Ulleongdo and Dokdo

38th Parallel Divers Ulleongdo

This past weekend we went to the “Mysterious Island Ulleongdo” and Dokdo to take in the beautiful sights of a less populated Korea.  This has to be one of the most beautiful places in Korea…hands down.  Ulleongdo is an amazing place that is barely touched by tourism and people.  It has enough infrastructure to make it an enjoyable trip but not too much as to take away from the raw natural beauty of the island and surrounding clear fish-filled waters.  Most of our posts are purely revolving around diving.  It would be an injustice to only talk about the diving on the amazing island so please bear with me while I talk about some of the other things that this island has to offer…plus these are good negotiation points for those family members who are non-divers…just saying.

The Trip

Ulleongdo Tourist MapIt is no small feat getting to Ulleongdo and Dokdo.  Our Trip looked something like this:

Trip To (starts Thursday night):

  1. Drive – Thursday night drive to the east coast immediately after work, 1800 – 2130 (3.5 hours)
  2. Sleep in a hotel Thursday night
  3. Friday morning drive to port and park car, 0800
  4. Ferry – Mukho Port (Donghae) to Sadong Harbor (Ulleongdo), 0900 – 1200 (3 hours)

On a separate day (total trip takes roughly 4.5 hours with load/unload times etc):

  1. Ulleongdo to Dokdo, 1.5 hours
  2. Dokdo to Ulleongdo, 1.5 hours

Return Trip (Monday late night):

  1. Ferry – Sadong Harbor (Ulleongdo) to Mukho Port (Donghae), 1800-2100
  2. Drive – Donghae to Home, 2130 – 0100 (3.5 hours)

The Food

Tiger Cow 칡소

Ulleongdo is know for seafood especially squid, what most foreigners don’t know is that there are 3 other amazing foods to eat on the island… 1. tiger beef (칡소).  The tiger beef is so delicious thanks to some great marbling that give wonderful juicy flavors throughout.  The only downside to this beef is that it isn’t cheap…for a portion of beef slightly smaller than what one could get on the mainland we had to fork over approximately 50,000 krw each.  Definitely not a meal for those who might be budget minded.  

The other hand-down amazing MUST EAT dish are the special shrimp that are only found in this region.  I have eaten tons of shrimp and prawn in my lifetime and nothing (yes I mean absolutely without a doubt NOTHING) comes close to the amazing taste of these shrimp.  So much so that I recommend that everyone try them despite their high price.  Before I tell you the cost let me explain what these shrimp are.  The first shrimp are called chicken shrimp and they have a sharp pointy shell that takes some care when pealing apart.  The second shrimp is called flower shrimp and has white stripes that go the flower shrimplength of the shrimp.  Many westerners don’t eat the best part chicken shrimpof the shrimp, the stuff from the head area…do not miss this delicious part.  Mainly because it is wonderful but also because the store owner will yell at you and wonder why on earth you left this behind.  The shrimp is cooked in a very simple manner…it is boiled in plain water, no seasoning required.  Now for the bad news.  For only 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of shrimp the cost is about 80,000 krw.  

The Diving

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 22.56.08We dove with a great dive shop that truly catered to us and were excellent hosts.  The shop was Ulleong Dive Resort and they spoke enough English to get us everything that we needed to log 2 beautiful dives.  The shop has a large boat equipped with a sun shade roof, lots of room, plenty of power to speed you out around the island and even a small bathroom.  The dive shop met some of our divers at the port to pickup their gear and take it to the diveshop.  They kindly let us store our gear at the shop until our dive day.  They also let us pick the time to dive so we didn’t have to rush or operate on anyone else’s schedule.  This was another great point of diving with Ulleong Dive Resort.

Since we dropped off our bags they noticed our eye-catching emblem on our dive bags and looked up our website.  When we arrived at the shop to dive they told us they watched all of our videos and were amazed to see how much we have dove in South Korea.  They were excited to dive with us!  Ulleong Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 22.59.03dive resort did Ulleong Fishnot disappoint and for our first dive they dropped us off near the
north eastern tip of Ulleong-do .  This dive site started at 20 meters and sloped off to about 40m and then sharply dropped off into a very deep shelf.  The water was cloudy to about 17 meters and then cleared up greatly around 30 meters.  We saw small schools of fish which included many different varieties.  The water temperature was a beautiful 16C with an average visibility of about 15 -20 meters…extremely ice compared to our normal east coast diving.

Ulleong FishScreen Shot 2015-07-08 at 23.06.31The second dive site was Juk island (Juk-do).  This was basically a beautiful long safety stop that allowed us to see parrot, trigger and many other fish to include a very odd translucent fish.  At first we all thought it was a jell fish but one of us accidentally touched one to discover it was hard like a fish not a jelly.  Looking closely we could see clear bones, a moving mouth and internal working organs…definitely one of the strangest creatures I have ever seen.  After a beautiful 45 minute warm (relatively) dive in clear waters we ascended from our 11m – 5m shallow dive…all bearing giant smiles.  We got back on the boat and snapped some pictures with our new friends taking the opportunity to get some pics with our new banner to represent our club.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 23.06.59Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 22.58.09Once back on shore we cleaned our gear and hung it to dry.  We walked around the area looking at beach entry sites for training and night diving…yes there is plenty of night diving here!  The waters around the dive shop have plenty of shallow areas to conduct shallow training dives as well as deep dives only a short swim away.  Simply put this place was amazing…and we will definitely be arranging a group trip back.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 23.01.24

Dive Sites:

  • #1: Gwaneumdo(island) – pyeong bawi(flat rock)
  • #2: Jukdo (island)

Costs:

  • Basic Room at dive shop 50,000 krw per room per night (floor sleeping)
  • Dive/Boat fees: *90,000 krw per person per trip (2 dives)
  • Air only (no nitrox)

*price can be more depending on number of person on boat trip.  Usually there is a minimum amount due to fuel costs.

Dokdo

Many westerners don’t know about Dokdo.  Dokdo (island) is contested by the Japanese for ownership.  However it is currently occupied by Korea’s police and there is also a couple that lives on the island.  It was no small feat the we actually were able to set foot on the island.  There is no proper dock for the ferry to offload/load passengers.  The police and crew assist passengers getting on and off the ferry by holding a small ramp that rocks wildly in the waves.  The weather held out long enough for us to touch down on Dokdo however we weren’t allowed to climb the top due to time constraints.  The waves were knocking the ferry around and we were called back to the boat early.  Thankfully we were able to take a few snap shots (even with our banner) to make this amazing event.  Especially since we traveled 1 hour and 50 minutes from Ulleongdo to get there.  The water were amazingly clean and clear.  People were scurrying about to snap photos of their pilgrimage.  After 15 minutes or so we were getting back o the boat and headed back to Ulleongdo.

So much to do

There is so much to do for non-divers that everyone had fun even on dive days.  The minimum amount of time needed to log some dives and sightsee is a 4 day weekend.  First and last days being half travel days, 1/2 day of diving, and 1 1/2day dedicated non-diving (to include Dokdo)…this is enough to scratch the surface.  When we go back we will be focusing on diving and logging many dives in the area.

The only downside…

The only and yes only downside to Ulleongdo is that if you do not like Korean side-dishes or seafood you need to bring your own food supply.  Everything has seafood in it here, which is good but it is nice to have some western friendly food…for us we like at a minimum to have a western breakfast.  We really like eggs sandwiches.  I will say one caveat…the hotel we did stay at had a great coffee/breakfast shop and the lady did let us know that if we told her in advance she would have made us egg and toast for breakfast (for a fee of course).  The shop did serve fruit and nut yoghurt which was great but didn’t quite fill us up for all the walking, hiking and diving we did.  We will definitely take the lady up on her offer for western breakfast.

Simply put if you need non-seafood or western meals we suggest you bring some brats/hotdogs or peanut butter and jelly.

More information…

However if you are interested in what else we did besides diving (along with pricing information) please check out the BackpackBees Blog (post pending).

There’s Diving, Tec Diving …. In Korea??

Wreck Dive in Korea

This post is purely from my personal perspective. I was recently asked by a good friend of mine (PADI Course Director, Lee Butler) to provide some anecdotes, quotes, challenges or stories about Tec diving in my area…Korea. Other divers were asked as well about their experiences but I think I was the first to answer. So here is what my reply will be:

Why Tec Dive, Let Alone Dive in Korea
Diving in Korea demands a tough mindset and strong desire to get in the water. The conditions are less than ideal for any type of diving let alone technical diving. The waters are cold (averaging 4-7C at technical depths), the visibility is poor (5m on a good day) and there is little to see in the way of coral, sea life and wrecks. With thick hoods, drysuits, 5mm+ gloves dexterity is a real challenge. So why dive in Korea? Easy, it is a phenomenal place to master skills needed on those vacations where it is 27C, 30m viz and abundant fish, coral and sights. I have NEVER been disappointed on a dive trip because ALL the conditions were ALWAYS better. Still not convinced? It is the only place on earth you can dive (safely) so close to North Korea, we regularly dive just north of the 38th Parallel, our dive club [enter plug here: 38thParallelDivers YouTube/Facebook and 38thParallelDivers.com] even provides certificates of achievement for those who dive above the 38th Parallel. Even night dives require special coordination as the local military must be notified that divers are in the water (especially when diving on the northern part of the east coast).

Some “Exciting” Moments During Dives
As far as me personally…I believe I have a “black-cloud” following me around. On just about all of my dive trips something “exciting” happens. My tank handwheel will twist off (can’t do a shutdown drill without that piece), my scrubber basket latch will fail, my zipper will leak and surprise me by filling my drysuit with 4C water, inflator/deflator has a free-flow, OH and let’s not forget the most memorable which happened during some training with Lee Butler at Savedra Dive Center (doing Tec sidemount). We were almost done with one of our instructional dives and it was time to practice the valve shutdown drills when all of a sudden I hear a loud POP followed by a woooooosh. My long hose has popped off my regulator and was dumping precious air into the ocean all around me, since it was on the long hose it was wildly flying about in the water. I looked over and Lee’s (and my dive buddy’s) eyes were HUGE. Needless to say I passed the valve shutdown “drill” by successfully shutting the tank down before it lost too much air. For me this was just another “exciting” dive.

Another “exciting time” happened during my Tec 40 course. Apparently there were a lot of jellyfish in the area (Mactan, Cebu) and no one told me about it. For the most part they didn’t hurt too bad and having a full wetsuit really helped. While doing an “S” drill and practicing handing off the long hose I found one of those jellies. After correctly demonstrating the drill I was returning my primary reg back into my mouth and apparently I had picked up a little friend, the jelly’s tentacles went right into my mouth and when I bit down on the mouth piece I felt that lovely stinging sensation all around my mouth, lips and face…the worse part was that this was the “S” drill that started the dive…only 85 more minutes to go I thought as I cursed through my reg.

Still this was not enough for the jellies…they demanded more blood from this diver for being in their space. The next day while deploying a DSMB I managed to snag a jelly in the line. This wouldn’t normally be any problem in Korea because we are covered from head to toe and hands. Being that this was nice warm water I didn’t have any gloves on. As I reeled up the line I looked over at my two instructors and they both just smirked with shit eating grins…needless to say I had to deal with it while the instructors secretly giggled.

The Greatest Moment in Diving Explained
For me the payoff with tec diving is simple. I am a more competent diver with better skills and better ability to self recover from emergencies. The technical courses and certifications offer a safe and semi-controlled environment to push limits and expand my personal diving knowledge. The courses push divers to read, understand and even research into best practices. Tec diving is my salvation from everyday life. I work with people and computers and it is nice to get away from it all 2 hours at a time. Tec diving allows me to focus on something I enjoy and it offers a quiet, peaceful seriousness that I simply can’t find anywhere else. This is the best part about diving in Korea; few like to dive in the cold, dark waters but I love the entire experience. The week prior to I prepare, test and service equipment. The night before I pack it all in my SUV, ready to leave straight from work on a Friday. Friday night I have a 3.5 hour drive that most people hate but I love cruising along the Korean expressways late at night with the music cranked and windows down. Saturday arrives and I am up at 530 am (normally a nuclear explosion would wake me this early but it a DIVING day) and I run downstairs from the hotel that I always stay at to see the water…then comes the smile, “I am diving today, today is going to be great”… doesn’t even matter if the water is brown and the waves are high…”I am diving today, today is going to be great”. But the best part hasn’t even come yet. The moments that take me from my seat over to the area where I complete a giant stride into the water begin to build the excitement and here it comes…the descent. This is the absolute GREATEST experience ever! Letting the air out of your BCD begins all the tasks that you were trained to do, “S” drills, bubble checks, trim, streamline now fill the counter lungs, breathe…OK…check PO2, look for buddy, check buddy, dive light on…camera on….counter lungs, PO2…all of this while slowly falling through various shades on blue, green, brown and finally somewhere around 40M there is clear, COLD water. Nothing beats watching the bottom of the ocean come up at you on a deep technical dive. THAT is my favorite part of every single dive! Just writing this down I can’t wait for this weekend to hop in the water and make the descent.

The other reason that I like to dive now is I like to share the skills that I have learned along the way with others. I am always eager to dive with any diver, new, experienced or otherwise…I hope to see you on a dive trip soon.

Why Do YOU, Like to Dive?