On Thursday afternoon we packed our bags and headed towards the Gimpo International Airport, the second biggest in Seoul and the city’s main airport before Incheon Int´l was built in 2001. Gimpo is situated much closer to downtown Seoul, so it was only a 50-minute subway ride from SNU station and we were there, ready for our 1-hour flight with the local low-cost carrier, EastarJet. The company flies with modern Boeing 737’s and the flight went smoothly but mostly in a shroud of clouds, which prevented us from admiring the scenery.
In Jejudo, the island’s main airport is located just a few kilometers from Jeju-si, the island’s largest city. It only took a 10-minute taxi ride for us to reach our hostel, YEHA guesthouse, where we held our base for the whole trip. The hostel was really nice with English speaking staff, clean rooms with good facilities, free breakfast, free beer (one bottle) every night, and most of all with awesome atmosphere!
When we arrived in Jeju-si, it was already evening and we didn’t have the time to go outside the city, so we took a walk towards the city center where the two most important streets lie. On the Pork Food Street you can actually fill your stomach with various kinds of dishes, but as the name suggests, pork (and more specific, the Jeju black skinned pork) is the name of the game in most restaurants. On the Beer Street you can enjoy some refreshments in a number of bars, hof’s and clubs, if there is any space left after the pork street 🙂
We chose a Korean BBQ place (for a change), ordered the usual set of pork and beef, a few 3-liter pitchers of beer and a bottle of soju, and feasted away the hunger that had been gaining power since we ate lunch around midday near our campus. After the delicious dinner we hailed a cab and signed the driver to steer us to the harbor area, not exactly sure what we would find there. I guess we seemed like a jolly sort of a group because the driver stopped at the local amusement park. Well, nothing wrong with that, we thought and took a ride in the Viking Boat and had a blast charging each other in the bumber car arena! 🙂 After, we walked in the harbor area where the locals were playing basketball, roller blading and playing some sort of fusion between soccer and volley ball.
On Friday we woke up just in time to grab some of the hostel breakfast, gathered our thoughts and made a plan for the day. After getting some instructions from the helpful staff at the hostel, we took a bus along the coastline towards the eastern part of the island. We got off at Gimnyeong Beach, unrolled our beach towels and jump into the sea. The beach was rather small and the sea water wasn’t too warm but the weather was hot and sunny, the sand was white and we all felt like relaxing, so it felt like a perfect destination. Kasper bought a pair of goggles, which we used to explore the waters around a little rocky reef just off the shore. I’ve seen more exciting stuff, but it was still nice to follow the schools of fish and the small crabs hiding between the rocks just under your nose.
After the beach we took a cab to the Manjanggul lava tube, the world’s longest system of lava tubes and a UNESCO World Heritage site. When you think about it, it feels amazing how the flowing lava has created this huge (13-metres high at some parts) tunnel deep inside the volcanic island, but in the end we were rather pleased that most of the tube was closed from the public because of extensive rainfall a few weeks before. Walking 1 kilometer back and forth in the cold, dark and moist cave was very much enough for us, and climbing back to the surface was by far the best part of that experience.
Next on our agenda was Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) near the town of Seonsang. After walking the endless lava tubes, we were very hungry and enjoyed a late lunch in Seonsang with some Jeju specialities, such as orange flavored Makgeolli (fermented rice wine), sea urchin soup and rice porridge with abalone. After eating, we started to climb on top of the Sunrise Peak. The climb was surprisingly hard, and after catching our breath we enjoyed the view from the top of the 200-meter high volcano.
On Saturday we headed the other way and took a bus going along the west coast towards Hyeopjae beach. Again, the weather was hot and sunny, so we spent a few hours on the beach swimming and snorkeling (there was absolutely nothing to see), during which i managed to burn my neck and shoulders so bad I couldn’t carry my back bag the following day. After the beach, we walked to the nearby Hallim Park, which offered a botanical garden, Jeju folk history exhibition and lava stone and bonsai park, to name a few. The park was huge, and we spent at least two hours exploring it, even though we skipped many parts. Tired from all that walking we took the bus back to Jeju-si, hit the showers and went to have dinner with a nice British couple we met at the beach.
On Sunday we headed south and went to see the World Cup Stadium which was built for the 2002 WC. After visiting probably the lamest sex museum on earth, we went kart racing in the nearby track and showed the locals which is the Maailman nopein kansa. After going around the track with the kart cars, we took the bus to Seopgwipo, the second biggest city on the island. There we went to see the Cheonjiyen on waterfall, which was nice and flowing since it had been raining on the Halla mountain during that day. We ended the Seogwipo tour by batting some baseballs in a pitching machine close by. That was a lot of fun! 🙂
After the 1-hour bus ride to Jeju-si we hit the Pork food street again and sampled some Mexican food, which was surprisingly non-koreanised, and tasted very good. The rest of the evening we spent playing pool and drinking beer.. what else is there? 🙂 We also tasted the fire chicken, supposedly the most spicy dish in the country, but were disappointed by the fact the chicken “leg” was actually the chicken foot. Spicy? Yes. Good? Nope. But I’m not giving up so easily, I’m sure there is some fire chicken made from the better parts of the animal 🙂
All in all, we were really lucky with the weather, since in Seoul it was raining the whole weekend but we didn’t get a drop in Jeju. The island is truly great and the 3 World Heritage sites (of which we saw 2) are worth seeing. But most of the nicest places are scattered throughout the island, so it would have been much more convenient if we could have rented a car, but since we didn’t have an international driving license, we were forced to use the bus and taxi (a lot of that). Also, it would have been if we had climbed the Halla-san, but the 10-hour hike just didn’t fit our schedule during this extended weekend.
Great weekend behind us and now it’s time to study for a few days before the Chuseok holiday! 🙂