Diving in Two Koreas: An Apolitical Story

November 30, 2017 | 04:08

For about two years I lived in Korea. The most common question I got upon my return to the United States, typically when it came up casually at bars, was “which one?” To get it out of the way, the one that Americans are allowed to live in, typically. There have been a few up north, but that’s a different story. In my time living there I didn’t know much about scuba. My years before that were spent in America, partly as a political reporter. I’m glad to be with Deepblu, let’s forget about the world at large and talk about diving.

Jeju Island

If you’ve been diving in our around South Korea, you’ve inevitably come across Jeju Island. Jeju is a small island with a vibe quite different from its neighboring mainland. Referred to in Seoul as “the Hawaii of Korea,” it’s full of resorts, bars, fine dining, and a whole lot of beach life. In the hard working, occasionally 12-hour grind that many Koreans endure daily while toiling in the offices of the big cities, it holds a special spot of solace in the minds that inhabit ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’ On the several small islands surrounding Jeju there’s a diving paradise to be found.

Korea1.jpgTourists flock from the city during holidays to land on Jeju. Photo Credit: Visit Korea

One spot offering great opportunities for divers is the Hwasun Twin Caves. The entrance to the caves is easy to find, as above the surface it’s marked by a buoy at all times, and below it’s marked by a plate. The writing on the bright, metal plate is in Korean, but when you see the only inorganic object under the water you’ll know that you’ve made it.

As they’re twin caves, you have your choice of how to explore. To the right is a calm, easy-to-navigate cave that is appropriate for divers of all levels. The left cave is a bit more of a challenge, and is recommended for more advanced divers. They are both, however, a great experience for anyone who visits. Filled with soft and hard corals, the caves attract a wide array of fish and other marine life that live, feed, and hide in and around them.

As a bonus, the caves are less popular than spots near them, such as Little Munsom and Beom Island, so you could find yourself and your guide being the only people exploring that day. This is an added bonus when traveling through one of the most crowded nations on Earth.

 Oh, and after the dive, relax with a beer at Magpie . They’re tremendously good, and brewed in Jeju. Just a side note.

Also, check out the Deepblu Original on The Sea Women of Jeju.

Busan

Also in the south of the country, Busan is a bit more crowded than Jeju, but abounding in dive shops, spots, and pros to show you the way. 

Every summer tourists flock to Haeundae Beach in Busan, their uniformed rental umbrellas line the shore, nobody gets a tan, and for the most part you only catch expats in water that’s deeper than two feet. Where you’ll be going, however, is Taejongdae.

korea2.jpgA seaside view of Taejongdae Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Visit Korea

Taejongdae is predominantly known for its rocky beaches and high cliffs, with peaks 250 meters above sea level. However, below the surface, and in semi-rough currents, there’s a lot more to be discovered and even to make a difference. 

Taejongdae’s waters are populated by schools of various species of fish, but you’ll also spot sea cucumbers, octopuses, seahorses, and cuttlefish. A colder dive with depths going out into the ocean around 20 meters, with the right guide you can get a glimpse of life on land and wave goodbye to the hustle of Busan. In the warm months, some of the guides there run beach and sea clean-ups, offering the chance to take care of the waters while at the same time enjoying an experience that many might not think of when visiting South Korea. 

East Sea of Korea

You might be able to tell from the name change, as we’ve gone from actual town names to a more utilitarian one, that we are now in North Korea. The other name for the ‘East Sea of Korea’ is the ‘Sea of Japan.’ It all, as it goes, depends on who you talk to.

But disputes, big and small, aside, it’s quite a lovely area to take a dive, and one you’ll certainly be bragging about as you travel the world for the remainder of your years. Frankly, who can say they’ve done this?

Easy answer, thirteen non-Koreans, as far as I can tell.

 korea3.jpgYes, this is recent, and no, it is not in a museum. Photo Credit: Korean Central Television

The above picture does not reflect the type of dive you’ll be taking, as you’ll be supplied with modern gear and amenities by the group Young Pioneer Tours. After arriving on your own to Vladivostok, Russia, you’ll be meeting with the group and your fellow divers for a night out on the town and preparations for your trip into the DPRK. The next day you’ll take a dive in Russia to see some of the local marine life as well as a torpedoed boat.

In the morning, you’ll wake up and head into the DPRK. Over the next few days, your guides will take you to see the city of Rason, Mount Chilbo for trail hiking, and for some barbecue on the beach. If you’ve never had Korean barbecue, you’re in for a treat. You’ll spend a whole day diving, eating, and diving again from the shores of the North. The next day you’ll get the chance to do it all over again, bonding with other people who have chosen to have the same experience as you. Over 150 species of marine life have been identified in these waters.

After a few more days of adventure and exploration in this unique experience, you’ll head back up to Russia, and depart knowing you’ve done something that not many can even dream of putting on their bucket list. 

Having lived in and loved Korea, returning for at least a week or two every year, I could go on for hours about the sights, sounds, and tastes that make it a special place to visit. But for now, aside from focusing on the dives, I’ll say treat yourself to barbecue, sing your heart out in a noraebang (Korean karaoke room), and drink plenty of soju, just not before a dive day. Enjoy.

 - Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor

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