Words and shots by Emma Dooley
Mokpo is a small city in South Jeolla province on the southwestern tip of Korea. Home to two ferry terminals, the city is usually used only as a jumping-off point for visiting the many islands off the coast. However, simply passing through Mokpo on your way elsewhere means you are missing out on its many charms.
Mokpo advertises itself as “The City of Lights,” and it most definitely lives up to the name with maritime-themed streetlights, an illuminated sea fountain and, best of all, downtown streets festooned with fluorescent archways in all the colors of the rainbow. Mokpo is also home to some legendary rocks: the Gatbawi (갓바위, literally “hat rocks”). The rocks are shaped like two men wearing traditional Korean hats and the story of their appearance goes like this:
A fisherman dropped his father’s coffin into the sea. He felt guilty for not taking adequate care of his father during his lifetime and sat on the shore pondering his loss. Eventually he turned into stone, as did his father, who had risen from the sea. It takes a bit of squinting to see the “men,” but with a viewing walkway built out into the sea, the Gatbawi are definitely worth a look.
Just past the Gatbawi is Peace Park, a beautiful walkway along the seafront, where you can see the huge fountain or take a ride in a horse and carriage. This area is also home to a plethora of restaurants, nightclubs and cinemas, so it’s the perfect spot to find your evening entertainment. An alternative nightspot is Rose Street in Hadang, a pedestrian area filled with bars and restaurants. It’s here that you will find Moe’s Bar and Grille, a Western pub which serves free popcorn with every round.
Just before the entrance to Gatbawi Park, you will find Mokpo’s Museum Road. With museums dedicated to maritime history, literature, natural history, ceramics and local history, as well as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset Training Center, there is enough here to satisfy the appetites of even the most voracious culture-hunters.
Mount Yudal is located right in the centre of Mokpo and is perfect for a night hike. It’s an easy trek and the path to the summit is scattered with pagodas and sculptures, all of which are lit beautifully at night making for an atmospheric journey. The view from the top is stunning and if you hike on a clear day they say you can see all the way to Japan.
As Mokpo is located on the coast, there is a vast array of seafood restaurants, many of which allow you to try the local specialty—raw skate. Luckily for the less adventurous souls out there, the usual barbecue joints and kimbap chains are also present in abundance.
The next time you are planning an island-hopping trip, add a night or two in Mokpo; it will most definitely be worth your while.
10 Tip Among the many islands that lie within a few hours’ ferry ride of Mokpo, two of the most rewarding are Heuksan-do and Hong-do. Keep your eyes peeled for detailed coverage of these islands in an upcoming issue of 10.
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