I had been to Mokpo twice before, but both times I was basically just passing through on my way to Jeju Island once and Jin(do) Island another time. I was very unimpressed with what I could see of the city then. I was left with the impression that Mokpo was rather drab (unfortunately, an easy impression to get from small Korean cities) and that there wasn't anything to do there. I was excited to visit Maddie in Mokpo and check the city out more and give it a chance to prove my first impression wrong. I found online that Mokpo has a daily bus tour that lasts around 5-6 hours and that is only 5,000 won, or about $5. Maddie was keen so I signed us up.
The city bus tour took off from Mokpo train station at 9:30 am, so I took the KTX (Korea's fastest train) down to Mokpo in the morning and met Maddie at the train station.
At the Gwangju train station waiting on the train:
Maddie and I on the bus:
We were the only foreigners on the bus tour, and the guide didn't speak English, though she was very friendly and did her best to give us a great experience. She was evidently very knowledgeable from the amount that she talked in Korean about different sites.
We first went to the Mokpo Modern History Museum, which mostly just had a bunch of old photographs from around the 1890s to present day. Much of the focus on the museum was about the Japanese occupation of Korea, which lasted from around 1910 to 1945. Obviously the museum really centered around how the Japanese occupation affected Mokpo. The building the museum was housed in was an old building built by the Japanese and it is called the "Former Mokpo Branch of Oriental Development Company". Apparently the Oriental Development Company was under the oversight of the Japanese Government and basically had the goal of exploiting the Korean farmers and such. I did not know this before the trip, but Mokpo, because it was a major port town, was an important location for Japan to try to cement its hold on Korea. So there are still a lot of Japanese-era buildings there. Anyways, the museum was really cool, but 99% of the museum was just rows and rows of old black and white photographs. Not the most visually stimulating place. I did learn that Korea's first factory was a cotton factory in Mokpo. I did not take any pictures of the museum because none of the Koreans were taking pictures and I was trying to follow the "when in Rome" rule.
A very short walk away from the Modern History museum was the site of the former Japanese Consulate. It was a nice, impressive red brick building (Korean buildings are never traditionally made from red brick- at least none that I've ever seen- so it really made the building stand out) built on a hill over looking the whole city and the ocean. Clearly it was strategically built there so the Japanese would be higher up than any of the Koreans and could look down on everyone. Behind the building there were a few jail cells built into the hill.
The former Japanese Consulate:
Behind the old Japanese Consulate was a large rocky hill/mountain thing called Yudal Mountain. The tour went up some of it. There were some important artifacts at various locations along the path. For example, there was a huge bell, a statue of Yi Sun Shin (great Korean naval genius/warrior), and an old cannon that used to be shot everyday at noon to mark the time. The short climb was really lovely and we had a great view of the city and ocean.
Statue of Yi Sun Shin:
We spent quite a bit of time on the mountain, and then got back in the bus and headed to the Kim Dae Jung Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Hall. This museum/memorial hall was super cool and extremely nice and well made. I looked it up on my phone and found out it is brand new- it just opened in the summer of 2013. Kim Dae Jung was a former South Korean president, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for fighting for democracy all of his life and working to turn Korea from a dictatorship into a democracy. He also implemented the "Sunshine Policy" with North Korea and really worked to facilitate better feelings between the two nations. Korea is very proud of him, and the southwestern region I live in in particular, because he was from that region. I always thought he was from Gwangju, but apparently he was born quite close to Mokpo, so Mokpo got the honor of housing the Peace Prize Memorial Hall for him. Like I said, it was very sleek and modern. It talked all about his life, but particularly focused on him winning the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact... the museum even has his peace prize and certificate on display! That was super cool to see, because I've never seen a Nobel medal in person. Also, fun fact, he was nominated for the prize 14 years in a row before he finally won it.
The prize and letter from the Nobel prize committee informing him of his win:
They had this podium set up where you could pretend to be Kim Dae Jung giving his acceptance speech. The Korean woman who got her picture taken before me did this pose, and she looked like a pretty authentic pro-democracy Korean activist doing it, so I copied her.
Replica of Kim Dae Jung's jail cell where he spent several years imprisoned. He read over 600 books then.
Letter to Kim Dae Jung from Jimmy Carter, dated 1984.
Wall with the names of people who had won the peace prize.
The museum also has many personal items belonging to Kim Dae Jung and his wife, such as some clothes, books, and even his presidential car.
The museum was awesome and I'm so glad it was included on the bus tour.
After leaving the museum, we drove to a restaurant for lunch. The food was delicious and consisted of rice with a bunch (like 12) different side dishes and some soup. A lot of the side dishes were seafood based, which was perfect for me being a pesca-tarian and perfect for Maddie since she is allergic to beef. This other man from the tour asked to sit at our table with us, so of course we said yes. He actually spoke really decent English and was very friendly. Lunch was just 7,000 won ($7) and extremely satisfying.
After lunch we headed towards this boardwalk area by the ocean. It wasn't a beach- more like the ocean with a wooden walkway. There were many fishing boats in the ocean. There were also these two big rocks on the land side of the walk way that are supposed to be some famous Mokpo landmark, but to me just looked like two random big rocks.
You can see the wooden walkway in the right of this picture:
The rocks are cool, but they certainly weren't the highlight of the tour, in my mind. Everyone made a big show of taking pictures in front of them, though.
The walkway eventually led us to the National Maritime Museum, which was super cool. A lot of the plaques and stuff had English translations on them, but the tour guide also got us audio headsets at the information desk that had extra information about everything. The museum had a large exhibit on shipwrecks from the Goryeo period, which was from about 920-1400 AD. Apparently in the last few decades, there has been a big effort to locate and excavate old shipwrecks- not just Korean ships, but also Japanese and Chinese ships. All the countries at the time traded heavily with each other by sea, and often excavated shipwrecks of ships from any of those three countries had goods and treasures on them from all three countries. The museum had hundreds of celadon pottery pieces, earthenware pieces, books, coins, etc that have been discovered in shipwrecks. Also, at some of the shipwreck sites, hundreds of logs of sandalwood and/or rosewood were found- those woods are very fragrant and used to make incense and such. The museum also had the remains of the Sinchan- an old Chinese ship from the Goryeo period that had shipwrecked off Korea. That was super cool. Unfortunately, most of the rooms in the museum had "no camera" signs.
View from inside the museum looking out into the ocean:
It's hard to see, but this is a model frame of the Shinchan with the old wooden hull dug up from the ocean over some of the frame:
Random exhibit room:
Exterior of the museum:
I was extremely impressed with the maritime museum. It was really cool seeing hundreds of artifacts that had been excavated from the ocean floor. Also, we learned how these artifacts are cleaned and preserved and restored and such after being in the ocean for centuries.
We left the museum around 2:10, and went back to the train station- the tour was finished. I got a train ticket for shortly after three, said goodbye to Maddie, and got home to my apartment in Gwangju a bit before five.
All in all, I was extremely impressed with the bus tour. Although we couldn't understand what the guide was saying, most of the places we went to had English translations on the signs, and the audio headset at the maritime museum was very helpful. I was really blown away at the quality of the tour and the guide and the fact that it was only $5. I also really appreciated how the tour alternated between indoor museum activities and outdoor scenic activities. Mokpo definitely proved my initial lack-luster impression wrong, and I'm really glad I gave the city a second chance.