Jeju is the pride of Korea’s tourism industry. Located to the south of the mainland, it is the biggest island in Korea, by that I do mean it’s really big. It takes only ~2 hours by KTX train from Seoul to Busan, but it takes 3 hours to drive from the east end of the island to its west side. Public transportation is widely available on the island, but buses only stop on the main roads. To get to certain places, you have to walk on for a few kilometers, or get a taxi. But don’t worry, even if you don’t have a car and cannot find a taxi in the middle of nowhere, the locals are always willing to give you a lift, sometimes even without you asking for it.
As one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Jeju is a popular vacation spot for locals and foreign tourists alike. For me, however, the island is 50% either tacky tourist traps or engineered nature, 50% beautiful natural wonders and fun surprises. But you can certainly find a few gems here. If you have an evening to spare, I highly recommend the NANTA show. This theater performance is so original, entertaining, and interactive that it is not only the longest-running show in Korea (in 4 different theaters), but also the first Asian production to make it to Broadway. It’s definitely one of my highlights in Korea!
Jeju island greeted me with warm bright sunshine. After 4 days of cold wet weather in Seoul and Gyeongju, I was so happy to see the deep blue sky and the vast blue sea simmering in the afternoon sun. First destination – Yongduam, a rock in the shape of a dragon head near Jeju City center.
Can you see the dragon-head?
Local women selling fresh seafood
Local tourists sitting on the rock, enjoying sunshine and fresh seafood
Sea cucumber being sliced and served raw
Squid drying in the sun
Squid grilled by a blow torch
A shop owner
Love locks on Jeju Island
This place is very popular to Korean drama fans as it is the filming spot of “All In”. I have no idea what the movie/drama is about though. Seopjikoji is located at the end of Jeju’s eastern shore on a protruding cliff. When I was there, all the rapeseed flowers had gone, but there were still some wild flowers left. From the bus stop, you may want to take taxi there. It took me 1.5 hours to walk there from the main road. On the way back, I was almost desperate as all taxis leaving Seopjikoji were booked in advance. Luckily, two Korean girls gave me a free ride all the way to Seongsan Ilchulbong.
The walkway to All In House (the red-roof church)
A couple taking picture near All-In House
An elder woman selling dried seaweed
The walkway as seen from the lighthouse
A cafe with very modern architecture
Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called ‘Sunrise Peak’, is a tuff cone formed by volcanic eruption on the eastern end of Jeju Island. The peak has a crown-like crater surrounded by sharp rocks. It is very easy to reach the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong through a 600-step stair.
View of Seongsan Ilchulbong from Seopjikoji
At the foot of Seongsan Ilchulbong
On the way up
The narrow strip of land connecting Seongsan Ilchulbong to Jeju
The crater at the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong
The crater is surrounded by small but sharp rocks
The staircase down from the peak
Haenyo Divers performance at the bottom of Seongsan Ilchulbong
The ladies started by singing their folk song which talks about their life story as Woman Divers
Their simple diving equipment
Those women can dive up to 20 meters without using oxygen masks to pick up sea delicacies such as abalone
However, this tradition is facing extinction, as young Koreans prefer other careers. The youngest Haenyo divers are now more than 50 years old.
All those delicacies are eaten raw
Seongsan Ilchulbong seen from the side
The water is crystal clear
Hallasan is a shield volcano and the highest mountain in South Korea. It forms the bulk of the island, hence the local saying ‘Jeju Island is Hallasan, and Hallasan is Jeju’. There are several walking trails up the mountain. I chose to go up via Seongpanak Trail (9.6km) and down via Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7km). My legs hurt so bad after the trek, mainly because a large part of the trails are paved with large boulders, so it felt so unnatural to my feet. At the end, it took me a lot longer (~6 hours) to get down than to get up to the top (~4 hours). It was a real shame that so many kids under 10 years old leisurely walked past me on the way down. While they just happily hopped around like mountain deers, I was limping like an injured soldier. But I’m glad I did it. The scenery on the way was surreal, especially along the steep Gwaneumsa Trail. A word of caution, bring some food, the shelter near the top only serves instant noodles and chocolate bars. If you go down Gwaneumsa Trail, be prepared to share a taxi with others, as there are not many taxis around the area. The nearest bus stop is a few kilometers away, and taxi drivers prefer to drop you there than to drive you all the way to Jeju city.
The first half of Seongpanak Trail is very shady with lots of trees. I started at 8.30am, but did not really need to wear my hat until noon.
This is how a large part of both Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa Trails look like – filled with large boulders that hit your feet hard especially on the way down
A small stream on the way
A crater lake on the way up
Near the summit, you can see the vast difference in the terrain – no more big trees, only grasses and small bushes.
Hiking up to the summit
The viewing platform at the summit
People gathering at the summit
The (dry) crater lake at the top. It was early May, but there was still see some un-melted ice (see the white strips?). It was freezing cold at the top with gushing wind chill. I could only stay for a few minutes before rushing down.
View from the summit
A solar panel on the summit
The walk down Gwaneumsa Trail features extraterrestrial-like terrain, with lots of bare rocks, and white dead tree stumps. All the tree trunks near the top are bent at ridiculous angles as if they are bowing to Mother Nature. Well, they should because the wind gushes with such a force that can actually sweep people off their feet.
The beginning of the trail – well-paved wooden stairs
The ropes and posts serve as anchors when the wind gets too strong
I just love those tree trunks
Most hikers had very colorful outfit, and were well-equipped. I must have stood out that day for wearing Clarks slip-on shoes and canvas bag.
A hiker resting on the way down
Further down, you can start seeing more greeneries
The peak from a shelter on the way down
A yellow ribbon for the Jeju ferry incident victims
Near the end of the trail