Tongyeong: Gateway to Korean islet bliss

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Apr 16, 2015 - 18:53
  • Updated : Apr 16, 2015 - 18:53
This is the second installment of a four-part series introducing Korea’s springtime tourist destinations. ― Ed.

TONGYEONG, South Gyeongsang Province -― The island-cluster port city of Tongyeong is an all-too forgotten weekend coastal destination for those looking to revel in the refreshing sea air while avoiding crowds of beach dwellers and out-of-towners.

Situated on the southern reaches of South Gyeongsang Province, Tongyeong is only about 1 1/2 hours’ drive from Busan. Best known as the location of some of Korean history’s most famous naval battles, it is a destination that more often than not is omitted from many tourists’ travel itineraries.

Although some tourist websites refer to Tongyeong as the “Naples of Korea,” I can only imagine the phrase being used by those who have never been to the Italian city. 

Replicas of Adm. Yi Sun-shin’s Geobukseon at the waterfront of Gangguan Fishing Port. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)

Minus being located along the ocean side, Tongyeong is not comparable to Naples by any means. While I cannot in good conscience further proliferate this grave stretch of the truth, it does not go to say that this local city by the bay is without its touristic merits.

While Busan can offer visitors greater neon-light thrills and action-packed city life, what Tongyeong may lack in trendy nightlife, it makes up for in history.

To locals, the city is almost synonymous with the tales of Korean maritime hero Adm. Yi Sun-shin, one of the country’s most regaled military figures. Despite having no previous naval training, Yi is credited with designing the Geobukseon, Joseon Dynasty Korean warships featuring fully covered decks to deflect oncoming enemy fire.

Leading a fleet of Geobukseon, the naval commander was instrumental in fighting off Japan’s multiple invasions in the 1590s. 

A view of the Tongyeong port-side cityscape from the peak of Mireuksan Mountain

Honoring Yi is a recurrent theme throughout the port city, with many popular tourist destinations linked to the naval commander, including Hansando Island ― the site of one of the naval battle’s most famous victories ― and Tongyeong’s Gangguan Fishing Port, where visitors can step into replicas of the leader’s iconic turtle ships.

For those who prefer to engage themselves in contemporary and artistic fun, just a short walk from Gangguan Fishing Port lies Tongyeong’s famous mural area ― Dongpirang Village.

Similar to Seoul’s Ihwa Mural Village, the art wall district is a mirage of trendy and colorful neighborhood homes decorated with imaginative murals of all sorts, from pop art to visual poetry. The village is not only a popular destination for people of all ages looking to bask in a creative atmosphere while adding some spunk to their selfie collection, but the stroll up the hillside village also boasts some of the most picturesque panoramic views of the city’s seaside.

Comprising 151 islands, one of Tongyeong’s biggest selling points is its island hopping and hiking opportunities. Ferry rides to the city’s offshore islands are abundant, with the most popular stops being Hansando and Mireuk islands ― known for their stunning sunset views and hiking trails.

Mount Mireuksan offers some of the best mountain views of the crisp blue coast and the region’s hodgepodge of island clusters. On a clear day at the peak you can see as far as Japan’s island of Tsushima.

Visitors can choose to hike up the mountain, which takes two to three hours, or take a ride on the Hallyeosudo Cable Car. The cable car runs every day except for the second and fourth Monday of every month. Roundtrip tickets for adults cost 10,000 won, but beware: The cable car ticket office can end its service anywhere up to three hours before its standard closing time (hours vary depending on the season).

● How to get there:

The most efficient way to reach Tongyeong from Seoul is by intercity bus, which departs from the Express Bus Terminal roughly every hour. Tickets costs around 35,000 won to 45,000 won, with the bus ride takes a little over four hours.

By Julie Jackson (