While wandering the rampantly crowded streets of this massive metropolis of 14 million people, you wouldn’t imagine there would be so many peaceful places just a train ride away. But when the summer heat penetrates your bones, and the humidity materializes over every inch of your body, the only place to go is to the beach, or perhaps into a small air conditioned hole, but the beach sounds much more appealing to me. And from Seoul there are several just a few hours away. On this particular weekend we chose to go to Muuido Island.
How To Get There
We had planned to meet everyone at Incheon airport at 9am, but when 8am rolled around and Hudson’s snoring still echoed inconsistently in our tiny apartment, I knew we were never going to make it on time. We settled to leave around 10, getting out to the airport by 11. While Hudson had made the trek to Muuido before, I had not. And while our friends told us to take the 222 bus out to the ferry, Hudson insisted that the 202 would get us there as well. When the 222 zipped by us without stopping, the 202 suddenly seemed a much more appealing option. That is until the entire bus emptied and the bus driver started yelling at us in Korean, presumably that it was time for us to get off the bus. Struggling to explain that we wanted to go to Muuido he only stared blankly at us before turning the bus around to head back to the airport.
Frustrated, I pouted like a petulant child as Hudson resigned himself to us heading all the way back to the Incheon to catch the 222. This was not a viable option in my opinion, but I had no idea where we should get off instead. As it turns out, you can get to Muuido on the 202 and the bus driver knew this all along. He let us off at a stop underneath a large green highway sign with the word Muuido and a big white arrow. Go figure. Immediately I sheepishly apologized to my loving boyfriend for being such a pill over such a small thing.
Of course we were going to get to the beach, and who really cares if it takes 4 hours instead of 3. It was a little lesson to remind me how spoiled I had been in this city with everything always easy and signs always helpfully written in English. Traveling is always full of these little hiccups and being able to take them in stride is probably the single most valuable lesson you can carry with you. Don’t sweat the small stuff. As it was I had just broken my cardinal rule, and was embarrassed for my own childish behavior. From the bus stop we had just a fifteen minute walk to the ferry and before we knew it we were walking beneath a large archway welcoming us to Muuido. Just one more bus and we finally found ourselves on the scorching sands of lovely Hanaggae beach sometime around 3:30 in the afternoon.
While you certainly can do a day trip to Muuido, it works best as an overnight beach destination. Leave early on Saturday morning and rent one of the small beachfront cabins available for ₩40,000 including a ₩10,000 returnable deposit. The cabins are just little boxes on stilts that sleep 4 people and are furnished with nothing but blankets and some pillows. Koreans really do love sleeping on floors. The rooms aren’t much but they certainly get the job done after a long day of drinking in the relentless heat. You can still catch the ferry until almost 8 pm so enjoy a second beach day on Sunday before making the exhausting journey back. After two days of sun and sand and booze you will feel painfully incongruous with the pristinely well-dressed people on the subways of Seoul. But you will also be too exhausted to care about any of that.
Other than the cabins, Hanaggae beach is home to a nice beach restaurant serving all kinds of seafood stews, baked clams and fish, and of course jiggaes and Korean BBQ. There are a couple of small corner stores selling beer, cigarettes, fireworks, ramen, and anything else you might need, as well as the world’s lamest zipline. None of us even bothered to try it. Well, Jon tried and failed to get on without paying the ₩13,000, but they weren’t having any of that.
One of the most interesting/horrible things about Hanaggae Beach is the absurd tidal changes. When the tide is high you can stroll down 10 or 15 feet and immediately find yourself in refreshing thigh-deep water. But when the tide is out, prepare to walk almost a mile to be submerged above your ankles. The vast mud flats squish softly between your toes in slimy clumps and it feels as though you may never find a place you can actually swim. By the second day we chose to do our swimming when the tide was high, and retire to the shade when the late afternoon heat was too scorching to bear.
In the evenings the beaches are littered with other foreigners starting bonfires and setting off fireworks, drinking late into the night and singing songs the way people around beach fires always seem to do. The stores close by 10:30 though, so be sure to stock up on beer and food before it’s too late.
After a night of drinking with strangers into the early hours of the morning, we woke just a few hours later as the sun warmed and brightened the small cabin. We sleepily stumbled hungover from our humble abode to find the remnants of the night before littered across the beach in front of our cabin. Pairs of sandals and backpacks that belonged to no one we knew lay unclaimed in the sandy graveyard. Picking up beer cans and trash in an attempt to hide the night’s recklessness there was nothing we could do about the 15 ft long tree we had foraged the night before. Believing we could definitely burn through the whole thing in our drunken state, we woke up to that familiar sense of wondering what the fuck we were thinking. Two feet of it lay charred across the ashy pit where the fire had burned for so many hours and the other 13 ft. stretched conspicuously across the sand in the middle of all of our stuff.
When two Korean men came by to do post-drunken foreigner beach clean up, they looked at the tree, and then at us, waiting for someone to claim responsibility for what was clearly a violation of some kind of rule, though none of us were sure exactly what. Instead we all shrugged our shoulders as if we had never seen the thing before and feigned as confused as they were. I’m not sure they were buying it. Five minutes later they came with a tractor and threw the partially charred trunk into the bucket to our collective chagrin. We couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous sight as they drove away with most of a tree hanging out over the top of the tractor.
By the end of the second day of soju and beer from dawn till dusk we were all more than ready to head back to the comforts of our own apartments, sun and booze draining you in a way no other combination of things ever possibly could. It seems every weekend here offers nothing but good times and easy memories, and we were happy to get one more sunny weekend in before the inevitable monsoons keep us trapped inside and wishing for one more day on the sand.
Photos courtesy of Marina Bijelic