Sambongho Ferry, seen at the Dodong Port in Ulleung-do, takes travelers to Dokdo islets. / Yonhap
By Michael Ha
Chances are, if you are living in Korea, you may have read one thing or another about a group of islands called Dokdo and the debate surrounding these small islands in the East Sea. You might even have an opinion or two about the diplomatic row between Korea and Japan over these rocky outposts.
Now you can go see for yourself what all the fuss is about. These islands opened up to tourists in 2005 and currently more than a hundred visitors take trips to this remote region everyday.
The Korean government made the decision to allow tourists to Dokdo in 2005 when a Japanese local government passed a bill designating a Day for Takeshima, as these islands are called in Japan, and to stake a territorial claim. The ensuing diplomatic dispute between the two nations prompted Seoul to allow visitors in to Dokdo, in the hope that it would heighten awareness of Korea's longstanding sovereignty over the islands.
Visitors can join a sightseeing cruise to enjoy the view of Dokdo. ``Sunflower Ferry" departs from Pohang to Ulleung-do, a larger island some 80 kilometers away from Dokdo. The ferry, however, does not stop at Dokdo. But another ferry, ``Sambongho," departing from Ulleung-do, provides regular rides to Dokdo every day.
The Sambongho Ferry, operated by the ``Dokdo Tour and Shipping Company" is the only boat that takes travelers to the islets. This month, there is reportedly a long waiting list, so visitors may not be able to visit Dokdo on the days they choose. Tourists must first go through Ulleng-do to visit Dokdo.
Weather and sea conditions are important factors for the trip. Both Ulleung-do and Dokdo are located far away from Korea's mainland, so the ferries' operation can sometimes be delayed when the weather deteriorates.
The nearest terminal from Seoul to Ulleung-do is through the Mukho Passenger Terminal at Mukho, a harbor in Gangwon Province, while the Pohang Passenger Terminal from Pohang, a city in North Gyeongsang Province, perhaps provides more comfortable ferry rides, according to advice from the Korea Tourism Organization.
A two-day, one-night trip schedule would be sufficient for most travelers visiting Dokdo. A Three-day, two-night trip is recommended for those hoping to tour both Ulleung-do as well as Dokdo. Ulleung-do is a great place to visit in its own right. There are marine and taxi tours around Ulleung-do.
Ulleung-do stretches across more than 70 square kilometers, with a population of more than 10,000. It is a three-hour boat ride from Korea's mainland. The island is also well-known for its cuisine, including beef from cattle raised grazing on wild medicinal herbs. Squids caught off the surrounding island waters are also popular among visitors.
Tourists can call 82-54-1330 or 82-2-1330 for more information in English, Chinese and Japanese. The phone number for the Dokdo Tour and Shipping Company is 82-54-791-8111. Accommodations at Ulleung-do include Ulleung Daea Resort (02-518-5000, www.daearesort.com).