Did you know that there are over 3,000 islands in South Korea? While Jeju, the so-called Hawaii of Korea, might get all the glory, there are plenty of others worthy of exploring too! One of the most beautiful and rural islands that you will find in Korea is the island of Namhae- an island famous for fishing, farming and garlic on the Southern coast of the country.
I first visited Namhae Island over Buddha’s Birthday back in May 2014 when I was a new fresh-faced expat. It was one of my first excursions out of my city and my first encounter with the charming, rural countryside of Korea. Since Veeran has never been, and I still rave about it, we decided to take a trip there over the weekend.
For anyone wanting to spend a weekend in Namhae Island, here is my recommendation for the best way to spend your time there.
How to Get Around
Whenever I’ve looked at blogs about Namhae, most people say that you need a car to get around the island. Like most expats, we don’t have a car here and don’t feel the need for one. However, we weren’t going to let that stop us from finally visiting Namhae together. A quick search on daum maps showed that there are public buses that go around the island. We decided to put our faith in the daum, and try our best to see all the sites that we wanted to on these buses.
I’d absolutely love to report back and tell you that travelling in Namhae using public transport is a piece of cake. However, I would be lying. What I will say, though, is that it definitely isn’t impossible. Just bring along your patience and bear in mind that you might need to space as much as an hour between the attractions that you want to see. Fortunately, the coastal roads that the buses follow are an attraction in themselves, so you are never too far from the natural beauty of Namhae.
Namhae German Village
Of all the attractions in Namhae, this one is probably the most surprising to tourists. However, when you learn the history behind it, you’ll be intrigued to visit and learn more.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Korean government sent workers to Germany in return for financial aid. When the workers returned, this village was built for them to help ease the process of settling back in to life in Korea.
These days a lot of the houses have been converted into pensions that attract lots of tourists, particularly in the busy summer months. There are also a lot of German style shops and cafes that will make you forget you’re in Korea. One of the best things about this village is that it is completely free- unlike the underwhelming Le Petite France that we visited in Gapyeong last month.
The whole area is extremely photogenic. I found the contrast of the white and orange townhouses against the ocean and surrounding farmland really striking. Spend an hour taking it all in, and taking advantage of the amazing photo opportunities. Then, retreat to one of the many restaurants or cafes to indulge in a currywurst and German beer. When in Rome!
After enjoying a rare little slice of European life in Korea, take a bus down the coast to the charming fishing port of Mijo.
Mijo epitomises everything that Namhae is all about. Here, rows of seafood restaurants line the street and rows of fishing boats line the coast. You’ll see fisherman bringing in the day’s catch and ajjumas selling it off on the mainland. There’s not much to do here but it’s a good place to come and see how the locals live and get a taste for life here.
Coincidentally, Mijo is one of the main transport hubs in Namhae. You’ll need to come here to transfer buses so make the most of your stopover by grabbing a seafood lunch or sit by the pier and enjoy the view.
It would be a real shame to come to Namhae and not have a bit of beach time! Namhae Island is blessed with a beautiful coast line. Wherever you find yourself, chances are you’re not too far from a decent beach. The most famous of the bunch is Sangju beach, on the South Coast of the island. Luckily for us
bus wankers public transport enthusiasts, Sangju is also one of the easiest to get too.
Although Sangju beach is really popular with Korean day trippers, it’s definitely not as packed as the likes of Haeundae Beach. Umbrellas and sun loungers are available to rent and there is a convenience store nearby selling beach mats.
I recommend grabbing some beers and sitting around for the sunset before heading for a seafood dinner. You’ll also find the usual Korean restaurants and a couple of pizza and chicken places in this area for more sensitive taste buds.
Sangju is a great place to stay overnight since there are a lot of minbaks and pensions in the area. When you get off the bus, lots of old ladies will want to show you around their place. They might be a bit bold and try to charge you extortionate prices- just be equally bold and barter with them. We managed to get a room with air-con for 40,000 KRW (our limit) after bargaining with a lot of owners! Keep in mind that prices are much higher during Summer.
Geumsan Mountain and Boriam Temple
Perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the coast of Namhae, Boriam Temple is, without a doubt, one of the most striking temples in Korea. However, getting there is no easy task! If you want to see that huge Buddha and enjoy the amazing ocean views, you’ll need to put the work in.
Boriam Temple is located 650m above sea level, on the side of Geumsan Mountain. It should take around 2 hours to get there if you are reasonably fit. Veeran and I were idiots and thought it would be wise to sit up and drink soju on the beach the night before. Needless to say, the hike was not pleasant for us! But, when we got to the top we were so glad that we had powered through it.
There is also an “easy” way to get to Boriam Temple. However, this is difficult to reach on public transport. If you don’t like hiking and have your own car then you should make way for the main Boriam Temple Entrance.
If you want to hike your way to Boriam Temple, like we did, you’ll need to take a taxi to Geumsan Moutain Entrance (Geumsan Ipgu in Korean.) This should cost around 4,000 KRW. From here you’ll start the 2km hike. The path is relatively quiet since most people drive to Boriam Temple, so you can really enjoy all the stunning views to yourself.
When you’ve finally reached Boriam Temple and feel all zenned out, it’s probably time to head home. There are 2 options how to get back.
If time isn’t an issue, you can come back down the way you came up and catch a bus to the bus terminal from Sangju Beach. You’ll need to try and flag a taxi from the mountain entrance. This might be difficult since it’s not a major tourist attraction. You’ll also need to transfer buses in Miju.
If you’re happy to spend a bit more money and save some time, you can come back the “easy way.” This is how Veeran and I decided to come back. From Boriam Temple’s main entrance we took a mini bus to the main car park. (1,000 KRW each.) From here we flagged a taxi to take us to the bus terminal for 15,000 KRW.
While 15,000 KRW is expensive for budget travellers, we were happy to spend it at the end of our weekend away. We worked out that it wouldn’t even be much more than the cost of a taxi to Sangju Beach and 2 buses to the bus terminal. It was a no brainer for us.
So, Is it Possible to Travel in Namhae on Public Tranport?
Originally, we had planned to just spend a day in Namhae but the infrequency of the buses around the island meant we had to spread it out a bit. Did this mean that we enjoyed the trip any less? Not at all, we took it in slowly and had the freedom to spend a bit more time in each place.
If you have access to a car could easily cover this itinerary in a day. I’d also suggest swapping the days around if you want to indulge in some soju and seafood at Sangju Beach on Saturday night- hike Geumsan on Saturday and then stuff your hungover face with German sausages and beer on Sunday! This was just a guide of the route that we followed ourselves.
I really hope that more foreigners make the trip to Namhae. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country and has a totally different vibe from the big cities like Seoul and Busan, and even the big islands like Jeju! Don’t worry if you don’t have a car. Do what we did and use the public bus system. You might not get there in a flash, but you’ll get there eventually and you’ll be glad that you made the effort.
Has anyone else attempted to travel in Namhae using just public transport? I’d love to hear about your experience and some of your favourite spots around the island. Leave me a comment and let me know all about it!
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