Hallyeo Maritime National Park

Hallyeo Maritime National Park (tel. 055/831-2114) is spread over Sacheon-si, Geojae-si, Tongyeong-si, Hadong-gun, and Namhae-gun of Gyeongsangnam-do province and over Yeosu-si of Jeollanam-do province. It covers an area ranging from Geoje-do in Gyeongsangnam-do to Jeollanam-do, including an archipelago, Bijin-do, and the Haegeum River. Although I've included detailed information in the Tongyeong and Yeosu section, I wanted to provide an overview of the park here.

Designated a national park in 1968, it is South Korea's only maritime national park. It includes parts of the southern coast and many islands including Namhae-do and Geoje-do. The best time to visit the beaches is from July to mid-August when the waters are warm, but typhoon season hasn't kicked off yet. Unfortunately, many vacationing natives will be flocking to the shores as well. Spring and fall are also good to enjoy the varying seasons. Winter rarely sees visitors, so it may be nice for solitude, but boat schedules will be greatly reduced and bad weather may keep you from being able to venture out to far-flung islands.

From Tongyeong's bus terminal, you can take a bus to Geoje (runs every hour) and get off at Haksong to catch a ferry. There are several ferries that run there, but the one that goes around Haegeum River and Oedo is quite popular. From the Jangseungpo Ferry Terminal, you can see a different part of the park by taking the bus bound for Hongpo that goes through Gujora, Mangchi, Hakdong, and Yeongcha.

The park's website is http://hallyeo.knps.or.kr.

Namhae Island (Namhae-do) -- Namhae-do is located between Tongyeong and Yeosu. The island itself is the fourth largest in the country, and Namhae County is composed of 68 smaller islands. The official website of Namhae county is http://english.namhae.go.kr.

The country's first suspension bridge (built in 1973) connects the island to the mainland (Namhae is the last stop on road 19). The view for the bridge is spectacular, but there are no places to stop and take it in. If you're driving into the area, be sure to take some time to enjoy the view from the coastal highway. The road hugs the edge of the island and has spectacular views of the sea, the surrounding islands, and the terraced rice paddies that wind up the side of the mountain.

Buses from Seoul leave for Namhae eight times a day, 8:30am to 7pm. The 4 1/2-hour ride costs W22,200. Since Namhae is still a very rural area, buses here run infrequently. The best way to get around is by car. You can rent a car from Seoul and drive it to Namhae, or rent one upon arrival. There is only one company in Namhae, World Rent-a-Car (tel. 055/864-3081; 443-4 Bukbyeon-li, Namhae-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do), located near the bus terminal. Rentals start at W70,000 and go up with size. You can also hire a taxi (many will be waiting in front of the bus terminal) for about W100,000. Be sure to negotiate with your driver before embarking on your tour.

The tallest mountain in Namhae is Geumsan (Silk Mountain), which is sometimes called small Geumgang Mountain because of its relatively low height. Still, it is high enough to provide a wonderful view of the surrounding seascape. It was called Bogwangsan by the Buddhist Priest Wonhyo, who built the temple Bogwangsa here in the third year of Shilla King Munmu's reign. If you happen to overnight in the area, catch the sunrise from its peak. It's breathtaking.

On Geumsan, perched just below the summit, is the famed hermitage Bori-am, which is one of the three main holy sites in the country. It is also one of the eight special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion (there is a tall statue of her looking out into the water). People believe that if you faithfully pray here, your prayers will be granted. Regardless of your beliefs, the climb up to Bori-am is worth it for the gorgeous view. There is a W1,500 entrance fee.

One of Namhae's best destinations is Sangju Beach, a wide, sandy expanse with clean water, surrounded by the pine forest of Geumsan (Geum Mountains). The beach gets over a million visitors in the summer and is even crowded in the winter with training athletes. The beach has shower rooms, camping facilities, and parking available. You can take a bus from Daegu's Seobu Bus Terminal, with more frequent service in the summer. From Seoul, catch a bus from the Nambu Bus Terminal (off of subway line 3). Buses run daily from 8:30am to 7pm and take about 4 1/2 hours. From the Namhae Gongyong Terminal, take a bus headed for Sangju Beach. It takes about 30 minutes. Behind the pine trees on the edge of the sand, there are several yeogwan and minbak available for overnight accommodations. More expensive during the summer, prices can be bargained down off season.

About 4km (2 1/2 miles) east of Sanju is Songjeong Beach. Similar in shape to its neighbor and usually less crowded, it is also an expansive sandy beach with shallow waters and a spectacular view. A more hidden and less crowded beach is Wulpo Dudok, which is less sand and more rocks (mongdol), tumbled into their round shapes by the waves. It's on the way to Gacheon from Nam-myeon.

Next to Songjeong is the small port town of Mijo. Watching the fishermen unload their catch and seeing the cases of freshly caught seafood in the fish market is quite a sight. This is also a great place to have a fresh meal of hwae from one of the small joints that serve it fresh from the nets of fishermen.

A similar but smaller fishing village is Mulgeon, which faces the German Village ("Dogil Maeul" in Korean; www.germanvillage.co.kr), a town built here by and for Koreans returning from working in Germany. Next to the German Village is a new garden, where you can pay to see the well-designed landscapes of private homes for W5,000 for adults, W3,000 for teens, and W2,000 for children.

There is a small forest on the shore, down the hill from the Dogil Maeul, planted by the local people 300 years ago to serve as protection from the high winds from the sea. Today the forest covers over 1.5km (1 mile) of coastline and is a designated national monument.

Another tiny fishing port is Seongnu Village, along the coastal road. Almost stopped in time, this small town is a fishing village from times past. With a long history, the fishermen of Seongnu continue their old customs and maintain folk traditions long discarded by modern fishermen. The hiking trail from here to Dalaengi Village has the best view of Hallyeo Haesang National Park, but it's not for the faint of heart. Gacheon Dalaengi Maeul, 898-5 Gonghyeon-li, Nam-myeon, Namhae-gun (tel. 055/863-3427), is a more popular tourist site for its terraced rice paddies and the Gacheon Amsu, the town's guardian rock. Be sure to plan your trip for some time between spring and early fall, or you'll miss the green harvest and see only dirt terraces after all the rice and garlic has been farmed. Make your way down to the bottom to get a taste of the local makgeolli (milky rice wine).

As far as accommodations are concerned, there are several minbak and yeogwan around popular tourist areas on the island. The one upscale facility is the Hilton Namhae Golf and Spa Resort, San 35-5 Deokwok-li, Nam-myeon, Namhae-gun (tel. 055/860-0100; fax 055/862-2677; www.hilton.com), which has an oceanside golf course, spa, restaurants, and cafes. Doubles start from W325,000 and suites start at W425,000. Some rates include breakfast and dinner.

The local delicacy on Namhae is galchi hwae (raw hairtail fish), which is caught in the South Sea June through November. Sometimes the smaller ones are served bones and all (since you can just eat the bones too). The best hwae restaurants can be found in Mijo, where you can enjoy the catch fresh from the boats. A couple of joints that specialize in galchi hwae are Gongju Shikdang (tel. 055/867-6728) and Samheon Shikdang (tel. 055/867-6498).

Geoje Island (Geoje-do) -- Although Geoje-do is connected to Tongyeong by two land bridges, I've listed it here because it is a separate city and has its own attractions. The second-largest island in South Korea, its largest town is Sinhyeon. With several natural harbors, the second- and third-largest shipyards in the country are both located on the island. Other than the main island, Geoje City encompasses about 60 smaller islands, including Oedo, the most popular of the bunch.

The island's most crowded beach is Hakdong Mongdol Beach, named for its shape that some say looks like a crane (hak). Covered in tiny pebbles, the beach attracts many vacationers, especially in the summer as families pitch tents in the nearby campgrounds. You can take an excursion ferry from here to Oedo via Haegeumgang. Other tour boats are available from Jangseungpo, Oehyeon, Gujora, Hakdong, Dojangpo, and Galgot-li.

Haegeumgang, the "diamond" of the south sea, has been designated an official green area of the national park. From this island made of rocks, the best views are at sunset and sunrise from either Ilwoll-bong or Lion Rock. Buses from Tongyeong's Intercity Bus Terminal run about eight times a day and take about 90 minutes. From either the Jangseungpo Ferry Terminal or the Jangseungpo Bus Terminal, take a Hongpo-bound bus and get off at Haegeumgang. Buses run only twice a day, unfortunately.

Although Geoje is a beautiful and peaceful island, the P.O.W. Camp (tel. 055/639-8125) here reminds visitors of its turbulent history. Though a bit cheesy with overdone re-creations of battles and such, it is still a good educational resource for background on the Korean War. The original camp was closed after the 1953 armistice, but a park was created here in 1997. Remnants of the war -- tanks, trucks, and the like -- are on exhibit here. Open daily from 9am to 6pm; entrance fees are W3,000 adults, W2,000 teens, W1,000 children and seniors, free for kids 6 and under.

About 4km (2 1/2 miles) away from Geojo-do is Oedo, sometimes called "Paradise Island." In 1969, fisherman Lee Chang-ho discovered this small island while seeking refuge from the wind and waves. Since then, he and his wife brought plants here by boatloads, creating the Oedo Botania, a beautiful, European-style botanical garden. From the Jangseungpo Ferry terminal, you can catch a ferry to Oedo, which takes about 25 minutes. The ferries, run by a handful of companies, aren't on a regular schedule, but leave daily every 1 to 2 hours depending on the number of passengers. You can also take an excursion ferry (which takes longer, of course), that goes around Haegeumgang to Oedo. The island is open daily, except for Lunar New Year. On top of the ferry charge (which varies by company but runs about W17,000 for adults), admission to the gardens is W8,000 adults, W6,000 teens, W6,000 children, free for kids 6 and under.

Located between Dojangpo Village and Haegeumgang is the Sinseondae Observatory, from where you can get a wonderful view of the surrounding ocean. Found off the coastal highway, a staircase leads up to the lookout point. April and May are the best months to take in the scenery, as the yellow rape seeds are in bloom then. You can take a ferry to Sinseondae Observatory from Jangseungpo. From the Geoje-do Bus Terminal, it's a 50-minute ride.

Dojangpo Maeul is a quaint fishing village between Hakdong and Hamok beaches. In the springtime, pack a picnic lunch and hike up the hill overlooking the village. Locals call it Mangneungjandi Park. From here, you can look out over the ocean, enjoy the ocean breezes, and watch the goats grazing on the grassy hillside.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.