Jeju Island

Trip Start May 24, 2010
Trip End May 04, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hani Guesthouse

Flag of Korea Rep.  , Jeju,
Monday, October 17, 2011

Jeju-do island is a huge island south of Korea. It is a volcanic island so it has many extinct volcanoes from when the island was created millions of years ago. Jeju is the honeymooners spot in Korea. Because it is filled with beaches and mountains and scenery, newlyweds flock here to celebrate their happy marriage. Even though I went in the off season there were still a fair-share of lovebirds. If you are familiar with Koreans then you might have noticed that couples love to dress alike. When I went to the Philippines, also a popular tourist destination for Koreans, I saw dozens of couples with matching shirts, or shoes, or hats, sometimes all three! So in Jeju I was ready for it and sure enough on my flight from Busan to Jeju there was a couple with identical outfits from head to toe. They had matching shirts, pants, shoes, aaaand bags! Even more, it looked like they had just come from the wedding because the bride's hair and make-up was still impeccably done with glitter and everything. Almost everywhere I went I ran into at least one matching couple, its really pretty adorable I think, even though I make fun of it a lot. One of Jeju's many unique features are the Dolharubang or "grandfather" statues, that are seen everywhere. Usually they are placed at the entrance to places. The statue is of a figure with a little cap hat, bulging eyes, and a big belly with his hands resting just above his bellybutton. 

Jeju is shaped like a big oval on it's side, with the longest 2 points running from east to west. Most of the main roads run around the outside edge of the island in a big circle with a few roads then running north to south. Mt. Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea and an extinct volcano, sits right in the center of the island, Jeju city is in the north and Segwipo is in the south. Other than that they’re houses sprinkled here and there but no real huge resort areas like you would expect, its quite nice. The downside is that the island is huge, it takes almost 4 hours to go from the East side to the West side on the bus which drives along the outer perimeter of the island. So every morning it was up early and out to the bus stop to ride at least 2 hours to my destination. Traveler’s tip, if you are with at least one other person it would be worthwhile to rent a car so you can stop at sites along the way, which you can’t do on the bus. The buses aren’t bad though, they run very often and are really easy to navigate, even though there’s not much English anywhere.

My first day there I went to the Manjanggul Lave Tube, which is one of the longest lava tubes in the world, a total of 7.4 km. Since Jeju is a volcanic island millions of years ago these were the passages where the lava flowed through. About one kilometer of the lava tube is open to tourists, ending in the largest lava column in the world standing at 7.6 meters. When you go inside it is very dimly lit, and you can see how the lava flowed from the lines on the walls. It was really amazing how big and cavernous some parts were, up to 23 meters in the highest parts. After the lava caves I went to Songsan Illchebong, or "sunset peak" which is an extinct volcano with a huge crater from where the top was blown off. It was swarming with tourists, but had a very beautiful view on the 20 minutes climb up and from the top. Jeju is also very famous not just for its volcanoes, but also for a unique group of women called “haenyeo” or women divers. Now these aren’t just ordinary female divers, they are 60-year-old grandmas who can dive up to 20 meters in nothing but a wetsuit and a facemask and hold their breath for up to 3 minutes! These women are the last remaining in a dying profession of female divers who scour the ocean floor everyday for sea urchins, abalone, shellfish, octopi or other seafood to sell. Decades ago they use to number in the thousands, women were very valued on Jeju island because of this ability to collect seafood to sell and make a decent living, but, their daughters found better career options and didn’t enter the family business. Today at Songsan, the ladies have a restaurant where they serve the seafood they catch everyday and do performances for tourists to showcase their diving skills. It is so unbelievable that these ladies, who look like they can hardly walk, can dive to such depths. I thought they were pretty cool so I got a picture with one of them.

My second day in Jeju, I conquered Mt. Hallasan. To get up the mountain there are 2 different trails that lead all the way to the top. On the way up I took the long trail that was about 9 km, and on the way down I took the shorter one that was about 8 km. The flaw in this plan was that at the end of the shorter trail I had to walk 4 km to the bus stop, so by the end of the day I hiked about 21 km!! Koreans love the outdoors, and they love their outdoor gear. All the hiking in Korean is so well regulated compared to Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, I remember being sent up this mountain that was a virtual mudslide, holding on to trees to climb while elderly couples clung to the young kids or slid down the mountain on their backsides. In Korea, all the trails are so well constructed and laid out that they almost take the fun out of it! Instead of really hiking, any of the steep parts were turned into stairs so most of the time it was climbing stairs instead of hiking, no fun. Regardless of the ease of the terrain, every hiker still had their ski-pole walking sticks, name-brand jackets and matching pants and hiking shoes. Me, with my jeans, pink raincoat and plastic bag with my lunch in it, was clearly fully competent to be climbing this mountain. I remember you could smell the kimchi in of all the ajummas’ backpacks as I passed them.  It was fun though, and pretty rewarding to get to the top and know that you just climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in Korea, even though there were 10 year-olds beating you to the top. And there was this wicked awesome crater too.

 My third and final day in Jeju, I went to the Hyeopjae Beach, Hallim Park and Segwipo to check out some waterfalls. My hostel was right across from the prettiest beach in Jeju another German traveler and I walked over to the beach to admire the view. While we were there a huge group of schoolgirls were also there on a field trip I guess, and started awkwardly taking pictures in front of us as if they were trying to take pictures of us without us noticing. Except, they were literally inches from us so we asked if they wanted a picture with us and out came the iphones and now we and probably the background of some high school girl’s phone. Hallim Park was basically a miniature Jeju island all compacted into one place. They had botanical gardens, tangerine trees, an aviary, more lava tubes, and a bonsai garden. There were fossilized trees that had been covered in lava and solidified so they were hollow tubes. I also saw a parakeet brutally attacking a dove for who know what reason, I guess they just had beef or something. They also had about a dozen ostriches, which I now believe to be about the scariest creature in the world. When did they get so ugly? They are like a hybrid between a peacock, a goose, and a dinosaur.

In Segwipo I first went to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall that has been nestled into its own little cove and sectioned off from anyone or thing that might damage it. Another difference between Southeast Asia and Korea is, in Thailand the waterfalls are open to the elements, no one is preserving them. In Korea they charge an admission fee and catalogue every plant, tree or bug that lives near it. After the waterfall I wandered over to this beautiful bridge that connected the mainland to a tree-covered little island called Saeseom. Finally I went to the second waterfall about a 15 minutes walk across town. Jeongbang waterfall was very unique because it fell right into the ocean. There were even women selling raw seafood to eat right on the rocks of the beach. Both waterfalls were much prettier than any I’d seen before, except for the Silver Falls in Sapa, Vietnam. Segwipo was a much more casual, seaside town than Jeju-si in the north and I can’t wait to go back to explore more. To get back to Seoul I flew for the grand total of about $40, so I highly recommend that to anyone planning on going. 
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