2014 Our stay in Wando, South Korea

We had high expectations for Wando. It would be our first small Korean town. It was a port town with a ferry to Jeju Island so we thought that it would get lots of tourist traffic and have lots of restaurants. Even though the Trip Advisor reviews were negative on the Wando Tourist Hotel (Wando Tourist Hotel, 152, Haebyeongongwon-ro, Wando-eup, Wando-gun, Jeollanam-do 537-801, South Korea, 061-552-3005, www.wandohotel.com), we decided we would stay there. There was no other hotel that compared.

We took the Express Bus from Jeonju to Gwangju and had to change buses in Gwangju (KRW 9,600 x 2). It was a very comfortable bus and it was not crowded. It took 17 minutes to get out of town and onto the highway. The day was cloudy and we were passing farms (with pampered crops) in the near distance and mountains to the east. The highway was great. In the mountains there were pine trees and an occasional tunnel. When we got to Gwangju, we just had time to make the 11:50 (non-express) bus to Wando but it was full. So we took the 12:50 bus (KRW 16,500 x 2/US $33) and had lunch in the huge complex at the Gwangju bus station (one of our worst Korean meals). There were only 2 stops on the next leg of the ride and we arrived in Wando around 3:30 p.m. Our seats were up in the front of the bus (1 and 2) and we really liked seeing everything up front. It was a fine way to travel. Dimitri is excellent at logistics.

From the bus we took a taxi to the Wando Tourist Hotel. The lobby looks like a hotel lobby (not a love motel) and the people at the front desk spoke English (sort of). The hotel business cards say “Benikea” but it is no longer part of that hotel chain. The hotel is old and the elevator looks like a service elevator. None of the rooms had bath towels but when we asked for 2 we were given 2.

We looked at every room type they have, including the Royal Suite. It was well laid out with windows in front and on the right. The views were awful. Instead of a sea view, from the sitting room, the view was obscured by a projecting structure. The sea view from the large double-paned picture window on the right-side was not at all visible because the inside of the double pane was wet and dirty too. What a shame. The Internet signal in the suite was poor. One of the rooms stunk of cigarette smoke and all rooms had an ash tray. 

We decided to take the standard double (KRW 70,000 but without the use of the sauna it was KRW 60,000—no breakfast included). The exchange rate was US$1 = Korean won .00098 on September 4. It had one double bed (with no top sheet, just a comforter), a desk, a round table with 2 straight-back chairs, a mini fridg, a fan and windows that opened (with screens). There was also a cupboard and a large closet. The bathroom was tiny but had a bathtub with a shower (no shower curtain). We asked if there was air conditioning and the young man said “yes”. Dimitri had him turn it on and felt air coming out. It turned out there was no air conditioning. The central air conditioning system was turned off and the hotel would not turn it on. On the other hand, the Internet in room 503 was the fastest Dimitri has ever experienced in his life!

We opened the windows and a cool breeze came in (fortunately). Unfortunately, during the night it was very hot, even with everything open (27°C/80°F). There was an old fashioned TV.  But there was enough floor space for Audre to open up her big Samsonite suitcase on the floor so she did not have to unpack. Her desk was the round table in front of the open window with the breeze. Dimitri used the desk with one of the straight-backed chairs from the table. It was raining so we decided not to investigate other hotel possibilities. The hotel lent us umbrellas when we went out for dinner.

On a positive note, the dinner we had that first night was fun. It was a Grilled Shellfish and Sashimi Restaurant, Haebyeongongwon-ro, Wando-eup, Wando-gun, Jeollanam-do 537-801, South Korea (around the corner from the Grand Hotel), tel. 061-554-3845. This restaurant is on the main road and was inviting because (i) it had tables, (ii) other people were there, (iii) it had a “floor” of pepples/rocks and was distinctive, and (iv) there was a man who spoke English having dinner there.
Audre having grilled seafood in Wando with the English speaker looking on
We had a wonderful meal of barbequed scallops and clams, and something that was in a large shell (about 8” long) that looked like a mussel shell but was a creature more like a scallop. There were many banchan plates that came with that meal, including baby calms, a grilled sardine fish (larger that we are familiar with), cherry tomatoes and other vegetables, jeon (pancakes) that were actually warm, fermented soy bean paste and wasabi for sashimi. (There were others too that Audre can’t remember but they were all good.) We sat grilling (with the restaurant’s help) and drinking a wine made from roots that had an odd but okay taste. We talked with our neighbor, the man who spoke English, and had a very good meal. We spent KRW 46,000/US $46 and we were happy.

The people at the front desk gave us a water boiler and cups so we could make tea. During the night it was very annoying to have the hall light automatically go on when we went to the bathroom. So, it was uncomfortable and we couldn't sleep with the light going on from time to time. We were not happy. Another annoying thing was in the morning we could not see the view clearly. The hotel is right on the water but the double pane windows were dirty and the view was obscured. If we bent down we could look out of the bottom screened portion. 

The breakfast was very annoying. We had two plain juk and they wanted to charge us KRW 10,000 each (US$20; ridiculous). They insisted; we insisted and we ended up paying KRW 10,000 for our breakfast. When we investigated other hotel possibilities (Hazzy Motel, Binggrae, Sydney and Grand), we found that the rooms were tiny with no closets or storage. The only amenity they had that we didn’t was air conditioning.

We decided to stay a second night (and it was comfortably cool after the typhoon) and leave for Jeju on the 9:30 a.m. express ferry without having breakfast. The young man at our front desk in fact asked Dimitri why were in Wando, saying foreign tourists do not come to Wando. Well we are discovering that there may be more than one reason why that is the case.

While we were looking at other hotels the next day we stopped for coffee at Venezia (Haebyeongongwon-ro, Wando-eup, Wando-gun, Jeollanam-do 537-801, South Korea). We met an American from Chicago who was teaching English in an after school program to elementary school children. He was as surprised to meet us as we were to meet him. He asked us what we were doing in Wando too; he said tourists don’t come to Wando. We talked to him over coffee and made a plan to meet him and his Korean mentor for dinner that evening as our guests. Meeting Liam was a highlight!

The restaurant where we all ate was not. It was a contender for the worst meal in Korea; we were so embarrassed because we were treating. It was called Jang Bogo Buffet restaurant next to Wando Hotel and had an extensive buffet (Haebyeongongwon-ro, Wando-eup, Wando-gun, Jeollanam-do 537-801, South Korea, tel. 061-555-3825, http://cafe.daum.net/jangbogobuffet). Nothing was good. The buffet even had bun de gi, a noxious street food consisting of silk worm pupae and some vile brown sauce.
Liam is on the right and his mentor and his mentor's daughter are on the left
The weather changed after the rain and our second night at the Wando Tourist Hotel was much cooler; the temperature in the room was actually pleasant. We got up early and left for the ferry. Dimitri had some ramen noodles that we bought at the ferry terminal for breakfast.

Express Ferry from Wando to Jeju cost KRW 59,800/US $59 for the two of us.The day started out sunny but was cloudy during our 2 hour crossing. The passage wasn’t particularly picturesque. It was very rocky even though we were on a trimaran. Audre felt sick. Getting Audre’s big Samsonite suitcase onto the ferry was a challenge. There was a long flight of stairs followed by a gangplank that had uneven slats. It was awful. Fortunately on the way out, a Korean soldier lifted the suitcase and carried all the way down to the dock without even breathing hard! Wow!

We took a taxi from the ferry to the hotel in Jeju City that we had identified through one of the booking services but had not prepaid for. We had some trepidation about it because of our Wando Tourist Hotel experience.

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