Tag Archives: jeju

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 4 – A Plane To Busan

Sore. So very sore. I guess this is what happens after you climb a mountain with no training and no warm-up. That was dumb and now my neck and calves are making me pay for my hubris. All this and more on what was my final day in Jeju, which I’m still rather just sad about.

As we wanted to fit in one more site before our late afternoon flight, breakfast was a readymade convenience store kimbap. It was exactly what I wanted in that very moment and somewhat helped heal the burn that was getting to the hotel check-out to find out that the booking I made was just that. No advance payment. Once we confirmed this was true in the booking itself, I paid and slunk off feeling like a fool who tried to mess around the nice woman at the hotel desk.

Anyway.

Three buses (and about 90 minutes of travel time) was all that would be needed to take me to the place that would cheer me up again: the Manjanggul lava tube cave system. Thanks to some lucky connections on the way, I got to spend longer in this awesome 1km stretch of lava tube than first expected – which was great as it gave my legs enough time to recover from the steep steps down before having to clamber back up them again.

In the time we were there, these tubes had very few people in them, so it was a bit like a good level of Mass Effect where your investigating some abandoned mine tunnel – just without the alien queen boss battle at the end. It was also a lot wetter than I expected, but considering how much rain I had to climb through yesterday it’s little wonder that it would be haunting me down in the caves. I guess that rain takes 24 hours to filter down to the lava tubes, so I get to repeat the joys of a Korean rainstorm.

Looking around, it’s incredible to think that these formations are all down to natural lava flow and not human intervention. The lava shelves are the most astonishing, these nearly flat projections jutting out from the side as if carved and sanded down by humans. Amazing. Also the lava rafts and lava toes randomly placed on the floor. I mean, firstly I really appreciate how straightforward the names are because I can remember them 12 hours later, but also I never realised just how many lava formations are. Then you come to the finale at the end of the tunnel:

Standing at over 7 metres tall, this is the tallest lava column in the world and it honestly looked breathtaking and imposing standing there in the dark. Ignoring the fact that, in the light, some of the bubbles looked like skulls from hell trying to make their way to the surface, just looking at how this lava turned the solid ground above it into something that looks like a piece of cloth with a hole in. Well, it’s extraordinary and I loved it.

That was it for the lava tubes and of Jeju really. As I stared up at the space whale at their airport I felt really sad to be leaving. I know that when planning two weeks in South Korea that you have to make compromises, but I could have easily done a lot more time on this island. You treated me well Jeju and I’ll miss you, even if the plane was delayed long enough that we had to amend our evening plans upon arriving in Busan…

At least I got to Busan though. Hi Busan! And hello again to Porty, my new favourite corporate mascot who I hope has a plush for sale somewhere or I will be sad.

It was late by the time we got to our hotel room, so we decided to just go out and get some food rather than try to make the light show on one of the city’s many bridges. For this leg we are based in Seomyeon because of the excellent travel links. It later transpired that we had booked into the area that contains ‘Young Street’ and appears to be where young Busaners come to hit the clubs… or whatever the young in Busan do. I kept hearing the loud sound of a baseball being hit. Not sure what that means.

Anyway, we found an street nearby where a bunch of older Busaners were selling some traditional street food, so we had some fish cakes, tteokbokki (another thing crossed off the list) and seafood pancakes. The last two things were so delicious and are things I will be eating again when we end up at a proper market.

Sadly, most of the other stalls were packing up by the time we got there, including something that looked like saucy rib meat on a stick… I know I’m sad too… so we didn’t really eat our fill. This is why my chicken hating husband suggested we get some Korean fried chicken from a nearby place offering take-out. A great idea, except that I got the spicy chicken and it blew both of our socks off. The hub got through two pieces before giving in, whereas I claimed to give up after a few bits lit my mouth on fire… before proceeding to two thirds of the tub. The hub threw away the chicken to stop this food masochism and, what can I say, he wasn’t wrong.

After the calm of Jeju it’s a bit of a culture shock to be stuck right in the most bustling section of Busan. I know I’ll be used to it by tomorrow, but I couldn’t help but miss the Jejuan aunties selling mandarin oranges and the loud buzz of crickets as I stared at a large sculpture of a woman writhing in bliss. Tomorrow will be a proper exploration day though, so let’s see how I feel about Busan when I get around to the next post.

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 3 – Climbing Hallasan

We woke early today to a rather foreboding sky. The weather reports had been telling us for ages that today was going to have a few hours of rain… but they were wrong about yesterday so we figured it might not be too bad. So we demolished some instant ramen sans cutlery (mine being a black bean noodle pot), bought energy bars and water from the convenience store next door and started making our way to the beginning of the trail.

Hallasan is the tallest mountain in South Korea and has a number of trails that allow you to scale it. We went for the Seonpanak trail as it got us to the top whilst also being the gentlest (and so the longest at 10km). In preparation for this I actually bought some hiking poles because I heard the terrain was uneven at the top and wanted to make sure that my knees didn’t turn to mush partway through the ascend. Well, these purple poles of mine might be the best £20 I’ve spent for a holiday as not only did they save my knees but they gave me some confidence with balance when my confidence was failing.

The reason we even decided to climb this mountain was for a view of the gorgeous looking crater lake but, as you can see from this picture, the mists had rolled in. Still, we remained optimistic as sometimes mountains can punch through the clouds. Everyone else on the trail remained optimistic too. There was a man blasting ABBA from his phone, to the point that I started to sing along to ‘Andante, Andante’. People smiled and were considerate of overtakers and passers by. Hell, there were times where people were telling us how well we were doing, or I just initiated the Korean cheer of “Fighting” as I climbed down in order to spur on those going up.

I’m not going to mince words though, we saw absolutely nothing. I think we actually climbed into a cloud as it was actually hailing and extremely windy near the summit. There was a point where a gust caught me the wrong way and I could feel it trying to wrench the glasses off of my face, which made me feel incredibly scared for my own safety. At that point I knew all the crows at the bottom of the trail were making the flight up for my potential corpse.

List item: Climb a taller mountain
Progress: Completed

Still though, we made it to the top and to say that me, who is not in great physical shape (although I have recently lost 55 pounds) got to the climbable peak of South Korea’s tallest mountain is something that I am so incredibly proud of. Not sure I would do this again though, but at least I can say I’ve done it.

The way down was a lot easier than the way up… and drier. On the way up I got soaked to the skin and on the way down I started to dry off. It gave me the chance to take some pictures and appreciate the beautiful surroundings that I had climbed through, which was nice. Just wish it hadn’t taken another four hours to reach the bottom again. However, I did get a neat certificate out of it stating that I’d climbed the mountain, which I kinda want to frame and hang with my hiking poles.

We refuelled with some local orange juice (or is it mandarin, I’m not sure) and powerade before returning to the hotel and having a good rest and shower before heading out again for the evening. Where to? To Love Land, one of Jeju’s weirder attractions.

Essentially, Love Land is a sculpture park filled with depictions of sex or things of a sexual nature. However, in an over the top and quite tacky way. It’s a bit of a throwback to when Jeju was a top honeymoon destination, so you have this and the museum of sex as a way to spur on the production of offspring. It begins seedy and funny enough with some of the really weird sculptures, but things take a turn at the end of the tour.

The person who commissioned or made these statues at the end would have been a favourite patients of Freud. They all appear to depict the same man being coerced into sex with the same older woman – with titles like ‘You Can’t Escape’. Granted this is a park that began with a funny gimmick and just pounded it into the ground, but man did these sculptures get dark toward the end.

By the time we left Love Land it was eight in the evening and we hadn’t had a proper meal all day. Originally I wanted to go to a famous seafood place in the city that was known for their seafood stews with abalone, but then I learned how the octopus and abalone was cooked alive in front of you and tried to escape the pot. I know it makes me a hypocrite, but I can’t do that.

So we ended up going for a different place… and then for the address wrong completely as we ended up with this gorgeous spicy beef stew whose name I later found out was yukgaejang. It was exactly the hearty sort of meal that we needed at the end of the day and it came with a gorgeous plate of fish cakes on the side and the most lovely server ever.

Seriously, this Korean woman was in full auntie mode with us, telling us it was okay if we found it too spicy because a customer in the corner was clearly having trouble. She even gave us extra fish cakes and some warm milk with black pepper to help my husband with the afterburn. It was such a wonderful experience and I want to adopt her.

And that’s the end of the final full day in Jeju. We really haven’t been here for long enough to see everything we wanted to see, but we fly out to Busan in the later afternoon, which means we can squeeze in one more attraction as long as I finish this post quickly enough and get to bed. And on that note!

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 2 – The Waterfalls of Jeju

Well there was no rain today – sadly that got pushed to tomorrow in the exact time slot where we planned to go mountain hiking. But where there was no rain we made for with jet lag, dehydration and fannying about in the morning having to buy a new travel card as we were sold the incorrect one in the airport yesterday.

But a near constant dehydration headache didn’t stop me on my first full day in Taiwan and it won’t here in South Korea. So, we skipped breakfast in order to make up for some lost time and took a bus to the other side of the island to visit the first of three waterfalls that we were going to see today. Now, I need to be careful with names here as two of the three waterfalls have basically the same name.

Our first visit was to the Cheonjeyeon Falls, which is an area made of three waterfalls and the beautifully ornate Seonimgyo Bridge that soars across the valley. Amazingly we’d arrived in the final day of a festival to celebrate the fairies of the area – so it was free entrance for the weekend and that meant more money towards souvenirs.

To see the falls means a nice stroll up and down a number of walkways surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and the sounds of water mixed with birdsong. It was busy enough, but then there would be some prolonged periods where it felt like the nature was just there for us to enjoy. This really was a great start to our first proper day in Korea and it got us acquainted with a lot of things that are likely to be recurring themes whilst in Jeju.

First is the abundance of these guys. Pretty much everywhere you go on the island you see a variation on these stone men. They were originally put up as guardians and are carved from the bountiful basalt that comes from being a volcanic island. We were also followed around by the smell and the appearance of Jeju’s big crop: mandarin oranges. We ended up having some of these as a freshly squeezed juice to refuel us after the first falls and it might be some of the best fruit juice I’ve ever had.

I backtracked a bit down the road to get some final pictures before boarding the bus to take us to put next location… or so Google Maps told us before we realised that it had instructed us to get off a bit too early.

But this gave us a chance to make some lemonade by finding a beautiful park walk decked out with sculptures and a fountain that partially led us to the falls and made me glad for the error. Sometimes special things can happen when plans go awry.

Anyway, we eventually found our way to the coast which meant that it was our second destination of the day: Cheonjiyeon Falls. The entrance was substantially more built up, which is how we ended up with this rather lovely cheese filled octopus as a mid-afternoon snack.

The waters here are so clear and clean that koi carp are happy to call it home. Just so clear and blue, which makes for another beautiful waterfall. On a sunny day like today, the waterfall just looks like it is sparkling and, sadly, I was unable to get a picture of the small rainbow that appeared at the bottom. It really was one of those sites that I felt the need to stick around for a while to make sure I took it all in.

Our next destination was not a planned one, but I saw a pretty bridge 700 metres away and I wanted to investigate. This is how we ended up on the island of Saesom – an island that used to produce crops to make thatched roofs and was not connected to the main island until 2009. Instead of just making a regular bridge, they made something pretty beautiful to make the connection, which would also be one hell of a wind tunnel.

The island itself was nice and gave some great views of Seogwipo harbour. It also gave me more attempts to take a photo that did Saeyeongyo bridge some justice and to enjoy some very jovial Korean pensioners who were laughing and singing up a storm as they were doing their own turn about the island.

Rather than get on the bus again, we thought it would be nicer to walk to our final destination and take in some more of Seogwipo by wandering along the sea front and their main food street. At this point it was about four in the afternoon and we had to resist the urge to indulge in some freshly grilled seafood as we had big dinner plans for the evening.

Our final stop was Jeongbang Falls, which are fairly unusual as they are a waterfall that falls into seawater. It makes for a spectacular view as the waters crash onto the rocks below before entering the sea. It also makes for a lot of tourists, me included, that end up clambering over said rocks in order to get a better look at the falls. Worth it just for the spray alone.

So that was it for the waterfall tour and it was going to be a bus ride back to Jeju City for an early dinner so we could get plenty of rest for tomorrow. The big traffic jam had other ideas, so we ended up having a fairly regularly timed dinner that may be one of the best meals I’ve had on holiday.

Yesterday I had a local specialty and today I was going to have the food I’ve been looking forward to most on Jeju: Jeju Black Pig. Not only that, I had it as the meat in my first ever Korean BBQ experience. As they cooked this gorgeous pork in front of me, I knew what it must be like to be a wolf standing outside of a farm – my mouth would have been overflowing if not for the kimchi-jjigae that we got on the side.

Being a Korean BBQ it meant that I was mindful to follow whatever rules and etiquette there was about putting the various fixings together, but everyone seems to be doing their own thing so I just dove in making my own lettuce wraps with the picked radish, spring onions, kimchi etc. This was truly a glorious meal, which makes me keen to try more of this type of BBQ in the future.

So that’s the end of the first full day on Jeju. Tomorrow is going to be a bit different as we will be attempting to climb Halla-san, the tallest mountain in the country. It is set to rain all morning, but I have hiking poles that’ll hopefully equal that out. Will I reach the top before they start sending people away for being too late? God I hope so, just got to make sure to get plenty of rest and stock up on snacks and energy bars to keep me going!

Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 1 – Arrival

You know the drill on this one, pretty much all my first day posts for these further flung locations are about the journey there and a few hours that I actually have there before collapsing into bed. Well, this trip to South Korea is no exception as I undertake this first journey that took about 20 hours door-to-door to get from the office (after a full day of work) to the island of Jeju.

The lion’s share of the trip was the initial flight between London and Seoul. It was my first time flying with Asiana Airlines and they might have served me the best in-flight meal of my life.

It’s was my first taste of Korean food on this trip and I hope a good sign of the food to come. I mean, if this airline’s take on bibimbap could be this good, what must the real stuff taste like? After gobbling this up and watching Big Hero 6 came the time that I was going to try and get some shut-eye to help me adjust to the time difference. I think I only went off completely for about one hour and then drifted for an additional four hours.

By some miracle we actually landed 40 minutes early, which meant that the stressful interchange between airports actually became rather leisurely and enjoyable. On the Incheon aside I had some time to enjoy the architecture of the train station and some of the handprints of Korean film stars (including the stars of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) that were on display at the airport’s cinema.

The transfer itself, by the airport train, was so painless and allowed for more time to just wander around Gimpo airport on the other side and admire the interiors which reminded me a lot of those of Taipei’s airport. This transfer also reinforced to me just how much the hub and myself are going to stick out as foreigners in Jeju. Not only do I tower over pretty much everyone but I am pretty much as white as you can get.

Still though, there is already so much a feeling of magic coming in right now. Both the hub and myself had window seats on the plane to Jeju and we were rewarded with the most amazing view of the island lit up at night as the plane descended. I would have taken a picture of this but I made the executive decision to just enjoy the moment rather than faff with a phone camera until I got a good picture form the plane with minimal reflection. It was one of those moments.

By the time we got to the hotel we were both pretty wiped, but also hungry. So, rather than just invade the nearby convenience store for a hotel room picnic, I found a place that was nearby and was meant to do really good and reasonably priced gogi-guksu – a traditional food of Jeju which is essentially a pork noodle soup. The place we went to was one called Sister Noodles and is part of the noodle culture street. Man, that broth was outstanding and I’m going to really miss these complimentary side dishes when I get back to the UK.

A few things that have struck me so far in my very limited time here. Firstly, I was more excited about this trip that even I realised. Upon boarding the plane to Seoul I was beyond giddy and that feeling just hasn’t abated. Not really an observation, but something that surprised me somewhat.

The big thing that struck me was how, having barely immersed myself in the culture really, how many Korean people I recognised on posters and on television. So far I have clocked three hosts of Infinite Challenge on different programmes, a sports star who is now a host of some form, a member of BTS who had two posters up in the concourse to celebrate his birthday and the film star hands I mentioned earlier.

Granted, because of the 1001 TV list and that I’ve seen a number of Korean films, its possible that at some point in the trip I might have recognised one person – but this many? Guess it speaks for the power of the K-wave and how being this beacon of a type of culture attracts tourists. I’m here after all and, without falling for the food or Infinite Challenge, I’m not sure if this country would be as high on my priorities.

In any event, I’m here now and I’m going to try and sleep off this jet lag so I can make the most of my first of two full days in Jeju. Please don’t rain all day.