(Mis)adventures in Tongyeong

Oh, Tongyeong. You were such an experience. I had been wanting to visit this port city for quite some time, and when I had a three-day weekend in early June, I decided to do a bit of solo traveling for a few days. I had this image of me clackin’ away at my laptop in a coffee shop somewhere overlooking a sea full of islands… I also may or may not have been looking at too many Santorini pictures. Quite contrary to my imagined plans, Tongyeong proved to be quite the misadventure on so many different levels. First there was the…

weather.

It rained all Saturday and was generally miserable out. Not the worst situation, but for views of the sea, it didn’t provide a pretty picture. It also made a lot of plans, like Dara Park or the Mireuksan Cable Cars not worth the effort since it’d be too cloudy for the views. It was okay considering I wanted a day of coffee shop work anyway, so after visiting Dongpirang Village early in the morning, I sat in the my guesthouse’s coffee shop and did some work. Not a bad situation (and I even took myself to the movies to see Me Before You), but it did mean I’d be squeezing what I wanted to see into two days instead of three.

It turned out Monday might be another rain day, so I decided I’d try to fit everything I wanted to visit on Sunday while the weather was nice. I woke up super early and headed to Hansando, about 30 minutes by ferry from Ganguan Harbor. I was the most worried about figuring out the ferry and islands, so I was pretty proud of myself when I successfully visited Hansando and came back by midday. Of course, said successful feeling would soon disappear as I made my first poor decision of the day…

walking all the way to the mireuksan cable cars.

Since it was so nice, I decided, quite unwisely, to walk from the terminal to the cable car station. I’ve been walking to all my city schools, so I was feeling a little overconfident in my leg strength. While walking there midday wasn’t the worst, it did get me pretty tired very quickly, which just made the rest of the day a little more difficult than it would have been otherwise. By the time I arrived at the cable cars, I was thirsty and my legs were beat. I had also started sweating…a lot. And this brings us to the next misadventure.

view-from-mireuksan

going to the cable cars, a popular tourist attraction, at the busiest time on the busiest day of the weekend

The numbers on the cable car run from 1-9,999 before they restart. When I got my ticket, they were on about 6,000, and my ticket was for 3,900. That’s almost 8,000 people to wait for. I figured it might only be a two hour wait. With my phone nearly dying, I decided to sit and people watch. However, when I looked up after an hour, the ticker had only moved to about 7,000. Crap. I decided maybe I could go visit Dara Park while I was waiting and kill another hour or so. Next mistake:

not realizing how far Dara Park actually was from the cable cars

It really didn’t seem that long on the map. I should also note that my map reading skills suck. You could plug in the coordinates on Google maps and give me step by step directions, and I’d still get lost. When I first started driving, it was a terrifying experience of constantly getting lost within minutes of my home. And I had a GPS. Anyhow, the taxi ride wound up being at least 20 minutes long and the taxi fare wound up being 15,000 won one way. I got to the park and looked around at the islands. It’s a really small area, and I can see why it’s mentioned as something to see “on your way along the sea road.” It was beautiful, but I don’t know that I’d recommend trekking out there unless you’re hanging around for the sunset. Of course, I had to get a taxi ride back, so that was another 15,000 won I hadn’t quite planned on spending.

Back at the cable cars, it was around 4:30, and I thought maybe it would pick up some as the initial rush had died down. When I looked up it was only on 9,000. I was more than a little annoyed. I had to go to the bathroom at this point, and my phone was totally dead, so I decided to head back to my guesthouse (which, yes, meant another taxi fare). My legs were absurdly tired by this point, and because I hadn’t really been drinking water I was super dehydrated. If I sat down and tried to balance on my legs, they shook. I’m chalking this up to generally being exhausted, not how out of shape I am. *cough*

When I was in my guesthouse, I seriously debated going back. I mean, I was super tired and I had this really bad feeling they were never going to reach 3,900. But I also knew I wouldn’t be coming back to Tongyeong while I was here, and I’d regret not going, so I made my way back out. Of course, I should have known this would happen, but it was still irritating when it did…

finding a taxi took. for. ever.

Finding a taxi was a nightmare. There was traffic everywhere downtown, like bumper to bumper, and every taxi I saw was full. I walked for another 30 minutes just trying to find one, and eventually ran into one near Yi Sun Shin Park (at least I think that’s where I wound up). By the time I got to the cable car, the numbers seemed stuck at 1,100. Oh. Hell. No. I finally decided to pull the lost foreign tourist card and go up to the cable car line and show my ticket. I did the whole “Eeotokhae?” speel. I was going to be royally frustrated if I couldn’t get on, and if it was stuck 2,800 before my number, my chances were low. Luckily, the lady let me on because I was alone and it was nearing closing time. Counting this one as a win for the solo traveler/ singles for life.

Side note: I looked this up later and apparently each cable car holds eight people (why so little? I don’t know). The thing is, Koreans don’t split groups, families, or couples up. This means if you have a family of four, a couple, and me, that’s one empty seat in the cable car they don’t fill. If you have over 9,000 people coming through your station, wouldn’t you try to fill every seat? Or if you’re going to not split people up, wouldn’t you group the lines accordingly? No? Too logical? Someday I’ll write a post concerning what I like to refer to as #KoreanLogic, but this post is neither here nor there. Another frustrating thought: if you knew not everyone could ride the cable cars that day, why would you continue selling tickets? I know enough Korean to know if my ticket lady had told me the waiting time or even if I’d have to wait until the next day, and she did neither.

Anyhow, I got to the top, and after another fifteen minute hike to the peak, I got some pretty awesome views with the sun setting (though it was cloudy). Beautiful, but I don’t know much is worth a FIVE HOUR WAIT. I’ve never had to wait that long for anything ever, let alone a cable car ride in a less touristy city in Korea. Heck nothing in Seoul has ever taken that long to get to, and that’s where most of the population is.

Of course, my final misadventure had yet to come…

tongyeong-dara-park

no. more. taxis.

I went to the taxi stand and when I called a taxi, they told me none were in the area… As in none were going to come by even though I had called for one… WHY?! It’s not like it was a far drive for any of them! I panicked because I was meeting some Korean friends for dinner, and I wasn’t exactly keen on finding my way back in the dark. I actually called my Korean friend, and then tried to see if I could ask anyone to give me a lift. After chickening out on asking a young couple, I luckily saw the family I had ridden the cable car with. I handed my phone to them to see if they’d be willing to drive me closer to the city in exchange for gas money. Being the kindest people on earth, they drove me into the city right to where I had to meet my friends and when I asked if I could give them gas money, they said no and told me to have a safe trip. My friends then treated me to Chinese food, and I got to hear how their day on one of the islands went.

Basically, I spent 75% of my day grinding my teeth at Korean organization, and 25% of my day internally crying and gushing over how much I love this country and Koreans.

It was an emotional roller coaster of a day.

I won’t even count the next one as a misadventure, because Sunday wiped me out too much for emotion. When I woke up on Monday and saw it was raining, I decided to just head back home and enjoy the rainy day curled up in my own bed. If anyone considers visiting Tongyeong, all I can recommend is this: bring your car. It would’ve cut down any frustration I had by at least half. It’s definitely an awesome city to visit, and I have a quick guide coming out soon that’ll give you all the details about Tongyeong, but if I can visit again, I’m renting a car.

 

Tell me! What are some of your misadventures?

 

Words and Photographs by Samantha

 

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  • We’re planning a trip to Korea next year with our two kids, and hoping to do the cable car. It would be early in the day, during the week, though, so hopefully not so busy?

    • Hi Helena!

      Oh yeah, you should be totally fine! At most an hour wait, but on the weekday most likely even less. This was on a Saturday during a long weekend in late spring, so Tongyeong was MUCH, MUCH more crowded than it normally would be.