Three years ago, when the Travelers Century Club added Jeju Island to the list of countries that I had to visit to achieve my goal I was a little annoyed. I had already spent some significant time in South Korea proper and Jeju wasn’t exactly the easiest place to get to. You really had to make the effort to get there. In fact, at the time I had never knowingly heard about it. However, as I did my research on the island and what there was to see, I got a little excited. As they recently started marketing it around New York City on billboards and busses, I was intrigued; and when it was recently voted one of the seven natural wonders of the world, I was stoked. So as I planned this trip, which was to originally include Wake Island, I started with Korea and Jeju in mind.
After a long flight from Los Angeles via Tokyo, my Uncle and I arrived at sparkling Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul. Incheon is forever away from Seoul by car so the best way to get into town is bus or even better by train. The only snag was at 6am the next morning we had a flight to Jeju leaving from Gimpo, the domestic airport, and much closer to the city proper. Luckily there is a rail connection between the two airports, so we headed to Gimpo and grabbed a taxi to our hotel that I had booked online the night before. It was 2 miles from Gimpo and was very cheap.
It was pretty funny as we arrived. The cab driver took a while to find it because he had never heard of it and we got there late. The lobby was a small room with a popcorn machine that was free to take from and they had some free drinks that looked like urine-I passed.
As the guy showed us to our rooms and opened the door, I couldn’t help but notice it was covered in cat pictures and drawings all over the wall. Very Korean but kind of ridiculous, especially considering I hate cats! No matter, I passed out immediately and woke up about 45 minutes before the flight and we barely made it. It didn’t even bother me that we literally stayed in a cat house. I say that because it was apparent that it was the type of place where the Korean guys go with their prostitutes and likely charge by the hour. It was pretty funny and yes it actually was clean and we were off to Jeju.
In hindsight, it turned out that I had heard of Jeju before and in fact it was one of the host cities for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. It hosted several important matches including one that eventual champion Brazil played in. I was excited to see the stadium when I arrived on Jeju Island very early in the morning.
A week ago I was contacted by the host of a Korean TV and radio show to do an interview about Jeju and the fact it was my 300th country. She apparently saw one of my Facebook posts that automatically goes to Twitter. I was happy to oblige and that made the early arrival into Jeju more exciting. Afterwards she helped arrange us a taxi that spoke some English to be our chauffeur for the day around the island.
Normally I would just rent a car. In fact, I had a reservation with Hertz all printed out and ready to go. The problem was I don’t have an International drivers license. I have never been asked for one before so I’ve never felt inclined to get one and I rent a lot of cars. The truth is I have two current valid licenses. One US license and one issued by the Cook Islands strangely enough. That wasn’t enough for them and they refused to give me a rental car. So luckily we had Jenie to help us arrange the taxi and we were off to see the island.
Unfortunately, we arrived on a very overcast morning and it was clearly going to start raining any time. I hoped it would hold off until late in the day or at least until after we did some hiking. It wasn’t to be and it basically rained the entire day. But that didn’t dampen our spirits and we headed east from Jeju City to the worlds largest underground lava tubes at Manjanggul.
Yes I know that sounds like a funny thing to claim as being the worlds largest etc. But it really was pretty cool. It’s a world heritage site and was like a massive subway dig that went on for 7km. It was dark, damp, cold and full of puddles. It was very tastefully dimly lit so you didn’t kill yourself or get soaked by the puddles. We walked thru and back. It was a fun excursion.
Lava tubes are different than caves. They don’t have stalactites and stalagmites and they don’t have bats or bat droppings everywhere. It didn’t smell. It was smooth and naturally carved out, again it was pretty cool. I would post more pictures but it was too dark for any to come out where you can reasonably see what anything is. After we got out it really started to rain.
We were heading to the far east of the island to see their most famous site, Seongsan Ilchulbong. It is used on all of the billboards proclaiming them being one of the new seven natural wonders of nature. It looked OK in the pictures and I can firmly state that it really wasn’t that impressive.
Granted it was raining and it was really dark. We also didn’t climb it because of the rain on the very slippery rocks, I didn’t want my favorite Uncle to slip, fall and hurt himself at his youthful age of 64. So we abstained from hiking up the 192 meters and settled for views from the bottom and from the beach (above). It was OK but again, it’s tough to give a full opinion when you didn’t get to experience it properly.
I feel like that was a common theme for the day. That’s a problem if you go to a place for one day and plan to do a lot of stuff. If the weather is bad then most of your plans get foiled. Even if you still do them, it isn’t as memorable or as beautiful as it would be if it were ideal out. But again, we made the best of the day.
After an excellent fresh seafood lunch (at least I liked my food) and the decision not to climb, that gave us a few extra hours to see some other things. The taxi driver suggested Cheonjiyeon Falls. This ended up being my favorite part of the island. The waterfalls themselves were very nice. They looked like they should be on Maui or Reunion Island. In fact many people compare Jeju to Hawaii; much like Hainan (China) but Jeju isn’t nearly as built up or congested as Hainan.
But the best part of the falls was the setting, the amazing crystal clear river that looked like something out of Switzerland or New Zealand and the gigantic koi fish that populated the river. Some of them were the size of small sharks. They were big and very bright shades or orange, white and mixes of both.
The falls also had a great volcanic lava statue garden which is very famous on Jeju. We enjoyed having a look around, watching the Koreans take pictures and pose and of course we had to take a few ourselves. As the rain increased we headed from the falls down along the southern coast to the site of the World Cup stadium.
After having a quick look, we decided to head back toward the airport through the scenic central road that went up past the highest mountain on the island and some of the famous Jeju theme parks including Love Land.
Jeju believe it or not has three sex museums (who knew the Koreans were so horny) and theme parks (and ironically to my previous statement, it also has a Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum as well). Love Land is the most famous and is an adult themed park dedicated to sex. I don’t exactly know what that means but I believe they have a lot of statues, sculptures and who knows what else. We drove past it and it wasn’t very crowded because of the horrible weather. We had a quick look but didn’t go in because it was outside. Plus, it would probably have been weird to walk around something like that with my uncle anyway!
So all in all, we had a very busy day, with a lot of sightseeing and driving on Jeju. The weather prevented us from doing the hiking I originally intended to do which is their top attraction. Again, bad weather is a problem if you’re on a tight schedule. So as far as my thoughts on Jeju go I thought it was a really nice place with a lot to do although not so much in the rain- at least outdoors. Three days or so would be ideal to enjoy the beaches, hiking and museums etc. I hope to return to Jeju the next time I am in Korea. The airport is pretty big and they fly to everywhere in Korea and also some cities in Japan, although ironically not Tokyo.
The people we met and dealt with were great including our driver. Jenie, the talk show host, was awesome, helpful and I look forward to being on her show in January. I will post a link to it when it goes live.
So we went back to Seoul for a relaxing night back on gorgeous Walker Hill where we stayed at the Sheraton. The coolest thing about it to me was the heated seat toilets themselves that had all types of options including enema as you can see. Take special note of the accompanying little picture, kind of amazing!
So now we are in Tokyo for the night and then catching the 25.5 hour ferry to Ogasawara Sunday morning from Tokyo harbor. Should be interesting!