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Visiting Jeju Island Day 3 – Escape from Jeju

Yesterday, our tour guide had informed us that there was a typhoon coming and that our lunchtime ferry was cancelled. Instead, we would be taking the last ferry out of Jeju early Sunday morning. So we all woke early, packed our things, and like the Jews leaving Egypt, boarded a tour bus for the ferry terminal. By the time we all boarded the bus, we were running pretty far behind schedule. We all knew it was going to be a close call getting to the ferry in time. If we missed this ferry, we would be stuck on Jeju until Monday, and 70ish English teachers would be late for their classes. Fortunately we made it to the ferry terminal with 30 minutes to spare.

Ferry from Jeju

Ferry from Jeju

The ferry terminal was a mad house. There were people all over the place, packed in like sardines. Our tour guide got our tickets and got us to the foreigner-only line. Passport and ticket in hand, we showed our documents and boarded the ferry. This ferry was much larger and because of that, our tour group was given its own private room. It was awesome. We didn’t have to fight other passengers tooth and nail for a spot of carpet. We had our own carpeted room all to ourselves. The doors were closed and neither one of the doors looked particularly inviting. I would have assumed the door to our room led to a janitors closet, but that didn’t stop Koreans from trying to come into the room every few minutes for the first half our of our voyage. They would poke their heads in, look around curiously at all the foreigners then close the door behind themselves.

Despite these adorable interuptions, everyone fell asleep and I watched some Brooklyn Nine Nine. Three hours later we reached port and everyone woke up. Our tour guide led us back to the tour bus and we headed back to Gwangju. On the way we stopped at a rest stop on the side of the road for lunch. I had pork cutlet and Nicole had ramen. Out front of the rest stop was a small ride for only a dime. I had exactly a dime leftover so Nicole hopped onto the kids airplane ride and away she went. Video below.

When we finally reached Gwangju, Nicole and I bid farewell to the rest of our travel companions and took a bus back to Gwangyang while the rest of our travel mates returned to Seoul 4 hours to the north.

 

Visiting Jeju Island Day 2 – Beaches, Temples, and Sailing Ships

Following the previous night’s shenanigans, the morning seemed relatively calm, especially if you weren’t hungover. Nicole and I were fine. We woke at 8 and greeted the day. After the usual morning routine we walked downstairs (the motel didn’t have an elevator) for breakfast. Breakfast was a cardboard box filled with muffins. We each grabbed one. They were pretty good. The rest of the tour group slowly stumbled downstairs. Several were fine, like ourselves, several more were nursing pretty bad hangovers from the night before. I was glad I didn’t stay out late drinking.

Hyeopjae Beach

Our first stop was at Hyeopjae Beach and a short bus ride away. Our very hungover tour leader, with some great effort, got out of his seat at the front of the bus and explained that we would have an hour to look around the beach and enjoy ourselves. He then promptly passed out on the beach using some of his clothing to make a small pillow for himself. The weather was cool but definitely not warm enough for the beach. Not this early in the day anyway. Despite the cool weather though the beach was really interesting. You could see the remains of a former lava flow leading from the beach down into the water. The flow had turned from lava back into rock centuries ago, but it left behind a cool rock formation of black ribbed rock. 

De Sperwer

Our next visit took us to De Sperwer and its neighboring attractions. Our tour bus parked in a small parking lot along the rocky shore of Jeju at what appeared to be a carnival, complete with one of those swinging ship rides like at Lotteworld. The small carnival had local vendors selling Jeju chocolates, which I bought for my family. Hey family!

Behind this little carnival was a replica of an old wooden sailing ship that washed ashore called ‘De Sperwer’, or the Sparrowhawk. The Sparrowhawk was a Dutch sailing ship that washed ashore on Jeju about 350 years ago. Hendrick Hamel, the bookkeeper, and half his men survived the shipwreck and lived in Korea, forbidden to travel, for the next 13 years until they escaped back to the Netherlands. The replica of the ship that stands today in Jeju is a museum depicting the crews trials, tribulations, and lives in Korea. On the first floor of the museum there was even an anime-style documentary depicting their adventure.

After we left the ship we hiked up the mountainside to a stone tower on a cliff overlooking the sea. The towers were all over Jeju at one time. They used to warn the townspeople of incoming danger. If a guard saw danger at sea he would light his tower and the next tower over would light their tower and so on, like a domino effect spreading the message to everyone on Jeju.

Sanbanggulsa Grotto

Our last stop before boarding the bus and driving on was at Sanbanggulsa Grotto, a temple nestled into the side of Mt. Sanbangsan. The temple had several smaller buildings and pagodas at the base of the mountain, but the shrine was up several hundred stairs inside a natural cave in the mountain. We made it up to the top after quite a hike and stood in the shrine. Nicole climbed the steps to a natural spring inside the shrine and drank three sips. Supposedly it creates a long and prosperous life. I’ll keep you all updated.

Lunch

Our next stop was at the lunch factory. I would say restaurant but it was more of a factory. Sterile white interior, long rows of tables with benches. It was a cross between the Great Hall in Hogwarts and an operating room, also known as a cafeteria. The food was plentiful and delicious though.

Lunch Factory

Lunch Factory

Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls

After lunch we took our tour bus to Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls, a set of three massive waterfalls.The waterfalls are accessed by a series of wooden boardwalks that wind along the cliffside. The first, and widest, waterfall called “The 1st waterfall” is at the bottom of a set of stairs just inside the park. The waterfall is supposed to cure illness if you swim in it, although swimming is now prohibited. Our tour guide threw caution to the wind though and jumped in, along with several other members of the tour. I considered it. However, the water was colder than the icy hand of death, so I just took pictures.

The 2nd and 3rd waterfalls were further along the boardwalk path and were inaccessible. They could only be viewed from the boardwalk several hundred meters above them. After we checked out the waterfalls, we got to cross a giant bridge, Seonimgyo Bridge, across the falls. The view was incredible.

Jungmun Beach

I’ve visited a few beaches around Asia over the past two years. Most of them are just alright. Wando is nice and the beach in Taiwan was okay but they weren’t very impressive. Jungmun was a whole other story. The waves were gigantic, the sand was soft and powdery, the beach was in its own little alcove surrounded by beautiful cliffs. We stayed at the beach for an hour or so bodysurfing in the waves and relaxing on the soft sandy beach. It was one of my highlights from the day. If I ever return to Jeju, and I would like to, this will be one of my first stops.

Jusangjeolli Cliff

After we left the beach, the bus took us to Jusangjeolli Cliff. The cliff is part of a lava formation along the coast of Jeju. The cliff formed when Mt. Hallasan erupted into the sea of Jungmun. The cliff is made from hexagonal black rocks shaped so precisely that they look manmade. One particular part of the cliff has a small inlet that launches water into the air when water crashes against it, it reminded me of the geysers we saw in Iceland.

Cliff Diving

Our last stop of the day was to a small park on the coast of Jeju. Our tour bus drove through Jeju city and out the other side, down a long narrow road, and eventually off that road onto a small cliffside road leading down to a park on the water. We parked and our tour leader, led us down a narrow wooden boardwalk to a small inlet surrounded by small cliffs. It was the perfect place for cliff diving. There were several other foreigners already at the cliffs taking turns diving into the inlet. Our guide climbed the small cliff and dove in as well. Several other people from our trip joined in as well. The walk back to the bus led us down a path onto a cliff overlooking the ocean right at sunset. I got a few fantastic pictures before the bus took us back to the hotel.

We had a few minutes to change at the hotel before we left for downtown. Our tour took us to a restaurant called Baghdad, that served indian food. You’d think they would serve Iraqi food, but instead they had naan and tikka masala. The food was really good and it had been awhile since I last ate indian food. After dinner we took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.

Visiting Jeju Island Day 1 – Loveland, Lava, and Beaches

Seoul to Wando

Seoul to Wando

To celebrate National Foundation Day in Korea, and no work Friday, Nicole and I booked a trip to Jeju Island, Korea’s Hawaii. Jeju had been on our radar for quite some time. We were both very interested in visiting Jeju, but everyone we spoke with seemed to have just an alright time. Some people complained about having to take taxis everywhere. Some people ended up paying an arm and a leg to visit Jeju. Other people almost missed work after their trip because the ferry or flight back from Jeju sold out. So for a whole year, Nicole and I avoided Jeju, not because we didn’t want to go, but because it was such a logistical challenge to visit.

The Night Bus

However, fortune smiled upon us this National Foundation day and we found a foreign travel group offering trips to Jeju. We jumped at the opportunity and booked two spots for ourselves on the trip. The tour group was based in Seoul taking a bus Thursday night in time to catch a ferry from Wando at 6am Friday morning, in the far south of Korea. This meant that Nicole and I had to intercept the bus somewhere along its path in the middle of the night. Luckily the bus was making a stop in Gwangju at 3am. Thursday night we took a bus to Gwangju, caught up with some old friends, and then met the rest of our tour group a little after 3am at the Gwangju bus terminal. [divider_flat]

The Slow Boat to Jeju

Our ferry

Our ferry

Nicole and I slept most of the drive from Gwangju to Wando and woke up just in time for free muffins before boarding the ferry to Jeju. I had a chocolate chip muffin. Nicole had a different flavor. Our ferry boat ride took 5 hours and because we arrived late, all of the spots in the 3rd class section (yes, 3rd class) were full, so we sat outside on the deck chairs. Nicole and I discussed the outcome of the ferry sinking. Would we be safe in 3rd class? Would we be locked below while the ritzy first class passengers disembarked on nearly empty lifeboats? Would there be an Irish dance celebration below deck where we could meet other drifters and vagabonds?

Fortunately for us, the boat never sank so we never found answers to our questions. There was never an Irish dance celebration below deck either. I read a bit, watched some Brooklyn Nine Nine, and had cup noodles with Nicole to keep warm. About halfway through our voyage we made a stop at a smaller island for some people to get off. I couldn’t find it on google maps, but I swear it exists. Anyways, we took this opportunity to move from the outside of the ship to the inside where it was much warmer.

Loveland

Early in the afternoon, we arrived in Jeju. There was a bus at the ferry terminal waiting to take us to our first stop: Loveland. Loveland is a park filled with erotic statues of people in various stages of coitus. According to its website it’s “the only sexual theme park in Korea”. I found the claim somewhat dubious. It’s not really a theme park, although I suppose it could be considered one in a very literal sense. It is a park…with a theme. However, there aren’t any rides, or entertainment shows. I don’t even want to think about what they would be if they did exist.

Manjanggul Cave

After Loveland we took our tour bus another 20 minutes up the road to Manjanggul Cave, Jeju’s underground network of lava tubes. The tubes were formed between 200 and 300,000 years ago and they’re in relatively good condition. The tube system is also one of the top ten largest in the world. The caves were really cool, both literally and figuratively. There were a few lights and some walkways, but it wasn’t overly commercialized. I got a few pictures down there with Nicole and myself before it was time to hop back on the bus and visit the motel.

Yusong Motel

Our Motel

Our Motel

I remember the name because our group leader made us memorize it in case we got lost and needed to get back. I can tell you that its near Hamdeok Beach as well. I can also tell you that there isn’t a lobby, just a big messy dining room covered in all kinds of various boxes, the pillows are filled with almonds (or something), and the family that owns it sleeps under the stairs like Harry Potter. Don’t let its ordinary appearance fool you. Its an odd place. The location was nice though. We were right across from the beach and only a few minutes away from several restaurants.

After we checked into the motel, we had 30 minutes to shower and change before dinner. I unpacked, took a quick shower, and tried to relax on the bed. Although, as I mentioned before, the pillow was filled with almonds or something. I never opened it to find out, but it certainly wasn’t soft or fluffy, just very….firm.

Everybody We’re Going Streaking!

Dinner was…interesting. We walked from the hotel to a nice Korean barbecue place on the beach only a few minutes away. The meal was delicious Jeju black pig and it really was delicious. Jeju black pig has a unique taste and origin story compared with traditional Korea pork. Originally, Jeju black pigs were fed human feces in special pig sties located below outhouses. However, that practice was outlawed in the 1960s so now the pigs just eat whatever it is that pigs eat these days. Supposedly feeding the pigs anything other than human poop has adversely affected the taste. However, I felt much better eating pigs that weren’t eating my poop.

During dinner, we were all given a bottle of soju and some beer as part of our meal. Nicole and I had a bit of each but not much. It was dinner and we were coming to the end of a long day, or rather two days since we didn’t sleep much on the bus. Our group leader felt otherwise. By the time we finished dinner, he had finished several bottles of Soju and was pretty drunk. Somehow he wagered a bet between him and his Korean coleader as to who could drink a full glass of Soju faster. He won the bet but still opted to strip down and run naked out of the restaurant into the ocean. No one followed him. In fact, no one seemed to bat an eye after he left. I think he was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get much of a reaction. Most people just returned to their meal.

Since there’s no topping a performance like that, especially in front of a room full of strangers, Nicole and I decided to call it a night and walk back along the beach to our motel. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures when we visit the beach, see beautiful rocks, waterfalls, wooden sailing ships, and temples.