• The Essential Tongyeong Guide

All night long the ships cry,
waking me,
calling me to the sea

  – Baek Seok

Essential Tongyeong Guide

Oh, Tongyeong!
When we landed teaching jobs in this small city on Korea’s south coast, little did we know how much we would come to love it. Nestled among sharp-edged forested hills, its clustered buildings climbing the slopes, the city reminded us of New Zealand’s Wellington at first. The locals know it as the ‘Napoli of Asia’, as many harbourside hotels, cafes and shops will attest. It is famed among Korea for its seafood, particularly oysters, and is a top holiday destination for Koreans. As the gateway to the Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park it is busy year round with visitors to its many islands. It is also a place of great historical importance in the country’s long and fraught relationship with its neighbour Japan. The surrounding hills and mountains, chief of which is Mireuksan, provide a network of hiking trails and stunning viewpoints from which to enjoy the area. Outside the city, the roads wind along some fantastic coastline, through sleepy fishing villages and past striking sea views.

During the three years we lived there, our friends and family visited Korea and travelled around the country a fair bit. When pushed to name a favourite place, they always said, “It has to be Tongyeong!” Our local knowledge allowed them to get the best out of the city, and we hope it will do the same for you.

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SEE AND DO

Tongyeong is a small but spread out city. Its hilly geography separates it into different districts. Some of the main attractions are on the island of Mireukdo, connected across a narrow channel by two bridges and one undersea tunnel. Some careful planning can help you get the most from your visit, so let’s take a look at some of the best things to see and do around the city.

Mireuksan 미륵산
(Mount Mireuk)

In a city of hills, one rises above all the others. At 461 metres, this is Mireuksan. From the top, you have an unrivalled view of the city and surrounding islands on a clear day. There’s a cable car that climbs most of the way and a network of hiking trails that snake up, down and around the mountain. Two temples sit on its slopes and both can be reached by forest path or road. We recommend taking the cable car up and hiking back down, stopping in at the temples.

If you decide you want to skip the cable car and do a proper hike, here’s the relive from our 2018 New Year’s Day sunrise hike to give you a little taster.

Looking down over Tongyeong from Mireuksan

Looking over Tongyeong from the top of Mireuksan

The Cable Car

At 1,975 metres long, the Hallyeosudo Cable Car is the longest tourist ropeway in Korea. It has 47 cars and takes around 9 minutes to get to the summit station. It’s a great experience. As you climb, the views slowly reveal themselves, getting better and better. By the time you reach the top,  the whole of Tongyeong is spread out before you.

The cable car runs from 9:30 – 5:30 in Winter, 9:30 – 7:00 in Summer and 9:30 – 6:00 in Spring/Autumn. It costs 6,500₩ for a single or 10,000₩ for a return.

To get there by bus, take the 141 or 181. Both run from the Intercity Bus Terminal, go through town and drop off right outside. For more info, go to Getting Around.

Heading To The Summit

At the cable car station there are toilets and a cafe area where snacks can be bought: coffee, ice cream, corn or some questionable battered hot doggy kind of thing. Throw a coin into the pretend waterfall for some good luck.

From here a wooden staircase heads up through the trees towards the summit. It’s a really pleasant place, with flowers, stone sculptures and sunlight breaking through the trees. One day we even saw monks from 미래사 (Mi-rae Temple), their rhythmic chanting filling the air. The path continues past several viewpoints, looking out to the famous sites below of the Great Battle of Hansan.

The Admiral

One of Korea’s most famous sons, Admiral Yi Sun-shin, delivered a great victory over the Japanese in 1592. His innovative ‘Turtle Ship’ design and superior tactical mind allowed Korea to assert naval dominance and was crucial in halting Japan’s expansion. His statue can be seen around Tongyeong and all over Korea. You can visit the Turtle Ship replicas berthed in Gangguan Harbour. Every year in August, during the Great Battle of Hansan Festival, an entertaining and atmospheric reenactment takes place in the city’s waters.

The Summit of Mireuksan

After 15 – 20 minutes the path reaches the top and it’s time to enjoy the 360° views, taking in Tongyeong, Geoje and the islands of the national park. It’s not half bad on an average day, but if you time it right and get lucky with the weather, you’ll be rewarded with some genuinely spectacular views. As with all these things, earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon is best.

Tongyeong: The view out from Mireuksan on a clear autumn dayJust part of the 360 degree view from the summit of Mireuksan

Down to Mirae Temple (미래사)

From the summit we liked to hike down through the trees to Mi-rae-sa (미래사). A short distance from the top you come to a shaded wooden platform with benches lining the rock face. If you head down the stairs to the right and follow the forest trail, Miraesa will appear out of the woods after 30 minutes or so. The temple grounds are peaceful, the buildings enclose a grassy courtyard and in Spring, flowers bloom everywhere. Look for the pagoda on your left to admire the great brass bell, hanging drum and excellent artwork. On leaving the temple, walk a bit further down the path to the small pond and carved stone bridge. It’s a really nice spot where you can see fish swimming and a couple of terrapins chillin’ on a rock.

*There’s also a path further down the steps, closer to the cable car station. The two paths meet on the way down.

Tongyeong: Appearing from the forest, the temple grounds of Miraesa on the slopes of MireuksanThe peaceful grounds of Miraesa

On to Yonghwa Temple (용화사)

From here, you should head back up the path a short while till you see the sign for 용화사 (Yong-hwa-sa). Follow the path down and around the mountain for about 2 km. It’s mostly a forest path but you’ll pass over a gravel road and nearby the Skyline Luge. Just follow the signs.

Yonghwasa is a much larger complex than Miraesa, near the foot of Mireuksan. It also has one of the largest temple buildings you’re likely to see, complete with fantastic designs and paintwork. Take a look inside the big hall on the top floor to see some really interesting artwork: thick wooden beams are intertwined with multicoloured dragons, made even more atmospheric by the soft lighting.

Colourful beams and cool wood carvings at Yonghwasa in Tongyeong

Beautiful paintwork and carvings at Yonghwasa

Jeon Hyeok Lim Art Gallery (전혁림미술관)

When you leave the temple it’s just a short walk to the road where you can catch the bus, or carry on a little bit further to the gallery of one of Tongyeong’s most famous artists, Jeon Hyeok Lim (전헉림). His colourful and abstract works are a treat to see. The gallery was built next to the house where he painted well into his nineties and lived for more than thirty years. The building is a really cool place, decorated on the outside with works of the artist and his son. Known as a “magician of colours” and “painter of the sea”, much of his work has Tongyeong as its subject. His murals can be seen around the city, most notably on the huge wall at the end of the Tongyeong Bridge. The gallery shop is a great place to pick up some prints and interesting souvenirs.

The colourful and quirky Jeon Hyeok Lim Art Museum in Tongyeong

The tiled exterior of the Jeon Hyeok Lim Gallery

Bookshop

A couple of doors down from the gallery is a great little bookshop. Here you can pick up a number of short novels by Korean writers, printed in both English and Korean. You can also pick up some arty notebooks and other bits and pieces.

Coastal Cycle Path

Another great thing to do over on Mireukdo is rent a bike. There’s a rental place on the ground floor of the Tongyeong Bay Condo Hotel at the marina in Donamdong. The bikes are a little old but serviceable and cost 5,000₩ for an hour and ten minutes.

The Route

You can follow the winding path along the coast for 5 km, rocky cliff face to your right, fantastic sea view to your left. The route takes you past Tongyeong Beach and popular fishing spots, finishing at the Hansan Marina Hotel. Pop in for a drink or chill out on the rocks and pebbles at the seashore, then hop on again and head back the way you came. This is a great way to see more of the coastline and it gives you a different perspective to the aerial one from the top of Mireuksan.

Coasting along the cycle path on Mireukdo in Tongyeong

Cycling the coast around Tongyeong Beach

If you walk round as far as Tongyeong Beach, there’s another bicycle rental place which also has 4 person pedal buggies. Also, there’s a recently opened cafe called Ilmare (일마레) where you can rent kickboards for 10,000 won per hour.

Gangguan (강관) Harbour

Gangguan is a bustling, lively place by day, a working place with rows of fishing boats lining the enclosed, squarish harbour and racks of splayed, drying fish edging the docks. It’s a great place to just wander for a while and soak up the atmosphere. Street stalls sell a variety of fishy snacks and the shop fronts are a mix of cheap eateries,  honey bread (꿀빵) places and an increasing number of coffee shops (the best of which is Bada Bom, 바다봄).

An atmospheric misty day at Tongyeong's Gangguan harbourAn atmospheric misty day down at the harbour

Turtle Ships (거북선)

On the harbour’s western side is where you’ll see the famous Turtle Ships. You can get on, take a look around and see the museum exhibits onboard detailing ship life and the famous exploits of the great man himself, Admiral Yi Sun-shin.
The Turtle Ships are open from 9:00 till 5:00 and cost 2,000₩ for a ticket.

Dongpirang Mural Village (동피랑벽화마을)

Rising behind Gangguan Harbour is Dongpirang (동피랑). A living art gallery, its narrow alleyways wind and snake around this hill, past humble houses where walls display a dizzying array of colourful murals.

A Community Project

Many similar places have grown up around Korea, but Tongyeong’s Dongpirang was one of the first. It started as a community project in 2006, when the city council wanted to demolish the old houses and make way for new apartment blocks. The local people got organised, fought back and welcomed in artists to reinvigorate the area and allow their community to survive.

Dongpirang Mural Village in Tongyeong

Hundreds of colourful murals adorn the walls of Dongpirang

These days there’s a mixture of interesting art, kitsch stuff, popular cartoon characters and cheesy photo opps. Murals are repainted or done anew every two years and new cafes and gift shops continue to open. The hill is topped by a large clearing where a pagoda sits and you can often find musicians playing to the crowds.

Jungan Live Fish Market (중안활어시장)

Step into the covered warren that is the live fish market. Behind the harbour and below Dongpirang, this market blends sights, sounds and smells to create a great atmosphere and authentic experience. Vegetables, dried foods, kimchi and others occupy the market’s outer fringes, a fascinating array of colours, textures and aromas that assault the senses.

The Fish

Dive further in to reach the fish market and get a look at some of the stranger looking seafood from the local waters: sea squirts (meonggye/멍게), sea cucumbers (haesam/해삼) and penis fish (gaebul/개불). These disgustingly shaped lifeforms couldn’t look less appealing but they do have a strange fascination. Among such malformed wonders you’ll find a huge range of fish, squid and octopus ready to be sliced, gutted and served up for dinner.

The People

Overseeing all this in their dark red aprons are sturdy, no nonsense women and burly, stern faced men. Tongyeong people are stereotypically known among Koreans for their plain speaking and straightforward demeanour. The truth of this stereotype is aptly displayed by the denizens of the marketplace, but smile and say An-nyeong-ha-se-yo and you may be rewarded with a smile in return.

Tongyeong: A charming fish market ajumma prepares her fresh anchovies for sale

De-boning some fresh anchovies 

Fancy Some Fish?

It’s possible to select the fish you want and have it yanked from its watery holding pen by a strong meaty hand (male or female). It will then be prepared for you at one of the attached restaurants/canteens. But unless you are a Korean language wizard or don’t mind stumbling through the experience, your best bet is to head into any of the marketplace eateries and order off the menu board on the wall. Everywhere serves sashimi (회/ pronounced hway), grilled fish such as mackerel (고등어구이/go-deung-eo-gui) and various hearty soups, all served with the usual side dishes. Wash it all down with a local beer and a bottle of soju.

Seoho Traditional Market (서호전통시장)

Seoho market is older, bigger and more open than Jungan market. Situated right across the road from the Tongyeong Ferry Terminal, it’s simply a great place to wander and watch market life, or pick up anything from fish and the freshest of vegetables to dried snacks and kimchi. Here too you’ll find restaurants selling everything from raw fish to pig’s feet. The high ceilings and wide thoroughfares give a real sense of space, and the overhead skylights let in just the right amount of light. The best time to go is early morning, when the market is busy and the produce is freshest.

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Tongyeong Guide Sunset

Nam-mang-san (남망산) Sculpture Park

Nammangsan lies on the east side of the harbour, dominated by the imposing Citizen’s Theatre sitting on its western slope. Just below this is the Nammangsan Sculpture Park, created to display the works of famous sculptors from different countries who took part in the Tongyeong International Sculpture Symposium. There are some really interesting and unusual pieces to see and the park winds through forested paths which open up to some great views over the city. It’s not too big and if you go all the way up to the top there’s a pagoda and an imposing statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin. On a clear day the park is definitely worth a visit, so set aside an hour if you can and wander up for a look.

Tongyeong: Kim enjoying one of the cool features at Namangsan Sculpture Park

One of the sculptures at Nammangsan

Chung-nyeol Shrine (충렬사)

Chungnyeolsa lies about half a kilometre back from the harbour, tucked behind Dongpirang’s less illustrious western rival, Seopirang. Built in 1606 to commemorate Admiral Yi’s brilliant exploits, it offers something a little different to other temple grounds in Tongyeong. As you walk through, climbing the hill, you pass through a series of gates with buildings on either side. At one point you can see through three gates at once, each framed within the other. There’s some interesting wood carving and artwork along the way, but what sets it apart are the two 400 year old Camellia trees in the outer courtyard, and the giant ginkgo trees towering above the shrine. If you visit in Autumn, you may be lucky enough to see them in all their golden splendour.

The Gingkos in full bloom at Chungnyeolsa in Tongyeong

The huge golden gingko tree at Chungnyeolsa

Se-byeong-gwan (세병관)

Not far from Chungnyeolsa is Sebyeonggwan, the 17th century naval command post – the name Tongyeong means ‘command post’. This huge open hall with tall and thick red pillars was built in 1605 to symbolise the end of war, and it was one of the largest halls of its kind in the Joseon period. There are a number of buildings surrounding the hall where you can see various historical exhibits.  

Yi Sun-shin Park (이순신공원)

This coastal park is a little out of the way, but if you have the time, it’s a great place to relax and have a picnic. Named of course in honour of the Admiral, there’s a rather large statue of the nation’s favourite hero at the park entrance. The view of the sea and islands from here is fantastic, and this is where people gather to view the reenactment of the Great Battle of Hansan every year (usually around 14 August). At the far side of the park there’s a really nice coastal walk. It takes you through meandering pine forest with some great views towards Geoje.  We even saw a large deer one time, bounding away into the trees.
The park’s about a half hour walk from the harbour. A taxi costs around 3,000₩.

Visit An Island

Tongyeong is the gateway to the islands of the Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park and visiting one is the reason why many people come to Tongyeong. It’s unusual not to find the city’s ferry terminal a hive of activity, with some people hauling trolley-loads of supplies and others bedecked in bright, bold and often garish hiking gear. There are lots of islands to choose from and each one promises something a little different.

Bijindo (비진도)

In Summer and early Autumn, a visit to Bijindo (비진도) is a great option. Only 40 minutes from Tongyeong, this distinctive island’s two parts are connected by a long, sandy beach where the sea is calm and great for swimming. The village has a wonderfully relaxed vibe and to top it off, it has one of the best short hikes around. If you’re out of season it’s still worth a visit; the 2-3 hour hike can be done all year round and the views are often the best in winter.

Tongyeong: The harbour end of Bijindo Beach at low tide

Bijindo beach at low tide. You can hike up the mountain in the background for amazing views over the island and around.

Saryangdo (사량도)

For a proper, full day hike, a visit to Saryangdo (사량도) is a must. This island of jagged peaks and stunning sea views is our favourite hike in Korea. It gives you a bit of everything: scrambling over rocky slopes, nerve-jangling ladder descents, beautiful forest paths and a cracking suspension bridge. And all the way along the views just get better and better. Even without the big hike, it’s also just a really great island to visit and spend the night. The ferry leaves from Ga-o-chi Ferry Terminal to the north of Tongyeong. Check out our Saryangdo Guide for all the info on how to get there and what to do on the island.

Looking towards one of Saryangdo Island's suspension bridges from the ridge hiking trail, with the road bridge and surrounding islands in the distance, South Korea

The best hike in Korea (in our humble opinion!), Saryangdo

Yeonhwado (연화도)

Yeonhwado (연화도) is known as the dragon tail island. It has a nice short 1-2 hour hike with some wonderful views and a couple of really interesting temples. You can see the rocky ‘dragon’s tail’ stretching out into the distance from the top of Yeonhwabong, the island’s highest peak.

Tongyeong: Looking out from the highest peak on Yeonhwado

Looking out from the top of Yeonhwado

Yokjido (욕지도)

Yokjido (욕지도) is one of the bigger islands, an hour out from Tongyeong. Famed for its sweet potatoes and an abundance of fish, this island too is blessed with some knockout scenery. Touring the island by road and walking the stunning coastal path are two things not to be missed.

Somaemuldo (소매물도) and Maemuldo (매물도)

Somaemuldo (소매물도) and its big brother Maemuldo (매물도) sit side by side on the far reaches of this island group, more than an hour and half away from Tongyeong. So isolated were they during the Korean war, that they remained almost completely untouched. Life continued as normal, while for a time, Tongyeong was overrun by North Korean forces. The arrival of some people escaping the conflict was the only real impact.

Our friend’s family comes from Maemuldo and today they run a pension there. As residents on the island, they continue to take part in a communal tradition that is the annual seaweed lottery. The island’s fringes are divided into plots, and every year the lottery is held, to decide where each family can harvest the sea’s dark green bounty.

Tongyeong: Looking across to Somaemuldo from Maemuldo

The stunning view of Somaemuldo from the hiking trail on Maemuldo

Both islands have great hiking options and at low tide on Somaemuldo, you can walk across the exposed rocks to the lighthouse on picturesque islet, Deungdaesum (등대섬).

Ferries

Most ferries leave from the Tongyeong Ferry Terminal, close to Ganguan Harbour. It’s advisable to get there 45 minutes before departure to get your tickets as they can sell out. You absolutely must have a passport or ID card – you can’t get on without one. You’ll be asked for a phone number too, so you can be notified about any cancellations or changes to ferry times. Details on the other ferry terminals can be found on our Saryangdo and Yokjido posts. For all up to date ferry times, call the English helpline on 1330.

Hiring A Scooter Or Car

Tongyeong is surrounded by beautiful coastline, but so much of it can only be fully reached and explored well on, or in, your own wheels. One of the best decisions we made when we moved here was to buy a scooter. It gave us a freedom to explore the area that we wouldn’t otherwise have had. And aside from a few cold months in winter, riding around Tongyeong has been an absolute pleasure. A car will get you about the same, but the fullness of the views, the feel of the warm wind, and the ability to hop on and off at will can only be experienced on two wheels.

Scooter Hire

There are a few places near Gangguan Harbour to hire a scooter. 73 Step and Turtleship Scooter rent by the hour or the day. If you have the time we’d recommend renting for the day – it’s only around 50,000₩ and there’s way too much to explore in just a few hours.

*you can also hire bicycles from 73 Step if you fancy exploring at a slower pace and getting some exercise along the way

You’ll need your driver’s license and a current International Driving Permit (IDP). A driver’s license by itself is not enough.

Car Hire

If you want to hire a car instead, we’ve rented a few times from Sejong Tongun Car Rental (세종총운카렌탈). You can get a Hyundai Avante for 80,000₩/day which comfortably sits four people. They run on LPG and fuel costs are extremely cheap – you can drive around all day and it won’t cost more than 20,000₩. Again, you’ll need your driver’s license and an IDP.

Driving Route

Once you’ve hired your wheels and decided to make a day of it, head over one of the two bridges to Mireukdo. Ride around the island, drinking in the views and stopping at fishing villages and cafes.

Cafe De Antwerp

If you ride round anti-clockwise, there’s a turn off just a few kilometres after the bridge. Take a right here to drive around the big sticky out bit, Pung-hwa-ri (풍화리). If Mireukdo was a misshapen jug from a potter’s nightmare, this would be the handle. Wind your way past small bays and villages to reach the quixotic Cafe De Antwerp. Here you’ll be greeted by the charming owner, surrounded by European antiques and served excellent coffee.

Around Mireukdo

After cruising through Sanyang and past Samdeok Ferry Terminal, you’ll arrive at popular sunset spot Dara Park.  There are some great views of the islands … but don’t hang around, we’ve got the best sunset in Tongyeong waiting for you. The Fisheries Museum sits on a hilltop about halfway round. From here you have a clear, expansive view to the south and can see the outlying islands trailing into the distance. Continuing round, if you haven’t hiked there already, drive up the road to Miraesa temple on Mireuksan’s southern slopes. Look for the sign before you reach Yeong-un village (영운마을).

Pyeongin Sunset Road (평인노을일주로)

Back in the city, head west from the bridge onto Sunset Road. It leads you to one of Tongyeong’s most stunning coastal areas, slaloming around coves and bays, rising and falling. Forested hills climb sharply to one side; still blue waters, fish farms, rocky coastline and islands to the other. About halfway round, at the crest of a hill, lies what we like to call ‘Sunset Point’. There’s a wooden boardwalk with benches next to the road, but for the best views, look for the handy big rock in front – you can just about squeeze four people on.

Sunset Point: the best sunset spot in Tongyeong

Sunset Point – we never tire of this view!

Brown House

Brown House is a cafe and pension just a few minutes before Sunset Point. A relatively new addition, it soon became a favourite of ours. It’s modern, stylish, serves great coffee and has fantastic views. If you have time, get there an hour or two before sunset. Grab a coffee or beer, sit on the balcony, enjoy the late afternoon light and watch the local fishermen finishing up for the day.

Stunning sunset colours at Brown House Cafe in Tongyeong

Sunset and beers on the balcony at Brown House

Hiking

Visit almost anywhere in Korea and you’re surrounded by tree covered hills that are inevitably crissed and crossed by countless hiking trails. Here are a few of Tongyeong’s best.

Bukporu (북포루) Sunrise Hike

Bukporu, meaning northern lookout, sits atop Yeohangsan. It’s a popular hiking spot for locals, and it offers one of the best, if not the best sunrise view in Tongyeong. There are a few different paths you can take to the top, so start where it’s most convenient.

Check out one of the possible routes on relive

* It’s a fairly steep climb but you can do it in anywhere from 20 – 40 minutes. Check the sunrise time and aim to arrive 10 – 15 minutes before … you won’t be disappointed.

Sunrise over Tongyeong from Bukporu

Sunrise over Tongyeong from Bukporu

Don’t be surprised to find some early morning exercisers stretching and lunging too. Like many mountains, parks and roadsides in Korea, you’ll find an exercise park on this trail. About five minutes from the Bukporu pagoda, this one even has a small library!

*If you use the Kakao Maps (Android/iOS) or Naver Maps app (Android/iOS), it shows all the trails.

The Awesome and Practically Empty Hike Behind Our House (and close to the bus terminal)

Under the expressway and just across the main road from Jungnim lies the start to a fantastic hike.

Check out the pictures and route on relive

The path heads along a small stream, past our house in Yangji Village (양지마을) and up through the rice fields. It passes through Holli Village (홀리골) at the end of the valley and then up into the hills.

*last time I went up there the deer farm had expanded considerably, and the once overgrown path had been cleared halfway up the first steep hill, making the going much easier – just walk quietly past the skittish deer.

The hiking route behind Jungnim in Tongyeong

The route

Baram-san (발암산)

The trail takes you first to Baram-san, where you can sit on the bare rocky peak and survey the landscape for miles around. We took a prosecco picnic up there for Kim’s birthday one year. Apart from the fire safety guy in his little yellow hut, there wasn’t another soul in sight.

Along the Ridge

Back down from the peak, follow the trail for a few kilometres to Jeseok-bong (제석봉). The path rises and falls, runs along the ridge for a bit, then descends and climbs once more to reach the peak. Along the way you’ll see cracking views of Jungnim to the left and Dosan-myeon (도산면) to the right. You encounter a few people now and again but hardly ever. I ran this route several times without meeting a single hiker.

The view to the west as you hike the ridge line behind Jungnim in Tongyeong

Just one of the spectacular views on the hike behind our house

Jeseokbong (제석봉)

At Jeseokbong there’s a rest area with a nice wooden pagoda and a couple of tree swings. From here you can see a fantastic view over Mujeon-dong, all the way to Mireuksan. Heading onwards, there are different paths to choose from. Follow the path in the direction of Hyanggyo-bong (향교봉).

Down to Samcheonbul-sa (삼천불사)

After a short descent, you’ll come to the  sign for the standout Samcheonbul-sa. Turn left here and follow the trail down. As you emerge from the trees, turn left up the stone steps to the wonderful stone statue and fish pools. This is an amazingly peaceful spot, and if you’re here when the cherry blossom trees bloom, it’s truly special.

Tongyeong: The buddhist statue behind Samcheonbulsa, encircled by cherry blossoms in Spring

Stunning cherry blossom at the lotus pond behind Samcheonbul temple

Carry on down to the temple and have a look around. Make sure to climb the outside stairs to the second level of the main building. There’s some excellent artwork and a great view down to Jungnim.

Confucian School: Hyang-gyo (향교)

From the temple it’s just a short 10 min walk down the road to the Confucian School. There’s usually nobody there, just lift the little hook from the side door and wander in. We were surprised to find that this complex was constructed as recently as 1901 – it’s built in a very traditional style and looks like it’s been around far longer.

Once you’re done here, head down the main road and back to Jungnim.

EAT

Like any Korean city, the options are many and varied. You can find places to eat on almost any street. It’s hard to go too wrong, but not always easy to find the very best and unique places. So let us guide you in the direction of our favourites and you won’t be disappointed.

Top Choices

Chef Jang (세프장)

To say we adore our favourite chef is an understatement – we sing his praises to the rooftops any chance we get. We wandered in after work one Friday night and we’ve never looked back.

The Man Himself

Chef Jang worked in the Grand Hyatt in Seoul for twenty years, serving the likes of President George Bush and Queen Elizabeth. Having had enough of big city life, he returned to his native Tongyeong in 2013, to realise a long held dream of running his own restaurant. A big, quiet man with a genuine smile, the chef runs his small restaurant aided only by his wife. It’s a wonder to sit there and watch him manage his kitchen, never flustered, calmly preparing dish after quality dish. His humble restaurant has an intimate feel, and there’s nothing else like it in Tongyeong.

The amazing Chef Jang and his wonderful wife in their charming Tongyeong restaurant

Chef Jang and his wife

The Food

Chef Jang skillfully serves the most excellent Japanese/Korean fusion food. From deliciously soft, almost buttery salmon sashimi that melts in your mouth and expertly crafted sushi, to succulent strips of sesame marinated beef and heavenly grilled teriyaki fish, your eyes close in delight as the flavours work their magic. And the man’s skill doesn’t stop there. He’s also a dab hand at the classical guitar. On both our birthdays, he’s brought down his trusty guitar from behind the bar and played us Spanish and Italian classical numbers. He even played for us at our farewell dinner, on an emotional last night in Korea.

The best sashimi in the world, served up by Chef Jang in Tongyeong

Chef Jang’s incredible sashimi 

What To Get

You can order various dishes from the a la carte menu. Prices start at 20,000₩ and dishes are meant for sharing. It’s not the cheapest around, but it’s a fraction of what you would pay in most other places. For just 35,000₩ a head, the chef used to provide a stellar course menu, giving you a bit of everything. As he got busier, he wasn’t able to do it for groups, but for just the two of us at the bar, he still could. It’s well worth it if you can get it. When you get there, just tell him Kim and Derek (Del) sent you, and ask if it’s possible to have the course menu. Wash it down with some warm saki and a cold beer, and get ready for food nirvana!

Chef Jang speaks a decent amount of English. If you plan to go on a Saturday, call ahead and book on 055-642-9111. He’s open from around 5pm til late every day but closed on Sundays.

Cheon-tae-man-sang (천태만상)

Looking for some traditional, hearty food in warm, dimly lit, no-frills surroundings? Then look no further. Serving two of our all-time Korean favourites, Jeon (전) and Makgeolli (막걸리), this is a perfect example of a traditional Korean drinking den, a min-sok-ju-jeom (민속주점). Small and intimate, wood clad and separated into booths, it feels like stepping back in time.

Our favourites

They do a number of jeons, a korean savoury pancake. Our favourite is of the seafood variety, hae-mul-jeon (해물전). And our other go to dish is go-deung-eo-gui (고등어구이), mouthwatering and succulent grilled mackerel. Hand on heart, this remains the best grilled mackerel we’ve tasted in Korea. Aside from these tasty delights, they do a number of other well known Korean staples, such as kimchi stew (kimchi-jji-gae/김치찌개).

The side dishes and a bowl of dong dong ju at the authentic Cheontaemansang in Tongyeong

A bowl of dong-dong-ju and a bunch of yummy sides at Cheontaemansang

Wash it down with Dong-Dong-Ju (동동주)

Beer and soju are available but no visit to Cheontaemansang would be complete without a bowl of dong-dong-ju. There’s just something about a bowl full of delicious makgeolli, ladle bobbing on the surface.

Fancy some silkworm pupae?

Accompanying all these are of course banchan (반찬), the small side dishes that come along with nearly every Korean meal. The staff are attentive and quick to bring refills of kimchi and the others. My personal favourite here is beondegi (번데기), made from silkworm pupae. Soft and a little crunchy at the same time, they have a kind of pleasing nutty flavour. Not everyone’s a fan!

Wellsam Gui Shabu (웰쌈구이샤브)

This family run restaurant is the best Shabu place in town. At lunch and dinner, it’s always packed.

Sitting on the floor in the traditional style, you can choose to just swish your meat in the broth shabu style, or grill on the hot plate surrounding the bowl. Prices start at 11,000₩ per person. You can get the beef shabu for this or pay a few thousand more to get pork for grilling as well. Seafood options are also available.

It comes with Vietnamese rice paper rolls and a huge range of veg and salad that’s replenished as needed by the excellent staff. Once the large rectangular table is set, every inch of it is covered – it makes for quite the sight.

The shabu smorgasboard on offer at the outstanding Wellsam Gui Shabu in Tongyeong

The most colourful meal in Tongyeong? The table set for a shabu feast at Wellsam Gui Shabu

When the meat is done, you have the option of cooking rice noodles in your remaining broth, or one of the ladies will whip up some juk, Korean rice porridge. Both are delicious.

If you’re going for lunch, get there just before midday. If it’s dinner, try to get there before 6pm or you may have to wait. If you have to wait, then wait – it’s worth it.

Fish Market

As previously mentioned, the live fish market is a great place to chow down on some fresh fish. In our opinion it works best as a lunch option while exploring the market and surrounding area. Look for the busiest restaurants before making your choice.

Around Town

Korean Barbecue

Like any Korean city, there’s no shortage of these ubiquitous establishments. Here are some of the best options. Heuk-So (흑소) in Mujeon-dong and Blaeng (블랭) in Jungnim are a great blend of quality and value. Cham-Don (참돈) in Jungnim was the very first restaurant we went to in Tongyeong. It’s always busy, the quality’s good and prices are reasonable. Paldo-gogi-ma-eul (팔도고기마을) in Mujeon-dong is also a great option. They’re well known for their galbi (갈비), Korean marinated pork and beef.

Other Notables

Kimchi Stew

Han-il Shik-dang (한일식당) in Mujeon-dong is the place to get kimchi-jjigae (김치찌개). Arriving in a big dish, it takes centre stage – set down on your table’s gas burner. Chock full of pork chunks and tofu slabs, it’s accompanied by rice, lettuce leaves and scrumptious sides.

Korean Food: Kimchi Jjigae

Kimchi jjigae at its best at Han-il Shik-dang

Oysters

Next to the marina in Donam-dong is Yeong-bin-gwan (영빈관). This place specialises in oyster (굴) dishes, and it’s one of our old favourites. Out exploring in our early Tongyeong days, we luckily stumbled in. The small menu contains a couple of classics. Gul-bap (굴밥), oysters with rice, sizzling in a stone pot, and gul-jeon (굴전), oyster filled Korean savoury pancake, this one thicker and smaller than your usual jeon, but more numerous – you get five of the fishcake-like beauties on your plate. They also have a great set meal option: look for jeong-shik (정식) on the menu. The restaurant is immediately next door to the modern coffee shop Monobi (also very good!).

A piping hot delicious bowl of gulbap at Yeongbingwan in Tongyeong

Oysters galore at Yeong-bin-gwan. This is a piping hot bowl of delicious Gul-bap.

Pork Bone Soup

Gamja-tang (감자탕) is a great comfort food that’s hard to beat. It’s a pork bone soup/stew, with potatoes, glass noodles and vegetables. It’s spicy but not super spicy, and is perfect for sharing. Or if you’re by yourself, you can get the single serve option, hae-jang-guk (해장국). There are plenty of these restaurants around, but the winner in Tongyeong is Back Bone Deung Bbyeo Jjim (백본등뼈찜) Jungnim. The gamjatang here has a deep, rich flavour and leaves you with the feeling of satisfied contentment that only a hearty stew can provide.

Kimbap

As a far as kimbap (김밥) goes, you can pick up this quintessential Korean quick eat in countless places. The best however is Kim-Seon-Saeng (김선생), near the main Tongyeong Post Office in Mujeon-dong. They use fresh, high quality ingredients, have a good range of options, and have variety to their menu with delicious dumplings, noodles and rice dishes too. Sit in or take away.

If you’re looking for a local speciality, Tongyeong traditionally does kimbap a little differently. Known as Chung-mu kimbap (충무김밥), after the old name for Tongyeong, the rice comes wrapped separately in little cylinders with spicy octopus and radish on the side. A good place to try it is Chungmu Kimbap down by the harbour.

Cheap Noodles

Finally, while there’s no shortage of noodle restaurants, an easy go to is The Noodle Tree (guksu-namu/국수나무). Great for the solo traveller, this chain restaurant has a variety of different noodle and rice dishes on an easy to read menu with English alongside the Korean. There are two in Tongyeong, one in Jungnim and the other in Mujeon-dong. Dishes are between 5-10,000₩.

Sweet Treats

One of Tongyeong’s most famous desserts is ggul-bbang (꿀빵). Translated as honey bread, these come in ball shape, sized halfway between a golf ball and a tennis ball. They are filled with red bean paste or similar, covered in sesame seeds or almond flakes, and generously coated in honey. They are the quintessential Tongyeong sweet treat. You can buy them from the many storefronts that line the harbour, in packs of ten or six, and they’re the perfect sugar boost for a spot of more sightseeing.

Set one street back from the harbour above a bizarre old music store, is Tongcaron. This is one of Kim’s favourite places in Tongyeong. The friendly lady here does the best macarons in town. At 2,000 won each they’re more expensive than most, but they are big and delicious. If you’re having a celebration, you can even pre-order macaron cakes – we did, more than once. Cinnamon and Salted Caramel, and Choco Granache are Kim’s top recommendations to try. 

The most delicious macarons in TongyeongKim’s favourite macarons in Tongyeong, maybe the world…

**It’s fairly common for new places to open up and close down fairly quickly. We’ve tried to include mostly longstanding places that we feel will be around for many years to come, but you never know…

DRINK

Tongyeong isn’t a big place for nightlife. Don’t expect a ton of bars and clubs – it’s not the place for that. It’s still very much traditionally Korean, a place where eating and drinking go hand in hand. There are plenty of pajeon/makgeolli places such as the aforementioned Cheontaemansang, where you can eat and drink beer, makgeolli and soju. Pocha places are quite common too, where you can get sharing food, beer and soju. There are quite a few bottle bars around town where you help yourself from the fridge and pay at the end, empty bottles in hand. There’s usually a fairly extensive range of international beers, the odd cider, and maybe even a sparkling wine. Finally, there’s a growing number of bespoke coffee shops which are cool places to hang out, and where you can also get a beer.

Bars

You’ll find a few of these in both Jungnim and Mujeon-dong.

There’s a B-Turn is in both areas, one of those take from the fridge, pay later options. A newer, better choice in Jungnim is Pizza and Beer. It’s a similar style bottle place but the range of beers is a little better and they make some pretty decent pizza. The same owners also have a restaurant on the Jungnim waterfront by the name of 3 Found. They pretty good western style food and you can even get a glass of wine – expect to pay for it though! Also on the waterfront is WA Bar, a chain place with the look of an American sports bar. They do beers on tap as well as bottles, and you can get mixed drinks like gin & tonic, rum & coke, etc.

In Mujeon-dong, a great option is Warakai. Near the Lotte Cinema, it’s brick exterior and signage give it the look of a real English pub. It has an attractive dimly lit interior with dark wood furnishings and stools along the bar. They have beers on tap (including a decent pint of Guinness), and a half decent range of spirits plus a few cocktails. There’s good sharing food on offer and the staff are friendly and welcoming.

Coffee Shops

There are no shortage of coffee shops in Tongyeong, both chain and independent – you never have to look far to find one. We always try to use independent places, places with their own character and style.

Harbour Area

Two of them around the harbour area really stand out for us. Bada Bom is on the harbour front and Byside is tucked one street back.

Bada Bom is a narrow building, rising four stories, each one fronted by a floor to ceiling window looking out across the harbour. It’s a great place to sit back and admire Tongyeong. The coffee’s good, and they sell bottled beer and single serve bottles of wine too.

Byside, down a narrow a side street, is an expansive place with comfy couches, soft lighting, old wood and leather, and decked out with interesting Americana. It’s a cool place. Their coffee is excellent, and they serve a variety of pastries, croissants, etc. There’s a decent selection of bottled beers too. And they have an attractive veranda area for when the weather’s good.

Elsewhere

In Mujeon-dong, Cafe Oven is a great little place with a nice interior, serving our favourite coffee in Tongyeong. In Jungnim, Meme Coffee Roasters on the waterfront is a modern place with good natural light, excellent coffee, and some pretty tasty pastries.

Around the Tongyeong area, there are always new places opening up, often attached to a pension. As mentioned, Cafe De Antwerp and Brown House are two standouts that are well worth a visit.

SLEEP

There are a wide variety of accommodation options in and around Tongyeong. Everything from hostels, guesthouses and Airbnbs to motels, hotels and pensions. If you have your own transport, then you can pretty much stay anywhere. If you don’t, then you’ll probably want to base yourself around the harbour area, closest to the majority of things to see and do.

Hotel

If you’re looking for a hotel around the harbour area, the Hansan Hotel is a good shout. It’s decent quality, reasonably priced and in a great location.

Hostels & Guesthouses

If a guesthouse or hostel is more your speed, there are some highly-rated options around here too. The Soh Guesthouse in Dongpirang is close to the mural village and harbour with a nice garden area. Just across the bridge in Misu-dong are the Bella Guesthouse and the Hul Hul Guesthouse, which has a rooftop garden with a bridge view and friendly owners. In the harbour area, the Ara Guesthouse and Friends of Loft are a couple of cheap and cheerful dorm bed only options.

Pensions

If you do have your own transport, then you might want to take advantage of some of the pensions and guesthouses dotted along the beautiful coastal areas around Tongyeong. Antwerp Guesthouse has rooms, and Brown House is stylish and modern with the best sunset views of course. Towards Geoje, Tacet Pension in Yongnam-myeon is another modern, stylish place with a great set up. It has a variety of different apartments with great facilities, and has some cracking views out towards the islands. Text the owner, Augustine, on +82 (0)10 2706 0504 to book. He speaks some English.

Hanging out and prepping dinner at TACET Pension in Tongyeong

Hanging out in our home away from home at Tacet Pension

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GETTING AROUND

Bus

Tongyeong has an extensive and easy to use bus system that’ll take you just about everywhere, both in and around the city.

Pick up a T-money card at any convenience store and top it up as and when you need it. You benefit from a discounted rate, and if you’re transferring, the second journey is free within 30 minutes. Just tap on and off.

Many bus stops have electronic boards with bus numbers and arrival times.

Use Kakao (Android/iOS) or Naver Maps (Android/iOS) for bus information on the go. They have all the routes and stops, and you can live track the buses too.

Taxi

Taxis are cheap, plentiful and a good way to get around quickly. Don’t expect drivers to speak any English, just show a business card or name of your accommodation or destination. You can pay by cash or card. Pick them up at at taxi rank or hail one on the street – just look for the red 빈차 on top.

Walk

Each area is small enough to walk around. It’s a great way to get to know the city. You can walk over both bridges to Misu-dong, giving you fantastic views. Or wander underground through the Undersea Tunnel.

GETTING THERE

The only way to Tongyeong is by road. Buses arrive from most major destinations in Korea. Connections to Seoul and Busan are regular and reliable. For up to date bus information call the Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) on 1330.

If you’re arriving by car, Expressway 35 finishes at Tongyeong. There are two exits. Tongyeong North drops you just outside the city, near Jungnim. The final exit takes you closer to the heart of the city. Additionally, there are other roads leading to a variety of destinations. You can use Rome 2 Rio to plan your journeys around Korea.

Tongyeong was our home for three years. It was a home we loved, a place full of memories that was hard to leave. We hope that this guide encourages you to make the journey there, and helps you to appreciate it just as we did.

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links – if you purchase a product or service via these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps offset the cost of running this blog and keeps us travelling so that we can continue to produce great content for you. We greatly appreciate your support!*

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2 replies
    • Going the Whole Hogg
      Going the Whole Hogg says:

      It is too good to miss! You can see the location on the map in our post.
      Here’s the address too:

      셰프장 (Chef Jang)
      055-642-9111
      경상남도 통영시 (Tongyeong) 무전동 (Mujeon-dong) 원문로 (Wonmun-ro) 12

      Tell him we said ‘Hi’.

      Reply

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Explore a little known Korean gem of a coastal city - Tongyeong. An in-depth guide written by locals who want to show you the best things to see, do, eat, drink & experience. Amazing seafood, island adventures, hiking, culture & beautiful coastal sunsets await you.
Korean Food | Hiking Korea | Korean Islands | Korea Travel Guide | East Asia Travel | Off the Beaten Path Korea | Korea Travel Beautiful Places | Korea Travel Tips | Korea Travel Destinations #korea
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