Jeju at Last

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where is Jeju?

When  I came to Korea, one of the first places I heard about was the southern island of Jeju. Located south of the peninsula, it is the closest thing to tropical that Korea has. I can attest that there are many palm trees. However, I went there in the winter, so these poor trees were combating snow and cold. Basically, they are either some of the hardiest or most abused palm trees on the planet. Famous for honeymooners, it's a big island (one of the few places where renting a car is almost essential) with lots of touristy things to do.

In all honesty though, it's a great place to vacation. The tallest of South Korea's mountains, volcanic Halla-san, is the central, ever present monument located at the center of the island. Furthermore, the beaches and the ocean are gorgeous. Outside of Korea, it is a virtual hidden paradise and was named so by Newsweek.

Helen and I only visited for three days, but I will definitely go back as soon as it's warm and I can take advantage of the beaches. Also, I really want to climb Halla, which I have heard is a wonderful experience.

Short and Sweet

Some of the best parts about Jeju is the affordability and the less than hour-long flights from Seoul. Helen and I purchased a fee package tour that included two nights at a nice beach side hotel, a rental car and airfare for only $250 each. Without the package, we would have paid about double that. Our last night before leaving for Jeju was a fun one. One of the Korean teachers was leaving my school for a different institution and another friend of mine was leaving the country. In honor of the departures, we went to a great bar with pool and darts and a bunch of folks. We were pretty tired on the airplane the next day, but it was well worth it.

Day 1: Sunday

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were forced to de-board the plane on the runway. After stepping outside, I almost blew away. Jeju is also famous for its wind. I was very happy to step into a car and be driven to the terminal. In the airport, we retrieved our rental car after a long lecture about how to use the GPS (almost all Koreans use GPS). From there we headed to E-Mart to buy food. All the female employees were dressed in pink hanboks, Korean traditional dress. The occasion for our trip happened to be lunar new year, (Chinese new year) so our school gave us a week-off...yeah!

On the way to our hotel we stopped at a massive stone monument to Buddha. It was beautiful and filled with tons of statues, but again the wind did not encourage us to stay very long. After a short rest at our nice hotel (great ocean view) we planned our day. The first stop was Mini Mini Land, over sized miniatures of famous landmarks (Taj Mahal, London Bridge, Statue of Liberty, etc.). I was quite impressed by the collection, but was absolutely freezing. We had to go to the interior of the island, which is a much higher elevation and thus covered in snow. Putting in as much time as we could, we returned to our safe, warm haven, the car. Next stop was Sangumburi, a massive crater. This would have been a great little walk, if it wasn't so cold, but it felt like a blizzard once we got to the summit. We took our mandatory photo and left. When we returned to the car, it wasn't starting. We waited a bit, and then returned to the hotel, ready for warmth and nourishment.

Both were provided. Someone came to give us a better car and we ate my favorite Korean meal: samgyupsal. Basically, Korean bacon, cooked on a stove at your table. Jeju is famous for a black pig that used to eat people's poop back in the olden times. Sounds delicious, right? It was, I loved it. The restaurant was filled with hotel guests. Literally, a thirty second walk from the hotel, it is the only restaurant around and happens to be quite delicious. Back at our room we drank champagne and watched a chick flick; Helen fell asleep and I finished it alone.

Day 2: Monday

The next morning we woke up and joined the small crowd at the buffet. Although the ocean view was nice, the food was not so great. I was really craving some Western breakfast food, since Korea doesn't really do breakfast food. After somewhat satisfying my stomach, we headed south from our north coast location.

The first destination was the Teddy Bear museum, Helen's choice. On our way we got to enjoy some snow capped vistas of Halla mountain. It was way better than I expected. Teddy Bear's were dressed up and displayed in all sorts of interesting, strange fashions. Some of my favorites were the renditions of Gandhi, the moon landing and Michael Jordan. Best of all was my experiment with Korean fast food, a chain called Lotteria. I'd seen the chain tons of times, but my McDonald's aversion had always turned me away. To me, it's better than American burger places, despite strange entrees like the shrimp and bulgogi burgers.

With a satisfied stomach, we ventured to the Jeju World Cup Stadium, home to the traditional Korean doll museum. Also, Helen's pick and better than I expected. Inside were paper mache depictions of traditional Korean way of living. My favorite was Jeju's famous poop pig, biting at a boy's butt while he was doing his business. In defense, the boy used a long slender stick.

 After driving to the other side of Halla for a rather lame park, we went to one of more entertaining stops, Love Land. Really it should be called 'Sex Park,' as almost all the statues are of naked folks either doing it or about to. Needless to say, it was entertaining and a great diversion from the rather tame stops of the day. We headed home after some overpriced and not-so delicious raw fish (Helen liked it) to more champagne. After looking up the Super Bowl score, I went to bed happy.

Day Three: Tuesday

Maybe the hotel staff noticed my displeasure from the day before, because the breakfast was markedly better. Feeling good, we checked out and headed to examine a local seaside park. We climbed on some volcanic rock and watched a 'haenya' dive for abolone. The 'haenya' are 60 to 80 year-old women who dive for sea treasures for hours with only a scuba mask, no tank. They are very fun too watch and extremely impressive, especially considering most Koreans can't even swim.

From there, we headed to the east coast for a boat ride. It was relaxing and scenic. We headed to cow island, and saw fisherman stranded on lone rocks with awful high waves all around. Apparently, they were pretty serious about fishing. We declined to do the submarine ride, but we did see them. They were bright yellow and parked right beside the island we went to. It looked pretty cool.

Our last activity was a dark and wet one, Manjeonggul, Jeju's largest cave. There was a recent rock slide blocking off over half the accessible cave. Fortunately, they reduced the price to nothing, because of this mishap. It was definitely the wettest and least interesting cave I've been to, though I've only been to two others: Mammoth and Carlsbad (both of which are amazing).

For dinner we went to Mr. Pizza, a Korean pizza place famous for keeping women thin (so they advertise) and strange toppings: sweet potato, seafood, etc. The most eventful moment of this meal for me was watching the interchange between the Korean staff and a Chinese couple who couldn't speak Korean. They barely understood each other with broken English on both ends.

We dropped off the car at the airport and enjoyed our 40 minute flight back to Incheon. Although Helen had to go to her Gramma's for lunar new year (tradition to be with family), I was free to enjoy the rest of my week off.

Signing off

I hope you enjoyed another installment of the Bill blog. I will be in the US from 3/29-4/16. I will be doing a mini tour: Florida, Dallas, Chicago, Madison, Twin Cities, Vegas, so I hope I can catch you somewhere.

Please give me a shout about anything and everything related to your life.

All the best, Bill
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