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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.

Kiana in Korea – Visiting Busan and Haedong Yonggungsa

Last weekend Kiana came to visit Nicole and I in Seoul. Over the past week she traveled around Korea visiting the Boseong Tea Fields, Gwangju, and hanging out with us in Gwangyang. This weekend, we visited Busan to see the Haedong Yonggungsa temple and Haeundae beach.

Kiana and I

Kiana and I

Traveling to Busan

Kiana, Nicole, and I got up early and walked down to the Donggwanyang bus terminal. We’d booked our tickets earlier in the week so all we had to do was hop on the bus and head out. The trip took us about 2 hours. Nicole napped and Kiana and I caught up on news from back home.

When we arrived in Busan we took the subway the 24 stops across town to Haeundae Beach, one of Nicole and my favorite spots in the city. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and spent the afternoon at the beach. Visiting the beach is one of the things I miss about Florida while I’m in Gwangyang so its nice to visit a beach in Korea every now and again.

Visiting Yonggungsa Temple

After our trip to the beach that afternoon, we took a local city bus to Yonggungsa temple. Its a beautiful Buddhist temple just East of Busan. Nicole and I had visited before with my Korean friend. However, I don’t think I ever wrote about it.

The temple includes a series of buildings, shrines, and statues. Koreans visit the temple primarily to wish for a male child or for students to get good grades. The three of us just went for the view.

 

To get into the temple you walk down a little alleyway selling all manner of snacks before you come to a narrow stairway that leads to a series of bridges. Off the left side of the bridges is the coast. On the right side of the bridges are a series of cascading fountains with basins inside. People throw coins into the basins for good luck. None of the three of us made our coins into the basin. Although, one Korean did while we were there and there was a good bit of applause.

Busan Night and Day

That night we returned from the temple to the Hauendae beach area. We visited a local market so Kiana could sample some traditional Korean street snacks and so she could see all the weirder snacks that she didn’t feel like eating. I don’t blame her. I’ve been here almost a year and a half and I haven’t had all the snacks available yet.

After the market, we bought some fireworks and went down to the beach to set them off. Every time we visit Busan we buy fireworks and set them off. Its become our traditional end to the night. This visit was no different, and this time we got to share to tradition with my sister, Kiana.

The next day we visited the beach again and walked to Gwangalli beach. Its another beach a few stops away on the subway or a 30 minute walk from Hauendae beach. The three of us had lunch together before Nicole and I headed back to Gwangyang so we could teach the next day. Kiana headed out the following day to Hong Kong.

 

Wondo – Beach Camping in Korea

beach faces This past weekend Nicole and I went back to Wondo for a weekend of beach camping. Our first weekend in Korea Nicole and I went to Wondo with my foreign coworkers for some R and R. When we went the first time, the water was freezing and the beach was practically empty. This time the beach was packed with Koreans in conservative bathing suits and little beach tents and the water was still freezing. I preferred the cold water to the far too warm water of our last beach adventure the day of the Sunflower Festival.

Our Tent

Beach Tent...note the transparency

Beach Tent…note the transparency

Nicole and I inadvertently bought a beach tent several weeks ago at Emart. We were trying to buy a regular tent and found one for a great price…too great of a price in fact. Nicole didn’t find out until her East Coast Trip that the tent only had two sides to it. You read that correctly, our tent that was 50% off was missing 50% of its walls. The two missing walls were made completely of mesh with no way to cover it, just open to the elements and any Koreans that may want to look in.

The view from inside the tent

The view from inside the tent

Nicole and I packed my giant hiking backpack with the tent, sleeping bag, and plenty of other goodies before we hit the road. I’ll spare you the details of the Gwangju bus terminal although it is an interesting read if you’re new to my blog.

Beach Camping

Wondo Beach Map

Wondo Beach Map

The bus let us off in Wondo and Nicole and I took a cab ($10) out to the beach for the weekend. We stocked up on some ice, fireworks, and chips at the convenience store in front of the beach and walked down to the water. Since Nicole and I would be camping on the beach we pitched the tent a little ways back from the shore and set up our campsite. One of the great things about Korea is that you can camp anywhere….anywhere. Just set up your tent and you’re good to go. No pesky permits or campsites, just lots of fun.

Tubes for rent

Tubes for rent

Nicole rented a tube from one of the shops along the boardwalk and floated around while I waded into the water. Nicole has been too afraid to go into the water more than knee deep in Korea on account of the cold. The one exception she made was at the hot beach from a few weekends ago.

Dinner

Beachside Restaurant

Beachside Restaurant

After an afternoon of floating around and napping in our sweet beach tent, we got some dinner at one of the boardwalk restaurants. Nicole and I got a squid pizza. It was delicious. There are two basic kinds of pizza in Korea. There’s western pizza, which Koreans interpret loosely, and there’s traditional Korean pizza, which is probably called something else, but foreigners call it pizza because of its round, flat, and vaguely breadlike. The pizza we got was kind of a doughy bread with various vegetable toppings and of course squid. There’s no tomato sauce or cheese, so calling it pizza maybe entirely misleading. My apologies for not posting a picture, it was too delicious to stop and photograph. In addition to our pizza, we got a glass of beer between the two of us to share as “service”.

Service

Whale shirt I wrote about service briefly towards the end of the Oedaldo Island trip and the day I bought the whale shirt, but I’ll explain it again in short again. If you go to a bar, you’ll get chips or some sort of rice snack “for service”. This means basically because you bought something and you’re at this particular establishment, you’ll get something for your patronage. This happens all the time for little things, like bar snacks, but its scalable. The more you spend the more you get in “service”. It also helps to be friendly and a foreigner. The day I bought the whale shirt, I got a free shirt for “service”, partly because it was kind of expensive and partly because it was a ridiculous shirt that they never expected to sell. For spending a lot of money at the restaurant in Oedaldo, we got a free room at the minbok, hotel, next door.

Fireworks and Beach Yoga

beach firework 2

Earlier in the day we bought fireworks from the convenience store to set off. The sign said (in Korean) cash only. I’m not sure why, possibly because the store was not supposed to be selling them or maybe they were illegal and the store didn’t want a paper trail. Either way, everyone along the beach was setting off fireworks and no one seemed concerned. The store only sold small and large roman candles so Nicole and I bought a handful of each for the beach and set them off over the water.

beach firework

Nicole recently started teaching Yoga in Gwangju at the Gwangju International Center (GIC). As part of her class prep, she creates yoga routines, and I usually end up as the guinea pig in these yoga experiments. After the fireworks, we spent a few minutes on the beach doing some yoga. It felt really peaceful to do yoga with fireworks going off over the water and the lights from the boardwalk behind us. The sand was really comfortable for yoga as well. It was better than yoga on a thin mat on a wooden floor.

Karaoke

After dinner, Nicole and I walked along the beach when we were invited into a beachside Karaoke bar to sing karaoke with a bunch of random Koreans. The Korean who beckoned us inside, named DJ, we had met earlier that day. He was working the jet ski rental place further up the shore and offered us a ride on the jetskis the next morning. He told us that he was from Gwangju, the same town as us and that he’d recognized us from seeing us downtown a few times. His English was impeccable, later he told me he’d studied in Philadelphia for 8 months and occasionally tutored English on the side. DJ waved us into the bar. I use the term “bar” loosely, like everything else along the boardwalk, the building meant lots of plastic tables and chairs and a few umbrellas or an aluminum shed with less than 4 walls, like our tent.

“Inside” we meant a bunch of very drunk older Korean gentlemen who offered us beer and Soju and chanted things like “one-shot” meaning down your drink in one swig. Nicole and I obliged them…once. DJ explained to us that we didn’t need to go nuts with them and that they were “super creepy”. Aside from being drunk, they didn’t seem too bad. DJ also told us one of the guys was a gangster and pointed to a gentleman covered in tattoos. The claim seemed believable considering the fact that almost no one in Korea has tattoos. I have yet to see a single tattoo on a Korean.  DJ explained that everyone there worked at the beach for the season and this was there last night before they closed up shop for Fall. We danced to some absurd Korean Karaoke with DJ for a bit, then politely returned to our tent on the beach to call it a night.

Sunflower Festival and Beach day

After our busy day of tea fields, baseball games, and nightclubs, Nicole and I could only follow it up with an equally busy Sunday of sunflowers and beaches.

Bus Terminal

Last Friday my Korean co-worker, Jade invited me to a sunflower festival with her and some of the other foreign teachers. Nicole and I met Ted, Patrick, Alyssa, and Jade at the bus terminal and caught a bus to Gochang, about an hour away from Gwangju. The ride was uneventful and the destination was even less eventful. This was perhaps the least interesting town in Korea, luckily we weren’t here for the town, we were here for the sunflowers.

The Cab Ride

Jade spoke to two cab drivers and asked them to drive all of us out to the sunflower field several miles away. By Korean standards, this was the most expensive cab ride we’d taken so far. Split 3 ways it was roughly $7 a piece. The ride was insane. Korean cabbies in Gwangju drive uncomfortably fast for being in heavy traffic but get them out in the countryside away from traffic and they really floor it. We were whizzing around turns and speeding past green blurs which I assume were farms. There were a few turns where I was shocked the tires were able to hold traction and keep us on the road. I thought for sure we would slide off the road and bounce down a mountainside like dice on a craps table, but we survived and made it to the sunflower field.

Sunflower Festival

In Korea, the term festival is loosely applied to all events, things, ideas, and concepts. You’re never really certain what a “festival” will entail, but it almost never involves a Ferris wheel.

Sunflowers

This sunflower festival happened to be a field of sunflowers many of which were dead. This was partly our fault for visiting the field on the very last day of sunflower season. Jade told us the pictures she saw from earlier in the season were beautiful. I was able to get a few good shots of sunflowers and the field was still mostly green so the pictures came out well.

Sunflower

Us walking

We spent the next hour or so walking through the field taking photos and observing the majestic beauty of the partially decomposing sunflowers. I saw it as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the ever-looming specter that is death, but mostly I just took pictures. Many Korean couples wandered through the field in their hiking gear or high heels, some wearing a combination of the two.

Koreans in Sunflowers

There was a little pagoda in the center of the field and from all sides of it, you could see endless green and yellow sunflower plants. We hung out in the pagoda for a while just talking and recovering from the soul-crushing heat. In case I forgot to mention the temperature in previous posts, assume that it’s been at least 90 degrees outside in all of my posts.

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Lunch

After our well-deserved escape from the heat, we left the pagoda and ate lunch at a café/visitor center on the outskirts of the sunflower field. Nicole and I shared a squid pizza (more like an open-faced squid omelet) and bibimbap (rice, egg, and veggies in a bowl). It was delicious. Across from the restaurant was a sunflower gift shop selling various sunflower-related products such as a tea-like drink mix and some sunflower seeds in different size bags. Nicole and the other ladies on the trip got soft serve ice cream, vanilla since the swirl option was broken.

After lunch, we returned to where the cab drivers had dropped us off. The two drivers were milling around the parking lot doing cab driver things, probably discussing beaded seat cushions, awful car fragrances, or the best way to drift around turns and scare your passengers.

The Ride to the Beach

We all piled into the two cabs and drove to the beach. The drive was about 20 minutes and the cab drivers didn’t take their foot off the gas once. It was exhilarating and terrifying, but the fare was low so I can’t complain. About halfway through the ride the cab driver turned to Nicole in the backseat and handed her his business card and a paper fan sponsored by the police department condemning domestic violence. I don’t really know what to make of that gesture. Either Nicole happened to say something in English that sounded like Korean for “please give me a business card and information on domestic violence” or I still have lots to learn about Korean culture.

Beach

The Beach

We arrived at a little town on the coast, I use the term town loosely, there were four to five buildings and a beach. We walked through town, all of it, and out to the beach. A concrete wall surrounded the beach on the coast side, immediately on the other side of it was a rocky outcropping where Koreans were sunbathing. We laid our towels out on the hot rocks and basked like lizards beneath a heat lamp. Once we were sufficiently heated on both sides, like lightly toasted English muffins, we walked down to the water. It was low tide so the water was about a half mile away. I expected to be cooled down by the water on such a hot day. However, I was in for a surprise. The water was hot, not just warm but hot. It was not refreshing.

Rocks

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The time in the water was relatively uneventful so I’ll take this time to tell you about Korean beach attire. Koreans fear the sun like vampires and cherish whiteness like Aryans. Consequently, it’s not unusual to see Koreans in either incredibly modest swimsuits or completely covered up head to toe with long sleeves, pants, and a hat. As a foreigner, I have been repeatedly warned to check for “whitening” in my sunscreen, because some sunscreen not only blocks the sun but also makes your skin whiter than when you left for the beach.

Koreans at Beach

After our swim, we returned to Gwangju via a bus to a bus.