In Search of Mother Nature's S-Line: Suncheon Bay

If you live in Korea and have never been to Suncheon Bay in Jeollado then you are missing out on one of the best scenic views this country has to offer. These protected wetlands are a must visit for any bird lover or nature photographer.

My article about this amazing place is out this month. Pick up a copy of the November 2010 issue of Seoul Magazine or download the free ebook version. Or you can just read about it here. And special thanks to Suncheon resident and photographer extraordinaire Simon Bond. His great tips and local know-how were essential in putting this article together. Thanks buddy!

[Read published PDF version here]

In Search of Mother Nature’s S-Line

Suncheon Bay boasts some of Korea’s best wetlands and stunning nature.

Written and photographed by Peter DeMarco

When I first got to Suncheon Bay and started to make my way down the boardwalk through the reeds, amongst what seemed like a million other tourists, all I could think was “Is this it?”

The entrance to the wetlands had the look and feel of a theme park: a trolley bus complete with an oversized kitschy flying bird hood ornament, people cueing up for a boat tour of the bay as if it were a roller coaster ride, an eco center with a two-story globe encased in glass, a tour-bus-packed parking lot, and of course the ubiquitous souvenir shops.

All that was missing were park employees walking around in mascot-like costumes of cute endangered birds. Even the park visitors were dressed more like they just came from church – high heels, skirts, suits, and parasols – than as if they were going hiking into one of Korea’s most coveted wetlands.

A Bay With Curves

Thankfully as I walked deeper into the marsh the crowds began to thin out. The sound of the wind in the reeds got louder. The muddy ocean bay’s salty smell was thicker. Crabs scrambled around in the grey mud below the wooden footbridge.

By the time I climbed up to Yongsan Observatory I began to realize why people, especially photographers, come here from all over the country. Once on high ground you can see lilly-pad-shaped clumps of green marsh, colorful red and orange plants growing on the tidal flats, all surrounded by layers of mountains.

Best of all was the view of the river snaking through the marsh into the tidal flats. Like the coveted female body type that Korean’s call the S-line (think Pamela Anderson: curvy from top to bottom), the river forms a perfect “S” shape.

Autumn Migration

It’s views like the one from Yongsan Observatory that draw over 2.8 million visitors per year. In 2006 it became the first Korean coastal wetland to become registered on the list of Ramsar Wetlands. The designation guarantees the wetlands conservation and sustainable utilization into the future.

Today the protected area is made up of 21.6km of mudflats and 5.4km of reed beds. It’s home to many species of migratory birds such as the Hooded Crane and other rare aquatic birds such as the Crested Ibis, White Heron, and the Black-faced Spoonbill.

In the fall, many migratory birds call the bay home. One such bird is the Eurasian Curlew which rests in the bay for about two weeks during its almost 5,000 km journey from Australia to Siberia.

As for me my day was coming to an end. Like a migrating bird it was time for me to move on. The sun had gone down and the observation deck was nearly empty. A crescent moon hung over the pinkish-blue sky. A fisherman motored his boat up the river to its dock. Waves of wind crashed against the sea of reeds below. It was as if I was standing in the middle of some idyllic postcard photo. All I could think was “This is it.”

Where to Eat

1. Blank, T: 061 727.0160, Jurye-dong

Serving up some of Suncheon’s best best western-style food, this hip sleek-looking restaurant and café is a favorite with the local foreign community. Try the honey chicken or grilled mushroom sandwich (11,000 Won) and then wash it dow with a berry mix or mango smoothie (5,300 Won). Still hungry? Order up a piece of homemade tiramisu to top it off (5,000 Won).

2. Palma Orirang, 061 721.5271, Jurye-dong

If duck is your dish then you have to try the “duck bulgogi” (30,000 Won) at this Korean favorite. Be sure to bring a few friends because it will be hard to finish off this rather large meal if it is just two of you.

3. San Antonio Latin Bistro, 061 724.2234, Jurye-dong

For a little slice of Mexico and Spain in a friendly atmosphere, look no further than San Antonio. Owner Jose Rosal was born and raised in Spain and then immigrated to Canada. He met his Korean wife while in college in Hawaii and has been living in Korea for 10 years now. The menu has many Mexican favorites like burritos and quesadillas (8,000-10,000 Won). However, if you are lucky enough to be there on a Friday then Jose will cook up a real Spanish paella (minimum 4 people, order in advance). Be sure to try the sangria too. Delicioso!

Where to Stay

1. Bali Motel, Chogog-dong, T: 061 741.2200

Suncheon has a number of cheaper lodging options that are mainly love motels. Walk out the train station and turn right. Walk down the street about 2 minutes and you will see the sign for this motel. Rooms are 30,000-60,000 per night.

2. Ivy Motel, Jurye-dong, T: 061 724.7878

This is another standard love motel but in the newer part of the city. Room rates run from 40,000-60,000 Won.

3. Nanganeupsong Folk Village, T: 061 749.3347 (English spoken)

Take a step back in time and sleep in a traditional Korean house for a night. This folk village boasts 29 traditional houses with a total of 79 rooms. A room for one costs 30,000 won and a double is 50,000 Won. Call in advance to make a reservation. Take bus 63 or 68 from main bus terminal.

Getting There

By bus: there are 21 buses a day from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal (Gangnam) to Suncheon. The travel time is about 5 hours.

By train: Four Saemaeul-class and 11 Mugunghwa-class trains leave Seoul’s Yongsan Station each day for Suncheon. Direct journeys take a little under five hours.

By plane: There are 8 daily flights to Yeosu Airport (a 40 minute drive to Suncheon)-travel time 50 minutes.

To Suncheon Bay: take bus No. 67 from the train or bus station directly to the bay – about 25 minutes. A taxi from the bus station to the bay will cost about 10,000 won.

Websites and Numbers of Interest

Suncheon City Website: www.suncheon.go.kr

Suncheon Station Tourist Information: 061 749.3107

Suncheon Bay Information: 061 749.3006, www.suncheonbay.go.kr

Other Points of Interest

Chances are that if you make a weekend of your trip to Suncheon then you will have more time to visit other sites. Fortunately the city offers many things to do and see.

Here are just a few:

1. Naganeupsoeng Folk Village

061 749.3347

www.nagan.or.kr

During the Joseon Dynasty in 1397, General Kim Bin-kil ordered his troops to build walls around this village to protect the residents from the Japanese invasion. Today you can see thatched roof houses similar to those from that era, along with a fortress walls. It is supposedly the only folk village in Korea that is still inhabited by ordinary people.

2. Songgwangsa Temple

061 755.0107

www.songgwangsa.org

This is one of the three most important temples in Korea. A must see for any Buddhism buff. Another popular but lesser-known temple is the area is Seonamsa.

3. Suncheon City Tour

www.suncheon.go.kr

New Samwoo Travel Agency: 061 742-5200

Price: 9,000 Won

This bus tour runs Monday to Friday and goes to all the major sites. There is also a more expensive “Eco Tour” that operates on the weekend. See website for more info.

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  1. Jose Rosal says:

    Dear Mr. DeMarco,

    First of all, I am truly thankful for your write up about Suncheon Bay and my restaurant. For the past year I have been trying to become not only a restaurant-bar but also a center for locals and travelers alike where they can find a plethora of activities, cultural events, social networks and cultural diversity not readely available in the are (specially for foreigners). My goals is to bring multy-culturalism and let my gracious Korean hosts know that the foreign community is as diverse and rich as well as willing to share thier collective experiences whth them. Through my business I try to let people know about the flavor of being Latin and the wonderful music, culture, food and warm spirti that we, the latinos, have and how it is very compatible with the culture and traditions of Korea. Once again, thank you for mentioning my establishment and if there is anything I can do for you in the future do not hezitate to let me know.