It’s our favourite and most visited island in Korea. We have been lucky enough to live in nearby Tongyeong for the past 3 years, with Bijindo practically on our doorstep. Its sandy beach is a rare thing in these parts, and the mountain has a great hiking trail and some spectacular views. The beach is a great place to camp and the local village has its own special kind of charm.
Between May and October, the island is like our second home. We’ve put together this in-depth guide so that you can enjoy it as much as we do and get the most out of your trip. Read on to find out about the best things to see and do, how to get there and where to stay.
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See & Do
As the ferry motors in past the rocky fringes, a golden strip of sand appears on your left, welcoming you to the island. It’s the perfect setting, a great looking beach and the water is like glass early in the morning. The pine forest rises behind, offering morning shade from the hot, summer sun.
During the busy summer season enterprising locals set up shop on the beach, renting out inflatable tubes (5,000₩/day) and the use of a parasol by the water’s edge (10,000₩/day). Outside of the summer season, the beach is mostly empty, apart from a few day-trippers posing for selfies now and again.
Aside from all the usual beach fun, you can go kayaking, too. Kayaks are available to rent from the Bada Iyagi Pension (바다이야기펜션) at the far end of the beach. It’ll cost you 20,000₩/hour. Head out from the beach and cruise around the small island. Fishing is also popular, but you probably need to bring your own gear as we’ve not seen anything for hire.
The hiking trail is one of the island’s main attractions. You can pretty much do it all year round. We’ve hiked it in February – the coldest month – and we were fine, heating up nicely on the way up. It’s about a 2-3 hour hike with a nice mix to it: a fairly tough ascent, followed by an easier forest trail along the ridge and a gentler descent. The trail forms a loop and you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views, one with particular wow factor as you near the top. The views change as the trail does, and it’s hard to think of another short hike with such variety.
The climb is steep and depending on the season it can get pretty sweaty, but after half an hour or so you’re near the top – take it at your own pace and you’ll be fine! You could of course hike in the opposite direction, but going down the steep path can be a bit punishing on the knees and you’d have to stop often as groups pass you on the way up.
The view over Bijindo from the hiking trail
Tips for the Trail
Many people travel to Bijindo just to hike. Hiking is hugely popular in Korea – expect to see groups of Koreans bedecked in the boldest of hiking gear. They, along with the many hiking club tags hanging from the trees, add a unique colour to the mountains.
Coming off the ferry, hikers head straight for the trail. If you plan to do the same, try to get ahead of the crowd and you’ll have a clear path. Turn left from the dock, then right after the toilet block. Twenty metres up the hill take the left fork and you’re on your way.
If you’re staying on the island and not planning to start the trail right off the ferry, time your hike to start just before the next ferry arrives and it’ll be a little quieter. If you do run into a crowd or two you’ll pretty much always be greeted warmly. Throw an An-nyeong-ha-se-yo (안녕하세요) their way and watch their faces light up!
Stopping for lunch or a snack at the top you’ll have the chance to experience typical Korean generosity. We ran into a group from Daegu who shared kimbap, soup and beer with us. Koreans tend to have sharing food in large quantities and it’s in their nature to give freely. There’s been a few times when we’ve received food and looked down embarrassingly at our non-sharing, pre-made bagels … but, they never seem to mind. Still, it’s not a bad idea to have something you can easily share.
Classic Korean hospitality
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If going for a stroll is more your thing there are a few areas to explore. The two main parts of the island are connected by an isthmus with the beach on one side and rocky coastline on the other; between is the village and pine forest.
Snaking alleyways wind through the village revealing island life: drying fish, garlic or sesame and grandmothers on their haunches sorting through baskets of vegetables. Small dogs scamper past white-washed walls trimmed with bold colours and locals go about their daily lives. All the while the sound and smell of the sea fills the air as the slow pace of life ambles on.
At the village end, a path winds upward. Head past the vegetable gardens, houses and pensions and be rewarded with one of the best views on the island.
Sunrise & Sunset
Bijindo got lucky in the geographical stakes. With the island’s two main chunks facing off north and south, the two sides of the isthmus look east and west. Chill out on the beach with sundowners and an amazing sunset, and rise from bed, shake off the impulse to go back to sleep and shuffle over to the rocky east side to watch the morning sun break over the surrounding islands.
If you’re camping or staying in one of the island’s pensions, barbecuing is a great option. We always take a small fold away barbecue, a coolbox and as much food as we could carry. You can pick up whatever you need at Emart in Tongyeong and disposable barbecues are cheap if you don’t have one. We take a couple of travel burners and some gas so we can whip something up in the pot too. If you’re staying at a pension, they all have barbecues which they’ll prepare for a small fee, usually 10,000₩.
If you’d rather not do it yourself, there’s a growing number of places to eat on the island. Nothing too fancy, mostly simple traditional Korean food and the facilities are basic, but the food is tasty and not too expensive.
If you want some raw fish, there’s an open air place at the end of the causeway, facing the beach. Sheltered by orange tarp it has the feel of a street food stall, with plastic tables and chairs. There’s a great view out to sea and the food is pretty good. Meals cost 10-15,000₩ per person or you can get something to share from 30,000₩. Everything will come with plenty of side dishes, and beer, soju and makgeolli are all available.
There’s a newer place next door selling the same kind of stuff at similar prices, but it’s inside a fairly unremarkable building, and we always prefer to eat with the view, the breeze and the smell of the sea air.
Beachfront sashimi shack
On the rocky side, just behind and along from the orange tarp restaurant is a small noodle place. It has a few tables outside and a few more upstairs. When we were last there they sold only two dishes, both delicious: kong-guk-su (콩국수), a cold bean noodle soup which, along with an ice cold beer, was perfect for a hot day, and so-go-gi-guk-bap (소고기국밥), beef and rice soup, simple and delicious! At 7-8,000₩ the prices were pretty decent.
There are some more places dotted around selling a variety of soups and stews, either individual or bigger pots for sharing.
There are a few small stores where you can buy packet noodles, snacks and odds and ends like gas for your stove. Two of our favourites are the ‘mom and pop’ place behind the beach, next to the pine forest and the ‘friendly old lady’ place just past the toilets on the rocky side. You can also get kimchi-jji-gae (김치찌개) at mom and pop’s and the friendly old lady does a line in surprisingly good dried fish that goes by the name of a-gui-po (아귀포).
Recent additions to the island are a couple of fried chicken joints along the beachfront. You can sit in or get your chicken delivered, even to your tent on the beach. Prices are a little steep at around 20,000₩ for a box, but if you’ve got the hunger…
You can buy beer, soju and makgeolli in most of the eating places on Bijindo and in the few small shops mentioned. All these places sell water, soft drinks and ice cream too.
The ‘friendly old lady’ offers the best deal on beer at 2,500₩ for a can. Alcohol, along with everything else is a little more expensive than on the mainland. If you’ve got a taste for soju or makgeolli, they offer the best value at around 3-4,000₩ per bottle. Alternatively, bring your drink of choice with you on the ferry, it just depends on how much you’re willing to carry. We always bring a bottle or three of wine!
How about getting your coffee fix? Just behind the ‘mom and pop’ place is the Sol Beach Pension. They have a little cafe area, a garden and do takeaway hot americanos for 4,000₩ and iced ones for 5,000₩. A few other pensions around will do the same.
We often just bring a box of the single serve drip sachets that are common these days and boil up some water, otherwise it can get a little too pricey, especially for a coffee junkie like me … but still, it’s nice to take away the hassle sometimes.
Why do anything else?
We always camp on the beach. We love it! Once you’re there and set up you can kick back, relax and come and go as you like. If you’re worried about leaving your stuff, don’t be – personal theft in Korea is pretty much unheard of. On Bijindo and elsewhere, we’ve left our tent full of expensive gear all day. You really don’t have to bother about it.
Camping with friends and our trusty tarp
Camping is free and there are toilets and showers by the beach, available during official beach season in July and August. A (gender segregated, communal) lukewarm shower will set you back 2,000₩. We’ve never used them although friends have – we’re happy just to dump ourselves in the sea and wash the salt off back on the mainland.
Outside of summer, the only toilets open are the ones behind the orange tarp fish restaurant on the rocky side, and the block near the ferry dock. All the public toilets are squat style, apart from the ones by the ferry. Have some wet wipes/toilet paper handy as it often runs out.
During the night the toilets are closed, but there’s hardly anyone around and it’s easy to find a handy spot … too easy for some – Kim crawled out the tent at 4.00am one morning to find a gaggle of old women digging up the beach for crabs, one of whom was squatting in full view taking care of other business …
Make sure to clean up all your rubbish and dump your bin bags at the garbage block – the big concrete building at the far end of the rocky side.
You aren’t allowed to have a campfire on the beach, but it’s no problem to cook on a stove or BBQ.
Where to Camp
When setting up, find yourself a spot against the wall at the back of the beach. If you camp in front of the pine trees you’ll get some welcome shade till around ten in the morning and on windy days when it blows from the east, it’ll feel like no more than a breeze.
The beach is the only place you can camp. The pine forest is off limits, marked clearly by signs.
Don’t Have Camping Gear?
If you’re only in Korea for a short trip and don’t have camping gear, you can pick up a cheap tent in Emart for around 30,000₩, plus anything and everything else you might need. It’s still significantly cheaper than staying in a pension for couples or solo travellers and you can use it around the country. There are Emarts all over Korea, including across the road from Tongyeong Bus Terminal.
Pensions & Minbaks
If getting sand in and on everything doesn’t float your boat, pensions (펜션) and minbaks (민박) are in plentiful supply. Pensions tend to cost a bit more than minbaks and minbaks are usually more basic.
For both, you usually pay a price for the room which is intended for 4-8 people. They both use mostly floor bedding but some of the more modern pensions will have beds in rooms for two. Expect to pay anywhere from 80,000-200,000₩, depending on room size, day of the week or season. Here are some of the pensions available:
Sol Beach Pension
Bada Iyagi Pension
The Sea Pension
You can check out room rates and availability on their sites and it’s possible to book online with some. Just be aware that in most cases you are required to pay a deposit by bank transfer and you need a Korean bank account for this.
It is possible to get somewhere without booking. Friends of ours made a last minute decision to stay over one night in June and got a room for 70,000₩, but during the beach season in July and August it might be a little more difficult to just turn up and get something.
Getting to the Ferry Terminal
Firstly, get yourself to Tongyeong on the south coast. You can get direct buses from Seoul (Nambu Station), Busan (Sasang Station) and many other cities.
All ferries leave from the Tongyeong Ferry Terminal. You can take a local bus or taxi from the Intercity Bus Terminal. A taxi should be around 7-8,000₩ so if there are three or four of you, it’s not much more than the bus. The bus will only cost 1,300₩ so if you have time and you’re on a tight budget then that’s the way to go. Look for one of the many buses that stop at Seo-ho Market (서호시장), a couple of streets behind the ferry terminal. Walk through or around the market to get to the terminal. All the 400’s stop on Tongyeong Hae-an-ro (통영해안로), the street that runs past the terminal, but there are fewer of them.
The ferry schedule changes throughout the year. There are at least three ferries a day, however there are more ferries at the weekend and in summer.
We’ve added the current ferry times below, but it’s always a good idea to call the travel helpline on 1330 to double check. It’s 16,800₩ return and the journey takes about 40 minutes. The ferry may stop at the village on the other side of the island first, make sure you stay on board until you see the beach.
It’s a good idea to arrive at the ferry terminal 45 min – 1 hour before. At busy times ferries sell out quickly and we’ve had to wait around for the next one before. When you buy your ticket you’ll need to buy the return ticket too, so be prepared and know when you want to come back.
You’ll also be asked for a phone number – if the ferry times change due to the weather you’ll get a message. And don’t forget your passport or ID card – you can’t get on without it.
*By the way … if you miss your return ferry or decide to stay longer, you can use the ticket for a later ferry that day or the next, as long as that ferry isn’t already full.