Jeju Island

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!

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Yongduam

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.

Yongduam - Jeju

Can you see the dragon-head?

Yongduam - Jeju

Local women selling fresh seafood

Yongduam - Jeju

Local tourists sitting on the rock, enjoying sunshine and fresh seafood

Yongduam - Jeju

Sea cucumber being sliced and served raw

Yongduam - Jeju

Squid drying in the sun

Yongduam - Jeju

Squid grilled by a blow torch

Yongduam - Jeju

A shop owner

Yongduam - Jeju

Love locks on Jeju Island

Yongduam - Jeju

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Seopjikoji

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.

Seopjikoji - Jeju

The walkway to All In House (the red-roof church)

Seopjikoji - Jeju

A couple taking picture near All-In House

Seopjikoji - Jeju

An elder woman selling dried seaweed

Seopjikoji - Jeju

The walkway as seen from the lighthouse

Seopjikoji - Jeju

A cafe with very modern architecture

Seopjikoji - Jeju

Wild flowers

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Seongsan Ilchulbong

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 - Jeju

View of Seongsan Ilchulbong from Seopjikoji

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

At the foot of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Seongsan Ilchulbong

On the way up

Seongsan Ilchulbong

The narrow strip of land connecting Seongsan Ilchulbong to Jeju

Seongsan Ilchulbong

The crater at the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Seongsan Ilchulbong

The crater is surrounded by small but sharp rocks

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

The staircase down from the peak

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

Haenyo Divers performance at the bottom of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

The ladies started by singing their folk song which talks about their life story as Woman Divers

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

Their simple diving equipment

Haenyo Divers - Jeju island

Those women can dive up to 20 meters without using oxygen masks to pick up sea delicacies such as abalone

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

However, this tradition is facing extinction, as young Koreans prefer other careers. The youngest Haenyo divers are now more than 50 years old.

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

All those delicacies are eaten raw

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

Seongsan Ilchulbong seen from the side

Seongsan Ilchulbong - Jeju

The water is crystal clear

Wild mushroom

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Hallasan

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.

Hallasan - Jeuju

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.

Hallasan - Jeuju

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

Hallasan - Jeuju

A small stream on the way

Hallasan - Jeuju

A crater lake on the way up

Hallasan - Jeuju

Near the summit, you can see the vast difference in the terrain – no more big trees, only grasses and small bushes.

Hallasan - Jeuju

Bare rocks

Hallasan - Jeuju

Hiking up to the summit

Hallasan - Jeuju

The viewing platform at the summit

Hallasan - Jeuju

People gathering at the summit

Hallasan - Jeuju

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.

Hallasan - Jeuju

View from the summit

Hallasan - Jeuju

A solar panel on the summit

Hallasan - Jeuju

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.

Hallasan - Jeuju

The beginning of the trail – well-paved wooden stairs

Hallasan - Jeuju

The ropes and posts serve as anchors when the wind gets too strong

Hallasan - Jeuju

Hallasan - Jeuju

Hallasan

I just love those tree trunks

Hallasan - Jeuju

Hallasan - Jeuju

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.

Hallasan - Jeuju

A hiker resting on the way down

Hallasan - Jeuju

Further down, you can start seeing more greeneries

Hallasan - Jeuju

The peak from a shelter on the way down

Hallasan - Jeuju

A yellow ribbon for the Jeju ferry incident victims

Hallasan - Jeuju

Near the end of the trail

Hallasan - Jeuju

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