A couple of weeks ago I finally knocked out a Korean tourism staple: Jeju Island. One of the recently crowned 7 Natural Wonders of the World, it’s the crown jewel of Korean tourism, and a very beautiful place (although probably not in my personal top 7).
Jeonghee and I spent a week there, splitting time between sightseeing and beach-bumming. The first place we went, pretty much directly after we got in, though, was perhaps Jeju’s most notorious attraction- Jeju Loveland, a museum/sculpture park/glorified gift shop dedicated to all things, well, love-making. It was actually a pretty great time, particularly for those with similar dirty senses of humor to us.
The next day we headed to the site that usually adorns Jeju’s 7 Natural Wonders promotional materials- the dramatic volcanic crater of Seongsan Ilchulbong. First, though, we went to the nearby island of Udo, which boasted great views of the volcano as well as several attractions of its own, namely a couple of pristine beaches, a lighthouse on a cape, and a lot of peanut products (that being the crop of choice there).
Udo is also where we got our Jeju culinary delights fix at a restaurant with a combination menu featuring the majority of them. There’s a small, black-skinned pig on the island famous for its meat, and while the sweet-sauced dish they provided (and the fried version we’d try the next day) certainly was tasty, it just tasted like… pork. More interesting was the okdom, a “royal” fish that apparently was illegal for anyone but the king to eat way back in dynasty times, and I can see why he liked it so much. To my untrained palate, it tasted like baconfish… so, delicious. There also was an abalone hotpot stew, which was good, but with the rising cost of abalone, not terribly abalone-y.
After that we headed to Seongsan Ilchulbong itself, climbing its many steps near dusk. The sight from the top was beautiful, although the crater itself was only viewable from one platform, and while pretty, not incredibly impressive.
The next day we headed to Hamdeok beach, which was typical of the many beaches on the island- warm, shallow water, white sand, with plenty of relaxation on tap.
The next day was another tourism day. The first stop was Manjanggul, a huge lava tube. A lava tube is basically a large cave created by lava, and it was very interesting to see the evidence of its awesome molten power on the rocks melted like butter and reformed in various formations. It also was a great way to beat the heat, probably 20 degrees cooler inside.
After that we headed over to a maze about ten minutes down the road. This one was actually created by an American man who’s made Jeju his adopted home, teaching there for years and in his retirement administering this devilishly clever maze based on Korean and Jeju symbolism, which almost kicked our butts. We were told upon entering that it took on average 15 minutes. I don’t if that was supposed to put us off our game or if we’re just really terrible at mazes (okay, probably the latter), but it took us nearly an hour and several starts before we finally climbed the stairs and rung the victory bell. Fun, but once was definitely enough…
From there we went straight to Jeonghee’s big list item- the Hanwha Aqua Planet Aquarium. Apparently the biggest in Asia, it certainly put Shedd to shame, but was lacking its primary attraction and the beast plastered over all their marketing- its whale shark. Apparently it was released into the wild last September, not their website indicates that. While a bit on the expensive side, it still was a good time, particularly the seal/walrus/dolphin show included in the ticket, something I’ve never seen before.
We kept up the tourism the next day, preferring to save our last full day for the beach. This time we headed to Seogwi-po, the second largest city on the island. Nearby was a small series of waterfalls leading down to the sea that was pleasant, but once you’ve seen Iguazu and Niagara… eh.
After that was a more interesting natural formation- lava flows into the sea that have a hexagonal column look that looks too precise to be the result of a bunch of lava oozing into the sea and cooling. Very interesting.
Then it was time for more swimming, this time Jungmun Beach, which was different than the other beaches we visited because of its fairly aggressive waves. Beyond the tourist beach, up over in front of the Hyatt Hotel and on the other side, was a nearly abandoned beach that looks like something from King Kong. That one was a bit too rocky for swimming, but beautiful nonetheless. This one ended with a meal of live octopus.
The last day was a bit of a whirlwind tour of three beaches around Hyeopjae, ending up on the very nice beach with a bar to while away the evening at. It was a beautiful, fittingly relaxing way to end our stay on Jeju, before heading back to the harsh realities of another school year (or for me, another two weeks!)