GEOJE CITY, South Korea – Despite the fact that over a third of South Korea’s entire fishing industry is based in Busan, most of its fishing village charm has been lost among the millions of people and the shadows of massive container ships. If you want a little better idea about the culture and heritage that is unique to a small Korean fishing village, there is a wonderful area just under three hours southwest of the city.
I recently joined Professor Nah Yoon-Joong of Tong-Myeong University’s Travel and Tourism Department for a day-long expedition in the Tong-Yeong and Geoje-do areas to check out a page from Korea’s past.
Our first stop was Gye-do, an island northwest of Geoje City. Professor Nah says this place is special not only because it is a “facility officially appointed by the government,” but also because “it’s a great place for families and groups to experience a genuine part of Korean culture.”
We were treated to a short boat tour with vast views of the mainland’s coastal mountain range around us. We could also see thousands of white buoys, marking the large square formations of shellfish farms—a testament to how rich in seafood these waters are. After pulling an octopus out of the water, our guide returned us to Gye-do’s recreational fishing spot. It is here that you can get everything needed for a fishing expedition of your own. For reasonable prices, you can rent everything from fishing tackle and traditional Korean fishing rowboats, to large stationary houseboats equipped with running water
and a full kitchen.
A houseboat with an eight-person capacity will run you 150,000 KRW a night in the off-season, and 200,000 KRW during summer. Larger parties can also be accommodated, but you should reserve far in advance, as this is a popular Korean getaway.
On our trip, we partook in steamed hong-hap (mussels), hae-mul pah-jan (savory pancake with green onions and seafood) and the very same octopus that our guide had pulled from the water only thirty minutes before. This is one of the essential beauties of an outing like this: pulling your next meal right out of the water, cleaning and eating it as fresh as it can be.
Our second stop was Gunghang, a small village about six miles southwest of Tong-Yeong. This village provided similar amenities as Gye-do, without as many of the houseboats, however, camping is allowed on the small island owned by this village. Since it was low tide on this small island, we dug with the village elder for our own short-neck clams. Since I brought my own cooler, I was able to enjoy homemade dwen-jang-jjigae that night when I got home.
Professor Nah, senior project manager for the City and Fishing Village Relations Project, says that there are thousands of fishing villages in Gyeongsangnam Province, but only certain ones provide these kinds of amenities. So, do your homework before you travel.
A vast network of information and tour packages for Gyeongsangnam Province fishing villages can be found at www.seantour.org. Unfortunately, these sites are not currently in English, so you may need a Korean friend to help you.
Photos by Nick Holmberg