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Bijindo: The Korean island where time stops

By Peter DeMarco, for CNN
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 0107 GMT (0907 HKT)
The beaches on Bijindo, South Korea, are this beautiful and this empty most days of the year. The beaches on Bijindo, South Korea, are this beautiful and this empty most days of the year.
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Bye, humanity
Barbell-shaped island
Lonely road
Street signs
Beach camp
Miindo
Island life
Lineup
Chung Mu gimbap
Marine park
Turtle ship
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, most signs of human life disappear
  • Bijindo is one of 99 islands in Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park
  • There's only one road on the island and a lot of gorgeous, empty beaches

(CNN) -- From the air, the 99 islands of Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park look like patches of moss on a blue carpet.

Only 30 of them are inhabited, and a boat ride through the islands show glimpses of sleepy shoreline villages and bays dotted with fishing boats.

In the heart of the 545-square-kilometer park, off the main tourist route, is an island shaped like a barbell, called Bijindo.

Bijindo has a unique geographical feature -- a powdery white strip of sand tethering two ends of the island together.

Locals call the island Miindo, which means "beautiful island."

Different universe

On Bijindo, time seems to stop.

There's a single road on the island -- it connects the two villages of Waehang and Naehang -- but not a car in sight.

Older villagers rest beneath the shade of trees while dogs walk by without care. Small waves break against a beautiful empty beach.

The island has one road and no cars.
The island has one road and no cars.

Island life

Time on the island is simple.

Visitors relax on the beach. Hike a few trails. Try out some of the best fishing in the country.

Other than that, the most popular thing to do is watch the sun rise and set over the islands.

Read: 40 most beautiful places in South Korea

Lee Jeong Mi, of the Tongyeong Tourist Information Center, considers off the beaten track islands like Bijindo to be national treasures.

"It's the best way to experience real island life," she says. "The view from the islands is also different from other places in Korea.

"On most islands you look out over the sea at an open horizon. It's an almost lonely feeling. But here, the islands in the marine park are so close together that they almost seem like friends."

More travel spots

Travelers is often passe by Bijindo in favor of more popular islands in the marine park.

Somaemuldo and Deungdaeseom islands feature spiking rock formations and cliffs. Yeonhwado is known as the Buddhist island -- its temple is a pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists.

Another island worth seeing is Hansando, which houses a shrine devoted to one of Korea's most venerated naval commanders, Yi Sun Shin.

Read: 33 beautiful islands to visit in Korea

It was near here that in 1592 Admiral Yi and his troops won the decisive Battle of Hansando against attacking Japanese.

Yi used special ships akin to floating tanks, known as dragon boats or turtle ships, that were covered with spiked iron plates. Each had a large wooden dragon's head at the bow.

The marine park has 99 islands.
The marine park has 99 islands.

Island hopping

The ferry terminal to get to the Hallyeohaesang Park islands is located in Tongyeong, a city full of cultural sites, making it a good place to spend time in before or after the islands.

The Tongyeong International Music Festival takes place every March.

In August, the city celebrates the Great Battle of Hansan Festival with a street parade.

Fresh seafood is a huge draw.

Where to stay

Accommodations are humble, to say the least.

In Tongyeong, the Napole Motel is right on the harbor and next to the city's most famous seafood market.

Napoli Motel, Tongyong-si, Dongho-dong 160; +82 55 646 0202; from ₩70,000 ($62) peak season, ₩40,000 ($36) low season

On Bijindo, Bada Iyagi Pension sits right on the beach. Each room has a small terrace overlooking the water. Camping is allowed on the beach but campfires are not.

Bijindo Bada Iyagi, Bijin-ri, Wayhang; +82 55 642 6171; from ₩170,000 ($151) peak season, ₩80,000 ($71) low season

Chung Mu gimbap: rice rolled in laver and served with squid pickled in hot red pepper
Chung Mu gimbap: rice rolled in laver and served with squid pickled in hot red pepper

Where to eat

There aren't many places to eat on Bijindo. The island is just too small.

Most visitors bring their own food and cook where they're staying -- most rooms on the island have a small kitchen or barbecue pits.

One restaurant that stands out is Bijin Sikdang, which serves a good Haemul Dwenjang Jigae (seafood soybean stew) for ₩10,000 ($9).

Bijin Sikdang, Bijin-ri, Wayhang; +82 55 642 9704

Read: Food map: Eat your way around Korea

In Tongyong, which is known for seafood, the Jungang Live Fish Market is the epicenter for eating anything that comes from the ocean.

Vendors sell live fish in plastic tubs.

Point to one and the fishmonger will cut it up and send it to one of the restaurants in the market where you can have it prepared for you. It's like a raw fish festival every day.

The city of Tongyong lends its ancient name to a popular dish, Chung Mu gimbap. All around the market, small restaurants serve Chung Mu gimbap, rice rolled in laver (algae) and served with squid pickled in hot red pepper.

Oysters are another local favorite.

Daepungwan restaurant offers an unforgettable oyster medley.

The B Course (₩17,000/$15 per person) includes oyster bibimbap, guljun (fried oyster pancake and gul tangsuyuk) and deep-fried oysters in sweet and sour sauce.

Daepungwan restaurant, Tongyong-si, Dongho-dong 174-1; +82 55 644 4446

Getting there

Ferries to Bijindo leave from the Tongyong Ferry Terminal three times a day at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2:10 p.m. Round trip tickets cost ₩14,000 ($12.50) and take about 50 minutes.

CNN Travel's series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.

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