Posted by: Matt Kelley | 16 May 2009

Ddangkkeut: The End of the Earth


Korea’s national anthem describes a country that is the length of 3,000-ri (리). Translated into the metric system, 3,000 ri is roughly 120 kilometers, which is pretty darn close to the actual distance of the peninsula from its northern border with China to its southern-most tip in the South Sea.

This southern tip is called Ddangkkeut (땅끝) or Tomal (토말), both of which mean “edge of the land”, and it’s where the Korean peninsula ends and the ocean begins. Beyond this point the sea is broken only by the hundreds of picturesque islands that dot Korea’s southern coastline.

20090518_drum1Jang-go drummers were part of an international procession celebrating Buddhism’s arrival from India centuries earlier.

As part of our tour of South Jeolla Province, my friend suggested that we visit this tiny yet famous town in Haenam County (해남군). When we arrived, we walked down the narrow, main road, and could immediately smell the sea. After passing racks of drying seaweed and two of Korea’s famously adorable Jindo dogs, the road slipped into the sea, and a ferryboat was unloading a curious group of performers.

To my surprise, a group of women playing Korea’s traditional, hourglass-shaped drums called the jang-go (장고) were accompanied by what appeared to be men from South Asia.

20090518_ddangkkeutviewA snapshot of the 360-degree views from the Ddangkkeut observatory.

As it turns out, we had happened upon an event to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, which fell on the following Monday. This particular event was in honor of a legend that pilgrims from India brought Buddhism to Korea at this very spot several centuries earlier! It’s said that these Indian guests founded the nearby Mihwang Temple, where today, travelers can stay overnight.

20090518_ddangkkeutThe view of Ddangkkeut Village and the South Sea from the observatory (Click here for the full size).

Of course, most people who visit Ddangkkeut come to enjoy the view. And towering 156 meters above sea level is a strangely shaped observatory atop Dalmasan Mountain (달마산). First built in 1987, the 10-story building looked to me like a giant rodent, but it offers remarkable, 360-degree views of Korea’s southern coastline and islands. In fact, on a clear day, if you’re really lucky, you’ll see Jeju Island’s Mt. Hallasan in the distance.

20090518_hwaeA simple and healthy lunch of butter clams and raw fish bibimbahp.

Although there’s a tram that climbs the hill to the observatory, my friend and I opted for the 20-minute hike, which was great since we happened upon the 10-meter high stone stele that officially marks Korea’s southernmost point. We were sure to snap our photos as proof we had been there!

20090518_lighthouseA lighthouse at the end of the Ddangkkeut pier.

Back on the shore, the seemingly endless docking, unloading and loading of small ferries piqued our curiosity, so my friend and I boarded one whose destination we didn’t know. A scenic, 90-minute ride later, we arrived on Bogildo (보길도), a peaceful island that forms part of Korea’s Dadohae Maritime National Park (다도해해상목립공원).

20090518_bridgeWe passed beneath this bridge prior to disembarking on the island of Bogildo.

It was just our luck that the Bogildo was once home to Korea’s most famous poet, Yun Seondo (윤선도). During the 17th Century, Yun came to Bogildo to write his masterpiece of Korean Sijo (시조) poetry, called, “The Fisherman’s Calendar”. Today, visitors can enjoy a small park on Bogildo (보길도) that features Yun’s poems suspended from trees.

20090518_driedfish1On the way to the observation deck, one woman sold dried sardines and shrimp.

Aside from gorgeous views and island hopping, visitors to Ddangkkeut can also visit Korea’s largest dinosaur museum. Or, just a couple of minutes away is the fine sand and gentle waves of Songho Beach (송호대). Haenam County’s only beach is popular for its ancient pine trees, dramatic tides, and nearby camellia and magnolia forests. So, whatever your pleasure, a visit to Ddangkkeut should fit the bill!

Getting There:
→ From Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal (subway line 3 and 7) non-stop buses leave for Haenam Intercity Bus Terminal 7 times daily from 07:20 to 17:55. The 5-1/2 hour ride costs between 19,100-28,400 won.

→ From Haenam Bus Terminal, take buses heading towards Songho-ri. Specific time and fee information is not currently available.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on May 31, 2008.)


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