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
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.
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.
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.
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.