A statue of Jeju’s Haenyeo, or “sea women”
Dream vacation. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? I picture immaculate, sandy beaches and waiters with cocktails or exploring ancient buildings, the sun setting on the horizon, my outfit plucked straight off a runway, hair perfectly tousled, luxury car in the background and a handsome man or two on my arm. Hey, I did say dream vacation – no judgment! Since those vacations are a little out of touch with my budget (and reality) I’ve decided instead to focus my efforts more locally, which led me to this, my Korean summer dream vacation.
See the haenyeo of Jeju-do
I had my chance to tick this one off of my travel bucket list just last week and I missed it! The haenyeo (해녀) or ‘sea women’ are the female divers working in the waters off of Jeju-do (제주도) and its surrounding islands. They collect everything from shells to abalone and seaweed, placing it in a net and buoying it to the top. What’s so incredible about these women is that they can dive up to 20 metres on a single breath, staying underwater for up to two minutes at a time!
To accomplish this, the women make themselves hyperventilate before diving into the water to prevent carbon dioxide build-up in their lungs, delaying the need to exhale. Upon surfacing, the haenyeo let out a long, high-pitched whistle as they slowly and safely release the air from their lungs. Although lucrative, the free-diving profession no longer appeals to the younger generation. When this generation of divers – women in their fifties, sixties, and seventies – stop working, the art may be lost forever. The window of time to see these incredible women, who number around just 5,000, is closing. Knowing this, I headed to Jeju-do, only to realize that I somehow managed to visit the island on the haenyeo’s days off. It’s Monday and Tuesday, for the record – don’t make the same mistake that I did!
Snap photos at Dongpirang Wall Art Village in Tongyeong
Making up for my Jeju-do failure, I’m pleased that I’ve already checked off Tongyeong’s Dongpirang Wall Art Village (동피랑 벽하마을) from my travel wish list! Tongyeong (통영) is cute as can be; filled with colorful markets crowding the streets and replicas of Admiral Yi Sun Shin’s famous Turtle Ships bobbing in the harbour, so the Dongpirang Wall Art Village is just one more reason to visit. High up on a hilltop, quirky decorations and funky wall paintings decorate the buildings, ranging from trick art to recreations of favourite Korean folk tales and popular animations. The locals are very friendly, having re-imagined the area specifically to attract tourists and save their small village from demolition. It worked. The village still stands the locals love having the tourists visit them.
Swim at all the beaches in Busan
Ilgwang, Imrang, Songjeong, Haeundae, Gwangalli, Songdo, and Dadaepo. Seven sandy beaches await me in Busan this summer. I can think of no better way to spend a hot, sunny day than to alternately sunbathe and swim in crashing ocean waves. I’ve visited five of Busan’s beautiful beaches so far this summer, and I’m itching to cross the last two off my list.
Ilgwang (일광) and Imrang (임랑) are located just outside the east end of town and are known for their soft, golden-coloured sand. Heading west, back into the city, Songjeong Beach (송정) is the designated surfers’ hangout with its bright blue waters, and Haeundae (해운대) is one of Korea’s best-loved beaches, evidenced by the luxury hotels surrounding it. Gwangalli (광안리) is one of my personal favourite places for lazing and for nightlife. Songdo (송도) is conveniently located just outside of the bustling shopping center of Nampodong, and it is Korea’s oldest beach, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Finally, Dadaepo (다대포) is located at the far western end of the city, proud home of the world’s largest musical fountain, aptly named The Fountain of Dreams.
Bike around Seonyoudo
This idyllic little island off the coast of Jeollanam-do(전라남도) is the perfect place to get away from it all. Rustic and campy, Seonyoudo (선유도) offers little in the way of tourist attractions, which is partially what attracts me to it. I visited this picturesque little island in October last year with the WKB Tour, but I wasn’t able to bike around the perimeter of the island. To do so would take only three leisurely hours. What could be more fun than renting a little cabin overlooking a pebble beach, swimming in the day and biking in the evening and enjoying a little peace and quiet?
Visit the palaces of Seoul
Nothing says ‘Korea in the summertime’ like visiting the palaces of Seoul. These historic buildings are beautiful year-round, but in the summer, the trees and gardens are exceptionally green and the colourful eaves of the buildings seem to glow. I love to watch the changing of the guards at the front gates. You can just feel the history sweep by you as the soldiers march by in bright, floor-length robes. Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) and its magnificent front gate Gwanghwamun (광화문) is guarded by two large stone haetae (해태), mythical creatures that protect the people from evil. Deoksugung (덕수궁) and its imposing gate and stone wall faces Seoul’s city hall, creating a fairy-tale like meeting of ancient and modern history. I will be touring this in just two weeks’ time!
Looks like I’ve got my summer plans laid out for me. With just a few short weeks left between summer and fall, where will you go?
About the Author
Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly three years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.
Cr : Oh KPOP