bunch of purple-green cliffs you can climb down on to on the other side. There is also a Theme Museum here. At the time of writing the themes are "Korean modern life" and "European decorative art" (mannequins of pirates). The intercity buses to Tongyeong and Masan depart from here
  • Hakdong Pebble Beach.

Do

hike

swim 2 swimming beaches, notes about buses and local settlements

museum

theatre

Buy

Eat

6 local dishes

raw fish

Drink

Sleep

hotels, minbak, motels, jjimjil in okpo

Contact

Get out

tongyeong, busan, masan, jinju



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