Thursday, June 28, 2012

Korean Island Paradise: Our weekend in Jeju

The view from Ilchulbong
 "You can't come to Korea and not go to Jeju... You just can't!"  That was the first thing my co-teacher said to me shortly after I told her I wasn't planning on going to Jeju cause frankly, I had never really heard about it.  She urged me to reconsider, and finally, Jen and I caved and decided to look into going there for Buddha's birthday during the long weekend in May.  Having been on the peninsula for over 6 months, it was now hard to ignore Jeju's sexiness!  So we were sold!  Jeju, here we come!

Because it was a long holiday weekend, we had to book our flights quite ahead of time.  When I checked about two months before, there were no roundtrip tickets available so I snatched up a pair of one-ways into Jeju.  Later, I was able to grab a couple of returning tickets when other travelers canceled theirs.  Still, I had to check back everyday on the site to see if there was anything available and it was a stressful annoyance.  Once the tickets were purchased though, it was more or less smooth sailing!  I asked Jen to take the lead on planning this one since I didn't have time and I had to plan my Vietnam trip coming up the week after.  It was Jen's first time getting us organized for a trip and she acquitted herself of the task quite well!
Our hostel
Because of my weird schedule, I was able to take the Friday off as well, allowing me to fly to Jeju a little earlier than Jen (I couldn't get 2 tickets on the same flight).  However, getting there earlier would allow me to orient myself with our neighborhood, find our hostel and determine which buses we would have to take to get to our various destinations around the island. (Initially, our plan had been to rent a scooter and explore the island that way, but unfortunately, Korea now has "strict" laws prohibiting foreigners to ride a scooter without at least having an International Driver's Permit... which we don't have).  Getting there early would also allow me to take a nap and be ready to go when Jen finally arrived at around 8pm.  It also facilitated things for her as I texted her all the directions and instructions (terminal, gate, bus, bus stop) to ensure a smooth solo travel experience for her!

Some of the art at Loveland
When she finally did arrive, right on time, we almost immediately left for our first, highly anticipated attraction: LOVELAND!  This "erotic" sculpture park was on my to do list since I'd heard about it and it did not disappoint.  Evidently, the park's focus is on sex and was created in 2004 by Hongik University graduates to educate young honeymooners in the ways of "love".  Since Jeju is Korea's number one honeymoon destination among Koreans, what better place to set these sexually explicit sculptures, phallus statues and stone labia?  As Jen and I found out while walking through the park, they left nothing to the imagination!  They even have clay models of sexually explicit and comical scenes.  I felt just as happy and interested as a teenage boy watching his first "adult film", each sculpture bringing a smile to my face in wonderment and surprise.  We both really enjoyed our walk through Loveland and highly recommend for anyone heading to Jeju, although it's probably best to experience it with your significant other!  The best part is that it's open daily until midnight, so you don't have to be in a rush to get there, and once you are there!
Clay art scenes

After our Loveland experience, we decided to go grab some dinner at a local microbrewery called Modern Time Jeju Brewery, where we enjoyed a so-so IPA with a meal that left a lot to be desired.  We continued our night out by checking out a few drinking establishments, including the Lonely Planet recommended Factory (which had a very nice ambiance).  Shortly after, fatigue started to set in and we retired back to our hostel (Backpackers' in Jeju, if you were wondering) for a good night's rest before our hectic weekend schedule came into effect.
Modern Brewery's IPA - passing grade

In the (not so early) morning, we finally set out to conquer the east side of the island.  Jeju is much bigger than I had anticipated.  With an area of 1848km2, getting around can be costly, time-wise at least.  That's why we opted for public transportation as we had read it was pretty accessible and easy to navigate.  We found that to be entirely true.  From our hostel, we bused to the nearby bus terminal where we hopped on the eastbound-Seongsan bus.  On the way, we stopped to walk through a real hedge maze (it's been a dream of mine since I was a child) and to check out the Manjanggul Lava Tubes.  While both were really fun, the latter was also very interesting and instructional.  After descending in the depths of the cave, you are greeted with fresh, bordering cold, humid air (which is really quite refreshing) and dark surroundings.  The 1.5km walk to the actual lava tube is loaded with informational signage that made the whole experience rather enjoyable.  On the way out, the heat hits you like a grenade and you remember why you are wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Map of the cave
The lava tubes (UNESCO heritage site)
These "Jeju guys" are everywhere.  Origine unknown, but they have somehow become the symbol of Jeju

Ilchulbong, volcanic crater
Our next stop, again by bus, was Ilchulbong, or the sunrise peak.  Travel guides will tell you that it is best enjoyed at sunrise (thus the name) but we were quite pleased with hiking the 187m high volcano crater in mid-afternoon.  While extremely hot and muggy, the breathtaking panoramic views it surrendered were some of the best we admired in Jeju.  At the bottom of Ilchulbong, you can see Haenyo (old women divers often referred to as Korean mermaids) who can hold their breath for up to 2 minutes at a time.  Imagine seeing 60+ year old women, dressed in scuba gear, dive off the coast as they harvest the sea bed for abalone, sea urchin, octopus and other yummy seafood.  Unfortunately, haenyo is a dying trade, as young women rarely choose to follow in their mother's footsteps, rather, they choose education and a less difficult career.  As a result, the number of remaining haenyos has dwindled in recent years.  Jen and I were really glad we got to enjoy the show they put on twice a day (1:30pm and 3:00pm) before heading back to Jeju city for the night.
going up
The top... doing a weird L thing
Haenyo getting ready for the show
Watch them go!

 That evening, we had the best Indian food in Korea at Bagdad Cafe and experienced what I can only describe as a food orgasm!  This cafe is featured in Lonely Planet and also has raved reviews online so we decided to check it out but without too much expectation.  But as soon as we stepped through the door, we knew we were going to have a positive experience.  Bagdad Cafe is small but has a lot of charm in it's decor and atmosphere.  As soon as we sat down, the impeccable service started.  Since we couldn't decide was to choose, we opted to go with the set menu as it offered a lot of food for a great value.  The first course was a delicious, creamy mushroom soup, followed by authentic Indian samosa and a mild (Jen's choice) curry served with naan and vegetables. Perfectly seasoned and cooked tandoori chicken was then served as the food kept coming and coming.  Our table was filled with various dishes, some I can't even remember, but all were extremely delicious!  To top it all off , a nice refreshing fruity lassi was served up to put the fire out of our mouth. As we were sitting there, stuffed out of our minds, we couldn't believe what had just happened to our taste buds. This place was simply amazing! In fact, the owner, Hyun Ju-Roung, sent her business associate all the way to India to find her chefs. Her strong focus on quality and authenticity were very apparent by the service and the meal we had just experienced. We were more than willing to leave our first official tip in Korea (even with the tip, the whole meal still only cost us 60,000 - including our drinks). As we left, we vowed to let the world know about this hidden gem in the middle of Jeju city and to maybe, one day return... if we ever find ourselves in Jeju again. We had planned to go out that night and party like rock stars, but after a meal like that, we were completely satisfied with going back to our hostel and going to bed. Nothing was going to top it anyway!

In my top 3 restaurants in the world!
Halla Mountain
The next morning, we found ourselves on a southbound bus, heading to Seogwipo, the second largest city on Jeju. On the way, we passed by Halla Mountain, which possesses the highest peak in Korea at 1951m. While I desperately wanted to hike it, time constraints did not allow me to do so, to my disappointment... riding a bus by it would be the closest I would get to the peak :( However, what awaited us in Seogwipo was well worth skipping the hike!

Our first stop was Jeongbang falls, which apparently are the only waterfall in Asia that spew directly in the ocean. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the setting for this waterfall is absolutely gorgeous. On the one side, you have water falling from high above with beautiful rock and greenery as a backdrop. On the other, you have the vast and open sea, endless blue-green water and the blue sky mixing together in a poetic feast for the eyes with a few islets scattered here and there to add colour and depth to the already incredible view. There was something serene and peaceful about this area that made me wish Jen and I were all by ourselves to enjoy... except there were hundreds of other people also coming and going that slightly hindered the atmosphere. Regardless though, we both thought it was one of the most beautiful places we had been in Korea (sharing it with hundreds of people has kind of become an expectation here anyway). Before we left, we also got to enjoy the best tasting oranges in the world. Jeju oranges are truly the best I have ever tasted. Nothing even comes close!
Jeongbank Falls

Best oranges in the WORLD!

Next, we were off to the Jungmun tourist area for some well deserved beach time. Due to my being cheap, we had been walking a lot (to Jen's many objections and threats of getting a cab) so getting time to relax on the "nicest" beach on Jeju sounded like the perfect medicine. However, Jungmun beach was definitely not what we were expecting and we were actually a little disappointed. While boasting an incredible view and nice waves, the beach itself was not covered with beautiful soft white sand. Instead, it was that rough, super hot, sand that hurts your feet when you walk on it. Secondly, we arrived there around noon, and were expecting some beachside restaurants where we could grab a bite and possibly a nice cold refreshment. However, except for the resorts' super exclusive huts, there was absolutely nothing on the beach. It was really nice to just lay down, soak in the sun, and refresh in the water, but after a couple of hours, there was just nothing else to do or see. The water sports that were illustrated on the map were also nonexistent so it didn't take long for us to decide to head back.
Jungmun Beach

Our last stop before going back to Jeju city was to try the renowned black haired pork. To do so, we looked no further than Lonely Planet who recommended Saesom Galbi in Seogwipo. At about 5pm, we were the first customers so we got the best seats in the house, but it did not take long for the place to fill up. The meal itself was extremely appetizing (for me) as it was a meatfest of pork and beef, accompanied by some good old Cass (Korean brand of beer). The restaurant was an authentic Korean BBQ place with a great view of the river and I really enjoyed the mix of food and ambiance. The table next to ours was occupied by a group of Korean girls intent on getting blasphemously drunk on soju so that was fun to watch as well!
Saesom Galbi

Back in Jeju city, we layed low, walking around city hall and relaxing over drinks for our last night out. We also went out to the market area to buy a couple of boxes of Jeju oranges to bring back with us since they are extremely hard to find (and extremely expensive) off the island. Both of us were pretty tired but extremely satisfied with out weekend. While Jeju had not been exactly what I had anticipated, it truly was an island paradise. I wish we had more time to explore more of its hidden treasures and beauties but I guess that will have to wait til next time!



  1. Haha! Nice waterfall picture! you guys will leave korea after end of contracts? :( i will stay with canadian friend on sunday for honor! haha, here is my friend seoroksan video!
    check it out!

    wish you guys having fun weekend :) and hope can hangout someday cheers mates!

    1. Hey you!

      nice video of Seoraksan! That got me really excited to go. When was your friend there? I noticed he went with WINK? Are you by any chance going to Mudfest with them, cause we are! If so, that will be our chance to meet up! You should totally do it!

      Unfortunately, we are leaving after our contracts are up in late August. I am going back to University to study Law so we have to say goodbye to Korea... which I am very sad about.

      Anyway, talk to you soon!

  2. Umm i dont know we're going to mudfest, guess we will pass it, but we always try to do something in weekend haha if we're going to somewhere will let u know guys! if we have a message system you can drop by your number to me, and thats so sad :( but you guys already did lots of things in korea! how was shopping and seoraksan?
    cheers mate!