|▲ Dongangyeonggul, meaning a place in the East Sea where whales live. One of Udo's eight most recognizable spots, or Udo palgyeong in Korean. Photo courtesy Udo-myeon district office
At first glance, Udo may be just one of many small islets around Jeju, but it is recently enjoying a disproportionate number of visitors. The island greeted over half a million visitors as of early August, a 36 percent increase as compared to the same season last year, attracting nearly 12 percent of the 4.3 million tourists estimated to have visited Jeju by summer’s end.
What makes Udo such a hot destination among tourists this holiday season? First, there is “Popcorn Beach” or Seobin White Sands in Udo, which features mysterious ever-growing popcorn-shaped sand. It is in fact a type of white coral but each grain is constantly growing, the only one of its kind in Korea.
This writer had a chance to check out the “Popcorn Beach” late July and pockets of glittering emerald water behind the blinding white sand was like no other in Korea. Reminiscent of white beaches of Boracay Island in the Philippines, the Popcorn Beach alone was worth the visit to Udo for me.
It is not just during the summer holiday season, however, that people frequent the island in recent years. Since Jeju Olle opened Trail 11 in May 2009, hundreds of trekkers have trodden the 16.1 kilometer-long path circumnavigating the island every day. Snaking along endless patches of low-rising black stone walls, three spectacular beaches and one beautiful hill, which are three key elements that make up the Jeju Olle, Udo trail is considered a miniature of the entire Jeju Olle trails, ideal for beginners who hope to warm up before they start the main journey on Jeju Island.
|▲ A trail running along Udo Peak. Photo by Kang Bong Soo
The unique island has its own idiosyncratic harvests befitting its distinctive status among visitors—Udo peanuts.
Much smaller than the usual crops found in the mainland, Udo peanuts are loved by visitors for their extra-crunchy texture and fresh aroma. Farmers here have grown them together with garlic since the island’s strong winds made it impossible to grow tangerines and other specialties ubiquitous on Jeju.
But the latest blessing that boosted tourism in Udo this summer is a new high-speed ferry that started to connect Jangheung and Seongsan, which began this July. JH Ferry’s 2,400 ton twin-hull boat carries up to 560 passengers and 70 cars to Seongsan port on each of its two rounds it makes every day. From Seongsan port, Udo is just another 15-minute ferry ride away, making it handy for hundreds of visitors to check out the popular island.
If the current upward trend holds up, Jeju officials are confident that Udo may attract one million visitors this year, far more than 816,000 visitors that had set foot on the island in 2009, which in itself was a 35 percent increase to the previous year.
It is notable that Udo is considered a microcosm of Jeju Island in a sense. Just as mainlanders visit Jeju to enjoy comfortable isolation and insulation from the hustle-bustle of urban complexity, visitors as well as residents of Jeju find Udo an island inside an island, a step further into isolation and insulation from the usual and the ordinary.
The parable of a microcosm goes on. Udo’s Olle trail 1-1 is a microcosm of the 18 other trails in Jeju, just as its unique ecology is the miniaturized presentation of the Jeju’s natural heritages. By the way, visitors can enjoy an unusual ocean view of Sunrise Peak, one of the three UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites in Jeju while cruising to Udo.
|▲ Jiducheongsa, or blue sand of Jidu, as seen from Udo Peak. Photo courtesy Udo-myeon district office
In the meantime, Jeju provincial government projected on Aug. 16 that the total number of visitors to Jeju this year will add up to 5 million by the end of August, the record to be broken some 34 days earlier than the previous year.
Officials believe that eco-tourism, UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites combined with Olle trekking and various outdoor sport and leisure activities played key roles in driving the impressive performance for two years in a row.
A total of some 7 million tourists are projected to set foot on the island by year’s end, according to their prediction, with Udo greeting roughly one out of every 10 of them.
As one of The Jeju Weekly former editors wrote in a column over a year ago, we can only hope that visitors would be careful enough not to love Udo to death, trashing the very elements that lured them to the island in the first place.
|▲ Seobinbaeksa, aka "Popcorn Beach," on the west of the island. Another of Udo's most famous locations. Photo courtesy Udo-myeon district office
…inches of life hangs on the edge of splendor, the cliffs
At Tolkan-e, dangle wonders---
The amazement prancing around like children,
nonchalant innocence, the eyes
untangle the mystique of sea vistas,
the waves, tiding high.
Aged stone walls borrow youth from pondering souls,
volcanic emotions, erupting in awe…
Yellow canola flowers converse the skies,
pondering souls ear the intonation of the wind---
comprehending the nature within
Diving haenyeo statue time,
surviving legacy of
Sea-weeding days, shells---
where the erosion of rocks birth,
the cove below the lighthouse,
a brightening livelihood of
Heights of intimacy
The cow island,
of black lava
coral sand and
A melancholy realm of freedom, love
Pondering souls ponder no longer,
the wonders of Udo---
is clear, sublime
as the inches of life,
hang on the edge of splendor.
- By Wilkine Brutus