Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jeju Island

Let me start by saying that Korea celebrates two New Years: the traditional one on January 1st (when everyone turns a year older), and the Lunar New Year, or Seolnal (설날), which this year fell on February 19. This second New Year is a huge deal in Asia, which means that even many of us hagwon teachers get a small vacation (three whole days!!) for the occasion. But because almost everyone else in Asia also gets off for Seolnal, that means everyone wants to travel...and ticket prices are through the roof. Since I wasn't willing to pay hundreds more for plane tickets that would normally be reasonable, I decided to stay local and go to the famous Jeju Island, or Jejudo, instead. It’s one of the main tourist destinations for visitors to Korea, as well as for native Koreans.

Note: I went through my favorite travel group, WinK (When in Korea), because I'll admit that having everything planned for me is much more appealing than having to do all the work myself. While it was probably more expensive than if I'd done it alone, I got to see all the best highlights of the island within a short time, never had to worry about transportation, and got to meet and befriend foreigners from all over Korea and the world. I'd recommend the experience to anyone. 

Our ferry to the island
Now, keep in mind that when I said Jeju was local, I didn't mean it was actually close by. It involved traveling for a full 12 hours both ways, first on a subway, then train, then bus, and finally a ferry (yes, like the ferry that sank on the way to Jeju a year ago). The journey wasn’t fun and, unsurprisingly, we were all exhausted after traveling throughout the night. It didn’t help that we arrived to fierce wind and disappointingly gray skies. To be sure, taking a plane would've been loads faster, but it also would've required more money. 

And now, I present my wonder-filled trip to Jeju Island. 


1) The first place we went after arriving on the island was the notorious Loveland (aka Lu-buh-lan-duh), whose true nature I had learned about only the night before. Considering Korea's obsession with cutesy romantic things, I had assumed this place would just involve a lot of hearts and benches and cute coupley picture spots. 

Ha. Ha. 

Apparently the faucets worked, too.

In case you got lost.

Welcome to what should've been called Sexland. Once again I was taken aback by the contrast with Korea's supposedly conservative culture. Wherever you looked there were penises, in statue form or used as arrows pointing you in the right direction. The park was filled with statues of people having sex in different positions, gigantic structures in the shape of genitalia, and even machines where two metal figures went at it when you cranked the handle. It was like the entire place was designed by an immature 16-year-old. There was also a mini museum with different sex toys on display and even a little gift shop. Lovely.
         "Greek Love"

But it's so pretty.

This bike was "for women
only"…let's see if you can
figure out why.

Korea has the best picture spots.

        I actually really liked this statue.

For the people who were into horseback riding—apparently there's a special breed of Jeju horses—they did that first and then joined us at Loveland. But for the people like me who were there the entire time, two hours in dreary weather was far too long to spend staring at naked parts.

2) After Loveland we were all taken to our motel, where we could finally rest and wash up. That night we had a group dinner at another staple of Jeju: a black pig restaurant. I'm not sure how black pig barbecue is different from normal pig barbecue (I happily sat at the tofu table), but the others said it was quite good. 


1) Thursday was packed full of events. First we went to Olle Trail #7 on Jeju's southern coast. It’s part of a series of 12 long walking paths bordering the island, which are said to be based on the Pilgrim’s Trail in Spain. They’re famous for their beauty, and they allow tourists to explore the scenic forests, villages, and coasts of Jeju on foot. Unfortunately we were able to spend very little time walking along the path, though the views of the ocean and the rocks were still astounding. This was one of the stops I wished we could’ve spent more time on, but such is the nature of a guided trip.

The water was sooo pretty.

The famous Oedolgae Rock

2) Our second stop was the Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff, popularly referred to as the "Superman Rocks" because of its apparent resemblance to kryptonite. They're the result of lava flows cooling and hardening into five- or six-sided columns as far back as 250,000 years ago. They were really quite a sight.  

3) Next was Sanbangsan Mountain, which is made entirely of lava from a violent eruption hundreds of thousands of years ago. There are a couple of temples on the mountain, and near the top is a small grotto where people can pray to Buddha and leave some small offerings. In this cave is also a basin of water filled by a slow, consistent drip from the rocky ceiling above. Legend has it that if you drink three scoops of this water, you will gain eternal life. But be warned: If you drink two or four scoops, you will die immediately. (Don't worry, I drank exactly three.)

The basin of eternal life or
instant death

The grotto at the top

The beautiful view from one of the
mountain's temples

Spot the Dolhareubang!

*A quick note on Jeju's official mascot, the Dolhareubang, or "Stone Grandfather." This stone statue can be seen all over the island and in all different sizes. While not the most attractive sculpture, it's instantly recognizable and has become the international symbol of Jeju. I even have my own mini statue and a keychain of it. :)


How cool is that?

An epic jumping shot

4) Across from Sanbangsan Mountain were the Dragon Head Cliffs (part of Yongmeori Beach), a series of rocks along the coast with a very unique color and formation. They were all clearly striated and had many strange pockets that made them fun to explore.

5) The day tour on Thursday was rather rushed, so we hardly got to spend any time at Jeju's famous Cheonjiyeon Falls. We saw only one of several waterfalls, and then turned around and went quickly on to the next site. Still, despite it being winter, the waterfall was beautiful and made a great spot for pictures.

6) Our next stop was Jungmun Beach, one of the many scenic beaches of Jeju. Some daring members of our group insisted on proving their manliness and ran into the freezing water for a minute or two, but the rest of us just enjoyed the view and the feeling of sand on our feet. The sand itself was a pretty but unusually dark mixture of crushed-up shells.

We all got plenty of vitamin C that week.
7) One of the events I most looked forward to was our trip to an all-you-can-pick orange orchard. Jeju is famous around Korea for its oranges, tangerines, and hallabongs, a special type of puckered-looking orange originating in Japan. In supermarkets around the country, orange juice from Jeju is sold as its own special product. And chocolates from Jeju flavored with hallabong or other fruits make for popular gifts from those visiting the island.
Hallabong oranges

When we got to the orchard, each pair of people was given a small basket, some gloves, and pliers, and we were let loose for half an hour to pick away. Quite a few of the oranges (really just tangerines) were already rotten, but we all stocked up on enough good ones to be satisfied. And they really were deliciously juicy and sweet. 


1) We started our Friday tour off with a morning visit to Crater Mountain Sunrise Peak, or Seongsan Ilchulbong, on the eastern coast. Named one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites, this mountain was also formed by volcanic activity 100,000 years ago. What makes it distinctive are the strange-shaped rocks and the giant crater at the top, which is supposed to look like a crown. Like many "hikes" in Korea, the path upwards was essentially a long wood-and-stone staircase. I was surprised by all the Chinese tour buses we saw there; it must be a popular destination for Asian tourists.

You can kind of see how it
resembles a crown.

The view from halfway up

From a distance

2) My favorite part of the trip was definitely our afternoon spent on Udo, or Cow Island (supposedly it looks like a cow lying on its side). We were told before we got off the bus to look for the legendary Udo divers, older women who dive down to great depths in the sea with no scuba gear in search of things to sell on the market: octopi, sea urchins, abalone, etc. In recent years they have been so successful that they've made enough money to send their daughters to universities on the mainland. As a consequence, these "sea women" are dying out, as is their tradition. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any on my visit.

After a 30-minute ferry ride northeast of Jeju to the much smaller Udo, during which seagulls swarmed our ship like flies (tourists = food, obviously), we arrived to perfect weather. Whereas the rest of the trip was generally very structured, we were free to explore the island for a full 4 hours, which honestly wasn’t nearly enough. 

It's meee. :)
Udo was essentially a lawless playground for tourists. Anyone with an international or American license was able to rent a scooter, ATV, or weird 3-wheeled buggy-thing, whether he or she had any practice actually driving one of these things or not. (If you didn't have a license, you could rent a regular or electric bike.) I’ll admit that the most experience I’d had was riding on the back of a motorcycle once in college, but I decided to take the risk anyway and rent a scooter. I’m not going to lie: it was terrifying at first and it took me some time to get my balance, especially every time I had to stop and start again. But the feeling once I got going was wonderful. It was an ideal way to tour the island and enjoy the gorgeous views—of course, while watching out for similarly inexperienced drivers.

I mean look at how blue that is.
I haven't even messed with the colors.
Although the island was quite small, Udo had many wonders worth exploring. There were two main beaches, the coral beach and the black sand beach, whose sand is supposed to be therapeutic for the feet. Somehow I didn't make it to either, but the smaller beaches were beautiful and were filled with rounded, porous volcanic rocks of all sizes and colors—the same kind that are sold as foot scrubbers in stores. These rocks were often set up in little man-made stacks around the island, which I've seen quite a few times around Korea in general. As for the water itself, it was ridiculously blue—so blue that I was convinced the color was somehow photoshopped as I was staring it. I don't think I've ever seen water that blue before.

It may not have been
hot, but at least it had a
delicious peanut sauce.
Why Marilyn Monroe? Who knows.
After exploring the island for a while, we stopped at the small but renowned Marilyn Monroe restaurant, which served monster burgers and was decorated all over with pictures of the famous actress. And of course there was also Udo’s famous peanut ice cream and peanut makgeoli, or rice wine.

Overall our trip to Udo made for an awesome afternoon, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

3) Our Udo adventures were followed with a visit to the huge Manjangul Lava Tubes. I can't say I had even heard of a lava tube before. Because of how the lava formed and hardened over the years, it created a distinctly layered and quite long (4.6 miles total) lava cavern up to 60 feet wide and 75 feet high. It contains examples of multiple different lava formations, which various signs made sure to point out along the way. Descending the stairs into the tube felt like going down into the Underworld. It wasn't well lit and there was water in small pools on the ground, so we had to be very careful where we stepped. Still, it was interesting to see as a one-time thing. At the end of the tunnel was a giant "lava column" formed by lava pouring down from the ceiling. It's happens to be the largest lava column in the world, measuring at 25 feet high.

4) The last stop of the day was the Maze Park, my very first hedge maze. I know hedge mazes aren't particular to Jeju or Korea, but it was an experience nevertheless. Any attempt to use strategy quickly failed, and eventually our trip leader helped us out because he was too impatient to wait for all the newbies.


1) On the last full day of the trip, we had the option to hike Mt. Halla (Hallasan), the tallest mountain in Korea. Although I had initially signed up for the hike, in the end I decided not to go because A) it was scheduled to rain all day, and rain + mountains = my worst nightmare (I slip enough on loose rocks as it is); B) it was cold, and being cold and wet sounds miserable; and C) the hiking group was leaving at 7:30am. I was impressed that some people did go regardless, though they admitted later that they were extremely ill-prepared for the constant downpour and the sheer amount of snow on the mountain. They weren’t even allowed to hike up after a certain point because the conditions were so dangerous. Many of them said they ended up sitting on their bums and sliding down most of the way back because it was so wet and the snow was so deep. It was probably for the best that I didn’t go, but it sure would’ve made for a good story.

Even from this distance you could see all the snow on the top. 

2) While the braver/crazier members of our group were off getting soaked on a freezing mountain, I got to spend some time walking around Hamdeok Beach, where our motel was situated. Although the weather wasn't ideal, and I'd like to go back in the summer when the water is warm enough to (sanely) swim in, the beach was scenic nevertheless. Since Jeju is a volcanic island, many of the rocks had a unique black, porous surface that was quite beautiful, and the beach was extra pretty at sunset.

And there you go: My eventful, picture-filled 5-day trip to Jeju. (I guess 4 days if you include the travel.) It's definitely a place worth visiting if you ever come to Korea or if you're already here. So go on, get to it!


Fatina said...

What an amazing little island. The pictures were outstanding and quite professional , and yes even the first few. I really loved this blog, it is so helpful to whoever visits Korea and Somehow draws you in to keep on reading to see what is next.

Lisa said...

Hania, I'm so glad you got to go to Jeju! Very nice pictures you've captured there haha. It looks like you are experiencing pretty much everything you should do in Korea in the short 6 months that you were there.. but are you back home??? I really hope you are! :P We need to get together very soon!! (I changed my phone number so I'll have to find yours and get in touch with you!)