Since moving to Korea, I have been swept up by the modernization of this global country… Instant wifi, themed cafes galore, skincare stores on every corner, and access to anything you could want or need at your fingertips. Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with Seoul’s city lights, all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ, and the vibrancy of the nation’s capital city. But I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Seoul. A slower pace. And an escape from masks, COVID precautions, and work anxieties. A peaceful pause, if you will. I found this in Bijindo (비진도).
Bijindo is an island off the coast of southern Korea. It is popular among young Korean couples and families, but you will not see too many foreign tourists there. They flock to the more accessible beaches of Busan and Jeju. In Bijindo, you will find an escape from the busy cities and be treated to a unique, authentic Korean experience. Bijindo is as if you have stopped time. There are no convenience stores or grocery stores on Bijindo and only a few local restaurants. Therefore, if you need to quench your thirst or hunger with a snack or beer, you will need to find an ajumma’s shop in the basement of her home. Bijindo has a local feel and if you look for it, you will find a quick community of friends with the owners of local restaurants and businesses.
We took a ferry from Tongyeong Ferry Terminal. Tickets were W14,000 and the journey was about 45 minutes. Remember to bring your passport or ID card- you need it to get on the ferry! If you are going during peak summer times, consider buying your tickets early. On the ferry, we were blessed with a sunny summer day and enjoyed the view of seagulls accompanying us to the island, snatching snacks directly out of the air. Be sure to bring some crackers for the birds to join in on the fun!
Before departing, remember to stop by a grocery in Tongyeong to stock up on snacks, beer, and BBQ ingredients, as there are not many options on the island! The nearby market, Seo-ho Market (서호시장), should have everything you need, but make sure you allow enough time, as the butcher is at the far end of the market. Many people go to Bijindo for a day trip but I highly suggest spending the night! The best parts of the experience are the quiet times: at sunset, sunrise, dusk, and evening. During these times, you can get a feel for the daily life of the locals moving about their normal routines. I guarantee you will fall in love with Bijindo, as I did, in these peaceful moments.
We arrived on the early afternoon ferry, just in time to relax on the sandy beach. Checking in to our accommodation, we were greeted by the pension owner, a sprightly, passionately spoken, and CHATTY old man. He nagged Yi Suk about making sure sand from our bare feet didn’t get into our room. Apparently, previous visitors tracked sand into the room and he had to clean the floor grain by grain. Oops! Maybe he was being a little dramatic! Nonetheless, it was a good reminder to be respectful of elders and their pensions while staying in Korea. After the check in debacle, Yi Suk stopped for a seafood ramen and a beer at one of the restaurants. We enjoyed the sandy beach with Cass beers and clear, calm waters.
While most people bring Korean BBQ ingredients to the island, there are some really awesome restaurants right along the beach in Bijindo. The southern islands of Korea are especially famous for their Sashimi. Our pension owner encouraged us to go to his friend’s restaurant a little bit down the beach. Luckily, Yi Suk stopped by early to ask what time they closed because they stopped taking customers at 6pm! We rushed in from the beach, at 6pm, right on the dot. Still a bit sandy from the afternoon, the amiable owner chuckled and encouraged us to go home for showers first.
We were the only customers at the restaurant and it felt as if we were in the home of friends. As they prepared the food, Yi Suk talked to them and I played with their dog, who I, affectionately, named ‘Bap’ (Korean for rice) because he kept prancing back and forth between the back room (with a rice cooker on the floor) and the main dining area.
We later found out that the owners close the restaurant early because they have to wake up the next morning to go fishing. Talk about fresh fish! Normally, lunchtime is when the restaurant is the busiest, so plan to go in the early evening if you are spending the night. Sashimi in Korea isn’t my favorite because the raw fish they use tends to be a little bit chewier. Regardless, the experience of the sashimi makes up for it. You get to watch as they pluck the fish out of the tank and chop it right in front of you.
In the evening, we went for a lovely run around the island. It was super refreshing! You can also enjoy sitting out on the beach with a blanket and a drink. The island is pretty quiet at night, since most visitors to the island are day-trippers.
Because Bijindo is so small, you can easily watch the sunset on the west and head over to the rocky eastern side the next morning for the sunrise. The sun rises and sets over the ocean in Bijindo. What a treat! I love to sleep in, but there is something special about waking up early to catch the sunrise. You can also see the fishermen and locals beginning their morning routines.
Morning Coffee Fix
There is a small coffee shop at the Sol Beach Pension. It is not anything fancy but it satisfies your mid-morning coffee cravings until you can get back to Tongyeong. I would not suggest getting food there. I ordered a waffle and it was teeny-tiny! Despite the small portion size, it is a nice place to chill for a while before your ferry if you are beached out or do not want to get sandy before your trip back.
Departure and Final Thoughts
We headed back to Tongyeong around midday. A day or an overnight trip is all you need to relax on Bijindo. After too long, you might start to get a bit stir crazy, as there is not too much to do.
There is a hiking spot on Bijindo with an excellent view, but because we visited during the summer and peak humidity, we decided to give this one a miss. If I were to go back in a different season, I would love to see Bijindo from a higher vantage point. To get to the start of the hike, turn left off the ferry dock and then turn right beside the bathrooms.