Muuido (“do” means “island”) may be my favorite place in Korea. About an hour and a half outside of Seoul, it is easily accessible by public transportation. Well, it requires taking the train to a bus to a ferry, but the trip generally runs smoothly, takes about two hours from central Seoul, and costs only about 10,000 won all together. For such a small island, it has a wide range of beautiful beaches, hikes, and neighborhoods, as well as friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere.
How to get there:
Take the metro to Incheon Airport (around 5,000 won depending where you’re coming from), cross the street into the next building and go up to the third floor. Go outside to Bus Gate 7. Catch the #222 bus and take it to the last stop – the ferry (which stops running around 8pm). The bus can take up to 30 minutes to come. Sometimes it will go by but not stop, not sure why. Don’t chase it – it’s just not meant to be. After the 25 minute bus ride, walk in to the only building you see there and pay 3,000 won for a ticket. You’ll hand it right over to the man at the ferry. You don’t need it to get back – they’ll just let you on from Muuido. The ferry ride is so short that by the time it has turned around you’re basically there. It’s five to ten minutes. Once you arrive, you will be quite close to Silmido. Now, you want to put your bags down.
Where to stay:
Choose a side. There are two beaches:
This is the big touristy main attraction. You can take a bus that picks up directly at the ferry and stops at the beach entrance, which takes around 20 minutes. Just say “Hanagae Beach?” to the drivers when they pull in to make sure it’s the right one. There is a 2,000 won entry fee. The beach has a zip line, horses to ride, tubes and umbrellas for rent, and is surrounded by seafood restaurants, old K-drama sets, and a convenience store. The coolest place to stay around here is in one of the famous beach huts. You can’t reserve these ahead of time, so try to show up early. When we stayed there, we arrived at the beaches around 1pm and were able to get one, but you never know. We heard it was a slow weekend.
Once you’ve paid the entry fee, as you walk in toward the beach, you will see an information office to your right – this is where you ask to reserve a hut. The current price is 50,000 won per night. These are small freestanding rooms on stilts, about three sleeping mats wide, directly on the beach. They do have electricity, blankets, and pillows, and while they are not extremely luxurious, there is nothing like waking up and stepping right on to the sand. Just be warned that they are not sound proof at all, so if people are partying nearby, you may not get much sleep. If the huts are not available, there are tents and guesthouses for rent scattered around.
If you’d like to stay on the quieter side of things, you can take about a 25 minute walk from the ferry over to Silmi beach. You’ll need a tent to stay here, but it’ll only cost you 10,000 won for two days and one night, in addition to the 2,000 won admission fee. This beach is a gem, and seemingly under the radar. You’ll be at the foot of the sand bridge, which you can walk across during low tide to the gorgeous and peaceful Silmido.
There are many guesthouses between Silmi and Hanagae beach. You can likely find one that is open if you walk around, but it is a good idea to call ahead as they are getting booked up more and more.
Please consider the Galley, which is about a ten minute walk from Silmi beach, and maybe a five minute walk from the ferry. It is owned by a Korean woman and her South African husband. We discovered it when we stopped in for coffee while staying somewhere less hospitable nearby. The owners have been extremely welcoming to my friends and I on multiple trips. The vibes are great – Bob Marley is playing, there is a bohemian “barbeque zone” under tucked behind the restaurant, and there is a “jungle garden” where I have washed the mud off of my feet after attempting to walk out during low tide. I haven’t actually stayed there, but the rooms look elegant and clean with sea views, cable TV, and heating/AC. If you can’t read the Korean website, you can look in to booking one here.
If you want to find it, walk from the ferry for about five minutes, passing a 24 hour CU on your right. Then, in the next minute or so, keep an eye out for a small restaurant with a porch and a black board in the window listing food items. The guesthouse is back from the street. Even if you don’t stay here, you should definitely come for the delicious fried chicken, beer, and the stories and tips you will hear from David and Eun Mee.
The west cost of Korea, on the Yellow Sea, is known for some of the largest tidal differences in the world. When we first arrived on Muuido, we were disappointed to see mudflats, vast, squishy fields of mud, where we hoped to see water. However, we grew to love them as one of the many magical things that make this place so special. You’ll find steaming cups of snails for sale as soon as you get off of the ferry, as well as a restaurant scene of almost exclusively seafood, much of it shellfish. This is all harvested easily off the mudflats when the tide is out. During low tide, it would take you thirty minutes and a good pair of waders to get out to the water, and even then it would be very shallow. Plan to get very muddy. When the tide starts to come in, it will come in at a walking pace. It feels almost supernatural the way it creeps in.
Each day high tide is about three hours earlier. If high tide is at noon and midnight on your first day, and then 9am and 9pm the next day, then you will be swimming in the dark and waking up early to catch the water before it is too far gone, about two hours after high tide. Tidal charts seem hard to come by, so you sort of have to go with the flow when you get there. If it is important to you to go swimming (like it is to me), make a point of figuring out high and low tide of the day you arrive as soon as possible, and then subtract three hours to figure out the next day’s timing.
What To Do
This teeny tiny island is a two-minute walk across a sandbar during low tide. Just be sure to get back before the tide comes in – once we ended up having to hop around to patches of higher ground to get to the other side. Ten minutes later and we would have had to swim. Walk down the beach a bit and you’ll find the entrance to a trail, marked with a sign about a film that was shot there:
It is a very short and easy twenty minute hike through the woods before you come out on to a stunning, rocky beach. I have never seen more than one or two other people on Silmido, so it is a very peaceful place to relax. Be careful about swimming – there are big rocks everywhere, including hidden in the water, and they’re covered with sharp barnacles and shells.
Unfortunately, we were told that Silmido has been sold to a private company and will likely be a resort in the next five years (by 2020). That will be an incredible departure from this peaceful, golden place. Go see it while you can!
Because of the tides, sometimes you’ll spend most of your day in Muuido without water to swim in. Hiking is a good way to spend at least half of a day. I have walked from Silmido to Hanagae and back many times. It takes about an hour and a half to walk directly from one to the other along the streets, or you can add a few hours or so, depending on your skills, and take a hike up and over Horyonggogsan and Guksabong Peak on your way.
It’s very simple. From the ferry, or from the main street that leads directly from the ferry, you can basically just walk straight if you are skipping the hike. You’ll go past many farms and gardens, a few convenience stores, hostels and coffee shops, but it is mostly a nice quiet walk.
If you do choose to do the hike, it’ll be worth it for the views (obviously, that’s what people always say about mountain hikes). On a scale of 1-10, 1 being totally flat easy peasey, I’d give it a difficulty level of 4.5. It gets tough, but it’s relatively short and not too steep. It’s about 6km, or 3.7mi.
You won’t find bars, necessarily, but there is a norebang (Karaoke place) near Silmi beach. Many restaurants serve beer as well of course, although they may not stay open too late. Otherwise, there will be people drinking on Hanagae beach all day and and all night long for the most part. If you are staying on Hanagae, make sure you get to the one convenience store early, as it closes around 8. If you’re staying closer to Silmi and the ferry, you can always go to the 24 CU.
Besides the previously mentioned fried chicken at the Galley, which is highly recommended, you can find many seafood restaurants. I will not lie – I have not eaten at any of them. The few I have looked at seemed a bit pricey. When I’ve gone, we’ve all pitched in to bring food – pb&j, fruit, etc. You can supplement from convenience stores – the ones I am aware of are the 24hr CU near the ferry, and then one on each beach. So, this is not a culinary getaway, but you certainly wont starve. My convenience store tip is to buy a package of rice and a package of seaweed and make a poor man’s kimbap. Always does the trick.
Muuido is an easy get away that I highly recommend. I just may have to go back in winter.
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Written by Evy Bround