May 27, 2005 ㅡ The Wando islands, in the southernmost part of the peninsula, were a group of quiet fishing villages until last fall, when sets were built and television crews arrived to film a historical TV drama, "Emperor of The Sea
". That activity has brought a flock of tourists in its wake.
The 50-installment series tells the story of the Silla Dynasty admiral Jang Bogo, who built a naval base at Cheonghaejin 1,200 years ago to protect merchants and trading ships from pirates, and established a commercial base in China under the Tang Dynasty's reign.
The KBS TV drama, adapted from a novel of the same name by Choe In-ho, was an instant hit. After broadcasts began in November 2004, fans from all over the country came to take a closer look at the sets, as if they wanted to be a part of the drama and the history.
The sets, which cost 5 billion won ($5 million) to build, are in two different locations on the main island of Wando. One, called Sillabang and situated on the northeastern side of the island, is meant to be a replica of the commercial base in China established by Jang Bogo.
The set was built in the middle of a forest near Sukseukbong (bong means peak), which stands 435 meters (1,427 feet) above sea level, and the surrounding area has beautiful scenery.
The picturesque set, covering 29,700 square meters (7.3 acres), is a small town with bridges over its canals and Chinese red lanterns hanging from the eaves of the buildings. White and black carp swim in the canals, while boats ply the waters. The set contains everything from offices and markets to hotels and saloons. Wooden buildings, modeled on Chinese architecture, stand on the commercial streets of Sillabang, while its walls have Chinese-style round gates.
Since filming has ended (the series' last episode was broadcast Wednesday), only tourists can be found at the site. On a recent visit, the air was filled with the voices of men and women of all ages, as well as a number of students on a field trip.
A tour guide from Sacheon, South Gyeongsang province, described the set as if history had actually taken place there and the characters in the drama were real.
"Here used to be a table where actor Choi Soo-jong
and others had discussions", he said. Moving to another site, he said, "Actress Chae Si-ra
worked in this saloon and met Choi here".
"The buildings are smaller than they appear on television, and things are more relaxed", said a housewife visiting from Sacheon.
After spending an hour looking around, most visitors leave to see the other set, Cheonghaepogu, on the opposite side of the island. This village, situated on a beach, covers 49,500 square meters, and encompasses elements of a fishing village, naval base and pirate hangout. The set has 59 buildings, with inns, commercial streets, a watchtower and checkpoints. Six wooden ships, produced solely for the series, float on the ocean. Unlike Sillabang, the Cheonghaepogu set is humble; its buildings have straw roofs and clay floors.
"It's very pleasant out here, and this is exactly the same as what we've seen on television", a middle-aged couple from Nonsan, South Chungcheong province, commented.
The number of tourists visiting the sets has been declining as the series ends its run, but at times 40,000 to 50,000 people on the weekend and 15,000 during the week came to Wando, which is home to 25,000 residents. As of May 9, more than 1.8 million people had visited the island this year, according to Wando county officials. On one day, 35 million won ($35,000) in entrance fees were collected (admission is 2,000 won for adults for Cheonghaepogu and free for Sillabang).
While the two-lane roads on the island became congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic and the quiet fishing villages became crowded and noisy, the show has given a boost to the county's tourism.
Apart from the income from fees, Lee Ju-chan, a Wando official, said the indirect benefits are even larger. "Tourism can make a considerable contribution to the local economy", he added.
Wando and other regions competed to have the sets located there, and Wando county officials traveled to Seoul for six months to try to persuade KBS to film the drama there. In the end, Wando and South Jeolla province spent 5 billion won to create the sets, covering a third of the series' production costs. Now that filming has ended, Wando intends to keep the sets open and develop new itineraries for visitors.
Tourists can, for example, see relics from the era of Jang Bogo, such as tiles and pottery, on Jangdo, adjacent to Wando.
Aside from the historical attractions, there are other reasons to visit Wando, which is known for its abundant seafood, including abalone and short-necked clams, and its pollution-free beaches. There also is an arboretum, the second largest in Korea, containing 3,449 types of rare plants, including 750 subtropical species.
Myeongsasimni beach, located on Sinjido island, to the east of Wando's main island, is famous for its clean water and fine sand. Sinjido is connected to the main island by a bridge. The Gugyedeung stone beach in Jeongdong-ri on the main island has an unusual formation of rocks in the shape of stairs.
Visitors can also experience "Moses' miracle" in Dangsan-ri on Nohwado, south of the main island. On spring days, a 1-kilometer-long ocean path opens between Norokdo island and Dangsan-ri, enabling visitors to walk out into the sea and pick clams.
by Limb Jae-un
Wando is less than an hour's drive from Ttangkkeut village in Haenam County, South Jeolla province, the southernmost village in Korea. A bridge connects the mainland to the main island of Wando. The best way to reach Wando from Seoul is to drive via the west coast freeway toward Mokpo, and then Gangjin, a trip that takes over five hours. Or take a train to Gwangju and transfer to a bus for Wando at the Gwangju bus terminal. Buses run from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the trip takes two hours. The entire trip takes more than six hours.
There are a number of places to stay, including Sea World Hotel (061-552-3005), Dubai Motel (061-553-0688), Seattle Motel (061-555-5500), and Jeil Motel (061-554-3251). Restaurants include Gwangju Sikdang, a Korean restaurant (061-553-0441); Eoga, for Japanese food (061-555-0305); and Seonchang Hoegwan for sashimi (061-554-9918).
For more information, call the Wando tourism office at 061-550-5152 or visit Open the link