Tuesday, 28 August 2012

JAPANDEMONIUM pt 1 - Tsushima Island Cycle Trip

Part One - Part Two - Part Three (conclusion) coming soon

Japandemonium? Our trip to Tsushima was nothing like we expected. It was frustrating. It was wonderful. Nothing went to plan but it was such a spectacular place to visit. The cycling was brutal. We had to slash our cycling distances much shorter than anticipated. Tsushima is one of the hilliest, or rather most MOUNTAINOUS places I have ever ridden. Forget comparisons to Korea's Jeju Island. There is no comparison. We spent most of our time on the south island where there is hardly a stretch of flat road. You spend most of your time either climbing hills or bombing down them, but of course it comes with reward. There is little farming. There are some valleys with rice fields, but the majority of the island is dense forest.

Tsushima is barely 100km long. In my mind I thought we could cover the whole island easily because 100km is peanuts. However there were a whole load of factors that came into play which made that impossible. The mountains were just the start of the problems. The weather was another problem.  It was either tipping it down rain, or we were being baked alive. The next issue was accommodation, or rather the lack of. Staying hydrated and having enough food was also an issue. We sweated gallons on this trip and making sure we had enough was a real pain. We certainly made quite a few mistakes which I will mention later. There are a few things that you could do to make your trip to Tsushima much smoother.

Tickets: We bought our ferry tickets online for 150,000 Korean won through daea.com. You also have to pay some kind of departure tax at the terminal. Of course it wasn't easy. Korean websites are notoriously bad for international tourists, or "foreigners". We had to acquire the help of Sean's wife JoJo to  make it a little easier. The website said there were only 6 seats left on the ferry so we snapped them up ASAP. It turned out that the ferry was hardly even half full. We could easily have just bought them at the terminal on the day. The route we took was from Busan to Izuhara and it took 2 hours. There is another ferry that goes from Busan to Hitakatsu.

Busan International Ferry Terminal
The International Ferry Terminal is very close to Jungang Subway and just a short ride from Busan Station. We stayed at Hue Motel, a very decent love motel where the standard rate is 40,000 KRW per night. The best way to ride to the Ferry Terminal is to avoid the main road and head down the side street behind Busan Station. It's a one way street, but there's virtually no traffic so it's fine.

The ferry was really bumpy and there were dozens of Koreans lying down on the floor by the fire escape doors. I guess they were feeling a little queasy. The most amusing thing about the journey was the promotional DVD that was showing. It claimed that "the Korean spirit is still alive in Tsushima". I didn't see any Korean spirit on the island except for the soju that the tourists were drinking!

"Quarantine" Izuhara
On arrival at Izuhara some customs people cleaned down our tyres. It only took a short while, but it ensured that we were at the back of the immigration queue. Bah!

Sean beaming
The holiday begins here!
Jenny beaming Lunch
To try and keep costs down we did a lot of supermarket shopping. We still managed to spend over $300 over 5 days despite mostly camping. Oh well. Picnic time! We found a bench by this river and were blessed with a few dry minutes to wolf our sandwiches down before the heavens opened.

Picnic Epic sandwich
A seriously large sandwich.

Leaving Izuhara heading south
Heading south out of Izuhara.
Tunnel, one of many.
There are plenty of tunnels on this island. They're not too bad as there's not much traffic. Actually they provided a nice moments respite from either the torrential rain or brutal sunshine and heat. And some of these tunnels grace you with some spectaculars. This time however it was incredibly grey...
Rainy view Cream crackered
Destroyed. The first two days of out time in Tsushima was almost non stop rain, which although it sounds awful is actually much kinder on you that the blistering heat and humidity in the sunshine. Just when we thought we had reached the top of an epic climb we would turn another corner to find that it continued for a few more kilometres...

More uphill
Map on the side of the road
We stayed on the South Island most of the time. You can find these maps along the way. They are not always entirely accurate.

Right turn to Uchiyama pass
Remember this junction! We were warned to avoid the most southern coastal road by a woman in the tourism office and advised to head down into Uchiyama Valley and follow a river path where it wouldn't be so hilly. What she didn't tell us was that there were two ways of getting there, the first option being to go through a tunnel straight into the valley and the second option being to cycle over Uchiyama Pass. Of course we took the second option! We were completely unaware of the tunnel. It was a brutal climb that added a lot of time to our journey. The views were potentitally amazing, but we were in the clouds so we didn't see all that much. So if you don't want to cycle even further up a hill, don't turn right here!

Uchiyama pass sign Up, up and away Uchiyama Pass Lookout Point
Cloudy Vistas at Uchiyama Pass.

Views east
The East Sea should be dominating this picture! Exhausted, soaking wet and wearing cotton. A dreadful choice of material for cycling. Usually I would wear cotton when cycling because I hate synthetic materials and cycling clothes. This trip taught me to embrace quick drying materials because were always soaking wet with either rain or sweat. Cotton gets incredibly heavy when wet and takes a lifetime to dry and an epic stench follows. From day two onwards we all busted out our quick dry clothes from Uniqlo. I even just wore my cycling shorts, which I can't stand wearing. Oh well, it's not a fashion parade.

View west - Uchiyama valley The road ahead
The murky road ahead.

Hairpins and hillbombs
Mountain hairpins! This downhill was a lot of fun, but we had to go slowly. There were lots of rocks that the rain had washed into the road and the turns were really sharp.

Hairpins and hillbombs Hairpins and hillbombs
You can just about spot Jenny under those trees. It's a long way down.

Hairpins and hillbombs
Once you get down into Uchiyama Valley it's a nice steady downhill following the river all the way to the east coast.

Ayumodoshi Natural Park
Right in the middle of the valley is Ayumodoshi Natural Park. It's a fantastic natural swimming hole carved out by the river. The rock formations are surreal. There's a camping ground here which we would return to and spend two nights there later. It was empty this day due to the weather. We didn't stay here as we wanted to cover some more distance and get to Tsutsu.

Local Store sign Large carton of shochu
We picked up a carton of Shochu en route for our night time entertainment. It's pretty strong stuff!

Tsutsu hawks
These hawks were EVERYWHERE! The seemed to be following us gliding from post to post along the way. They are really skittish and difficult to get a good photo of.

Campground Tsutsu
Tent City! We hit out destination after about 30km. Before setting off on our trip we assumed that the rainy season was over. You see, it hadn't rained in 3 weeks. This was a grand error as our tents were not waterproof. We rolled up to this camp site a little after 6pm and nobody was there. The bathrooms were locked up. We pitched our tents on the decking under a shelter and watched the storms way out at sea. The "sun" went down, or rather the clouds turned to black which could mean only one thing. Time to crack open that carton of shochu and take some stupid pictures!

Shochu light show! Shochu light show! Shochu light show! Lighthouse long exposure
Long exposure of the lighthouse in the distance. Thunder and lightning had threatened on the horizon for many hours, but the storm didn't hit us until the sun rose. I was hoping to get some cool long exposure shots of fork lightning up close, but it didn't happen.

Giant scary bug!
Aaargh!!! This thing was humongous! It's body was the size of the palm of my hand. The insects on Tsushima are nothing like anything I've seen in Korea.

DAY TWO (Tuesday):
Packing up
Shochu makes packing up your kit the next day a real pain in the arse. Drink with caution!

Day two: more rain
Jenny, the brightest thing in a dull start to the day. More clouds and more rain. We backtracked to Tsutsu to get some cup ramen for breakfast and buy enough water to prevent us from shrivelling up like raisins from all the excessive sweating during today's cycle back to Izuhara. My ramen was oddly lime flavoured but it hit the spot.

Brake pad fail
Jenny's brake pad had completely worn down through to the metal so we had to go back to Izuhara to try and get a replacement. In the meantime we flipped the brake pad around to stop the metal scraping against the wheel rims. It was a temporary measure which worked. Make sure your brakes have got enough life left in them before you come to Tsushima! You will be using them a lot.

South coast South coast South coast South coast
One of the few good things about cycling in the rain is the smells. The combination of the humidity and the rain really brought the forests to life. The smell of pine, eucalyptus and even the few rice fields were really strong.

After 30km back in Izuhara we decided to find accomodation first. Our clothes were damp and totally stunk. We decided we couldn't be bothered to cycle any further. We needed to dry our stuff out somewhere. We went to the Tsushima Hotel which cost 10,000 JNY. That's not cheap by Korean standards. It wasn't a particularly nice place. It was tiny, cramped, had a filthy carpet floor, a tiny television and the strangest bathroom which was like a portacabin inside the hotel room. The comparison to the super cheap love motel that we stayed in Busan was ridiculous. The Korean Motel was huge, spacious, had a large bath tub, a massive widescreen TV, a computer and probably a third of the price of Hotel Tsushima.
Tsushima Hotel Tsushima Hotel
We hung our clothes up to dry and stank the joint up.
Tsushima Hotel
The aforementioned portacabin bathroom. Tiny.

Despite all of my complaints about Hotel Tsushima, the owner bent over backwards to help us. In my quest to fix Jenny's brake pad - as she took a three hour nap - I approached the front desk to enquire about any bike rental shops that might have some spare parts they could sell me. Apparently there aren't. The owner subsequently embarked on a mission to hunt a brake pad down which resulted in him driving me 15km north out of town to a retail estate to hit up the Osada Discount Store - a giant ASDA/Wal Mart style supermaket. Fortunately for Jenny they had one set of brake pads left. I offered him some money for the inconvenience of driving me all the way out there but he was having none of it. I also learned that he has the only electric car on Tsushima Island. Fact!

Make sure your bike is in good condition and you have spare parts for heading to Tsushima. It's pretty remote.

DAY THREE (Wednesday):
We got up slowly and headed to the Tourist Information Centre at the Ferry Terminal. We wanted to arrange some camping and figure out where we could stay. Having cycled part of the south island we wanted to go and cycle round the north island. We asked about hotels and there didn't seem to be many  in the places that we wanted to stop. We also asked about campsites. They pointed out two on the map, but one was closed on the Wednesday and the other was closed on the Thursday. We also asked about places to buy food and we were told that there are basically no marts north of Izuhara at which to buy even snacks. Frustrated at our lack of options for accommodation and buying food we abandoned our plans to cycle around both islands and decided just to head North about 20 odd kilometres and stay at Asou Bay Campsite then head back south to explore some other routes. It turns out there are other options for accommodation but we were having a lot of communication issues. Top tip: if you can speak any Korean, use it, because the tourist information speak much better Korean and they also have maps in Korean so if you know Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) they are much easy to understand. I'll highlight all of our mistakes in part three of this write up.

Heading North out of Izuhara on highway 382 is a super easy cycle after cycling around the south island. It's a busier road, so it's not as much fun as cycling on road 24 on the south island. We made fast progress out of the city and got to the Osada Discount Store within about 45 mins. We took the opportunity to buy some supplies here. We bought a portable gas cooker which was a bit cumbersome and some ramen and tinned foods for cooking. We also treated ourselves to some fresh sushi and beer for lunch. We stopped off at a rest stop before Mazeki Bridge which was covered in spiders!

Sushi Lunch Sushi Lunch

Phallic Fountain
A very phallic but water fountain. Perfect timing. On day three we were treated to some much needed sunshine, but that brought with it serious dehydration. As annoying as the rain is, the sunshine in Tsushima cooks up a real sweat! Think twice before doing a cycle trip there in the height of summer.

These spiders were all over the rest shelter. They are pretty common in Korea too, but the sheer  number of these were ridiculous. Cobwebs everywhere.

Manzeki Bridge Manzeki Bridge
Above are two views from Manzeki Bridge, the point where Tsushima is divided into the north and south islands. Just past here is a viewpoint with spectacular views, but the road leading up to it is an utter ball breaker. From here you get un broken panoramaz across the whole of Asou Bay.

Asou Bay Asou Bay Manzeki Bridge
Manzeki Bridge from the viewpoint and a lovely electricity pylon for good measure.

Asou Bay Lookout
"Fight me! I dare ya"
Blue skies at last.

Asou Bay Lookout Asou Bay Park
Nice cycling shorts, dork! We pulled up into Asou Bay and decided to set up camp there and do some riding from there. I think it's wiser to make a reservation, then they'll have it all set up for you when you arrive. Then we erected looked like it was going to get blown away in the night. It wasn't particularly waterproof either, but fortunately we were graced some fine weather, albeit a tad windy. It was a really clear and starry night which is virtually heard of back in Gwangju.

Asou Bay Park
Please don't blow away.

Asou Bay Asou Bay
Down by the water were some cool rocks. It wasn't a particularly good place to swim. There wasn't much of a beach and there were thousands of tiny jellyfish in the water. They hire kayaks on the campsite which weren't too expensive. We were going to do that the next morning until we realised that you could only use them in a tiny cordoned off area. It was a bit of a let down. Camping at Asou wasn't all that cheap. Probably about 4,600 yen.

Asou Bay
Asou Bay Park Asou Bay Park
By the campground there's a horse and deer "breeding ground". The horses seemed to have a lot more freedom than this deer, who seemed pretty aggressive. He kept letting out a deep belch every time I approached him.

Asou Bay Park
This is the super friendly and polite worker at the campground. He made a lot of effort to make us comfortable. He gave us a bunch of camping equipment and after we interrogated him as to the whereabouts of the nearest mart - there wasn't one - he sold us a six pack of Asahi from his personal supply.

Asou Bay Park
You can see there our clothes, finally washed and dried. No more stinking panniers and hotel rooms!

Green Tea
...and the campground worker kept bringing us loads of chilled green tea! What a guy.

What's the time? Ramen time of course. Chef Jenny hard at work.

Hanging out in the outdoor kitchen area of the campground we were introduced to a plethora of wildlife. With the exception of the hawks that were omnipresent it seemed that the only other animals on the island were humans and insects. Where are all the mid level predators? Here's a few of the ones we got on camera...
Cricket? Praying Mantis Praying Mantis shedding
Uh-oh. He just got a whole lot bigger.

Massive bug
I hate this insect. They are pretty dosile, but they constantly look like they are going to pounce in your face.

This is possibly the most beautiful moth I have ever seen. In fact I have never referred to moths as being beautiful until now.

Part One - Part Two - Part Three (conclusion) coming soon


  1. very useful info thanks very much for sharing! i'm afraid I made a mistake as I have booked a trip in 5 weeks and i'm not good at riding up hills yet. in your opinion, am I going to walking the whole way?

  2. It is very hilly indeed, but you’ll be fine. Just make friends with your lowest gear and go slowly!