Oedolgae, Jeju, South Korea
Like most rocks of irregular shape and size in Jeju, the towering rock which stands guard over the southern coast of Jeju, has a name and story. It’s called Oedolgae or “Lonely Rock,” and depending on whom you ask, it was either dressed as a soldier to scare off Mongolian invaders, or is the remains of a woman who threw herself into the sea in grief after her husband died in a fishing expedition.
Regardless of whether you believe the legends or not, it’s hard to deny Oedolgae’s modern day power to attract throngs of Korean tourists. They come by the busload to have their pictures taken in this scenic stretch of coast just beyond Seogwipo’s city limits. But only a few metres from the ajummas hawking their kitsch souvenirs, the camera toting tourists, and their the honeymooners in their matching couple clothes, lies a seldom visited swimming hole which is quickly becoming a favorite summer destination for Seogwipo’s expat community.
Heading east from the main viewing deck you’ll find a winding path with hugs Oedolgae’s stunning cliff sides. As you round the peninsular you’ll come across a staircase slicing through overgrown shrubs and trees. It leads down to a beach of volcanic rock, and pools of gently swaying water protected from the surf by a series of tree-capped hills.
It’s a place of serene beauty, but it once played host to a Hollywood style tale of espionage and high seas drama. It was here in 1968 that a gun battle erupted between South and North Korean military units. A gunboat from the North came to extract a spy who has been operating in Jeju. Local authorities were alerted, and in the ensuring firefight, police and military units from Seogwipo killed twelve North Korean guerrillas and captured two others.
Today, traditional Korean artists come to paint the elegant blend of black volcanic rock and azure blue waves. Families picnic as children splash about happily in the surf. The beauty is marred only by a series of caves punched into the cliff side by occupying Japanese forces during World War II. They were built here as a defence against a possible US military invasion that never materalised.
A bridge was build between two towering rocks, creating a pool of water that washes out into the sea. Cowning one of them is a stone which bears the inscription “Sin Sun Ba Wi” or “God Stone.” Local Taois may have placed it here in their belief that gods will sometimes turn themselves to stone to watch over and protect their mortal subjects.
The beach is covered with all manner of sea life. Shellfish and razor clams cling to the rocks and skittish crabs scurry underfoot. Snorkelers will also find an array of algae and fish hugging the coastline.
Though it straddles one of Jeju’s most popular tourist attractions, this stretch of coast maintains an air of peaceful seclusion, and provides a pleasant alternative to the more frequented beaches in the southern half of Jeju.
Footnotes: Oedeolgae (외들개) is located close to Seowipo City. Bus services exist to take you out there however upon arriving in downtown Seogwipo (if on public transport) it’s best to take a taxi. About 3,000won.