Until recently, I’ve never heard of the city of Yeosu. My knowledge of South Korea (despite having studied there for about 3 weeks: you can read about it here), is limited to the main cities of Seoul, Busan and Jeju Island. So I was excited to be given the chance to explore another side of the country that I have never been to — and in the most beautiful season of autumn too!
The City of Yeosu (여수)
Yeosu is the biggest city in South Korea‘s southwest province of South Jeolla (Jeollanam 전라남도, also known as Jeonnam). The city is located on the southern coast of the Korean peninsula; and is made up of a small peninsula that juts out like a little butterfly over the waters and hundreds of smaller islands spread out across the sea. Yeosu means “Beautiful Water” in Korean, and as a city known for its marine activities and fishing industry — you can understand why. During my visit, I noticed that most of the visitors to the city were mainly local tourists, who visit Yeosu in droves for its many beaches, fresh sea air, and delicious seafood.
I enjoyed my 3-day weekend stopover in Yeosu on my autumn trip to South Korea. It was fun getting to know a lovely city not too known to the outside world; yet was chosen to host one of the oldest and biggest events in the world (taking place every 5 years) — the 2012 World Expo. What a feat that is.
Getting to Yeosu
I was traveling with my partner, Fong; and we landed in the city of Busan — our gateway to the southwest provinces of South Korea, which were the main locations for my trip to the country this time. We took an overnight 6-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia X, and arrived in Busan early in the morning.
From the Gimhae International Airport, we took the train to the Sasang Train Station and walked over to the city’s West Bus Terminal (Seobu Inter-City 서부버스터미널). From there, the buses head straight to Yeosu in 3 hours, and cost KR₩19,700 (~US$20). I bought our tickets over the counter — I just told the lady “Yeosu” and she gave me tickets for the next bus out (and we went to wait at the designated platform). The bus seats are comfortable and spacious; and come in double and single seats, so choose accordingly. I slept the whole way.
Day 1 – Arriving in Yeosu
We arrived at the Yeosu Inter-City Bus Terminal in the early afternoon. Though there are public buses that ply the route from the bus terminal to the main tourist area of the city (where the Expo Ocean Park is located), we decided to take a taxi just outside the station. It cost us about KR₩4,500 (US$4.5) to get to our accommodation in Yeosu.
Backpackers at Yeosu (백패커스인여수)
I love our hostel. The Backpackers at Yeosu had a fun vibe — it was colorful, and quirky, and had pictures and messages and signatures from all their previous guests on the walls. It’s a backpacker-style hostel that offers dorm rooms and private rooms; has chill-out areas to work and relax; and a kitchen where you can make your own meals (and prepare your own breakfasts in the morning with the provided eggs, bread, cheese, milk, orange juice and instant coffee that’s included in the room price). In the morning, I was in the kitchen by 8am so I had time to leisurely whip us up a simple breakfast — later on it was teeming with people fighting for space.
We stayed in the private double room that cost us about KR₩50,000 (US$50) a night, and it comes with facilities like a tv, hair-dryer, air-con (it was too cold to use anyway), air humidifier, and a private toilet with the basic amenities. It was a comfortable stay; but really, the main reason I chose to stay at the Backpackers at Yeosu was its close proximity to the train station (and the Expo Ocean Park) — so I didn’t have to lug my luggage too far when I leave Yeosu!
Lunch at Yeosu Fish Market (여수수산시장)
Now the very first thing to do in Yeosu, is to go straight to the source of all the seafood the city is known for — the Yeosu Fish Market! It is located at one end of the waterfront (the other end to where we were staying) in the city centre, so we decided to take a taxi over. Just like all fish markets in South Korea, the ground floor is the wet market where all the live fish and seafood are sold; and the first floor is where the restaurants are located. After walking around the wet market, we chose a random stall that helped us select a fish (she then cut it for us on the spot) for about KR₩35,000 (US$35). We also decided to try the raw and still squirming octopus (sanakji 산낙지). She then gave us a name card for a restaurant upstairs where our dishes were served.
Other than the prices for the seafood we already paid for, the restaurant charges an additional KR₩3,500 (US$3.5) per person for their service. They served us our delicious plate of raw fish and raw octopus (with all the usual Korean sides) — and then later suggested we use the bones of the fish to make a spicy fish stew called maeuntang (매운탕) for KR₩5,000 (US$5). It didn’t cost too much so we agreed, and it was really good! We had the most filling first meal in Yeosu — all that seafood, and washing it down with a bottle of soju (Korean alcohol).
Expo Ocean Park (엑스포해양공원)
We really needed to walk off all that food after our seafood lunch, so we took a slow leisurely walk back to the hostel to check-in (we couldn’t do so earlier because check-in time is 4pm). After a quick rest and refresh, we decided to walk over to the Expo Ocean Park to explore the area by the sea. It was the location of the 2012 World Expo — but on a normal day (like when we visited), there really isn’t much going on. The place was pretty quiet, so we just roamed about and took some pictures of several statue/figures around the area and enjoyed the autumn colors.
The Sky Tower (스카이타워)
The 73m high Yeosu Sky Tower is the highest tower within the Expo grounds, and is reconstructed over a pair of abandoned silos. There is an observation deck at its highest floor, and entrance cost KR₩2,000 (US$2). We had coffee at the top while waiting for the sun to set, and witnessed the lights come on over the city — the city side had a lovely elevated view of Yeosu, but the ocean side is undergoing some construction so it wasn’t so pretty. However, I think I was most impressed with the massive pipe organ installed on the outside of the tower. It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest organ in the world, and I could hear it from far far away.
Big O Show (빅오쇼)
It was dark when we left the Sky Tower, and the nearby Big O Show was underway. The show’s huge round steel frame towers at 41m over the site — and lights up with fire, lights, water, smoke and music during showtimes. It is a multimedia, hologram and water fountain spectacle, with seat prices starting from KR₩14,000 (US$14) to KR₩22,000 (US$22). We contemplated on whether we should watch the show, but we heard lots of Korean language being used and decided to give it a miss. So while passing by, we joined the group of people stealing glimpses of the performance on the outside… for just a little while.
More attractions you can find at the Expo Ocean Park are the Aqua Planet Yeosu, Teddy Bear Museum, and Trick-Eye Museum amongst others.
Night on the Yeosu Waterfront
From the grounds of the Expo Ocean Park, we enjoyed a long night stroll to the city’s waterfront. It was time for dinner and we were searching for the famed ‘nangman pocha‘ food cart bars (낭만포차) that was said to line the area. While looking for it, we enjoyed the lovely night views of the city, and also came across a life-sized turtle ship model — a warship used by the Korean naval commander Yi Sun Shin (and the Korean navy) in battles with Japan during the Joseon Dynasty. Yeosu is known as the city where the first turtle ship was believed to set sail. We also passed by the Yi Sun Shin Square that had a pretty crowded mini-concert going on. It is also home to the statue of this famous historical figure.
After walking back and forth along the waterfront, we couldn’t find the food cart area; so we followed the local crowd and had take-out on the benches by the sea. We had fried chicken and beer (chimaek 치맥), and the night couldn’t have ended on a better note.
Day 2 – Exploring Yeosu
This is the one full day we had in Yeosu, so we wanted to fill it up and make the best of it. With my Roaming Man pocket wi-fi and the DKYW 2019 discount coupons in hand, I was ready to explore! The Discover Korea Your Way 2019 coupon booklet (with all the discounts you can get) is available for free to Malaysians traveling to South Korea. Click here for more information.
The Ocean Railbike (여수해양레일바이크)
Up and all ready to exercise at Yeosu’s Ocean Railbike — our first activity for the day. From our accommodation, we decided to take a taxi (you can take the bus too) straight to Manseongri Beach, where the railbike is located. We arrived just after opening time at 9am and there was already a short line, but our turn came quite fast. It really is a pretty touristy activity, but I had so so so much fun cycling two-person on a four-seater railbike; following a 3.5km (30-minute) trail complete with breathtaking ocean views and a multi-colored LED lit tunnel. The rail before the old school u-turn was slightly downhill so not much cycling was needed; but the uphill ride back required a little more work. A railbike for two cost KR₩26,000 (US$26), for three KR₩31,000 (US$31) and for four KR₩36,000 (US$36). The DKYW 2019 coupon gave us a 20% discount.
Manseongri Black Sand Beach (만성리 검은모래해변)
Just a short walk away from the Ocean Railbike is the Manseongri Black Sand Beach. On the way over, we stopped by Carp Island, a pretty little cafe that overlooked the beach and ocean for a cuppa. It was a cold autumn’s day, so there weren’t many people on the usually crowded Manseongri Beach (especially in summer). Even the shops around the area were pretty quiet. I guess it’s because the black sand with healing properties that the beach is famous for is only highly effective when it’s burning hot under the sun. There’s no heat in autumn! So after our coffee with a view, we hung out with some men fishing by the breakwater and walked on the black sand for a bit — and then decided to head off for lunch.
Baekban Lunch at Rotari Sikdang (로타리식당)
I was looking forward to a delicious home-style set meal, and Rotari Sikdang is known to serve an affordable baekban 백반 (which translates to a hundred side dishes). Due to the restaurant’s popularity, I was expecting a queue at lunch time — I just wasn’t ready to wait more than an hour for my meal! But I waited anyway, even though I hate queuing and waiting for food. Thankfully the delicious baekban at Rotari made it worth the wait.
Upon being seated, we were immediately served a whole tray of yummy side dishes that included the local gat kimchi (갓김치) made from mustard leaves — but the stars of the meal were the spicy grilled pork belly (samgeopsal 삼겹살), as well as Yeosu’s famous soy-sauce raw crabs (ganjang gejang 간장게장) and spicy raw crabs (yangnyeom gejang 양념게장). It was finger-licking, shell-sucking (with all the crab roe and all) delicious. And for only KR₩8,000 (US$8) per person. So worth it!
Odongdo Island (오동도)
That was another filling meal in Yeosu that we needed to walk off — so towards Odongdo Island we went. The island is situated off the coast of Yeosu, and is connected via a causeway from the Yeosu Port. We made the 750m walk over to the island; but took the KR₩2,000 (US$~2) road tram for the one-way journey back. You can also rent a bike and cycle the path.
Odongdo was packed with visitors during our visit, but they slowly thinned out along the pathway further up the hill. Over 70 species of wild flowers bloom around the island; and it’s a great spot to see camellias during the season (November to April). I was there in early November but there were none yet. The shaded walk was still lovely, with spectacular sea views from the hill. Halfway through, we walked down to the rocky coast to see the mythical Dragon Cave. We also spotted the lighthouse at the top of the hill, but decided not to walk up to it. Instead, we headed back down to Odongdo Square to enjoy the Musical Fountain (and join the crowds again). We were on the island for almost 2 hours.
Yeosu Cable Car (여수해상케이블카)
The Yeosu Cable Car is probably one of the highlights of my trip to the city! Recently opened in 2014, the 1.5km cable car connects the city’s two parks, Dolsan Park and Jasan Park. The Jasan Park station stands just in front of the entrance to Odongdo, so right after our visit to the island, we took the elevator up to the station. We then lingered at the station’s viewpoint for a little while to admire the beautiful view of Odongdo.
There was quite a line waiting for the cable car. A round-trip on the standard cabin cost KR₩15,000 (US$15), but we decided to go for the glass-floored crystal cabin for KR₩22,000 (US$22) return — minus a KR₩4,000 discount using the DKYW 2019 coupon. And we didn’t need to queue! I have to say the Yeosu Cable Car experience was fantastic. The view from the cabin was absolutely spectacular — I had a bird’s eye view of the entire city, the blue of the sea underneath my feet, and a picture of the setting sun in the distance. I couldn’t stop switching sides just to soak everything in.
Our journey back on the cable car was at night, and it offered a whole different scenery. Darkness in the distance, and bright colorful lights lighting up the city. Equally beautiful.
Sunset at Dolsan Park (돌산공원)
It was almost sunset when we arrived in Dolsan Park (it sets at 5.30pm in autumn). We followed the crowd across the park to the Dolsan Bridge (돌산대교) viewpoint to witness the big ball of fire disappear into the mountains in the horizon. And then we stayed to see the iconic 450m-long Dolsan Bridge light up in its multi-colors as the sky turned dark. The autumn weather was cold, so as Fong and I enjoyed the spectacle in front of us; we cuddled for warmth. So romantic like a K-drama!
Samhab Dinner at the Yeosu Food Stalls
There are two bridges in Yeosu — the Dolsan Bridge and the other Geobukseon Bridge, which the cable car passes over. On our journey back, we noticed a huge food stall square just underneath the bridge (on the Yeosu side) that was packed with people. We decided to head over to check it out — and what a great decision that was! It made up for the missing nangman pocha street cart bars we were looking for the day before; and I’d take a wild guess and say that they were probably all relocated here. It’s just next to the Hamel Lighthouse (하멜등대), another attraction in Yeosu.
We browsed through the many stalls along the square while enjoying the live performance — some were packed, and some not. In the end, we chose a stall that was packed but with a table available (we thought we’d just follow the crowd), and had the most delicious haemul samhab (해물삼합) for dinner at KR₩30,000 (~US$30). Samhab means three combinations — well-aged kimchi, hongeohoe (홍어회) that is raw fermented skate, and meat (but we had seafood – haemul). The meal had octopus, prawns, abalone, bacon and vegetables; and then fried with rice at the end. It was a long long dinner with lots of Yeosu soju, and I really don’t know how we made it back to our hostel at the end of the night.
Day 3 – Leaving Yeosu
Final day in Yeosu! We woke up late that morning, after the fun dinner the night before. Breakfast at the hostel was over by then and we were absolutely famished! So after packing up our stuff and checking-out, we left our bags at the hostel and went out in search of brunch.
Last Meal of Ganjang Gejang at Hwangso Sikdang (황소식당)
We wanted one last taste of the soy-sauce raw crabs (ganjang gejang 간장게장) before leaving Yeosu, so we headed to the ganjang gejang street where almost ALL the restaurants serve this popular Yeosu dish. After doing my research, I chose to dine at Hwangso Sikdang — one, because it is one of the more popular restaurants in the area; and two, because it was featured on my favourite Korean variety show, Running Man!
Hwangso’s raw crabs (soy-sauce and spicy) made me and my tummy so happy. The restaurant probably lacked in side dishes if compared to Rotari; but they serve another popular Yeosu dish here as well — spicy braised hairtail fish (galchi jorim 갈치조림). Hairtails have lots of fine bones — a big no-no for me, so I skipped this one. The ganjang gejang set meal at Hwangso Sikdang cost KR₩12,000 (US$12) per person; and the set with the additional galchi jorim cost KR₩18,000 (US$18) per person. You’re allowed to politely ask for refills. And oh, there also have a small store next to the restaurant that sells ganjang gejang to bring home (how I wish I could)!
And then we said goodbye to Yeosu. The next stop on our South Korean autumn trip was to the city of Jeonju, so we walked over to the Yeosu Expo KTX Station for our onward journey.
My Visit to Yeosu
I had a lovely time in Yeosu, and I think it was a great introduction to South Korea for Fong. It was his first time in the country — and instead of heading to the bigger cities, I brought him to Yeosu. We had so much fun visiting the beaches, the parks and the local sights; eating at the seafood market and having the most delicious Korean meals. I never want to forget the wonderful taste of the ganjang gejang raw crabs, and now I’m just afraid I’d never find anything as good unless I return to Yeosu!
Yeosu has its high buildings and crowds, and may seem like a big city — but it really is a small town at heart. The locals we encountered were friendly, and though not much English is spoken at all (with the exception of the reception peeps at our backpackers that spoke excellent English), we still got around just fine.
*She Walks the World went to South Korea under the banner of the Korea Tourism Organization of Malaysia, to promote the DKYW 2019 coupon booklet and encourage free and easy travel in South Korea to Malaysian travelers. As always, all opinions stated here are my own.
* For more information, visit www.visitkorea.com.my.