17 July 2013

Jeju-do: The Hawaii of Korea

Last week my host here in Korea went to some conference in Moscow or some such place and I took the opportunity to go on a mini-vacation. I decided to go to Jeju Island, the largest and southern most island in Korea. This place is amazing! It’s a popular destination for Korean honeymooners as well as Chinese and Japanese tourists and I can totally see why. It was also voted one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and boasts multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

They have mountains, beaches, caves, and waterfalls all over the place. The island is reportedly famous for an abundance of 3 things: waves, wind, and women. I can definitely attest to the wind and waves but I didn’t notice any particular abundance of women. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

At any rate, here’s what I did on my 3 day, 4 night tropical island getaway (besides take pictures that is!)

Day 1 – Climb the mountain
Jeju is home to Hallasan, Korea’s tallest mountain. It was once a volcano that, presumably, formed the rest of the island. At the top of Hallasan (1950 m up) there is a volcanic crater lake and some amazing views. You can see ocean from pretty much all angles! It took me a little over 3 hours to hike the 9.6 km trail to the top. The last few kilometers took a disproportionate amount of time because it was all stairs and I hate stairs. The lake was kind of dried out and, honestly, a bit disappointing. When I was up there I was thinking “Yeah, it’s nice, but Seven Wonders of the Natural World nice? I’m not so sure.

See? Anticlimactic.

I took a different trail down the mountain, however, and that was not at all disappointing. Stopping every 50-100 m to revel in the breathtaking scenery made for a slow descent, but I can now say I agree with the whole ‘Seven Wonders of the Natural World’ thing. 

The 8.7 km trail down took close to 5 hours (1) because I kept stopping to look at the scenery and (2) because those stairs on the way up murdered my knee so the numerous stairs on the way down had to be taken somewhat slower than I would have liked. The weather was so beautiful though that I didn’t really mind.

Day 2 – Tourist Trap Town
The second day I spent mostly at the Jungmun Resort area. It’s one of the most touristy places on the island making it convenient to do a lot in one day. To my everlasting shame, I could not resist going to the Teddy Bear Museum. It was adorable beyond reason but really not worth the $8 admission.

At least Teddy was able to get reacquainted with some long lost relatives

I spent about an hour giggling at the bears before heading to the beach. Supposedly, Jungmun Beach is one of the most crowded beaches on the island but I didn’t think it was very crowded at all. Anyway, I had some fun splashing around and falling over in the waves.

I thought the waves were pretty intense but in the states I live >1000 miles from the nearest ocean so my experience is limited to say the least. I’m not a huge beach person so when it started to get hot I packed up my towel and headed out. I think I chose a good time because quite a few people were coming down to the beach as I was leaving, the anticipated crowds I suppose. I hid in a cafĂ© for a while to escape the sun before spending a pleasant afternoon in the Yeomji Botanical Garden. They have both indoor and outdoor gardens as well as this tower thing (observation deck?). I sat behind the giant fountain in the Italian style garden reading for the majority of the time. Almost no one came to the outdoor gardens because of the heat so I had the tranquility all to myself for the most part.

It was really comfy in that brick building behind the fountain

View of Hallasan (I think) from the botanical garden's observation deck

My last adventure for the day was finding the Cheonjiyeon Pokpo (waterfall). The maps cleverly have it marked where it actually is and not where the entrance to the trail so you can see it is. I ended up walking a nice piece of the Jeju Olle Trail which my knee did not appreciate but my eyes did. I got to the waterfall around sunset so it was starting to fill up with honeymooners (they’re so cute!). Supposedly Cheonjiyeon is one of the top waterfalls in Jeju and I have to say it was pretty nice. Again, I don’t have much experience with waterfalls but it seemed like a good one.

View from afar (before I found the trail)

Day 3 – Caves and Art
For my last day I went to the north side of the island to see the Manjanggul lava tube. It was cool, literally. The cave is a consistent 10C year round so I was glad I had my rain coat on me. It was over 30C outside so the chill was at first refreshing but soon became uncomfortable. I had never heard of a lava tube before coming to Jeju, so I took the time to read all the signs talking about the features of the cave and how they were formed. Probably my favorite one was the part about lava balls, yes that is a real thing. Apparently, when big rocks break off the walls or roof of the cave and get swept into the lava flow (at this point they’re called lava rafts) they often settle to the bottom of the lava river and stop. If they get coated by lava in the process they become known as lava balls. Awesome. I am also a big fan of lava stalagmites which form when the heat of the lava river melts the rocks on the ceiling and they drip down. The most famous feature of the Manjangful lava tube system is this lava column that was formed when the roof of one tube broke creating a hole in the floor of another tube that lava then leaked into. After hiking through the cave and reading all the lava related signs I am now physically terrified of lava instead of just abstractly/conceptually aware of the potential horrors of lava. Let’s just say I would never make it to Mount Doom.

The famous lava column

Some melted rock on the cave walls

The other thing I did that day was go to two art museums that are conveniently located next door to each other. The Jeju Museum of Art is a typical art museum with some galleries and special exhibits. It was kind of small but had some work by this famous person who once lived on the island that was a little different from other things I’ve seen. The other museum, Jeju Loveland, was a wonder to behold. Jeju is home to 3 sex museums and Loveland is the second best one. It mostly contained lots of penis statues and boobs but there was actually some pretty informative exhibits as well. If you can read Korean, you can learn all about vibrators, dildos, and lube and then buy your own in a conveniently located shop. Definitely the most interesting museum shop I’ve ever seen.

Jeju Museum of Art

The only PG view in Jeju Loveland

I was originally hoping to get to the Jeju Stone Park on that last day as well but it didn’t work out so I spent my last night strolling around Seogwipo harbor area and eating an octopus pancake. Time well spent, I can assure you ^_^

Octopus Pancake!!!!

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