If you are in Korea and haven’t been living under a rock, you’re probably aware by now that Expo 2012 is going on in the coastal city of Yeosu. Even without the splendor of the Expo, Yeosu is a beautiful city on its own; it is part of the Hallyeo Waterways (한려수도), the scenic water route on Korea’s south sea coast.
Officially called Hallyeohaesang National Park (한려해상국립공원) since 1968, the 120 km route links Tongyeong (통영), Gyeongsang-do to Yeosu (여수) in Jeolla-do. Hansan Island (한산도), Odong Island (오동도), Geoje Island (거제도), Namhae (남해), they all add to the picturesque scenery: the myriad of beautiful islands and inhabited rock islets dotting the bright blue of the sea, the high cliffs eroded from millions of years of seawater and wind, the mountain range which boasts red camellias and silver magnolias blooming among the cliffs and woods. It is not surprising that the Hallyeo Waterways are considered one of the grandest sights in all of Korea.
The area also has historic significance as the main battle grounds (or in this case, seas) and headquarters of Admiral Yi Soon Shin of the Joseon Dynasty, whose triumphant victories are reflected in the many historic sites in the region.
Since the main attraction of the year in Korea is the Expo 2012 in Yeosu, it would be a pity not to take advantage of the occasion and pay a visit. And while you’re there, it would also be a pity not to check out the beauty that surrounds that scenic city.
Yeosu, like most places in the path of the Hallyeo Waterways, boasts spectacular views of both mountain and sea. In Yeosu, a great place to start taking in the view would be Odong-do (오동도, Odong Island). The island is visible from the Expo grounds and you can walk to it at a leisurely pace. Odong-do is most famous for its camellias which bloom in the cold of winter, but it was originally named after the foxglove tree because there once were many of them on the island, with the island itself resembling the leaf of the foxglove. (Odong tree is foxglove tree in Korean.)
The tiny island is thick with greenery. Various paths in the hilly woods lead you to a lighthouse where you can see a panorama of the island (and the Yeosu Expo grounds) from the top. Glimpses of the sea and the rocky cliffs and caves of the island are visible through the foliage; the walkways are well made for easy walking, breathing in the sea breeze with the soothing scent of the woods is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Expo for a while.
From Yeosu and heading towards the east, the district of Namhae (남해) sits at the center of the Hallyeo Waterways, linked to the peninsula by the Namhae Bridge. Islands and islets are aplenty, hills and slopes from the mountain ranges descend right up to mainland’s coastline, creating a complex terrain. The coastline is like delicate lace. (It was always a pain to trace it in geography class, before the age of computers.) Noryang Strait (노량해협), the channel between the mainland and the island is also where Admiral Yi died in battle so historic sites are scattered around the region; most notably a shrine made in his honor, Chungryeolsa (충렬사). Fine sand beaches beckon in the summer, while certain islands are strictly off limits and to be admired from hilltops; the area is an ecological treasure and is fiercely protected. Across from Namhae in the district of Sacheon (사천), even ancient dinosaur fossils can be found.
Whereas Yeosu is the west point of the Waterways, Tongyeong (통영) is that of the east. The city prides itself as being called Admiral Yi’s “home”; it is the venue of the annual Great Battle of Hansan Festival commemorating the Admiral’s most famous battle of 1592. A cable car ride up to Mireuk Mountain (미륵산) allows a fantastic view of the coast; on a clear and sunny day, every little islet and faraway mountain is visible; on a misty cloudy day, the muted view is reminiscent of a traditional Korean ink painting.
Geoje (거제) is the most eastern point of the waterways. The largest island of Geoje is connected to the mainland and the district is composed of more than 60 islands and islets – both inhabited and not – and boasts the clearest sea waters in all of Korea. Consequently, the beaches are popular all year round, not only for bathing but for the view.
Haegeumgang (해금강, “Geum River of the Sea”) is an ensemble of rock islets with eroded cliffs and caves and trees of old legends. It can be toured by ferry and is considered the most fabulous sight within the area. Oedo (외도), a small island with a botanical park is a highly popular tourist destination as well.
If you have ample time, taking a road trip on the South Sea coast would be ideal. After spending a few days at the Yeosu Expo, you can work your way eastward, taking in all the beautiful scenery along the way. The region is a photographer’s paradise, no matter what the season may be, no matter what the weather may be. It’s a region where you go time and time again and never get bored; there’s always something new to discover, something else that catches your eye (and heart) whenever you go.
So if you’re heading down to check out the Yeosu Expo, try to make time to enjoy what the surrounding regions have to offer; it’ll definitely be worth it.
Oh, and be sure to check out all the Worldwide Korea Blogger’s posts about the Yeosu 2012 Expo here on the Korea Blog, too.