Namhae Island is located in the very south of South Korea. It’s the perfect break from the polluted hustle and neon bustle that most Korean cities tend to have. Best known for its golden beaches and glorious weather, it’s surprisingly also a place not too many people know anything about it.
Namhae Island is strangely connected to the mainland of Korea by a Golden Gate Bridge imitation, constructed in 1973. From Seoul it takes about 6 hours, by car. The island itself is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Korea. The jagged cliffs cut and wind in unison with the highway and you will find it hard not to be impressed by the contrasting landscape and beaches beneath them.
The island has been left mainly untouched and employment on the island is primarily a result of its large agricultural and fishing community. During the wet seasons it is common to see rice paddies carving into the cliff side with cows plowing fields in favour of machinery. The dry season sees the rice replaced by garlic, with the majority of garlic in Korea coming from right here.
Transportation To Namhae Island & Back
Car Rental The cheapest rental companies are located closest to the airports. For almost four days rental expect to pay $180-250 depending on how well you research. Use a few price comparison search engines as there are certainly deals to be had.
Make sure you ask for an English GPS well in advance. Google Maps navigation doesn’t work well in Korea. The Korean map applications are also infuriatingly incompetent. If you can’t read or type in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) you will need a sat nav system. Without a GPS it can be expected that you’ll miss turn offs and probably find yourself stuck on incorrect, never-ending, toll roads for long periods of time. Some signs are in English but directions are not particularly accurate. However, it is do-able — if you are up for a challenge.
Bus + Car Rental Alternatively you could hop on a bus from Seoul to Namhae Island and rent a car by the Namhae bus terminal once you arrive. This would prove to be much cheaper in terms of gas/petrol and probably less hassle. The price of car rental is still going to be the same when you arrive.
Bus + Taxi You cannot rely on public bus services on Namhae Island so should have a plan for either private car hire or taxi. A ride right across Namhae Island (300km) in a taxi would cost about $90, but you probably won’t be going that far. Here is the bus timetable courtesy of the Seoul Tourism Board:
Seoul ←→ Namhae Express Bus Schedule
|Seoul||Namhae||08:30, 09:50, 11:30, 13:30, 15:10, 16:40, 18:00, 19:00||4.5 hrs||22,200 won|
|Namhae||Seoul||07:30, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00, 18:30||4.5 hrs||22,200 won|
Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal: Subway Line 3, Nambu Bus Terminal, Exit 5 / +82-2-521-8550 (Korean)
Namhae Bus Terminal: +82-055-864-7101 (Korean)
Where To Camp On Namhae Island
There are numerous unpopulated beaches that are all equipped with camping facilities. Get there early to claim a spot. If you don’t fancy camping then don’t worry as motels are plentiful, just stay on the main roads until you see one. Expect to pay $40 a night. Camping is free.
Sangju Beach (상주은모래비치)
This is the main beach on Namhae Island. Expect clean facilities, plenty of restaurants, karaoke rooms, fireworks, large families and overcrowding. Don’t expect camping courtesy or etiquette. If you have a spot with a good view it’s only a matter of time before someone squeezes into it, to pitch a monster of a tent. A lot of drunken Korean fathers stumble about the tents with flashlights on their heads. Think 28 days later with head-torches when it’s dark.
Songjeong Solbaram Beach (송정 솔바람해변)
This is the sister beach to Sangju. Fewer people flock here but camping is still busy with many late comers opting to camp in a run down orchard/car-park near the back. Expect another nice golden beach that boasts less people than Sangju as well as a couple of supermarket-style convenience stores. Don’t expect much else. Head east on Highway 19 until you see signs for it.
Sachon Beach (사촌해수육장)
This is not visited by many people. Head west on Highway 19 and follow signs towards the Hilton Hotel until the road 1024 forks. Pay close attention to the signs as it is very easy to miss. It’s a couple of coves below the Hilton and is towards the South West of Namhae. Expect peace and tranquility but limited facilities and only a couple of snack shops. Excellent for private camping. Don’t expect people or any places to eat.
Other Beaches Take a look on a map and explore. There are plenty of little coves and beaches all over Namhae Island that many people miss. Just be a bit adventurous. And make sure to assess how far the tide comes in before pitching your tent 😉
Activities On Namhae Island
Sea kayaking around the sea caves in Namhae Island is an excellent way to spend the day. Fish can be seen darting about below the kayak and sea insects are plentiful. It is extremely tranquil. Gliding along the calm ocean allows you to really take in the beauty of the area.
Kayaking for 3 hours will cost about $25. Paddle boarding is also available. If you get there after 1pm expect large tour groups and lengthy booking waits so get there early.
Jessica and myself sea kayaking
Sangju Beach (FREE)
Even if you’re not camping here, you can enjoy Sangju beach for the day. The end of the beach has some relatively powerless quad bike rentals so is partitioned off most of the time.
Where To Eat On Namhae Island
Around Sangju you can find only a handful of affordable restaurants. There are a few fresh clam and sashimi restaurants if you are feeling flush. Prices are heavily inflated due to tourism, but wandering the busy side streets you can find some decent grub, although you may have to wait a while.
One benefit of having a car and not being in a tour group is the freedom you gain. So head towards Namhae town and find some shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Everything here is much more affordable and much less crowded.
Sachon Beach (FREE)
Aim to wind down here and watch the remnants of the day disappear along with the sunset. Driving down towards the beach you pass through a few rice paddies, which, if holding water will reflect the beach and its surroundings superbly. The road is extremely thin and windy, so be extra careful not to destroy the serenity of the area by plowing your compact Hyundai straight into a field of rice. There are a couple of convenience stores here that stock very little other than snacks and beer. But what else do you need?
Geumsan Boriam Temple (FREE)
Located near the summit of Geumsan Mat Buntain sits Boriam Temple. Watching the sunrise from here is relatively popular among the local hikers. Wake up early enough and leave enough time to drive here. Some tour buses also offer the chance to visit. There are a several trails which lead to the temple and can take a number of hours to hike. Alternatively, you can drive your car and park 900m from the temple, walking the rest in 10 minutes. The choice is yours.
Listening to the monotonous chanting of the monks whilst watching the sunrise is both hypnotic and calming. The only sound aside from the chanting is the occasional shutter sound from a nearby DSLR camera that is capturing the moment.
Stroll back down and share a smile with the disappointed folk who have all missed the sunrise as they race past desperately trying to witness something they’ve clearly missed.
Driving Around Namhae Island
Driving around the cliffs on Namhae Island you can see the glistening waters of the sea contrasting with the golden beaches and it makes for a truly remarkable drive. Oversized coaches do tend to block the roads in the afternoons so expect some traffic. If you get good weather then driving around the island might actually be your favorite part of the trip.
The German Village
During the 1960’s 10,000 Korean nurses headed to Germany to seek work in exchange for cheap credit with the government. The German Village is for those who returned. All the materials that went into building the houses came from Germany and over the past 10 years the area has become a settlement/hamlet for 35 families, 90% of which are Korean-German.
Unfortunately, in exchange for the family loyalty, the village has been turned into a tourist hot spot whereby tens of thousands of people flock here, creating congestion that goes on for miles. The tourists disrespectfully take photographs posing next to the residents homes, trample through their gardens and even wander into their living rooms. Engelfried (82) is a German local and told a newspaper that “It’s treated like a museum village.” It is promoted by Seoul Tourism board and they have placed a huge car park only a short walk from the village. Avoid.
The American Village
The most recently constructed but not so popular cousin of the above. The placard reads “designed to be the last settling place for Korean-Americans who have dreamt of returning to and retiring in their homeland.” Walking up and down is relatively surreal with cheesy western inanimate objects glued to the walls, such as, surfboards and American driving plates.
Heading back towards your city whether it’s Seoul, Busan or elsewhere, you can expect heavy traffic when approaching if it’s a holiday weekend. Add at least an extra hour to your return journey.