for chuseok, david and i sailed south to jeju island, looking for rocky beaches and coastal trails. we wanted to get out of the city and savor the sea. we wanted to gulp in the fresh air before autumn’s chill descended. the trip was everything we had hoped for, and we often find ourselves talking about how jeju is one of our favorite places in all of korea. the island feel, the laid-back lifestyle, the windy sea breezes are refreshing and a welcome change from gwangju life. here’s a little rundown of what we did.
saturday: we hopped a massive ferry from mokpo down to jeju with our friends adam and angie. the ferry took over 4 hours, but we sat outside eating hummus, soaking up the sun, studying the foreigners (read: other westerners like ourselves), and taking in the dozens of little islands we passed along the way. it was a lovely way to spend a saturday afternoon. we arrived in jeju, checked into our hotel in jeju city, and went out for dinner at a killer indian restaurant called the baghdad cafe. we got a variety of dishes and shared them all, and loved every last drop of curry. best indian i’ve had in korea.
sunday: we hiked halla mountain. mostly. it was a drizzly, breezy uphill climb. it’s hard to hike in korea and not feel sorely underdressed for the event. koreans take their hiking incredibly seriously. there are dozens of hiking brands in korea that i’ve never even heard of (lafuma, colon sport, nepa, and the humorously named redface, just to name a few). we were eternally getting passed by people decked out in clashing neon, dry-wick get-ups and hiking poles, while i wore a t-shirt, jeans, and a mustard-colored cardigan for the event. for the record, i was fine. ok, maybe a little cold and damp by the end. but it builds character. we made it up to about 1500 meters where we found we missed the deadline to depart to the top by about 10 minutes. we were dissapointed, but consoled ourselves in the nearby noodle shop with hot ramen and trail mix.
that evening, we indulged in a spread of raw fish on a little jetty next to the frothing ocean in jeju city. i couldn’t name most of delicately sliced fish that we ate, but maybe that’s for the best. it was still tasty and adventurous and a must-do while on jeju. we wrapped up the night by buying tickets to the viking ride at a nearby rundown amusement park, then thrust our arms into the air and yelled like little kids. we topped off the night with ice cream, sitting outside as the amusement park lights shut off all around us. it felt like the perfect way to grasp the last threads of summer.
monday: in the morning we splurged on the buffet breakfast at our hotel. the restaurant had massive floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and we knew we had to sit there at least once, to sit and sip coffee while looking out at the endless blue. david and i then spent the morning wandering the outskirts of jeju city, discovering some lava-rock formations that the island is known for (yongdu-am – the dragon head rock). then we checked out of our hotel mid-afternoon and hopped a bus south to seogwipo city to check into our 2nd hotel.
the second hotel was hulking, ancient, and fading in a kind of charming, spooky way. you could tell it was past its prime, but in its day it had been legendary. it’s the kind of hotel i’d put in a book; everything covered in gritty sea grim, wind-whipped palm trees, carpets that smelled of mildew, an empty pool that hasn’t been used in years, white iron balconies with sand stuck in between the tiles on the ground. the service wasn’t great, but it was such a weird, unique place i didn’t mind.
we spent the early evening walking, walking, walking along another coastal trail. we were on a hunt for the gawking, mist-clouded waterfall cheonjiyeon. after we properly admired that, we walked on some trails near our hotel, following the black-rock studded coast. we watched people fish and root between the rocks as we soaked up the last rays of the day.
that evening, we hopped a cab to meet adam and angie in jungmun, where they were staying. craving some western fare, we devoured some kraze burgers, then peeked longingly in the windows of ripley’s believe it or not museum. we settled down at starbucks for a hot drink before heading our seperate ways for the night.
tuesday: david and i were on a mission to see the giant crater on the east side of the island, known as the sunrise peak or the seongsan ilchulbong peak. we took a bus out to the touristy area, but got off a little too soon. we had to walk quite a ways to the peak, but found some surprising views along the way. we stuck our toes in the water on a black sand beach, and david found some particularly photogenic horses. we paid the 2 bucks to hike to the top of this concave lava formation, and spent a little time at the top admiring the views.
that evening we walked around seogwipo’s downtown area, in search of chicken for dinner. we wandered through pungent markets and up and down winding side streets. we finally stumbled upon a fantastic little place that served us tons of free sides in addition to our garlic glazed chicken. we got caught up in a really dark korean movie that was blaring on the tv, but once it switched over to a denzel washington movie the trance was broken and we were ready to leave. we grabbed a few late-night snacks for our hotel room and went back early to unwind.
wednesday: our last goal was the lava tube caves, called manjanggul caves. we departed our hotel early to make our way around the island and up to the caves. they were worth the trip – it was fascinating to me how the hot lava had carved grooves on the walls and hardened into a floor still etched with flow lines. david captured some cool pictures, and on the way out we shared a cab with a couple friendly guys from spain. then it was back to jeju city to hop the ferry back to mokpo. we didn’t get into gwangju until late wednesday night, but it was worth it. it was just the right kind of quirky, outdoorsy vacation to mark the changing of seasons.
a few pictures can be found here.