Tongyeong, Korea’s Beautiful Southern Port City
It was night fall by the time we arrived in Tongyeong 통영, just in time for dinner. Since Tongyeong is a port city right to the south of South Korea, we were expecting some form of seafood. And we were not disappointed.
We were apparently brought to a rather renown restaurant, once visited by the cast of 2 Days 1 Night, a long-running KBS variety programme I used to watch frequently. And the one thing they are famous for? Oyster Rice Soup Course.
After the rather long bus ride from Andong, we were famished and the oyster stew dinner was very welcoming. Being a foodie myself, tasting new dishes unique to the region made my tummy very happy. 🙂
We stayed for 2 nights at a resort by the coast (meaning no packing up to check out after the first night), which gave us a perfect opportunity to explore the surroundings in the morning after breakfast. It was in general a very quiet area lined with resorts to serve visitors to the city; we came by of a local enjoying his fishing and another watching him. Other than that, clearly not a choice location for sightseeing. I loved the tranquility.
There was a properly laid track along the coast for as far as my eyes could see. Rather under-utilised, in my opinion. Then again, it was a weekday morning. Perhaps more locals would be about in the evenings or during the weekends.
1. SKYLINE LUGE TONGYEONG
First activity of the day, Tongyeong Skyline Luge 통영 스카이라인 루지. While Singapore has one of its own in Sentosa, I’ve never been there. So it was really my first experience on a luge.
For several months a year (the warmer months I reckon), Tongyeong’s Skyline Luge operates at night. Can you imagine enjoying the night skyline of this coastal city while luging down from a height? Yea, me too. I saw a picture of the lighted up circuit at night and wanted very badly to try the luge at night instead, but our teachers were not able to fit it into our very tight schedule.
Basically the four of us were grouped together wherever we went, even when we took the gondola up to the top of the hill for our luge experience. Fortunate that it worked out this way because the three of us arranged to go on this study trip together while B was solo. The best part of it all? We actually have the same walking pace because it’s most annoying to travel with companions of different walking paces. I… just need to work a bit more on my climbing stamina. Still a little lacking in that area.
2. MIREUK MOUNTAIN
Standing at 461m, Mireuksan 미륵산 is one of the most visited despite not being very tall compared to many other mountains found in South Korea. One of the most compelling reasons is the breathtaking view of the sea enveloping Tongyeong one gets to see at the top.
One group picture before most of us started attempting the remaining climb to the summit. Some elderly tour mates were happy just staying at the midpoint where the cable car brought us to.
I did make it to the summit and this is the picture proof! Kind of, haha. Too tired by then to pose for a nice picture. Furthermore, I don’t do pictures much.
The view was worth every single drop of sweat I dripped. Beautiful panorama view of Tongyeong and its numerous islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. Wished we had the time to visit some of the bigger islands, for example Geoje Island. I could definitely revisit with the mister in the future, but to best honest, it’s not that easy to get to Tongyeong via public transport, and even harder to explore the city without a private vehicle. When I finally muster the courage to drive in South Korea, perhaps.
According to the signage, it takes 30-40 minutes both ways to get to the summit and back to the observatory where the cable car stopped. I didn’t do too bad overall, taking about 45 minutes. And because the four of us were a lot faster than the rest of the group, we got to relax a bit at the observatory level, buying ice cream to eat while waiting and enjoying the gorgeous weather.
Around noon or slightly after, we made our way down Mireuksan via the cable car. There was more of Tongyeong to be explored.
3. TONGYEONG FOODS
Once we got to the harbour area, we followed our teachers through Jungan Live Fish Market 중안활어시장 to take a look at the fresh seafood produce available in their local market. Nothing like Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, but interesting nevertheless, and full of local flavour.
Because of its unique location by the waters, Tongyeong is largely famous for its seafood in particular a type of sea squirt called Meonggye 멍게. This ‘sea pineapple’ is farmed from warm ocean seabed, and Tongyeong accounts for most of this particular seafood from South Korea. Apparently it is an acquired taste and I know I wouldn’t be adventurous enough to try it even if we had the opportunity to. If you ever find yourself in the area, perhaps try Meonggye Bibimbap. It’s rather famous.
Instead, we went for two other signature foods from the area, one of it being Chungmu Kimbap 충무김밥. You might be familiar with kimbap (Korean version of sushi, except that rice in kimbap is seasoned with sesame oil and usually only has cooked ingredients). Now, Chungmu Kimbap is again a little different from the usual kimbap in that rice is its only filler ingredient wrapped within laver sheets, to be eaten together with radish kimchi and marinated squid.
Now, there is a reason why this dish even exists. According to our teachers, fishermen in the area used to bring kimbap out to sea for their meals onboard but it spoiled easily with the usual ingredients found in kimbap so they revised it. And this is how this simplified version of kimbap is born.
The quantity didn’t look like much, but this was our lunch and it was more than enough for the four of us.
After lunch, it was time to explore the one representative snack that Tongyeong is famous for. Kkulppang 꿀빵, otherwise known as honey bread, is basically a sweet bun with red bean paste filling and covered with honey syrup. That is the most traditional version. Nowadays, they also come in a variety of other fillings including green tea, yuzu, sweet potato, chestnut and basically any other flavour one can think of.
They are really sweet though, so just one mouthful goes a long way.
As we returned to our bus, I saw this turtle naval ship Geobukseon 거북선 that serves as a museum as well. A bit of background on Tongyeong: it’s largely famous because of Admiral Yi Sun-shin (he is the other statue you can see at Gwanghwamun Square other than King Sejong so he is quite a big deal in Korea) since Tongyeong was where he was based to protect his country from Japanese invasion. And the unique design of the turtle ship was his brainchild. I would have loved to visit the museum, but my travel mates aren’t keen (most of them aren’t even aware of its history) so I could only admire it from afar.
4. DONGPIRANG MURAL VILLAGE
A short hike up from the harbour lies the district of Dongpirang 동피랑벽화마을. And speaking of Dongpirang, Ihwa Mural Village in Seoul immediately comes to mind. Very much like Ihwa, Dongpirang Mural Village was a community-driven project to introduce vitality back to the neighbourhood. In Dongpirang’s case, the urge was very real, since the old houses were initially planned to be demolished to make way for modern apartments.
Unlike Ihwa Mural Village (where the residents in the neighbourhood found the newfound vitality a disruption thus requesting for numerous of the wall art removed), the residents of Dongpirang very much welcomed the change since it didn’t bring about that much of a disruption for them.
Apart from some steep slopes along the way, it was a good workout after our lunch and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the stroll through the mural village. Some, more than the rest, especially the ones who like to pose with interesting murals. Me? I was mostly the photographer for them. in this respect, I’m always very helpful. 😛