17 September 2011


Jeju Grandfather Statue
This week I had Monday and Tuesday off from work for Chuseok ( 추석 ), which is the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  So what did I do?  I headed off to Jeju Island ( 제주도 ), which is billed as the “Hawaii of Korea” and is currently one of 20 finalists for the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.  It certainly did not disappoint as it provided some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen thus far in Asia. 

I flew out of Seoul on Saturday afternoon and landed an hour later in the middle of a tropical depression.  Nothing too exciting happened during the flight, but arriving on a beautiful island while it’s pouring isn’t exactly the best way to start off a trip.  I got to my hostel and attempted to tour around Jeju City ( 제주시 ) a little bit, only to return to my hostel about 15 minutes later with my pants and shoes thoroughly soaked.  But that was only the beginning of my run-in with this tropical depression.

I’m certainly not one to let a little rain get in my way of touring, so Sunday morning, despite the fact that it was still raining cats and dogs (which means free food for Koreans! Just kidding of course...), I decided to climb Halla mountain ( 한라산 ), which is the tallest mountain in South Korea.  At 1,900 meters (about 1 ¼ miles) in elevation, it’s certainly no small task.  There are shorter trails to the top, but the one I decided to take took about 4 hours to get to the top.  The fact that I was hiking up a river certainly didn’t expedite the process either.  Seriously.  Look at the picture.  Flippers would have been more useful than hiking shoes.   

The path...
However, this only continued for the first mile or two of my hike (the entire course is about seven miles).  The rain eventually subsided by the time I made it to the rest shelter, which is about a 1 ½ mile hike from the top of the mountain.  However, they were refusing to let anyone climb to the top of the mountain because of the weather conditions.  I had read the weather reports before hiking and I knew it was supposed to clear up around noon, so I hung out at the rest shelter for about 30 minutes with the hope that the skies would clear up.  And what do you know?  At 12:00 (almost on the dot) the sky miraculously turned blue and the sun started shining.  The weather changes so fast at the top of the mountain that this seemed to happen almost instantaneously. 

I then began the final leg of my journey (which was also the steepest due to the shape of the mountain) and it took me about 45 minutes to reach the top.  The weather was great when I reached the top and I got to take some spectacular pictures.  

View from the top
I took a shorter and steeper route to the bottom, which provided some amazing views as well.  All in all the trip ended up taking me about 8 hours.  It was well worth the time, effort, and drenched clothing. 

One of the peaks through the trees
Hallasan Rating: 5 stars
I must admit I still enjoyed climbing Seoraksan a little bit more, but I’m really splitting hairs with the comparison between the two.  Hallasan is an absolutely beautiful mountain and is certainly worth the climb for the sole fact that it’s the highest point in South Korea.

Onto Monday.  Let’s go spelunking!  Yes, I made my way over to Manjang Cave ( 만장굴 ), which is located in the northeast portion of the island.  It is one of the largest lava tubes in the world (if not the largest).  It was certainly an interesting trek, but not the best place for pictures because of the poor lighting.  However, the lava tube at the end is certainly photogenic and is even lit up to provide better pictures.  The portion of the lava tube that is open to the public is only about ¾ of a mile, so it takes about 30 – 45 minutes to go to the end and back.  

Lava tower at the end of the lava tube
Manjanggul Rating: 3 stars
An interesting way to kill an hour, but not essential for a trip to Jeju.

From Manjang cave I caught a taxi to Seongsan Ilchulbong ( 성산 일출봉 ,Ilchulbong translates to Sunrise Peak) to climb one of the most famous sites on Jeju.  The climb only takes about 20 minutes, but the throngs of tourists really slow things down.  Everyone seems eager to get a view from the top, which is nice, but personally I thought the view from the coast was much more spectacular.  You get to see the cliffs of Seongsan Ilchulbong descending into the sea and you get a very nice view of U-do ( 우도 ), which is right off the coast.  

Sunrise peak
View from the coast
Seongsan Ilchulbong Rating: 4 stars
A beautiful place, but I’m not convinced it’s deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status. 

Next stop was my new hostel.  I had spent the first two nights in Jeju City, so I booked a hostel in Seogwipo ( 서귀포 ), which is the other city on the island, for my last two nights.  I dropped my stuff at the hostel before heading out to the two famous waterfalls in Seogwipo: Cheonjiyeon ( 천지연폭포 ) and Jeongbang ( 정방폭포 ).  The latter of these two is known as the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the oceans (although technically it falls into a small cove that is right on the ocean).  Both sites were scenic and cool, which was a welcome reprieve from the heat.  

The actual waterfall is a lot bigger, but I liked this picture more.
Cheonjiyeon Pokpo Rating: 2 ½ Stars
As I said, a scenic place, but by no means essential.

Falling into the ocean
Jeongbang Pokpo Rating: 3 ½ Stars
This is the larger of the two falls and with its special status of falling directly into the ocean is worth a look.

And that was it for Day 2.

Day 3 was easily the best day I had on Jeju.  It started off a little rocky as I had trouble finding my first destination, but after that it was smooth sailing to some of the most spectacular sites on and off the island.  My first stop was Mara Island ( 마라도 ), which is a small windswept island that has the distinction of being the southernmost point in Korea.  The island is only a 30 minute ferry ride from Jeju and is certainly worth the trip.  There are no trees on the island because of the high winds, but the coast and the views of Jeju are simply stunning. 

Lighthouse and Jeju in the distance
No trees
Mara-do Rating: 4 ½ Stars
I can’t quite put this on par with Hallasan, but it’s pretty close and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Jeju.  Make sure you go on a nice day though.

I then caught a cab to Sanbang mountain ( 산방산 ) to check out a cave temple and the Yeongmeori cliffs, which are located about a ¼ mile from the mountain.  There is a temple at the bottom of mountain, which is pretty nice, but nothing too out of the ordinary when it comes to Korean temples.  A short climb up the mountain then takes you to the cave temple ( 산방굴사 ), which is more like a hole than a cave.  With that said, it has some pretty nice views and is a relatively easy hike.

The temple located at the base of the mountain
Sanbanggul-sa Rating: 3 ½ Stars
Worth visiting, but when I heard “cave temple” I was picturing something much cooler.

Then it was on to Yongmeori ( 용머리 ).  And all I can say is WOW.  If you have even the slightest bit of interest in photography you will be in heaven.  Cliffs of striped rock on the ocean with Sanbang mountain as a backdrop.  You can’t really ask for too much more. 

One of my favorite pictures
The cliffs with Sanbang mountain in the background
Yeongmeori Rating: 5 Stars
Definitely, definitely see this place.  I didn’t hear too many people talk about this place, so I don’t think it’s one of the big attractions on Jeju and for the life of me I can’t understand why not.

I thought I was done for the day, but I accidentally got on the wrong bus and ended up at Jeju World Cup Statdium ( 제주 워드컵 경기장 ).  So I might as well take a look around, right?  It’s a cool stadium and has actually been transformed into a total entertainment complex complete with a waterpark, movie theater, supermarket and a museum.  Obviously, I didn’t really care about the other stuff.  I just wanted to get some shots of the stadium.  And the setting sun provided some great lighting for my pictures.

Inside the stadium...
And outside the stadium
Jeju World Cup Stadium Rating: 4 Stars if you like architecture, 2 Stars otherwise
It’s a really cool stadium and provides some pictures, but if stadiums aren’t you’re thing then don’t waste your time unless you’re going to a soccer game.

And now for my final day on Jeju.  My flight to Seoul wasn't scheduled to leave until 4:00 in the afternoon, so I had most of the day to explore.  First up on the agenda was Oedolgae ( 외돌개 ), which translates to "lonely rock".  This sight is located about 1.5 miles from downtown Seogwipo.
Oedolgae and Bum Island in the background
Oedolgae Rating: 2 ½ Stars
Nothing too outstanding.  But it does provide a pleasant stroll along the coast and of course some beautiful views.

I then returned to my hostel, packed up my stuff, and set out for Cheonjeyeon ( 천제연 ).  This was the third waterfall I visited on the trip.

Cheonjeyeon Falls
Cheonjeyeon Rating: 3 Stars
Another waterfall.  All three of the falls that I saw were nice, but you really only need to see one of them.

My final stop in Jeju was Hallim Park ( 한림공원 ).  This park has something for everyone and is a great way to get a taste of everything available to tourists on the island.  The park has a botanical garden, two caves, a bird sanctuary, a water garden, and a rock garden.  It's a pretty big place that takes about 2 hours to tour around.  

Palm Tree Road
In the water garden
Hallim Park Rating: 3 ½ Stars
A pretty cool place to skim the surface of Jeju.

And that was it for Jeju.  After an hour bus ride I found myself at the airport and ready to head back to reality.  I've had a hard time deciding if I liked Jeju more than Seorak Mountain.  I really loved both places, so at least for now I'm gonna leave it up in the air.  Here's a quick review of my top places to see on Jeju.

1. Halla Mountain - This should be on everyone's itinerary.
2. Yeongmeori - A very close second.
3. Mara Island - Provides amazing views of Jeju.
4. Seongsan Ilchulbong - One of the most famous and beautiful sights.
5. Jeju World Cup Stadium - Probably the only man-made sight worth seeing.

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