Last weekend I was given the fantastic chance by the Korea Blog (KOCIS) to join a 2 day press tour organised by the Korean Tourism Organisation to the southern city of Mokpo. Until last weekend, I’d only really traveled down the east coast of Korea so I was really excited to see some more of Korea!
For those of you who don’t know (and until last weekend I was among you), the city of Mokpo is located on the south-west coast of South Korea.
It was an early start for me on Friday morning, I was up and about at 6:30am and at the KTO offices by 7:45am ready for our 8am departure. We all piled into the coach, flicked through the brochures….and promptly fell asleep. Four and a half hours later, feeling somewhat more awake, we had reached Mokpo.
Arriving in Mokpo, we were all rather hungry and sat down to a great feast of local food including Byeongeo Jjim, a delicious kimchi-fish stew. After that, it was time to head off to the first stop on our tour : the Mokpo National Maritime Museum.
As Korea’s only national museum dedicated to maritime heritage, despite being a little small, the museum was a really intriguing place to walk around.
The museum has 4 exhibitions; Goryeo shipwrecks, Sinan shipwrecks, Fishing Village Folk and the History of Korean ships.
Full of old relics excavated from sunken ships, reproductions of old Korean boats and folk tales from local fishing communities, the museum offers something entertaining for everyone.
The next stop on our tour was the Mokpo Natural History Museum, conveniently located just across the road from the Maritime Institute. While not bad and featuring a surprisingly large replica of a dinosaur footprint discovered nearby the museum, I have to say the museum was not that impressive. Maybe I’ve spent one too many afternoons walking the halls of the Natural History museum in London (and the National Natural History Museum in Seoul is definitely worth a visit too!) but this museum didn’t quite do it for me.
However, the variety of exhibitions and the new 4D viewing hall would definitely keep little ones entertained on a rainy day.
Our next stop was a tour of the Samhakdo islands. Legend has it that three young ladies fell in love with a young man who, since he was training to become a warrior, decided he must send the young women away lest they become a distraction. However, as the young women boarded the boat, he realised that with them gone, he still wouldn’t be able to focus…so he shot each of them with an arrow instead, killing them all. As the story goes, when they died they became cranes and in the spots where they landed, the Samhakdo islands have formed.
Since the weather was rather bad (in Korea it never rains but it pours!), we couldn’t spend much time outside and quickly headed into the Kim Dae Jung Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Hall.
As someone very interested in Korean history, I really enjoyed this part of the tour.
Nominated for the first time in 1987 and going on to receive 14 further nominations, President Kim Dae Jung finally became the first Korean to win the Nobel Peace Prize when he was awarded it in 2000 in recognition of his work for democracy and human rights in the Republic of Korea and his work towards reconciliation with North Korea.
Having grown up on the remote island of Haeui-do near Mokpo, the museum was created in his memory after he passed away.
At the museum, I actually learnt something rather amusing that I didn’t know about Kim Dae Jung – he was entered into the Guinness World Book of Records in 1964 for the ‘Longest Speaking Record in National Assembly’, speaking for 5 hours and 19 minutes. That’s a long time!
After a day spent seeing the sites of Mokpo, we returned to the hotel where we were greeted by the mayor of Mokpo who treated us to a lovely banquet meal and a beautiful traditional Korean dance performance by a local dance troupe.
After dinner, we headed back out to see the dancing ocean fountain – the first of its kind in the world. The fountain incorporates dancing lights, music and fountains which jump to the rhythm of the music. I took lots of photos but sadly, because of the pouring rain, none of them came out very well~
After that, it was a hot shower and an early night!
The second day of the tour saw us up and about bright and early, ready for our trip to the Formula 1 race track. For me, this was definitely the highlight of the trip. Having grown up with my dad watching goodness-knows how many F1 races, to actually be standing on the Korean F1 racetrack was pretty awesome
We were given an introduction to Korean motorsports and a tour of the racetrack and then we took the time to take a group photo before the fun really began!
We were given the chance to go Go-Kart racing on one of the side tracks which was wonderfully good fun. I won’t lie… I tend to get
very somewhat competitive and putting me (I don’t have a driver’s licence…for a reason) in a kart was like putting a red flag in front of a bull….not a particularly pretty comparison but rather fitting given what happened.
By the third lap I had rather got into the swing of things ..and may…have knocked the Russian ambassador off the race track…..
But thankfully, all was forgiven in the spirit of the race and everything was fine again once we were off the track!!
After leaving the race track, we went to the Oceano Tourism Complex, developed by the Korean Tourism Organisation. Work on the project began nearly a decade ago and it is nearing completion. It is hoped that the complex will enable Mokpo to become a popular tourist location since it is suitably situated less than a 2 hour flight from most major cities in China and Japan and highly accessible by KTX. The Oceano resort is a state of the art maritime resort boasting a yacht marina, high-class hotel, one of the best golf courses in the country and a marine park to house international-level marine sports facilities. Not bad!
While the infrastructure has been completed, the project is currently waiting on further foreign investment to achieve the final stages.
(Someone invite me back here when the complex is completed, please?!)
We were even given the opportunity to take some shots on the golf course. Knowing my limits, I respectfully opted out. On the other hand, the director of the KTO impressed everyone with his secret golfing talent!
After taking our final beachside photos, it was time to get back on the bus and go on to our final tour destination.
Arriving at Yudalsan mountain, the final stop of our tour, the weather finally picked up and the sun came out at last. From the summit, there is an absolutely stunning view of the city and the surrounding area. As I stood on top of the mountain (really? It’s only 228m and I live in Switzerland…more like an oversized hill) and looked around myself, one thing stood out.
Mokpo is a city which just screams potential. From the ever-increasing numbers of motor-enthusiasts flocking to Mokpo for the Formula 1 to those coming to take a break from the hum-drum of city life, Mokpo has something to offer to everyone and with the completion of the Honam express rail line between Seoul and Mokpo set for 2015, it seems it won’t be long before the number of visitors rises even more.
I’m glad to have seen Mokpo in it’s ‘original state’ but I also hope that in the years to come I will have a chance to return. This diamond in the rough definitely won’t stay ‘in the rough’ for long and I look forward to coming back when the Oceano Resort Complex is finished!
For further information:
The National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage www.seamuse.go.kr
The Mokpo Natural History Museum http://museum.mokpo.go.kr
The Korean Formula 1 Racetrack www.koreangp.kr
Korean Tourism Organization http://kto.visitkorea.or.kr/eng.kto