Southern port city Yeosu is quite a sight to behold, given its pristine waters surrounded by some 300 mountainous islands, big and small.
Once a sleepy little town in the South Jeolla province, Yeosu (pronounced your-soo) has become a major tourist destination since it hosted the 2012 World Expo and introduced new attractions, including the multimedia Big-O Show and Aqua Planet aquarium.
Yet, the home to 290,000 residents has retained its relaxed vibe and struck a balance between conservation and development.
Yeosu, or "beautiful water" in Korean, makes for a relaxing weekend getaway for those yearning to escape the city for fresh air and a picturesque view of the ocean.
•This is the final part of the 10-part Perfect Weekend series.
1 RIDING HIGH
I am standing on the edge of a cliff with an open parachute and a human being strapped to my back, feeling nervous. My seven-year-old daughter wanted to try paragliding, so I decide to take the plunge too.
"Just run. Running in the sky," the instructor attached to me says in halting English in an attempt to reassure me.
After a rocky start - I trip and tumble on my first attempt - the wind catches the parachute and I glide off the edge. It is sheer exhilaration after that.
The wind gushes against me as I soak in sights of Yeosu's famed waters and islands. The 12-minute flight is over in the blink of an eye and we drift down to land on Manseong-ri Black Sand Beach, one of two black sand beaches in the country.
My daughter's verdict? "Best ride ever. Not scary at all," she raves.
I have to agree - it is safe too, with well-trained instructors piloting the ride.
Where: Yeosu National Champion Paragliding, 95-1 Mandeok-dong; open: 9am to 4pm daily
Admission: Regular courses cost 92,000 won (S$110) a person
Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines operate direct flights to Incheon International Airport daily.
To get to Yeosu, you have to transfer to the domestic Gimpo Airport (21 minutes by train). Korean Air and Asiana offer up to seven flights a day to Yeosu, which is an hour away.
Plan your flights well and include enough buffer time. Those travelling from Seoul can take high-speed rail KTX from Yongsan Station, which takes three hours to get to Yeosu. The Yeosu Expo station is within walking distance to major tourist attractions and hotels, unlike the airport, which is some 30 minutes away by taxi.
Hotels are aplenty in Yeosu, but it will be more convenient to stay near Yeosu Expo station or Odongdo breakwater.
An option is the luxurious MVL Yeosu (www.mvlhotel.com/yeosu), which overlooks Odongdo. This 261-room hotel is the city's landmark hotel and offers a fantastic ocean view. But you have to book months in advance. The cheapest superior double room costs about 300,000 won (S$370) a night.
The Hotel Soo (www.thehotelsoo.com), where I stayed, is a more affordable option. Located on Dolsan island, it is not within walking distance of main tourist attractions, but offers stunning night views. Rooms are spacious and equipped with a kitchenette. Rates start at 135,000 won a night if you book on Agoda.com.
•Visit in summer to enjoy Yeosu's waters or in winter to see the camellias in full bloom. Autumn is great for mountain foliage, while spring is the best time to enjoy flowers including cherry blossoms.
•Rent a car from Yeosu Airport to explore on your own or hire a private car for a day tour like I did. The driver doubled as a guide and took me to good restaurants that only locals know about. Get a quote at funtastickorea.com/van
•Credit cards are accepted here. But use cash if you want to avoid fees for exchange rates.
2 ISLAND EXPLORATION
Yeosu's offshore islands are great for exploring during the warm summer months. The cruise ships offering different packages are especially popular during this time.
But as it is winter when I visit, I decide to venture to Odongdo - connected to the mainland by a 768m-long breakwater - instead.
I stop at Camellia Hill, on which 3,000 camellia trees are abloom. Full bloom is over by the time I visit in March, but red camellia flowers hiding in the green are still a pretty sight.
K-pop music plays from speakers as we follow a walking trail around the island, taking in the sights of the mainland in the distance and the tranquil waters.
Downhill, at a musical fountain in a town square, couples and families gather to see spouts of water dancing to classical tunes as well as Abba's Dancing Queen.
Where: Odongdo island
Info: Day tours starting from Yeosu Expo Station cost 5,000 won an adult and 2,000 won a child
3 GLASS-BOTTOMED CABLE CAR
To enjoy unfettered views of the ocean from a vantage point, take a cable car ride from Yeosu mainland to Dolsan island. We choose the crystal cabin, which has a see- through bottom, so we can clearly see the trees, buildings and water beneath our feet. "So exciting," my daughter squeals in joy, transfixed throughout the entire journey.
Where: Yeosu Maritime Cable Car, 3600-1 Dolsan-ro; open: 9am to 10pm (Sundays to Fridays), 9am to 11pm (Saturdays)
Admission: Round-trip crystal cabin rides are 20,000 won an adult, 15,000 won a child; standard cabins are 13,000 won an adult, 9,000 won a child
Info: Visitors can take a lift from Odongdo multi-storey carpark and walk over to the boarding point.
4 GLORIOUS FOOD
Given its location, Yeosu is seafood heaven. Fish, crabs, abalone - you name it, it has it.
Ganjang gejang - raw crabs marinated in soya sauce - is a local favourite that is served even at the smallest eateries. Rotary Sikdang restaurant is well known for serving up 12 to 14 varieties of seafood, stews and vegetables on a turntable - a steal at just 6,000 won. It is a pity it is closed when we visit, so we head to a grilled eel restaurant instead.
Unlike Japanese unagi, which is coated in teriyaki sauce, the Koreans serve a crispy version that is lightly salted. We also order eel soup, which tastes surprisingly light and sweet. The bill for two is 31,000 won.
Ganjang gejang, which the Koreans started making from as far back as the 17th century to preserve crab, is a must-try. Koreans adore this slightly mushy roe-laden crab so much, they call it a "bapdoduk" (rice thief) - your rice will be gone in no time as you enjoy the flavourful crab, usually topped with spring onion or chilli.
Another Yeosu speciality is gat kimchi, made with mustard leaves grown on Dolsan island. It is love at first bite for me and I lug back 3kg of the chewy dish from the airport.
Where: For ganjang gejang, go to Rotary Sikdang, 459 Seogyo-dong; and Odongdo Cheongsik Maeul, 980 Sucheong-dong. For grilled eel, go to Yongjin House, 1082-7 Guk-dong
Info: Expect to pay 6,000 to 15,000 won a person
5 SALUTE A NAVY HERO
Have you heard the story of a Korean naval admiral who defeated a fleet of 133 Japanese warships with just 13 ships in his command? That hero is Yi Sun Sin, whose statue stands tall in central Seoul and many other cities. This includes Yeosu, where he was posted in 1591 and spent many years building a naval force.
His presence is felt everywhere here, from Yi Sun Sin Plaza - where his statue stands - to the one-storey wooden building Jinnamgwan, which he used as a fortress. A 1,545m-long suspension bridge - the longest in South Korea - was built to commemorate his birth year, 1545.
The Teddy Bear Museum in Yeosu Expo is meant as a treat for my daughter, who loves plushies. But I find myself drawn to the elaborate displays too. There are teddy bears masquerading as dinosaur hunters, sailors and even the Mona Lisa. We go home with a brown bear from the souvenir shop, which my girl has been hugging to sleep ever since.
Where: Level 1, Block D Yeosu Expo, 1 Bangnamhoe-gil; open: 9am to 6pm
Admission: 10,000 won an adult, 7,000 won a child
7 FASCINATING NIGHT LIGHTS
Every taxi driver in Yeosu has lauded its night-time cable car.
I tell them I am lucky I stay in a hotel that offers a splendid night view of Yeosu mainland. The sight of the city skyline from Dolsan island reminds me of Hong Kong on a smaller scale. To get a good view of the city at night, take a bus tour that will drop you off at various vantage points, such as the Yi Sun Sin Bridge observatory. The 21/2-hour tour, which runs only on Saturday, starts at 7.30pm.
Where: From the bus stop outside Yeosu Expo station at 2 Mangyang-ro
Admission: 5,000 won an adult, 2,500 won a child
8 TEMPLE ON A CLIFF
We wake up early to trek up a steep hill to reach Hyangiram temple on Dolsan island. Hyangiram is one of four main Buddhist temples in the country. The climb seems to go on forever, but is made pleasant by the gentle wind and rustling of leaves whispering in my ears. The view from the top is breathtaking.
After lunch, we travel to nearby Suncheon (20 minutes from Yeosu via high-speed rail) to explore Naganeupseong Folk Village, which used to be a fortress in the 14th and 15th centuries. About 100 families still live here, evident from the vats of dwenjang (bean paste) peeking out from their gardens.
I have seen hanok (traditional Korean house) villages, but the well-preserved Naganeupseong stands out for its straw roofs that must be replaced every few years.
Where: Naganeupseong Folk Village, 30 Chungmin-gil, Nagan-myeon, Suncheon; open: 9am to 6pm daily
Admission: 4,000 won an adult, 1,500 won a child
10 ECOLOGICAL PARADISE
Suncheon Bay, an ecological paradise where about 140 species of birds - such as the rare black-faced spoonbill - live, is one of the best places in South Korea to bask in the glow of the evening sun. It is known for its sprawling field of swaying reeds.
We stroll through the park and end our weekend with a delicious meal of cockles in various ways - braised, boiled, stir-fried with chilli - scooped from the bay. Take your pick from the restaurants across the park entrance. It costs about 17,000 won a person, with a minimum of two orders.
Where: Suncheon Bay, 162-2 Daedae-dong, Suncheon; open: 8am to 7pm
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