28.09.2012 - 03.10.2012
View Jeju Island Trip on Anja Fourie's travel map.
August in Korea brings the wonderful gift of Chuseok to us. A three day holiday, which makes a super long weekend from Friday to Wednesday and gives us enough time to leave Incheon and do some exploring. Chuseok is a major harvest festival and celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month, according to the lunar calender. This means, that's not August, but somewhere between September and October. This year it fell on 30 September. Koreans celebrate the good harvest by visiting their hometowns and sharing traditional feasts with their families. It can be seen as a sort of Korean Thanksgiving.
Our destination for Chuseok: Jejudo. The island of Jeju, located about 100kms Southwest to the South point of mainland Korea, is the biggest Korean island and also one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
1. Dol hareubang
These are mushroom shaped little men, who are found everywhere on Jeju Island. They were considered to be gods that offer protection and were placed outside the gates of Jeju. The word means stone grandfather and these stone men have become the icons of Jeju Island. This particular one was found in Love Land, but they are everywhere. Even in chocolate shapes in the shops and replicas are sold to tourists everywhere. They are also symbols of fertility, which connects to Jeju's image of a popular honeymoon destination.
As this was Chuseok weekend, the busiest Korean holiday for travel, we couldn't get any flights. We then decided to take the ferry from Incheon Port to Jeju City Port. The ferry only leaves on certain days and must be booked on a Korean only website. It leaves at about 7pm and arrives 13 hours later in Jeju, 8am the next morning. Temperatures on the ferry were cold, but bearable. We had a third class ticket, which meant we slept in a big hall with a lot of other people, and that we also slept on the floor. Extremely uncomfortable, especially with an old man snoring in your ear or a kid kicking you in the back. That night we had a show on the back deck with a singer and fireworks to celebrate Chuseok.
2. Finally nearing Jeju Island
We stayed in Jeju City, in a hostel called HK Jeju. The hostel was really nice and clean. The building does not have an elevator, so we had to drag our bags up four flights of stairs. In the end that doesn't really matter as everything else about the place is really good. The rooms were very basic, just a room with two bunk beds for the three of us and a bathroom. We also had a little fridge. That was all that we needed. For the price that we paid, that was more than enough. The price is low and the staff all speak excellent English. They are also very eager to help you out to get to any destinations you might want to go to.
Jeju Island is a separate self-governing province of South Korea. It is known as the Jeju Special Autonomous Province. It is the only South Korean province as such. Jeju Province is also divided into two divisions or counties. The North is governed by Jeju City and the South by Seogwipo City. The island is basically split in half. In the center of the island, the massive Hallasan looms out over everything. Roads venture around the island to the South, along the coast, and not over the mountain. Hallasan is the highest mountain in South Korea with an elevation of 1,950m. The mountain can be hiked and it takes quite a few hours to hike the almost 10km to the summit.
Jeju has a population of about 565,000. Jeju City, the capital, has a population of 408,364. The rest of the people live in Seogwipo City in the south, with some people scattered along the coast.
Jeju Island is a very busy tourist destination. During 2011, 9,9 million people flew between Seoul and Jeju, making that the world's busiest air route for passengers. Jeju is also a very popular honeymoon destination for Korean newlyweds. Jeju also has the well-oiled machine that is Korean public transport, operating there. Buses, trains and taxis are all just as functional as on the mainland. Jeju City may seem far removed from life on the mainland, but they didn't develop that much slower. The cities are smaller and life seems slower in Jeju, but it is still Korea. It looks just like most Korean cities, except for the regular rushed Koreanness being somewhat less, and space being somewhat more.
4. Love Land
One our first day of exploring, we decided to see what Jeju City has to offer. First, we visited the much anticipated Love Land. During the 1980's, Korea became a popular honeymoon destination. This was because of the warmer climate of the island. During this time, many couples were arranged marriages. To help the newlyweds relax, hotel performers would put on shows containing erotic elements. This is where Jeju got its reputation for being an island of sex education.
Love Land was opened in 2004. It features about 140 different sculptures, centered around the theme of sex and love. Some are innocent and some are very sexual. Even the bathroom door handle at Love Land is a massive penis, while the men have to grab two breasts to open their bathroom door. For this reason, no underage kids are allowed inside the park. The sculptures were made by students from Hongik University in Hongdae, Seoul. Walking through the park, people can constantly be heard giggling as they round a corner and see yet another sculpture in a strange position. The park is a fun place and should not be entered with prudes by your side.
5. Jeju Mokgwana
In Jeju City, we also visited Jeju Mokgwana. This is the former Government Office of Jeju. This was located right around the corner from where we stayed. The administrative affairs of Jeju were handled here from 1392 to 1910, when the war broke out. Mokgwana is also home to Gwandeokjeong, the oldest remaining building in South Korea. It was built in 1448. After 1910, the Japanese systematically started destroying traditional Korean buildings. Gwandeokjeong remained intact. Restoration on the Mokgwana grounds started in 1991 and by 2002 the project was finished. Extensive excavations were done and old documents studied to find the exact locations of the previous buildings. The grounds, like the grounds of many traditional Korean buildings today, are surrounded by modern buildings and city life.
6. Dragon Head Rock (Yong Duam)
To the North of Jeju City, lies Yong Duam, the Dragon's Head Rock. Legend has it that a dragon tried to steal precious Jade from Hallasan and was shot down over the sea. Here he fell and he turned into stone. Today he is still looking up at the sky in his rocky formation. The spot is located right next to the coastal road, where many restaurants are located. You can be dropped off there by taxi. Steps take you down to the rocks below and from here you can see the Dragon's Head. Down below you can also see a seaside restaurant. The famous Haenyeo women divers dive for seafood here and they are prepared fresh for the customers. The divers are world famous as they free dive without the use of breathing apparatus.
7. Black Sandy Beach of Samyang
Samyang Black Sand Beach is a beach with healing properties. The minerals in the sand, which causes the sand to be black, apparently has healing properties. It is good for pain and other problems like obesity. The beach is located in a very remote part of town. After visiting the beach, we didn't even spot one car or person pass us. We had to walk to a nearby store and ask the lady to call a taxi for us. We played a little in the shallow waves and the water was very warm. The contrast between the black sand and the normal sand washing in from the ocean, can very easily be seen when the waves pull back.
The southern side of Jeju, is governed by Seogwipo City. This population down south is about a quarter of the population up North. Seogwipo has the Jeju International Convenience Centre and Jungmun Tourist Resort Complex. We took a bus from Jeju City south to Seogwipo and it took us about an hour to get there. The bus was only about 5,000won. We then took a taxi to the Jungmun Complex. It is located by the beach and has all the big hotels, casinos and museums located around it.
8. Wide open roads and Palm trees of Seogwipo, so different than the big cities of Korea
We decided to see three of the museums located here. Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, the Teddy Bear Museum and Chocolate Land. None of these three were that impressive, but the Teddy Bear Museum wins for having the complete cute factor. Chocolate Land is waste of money and really not worth it. The Teddy Bear Museum has recreations of famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa, as well as famous events or people, like the Moon Landing, the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe, all made with bears.
Ater four days in Jeju, we got back on the ferry, took our seasick pills and slept the night away. We woke up to the magnificent sight of Incheon Bridge welcoming us home, as the ferry crosses underneath it to make its way into Incheon Port.
1. DO BOOK A FLIGHT: As we went during Chuseok, the busiests traveling weekend in Korea, most flights were booked and the rest were ridiculously expensive. The flights are normally quite cheap and travel time is about one hour compared to the 13 hour ferry ride.
2. DO STAY IN ONE PLACE: We just booked our stay in one hostel in Jeju City. The bus down to Seogwipo, the southern city, takes about one hour, and is very cheap. It is just easier on yourself leaving all your things in one place.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: There are so many things to do and see on Jeju Island. Some are worth it and some are not and if you only have a limited time, plan ahead what you want to do.
4. GET THE NAMES FOR THINGS IN ROMANIZED HANGEUL: English is still a foreign concept in Korea, so make sure you at least write down the romanized words for the hangeul equivalent. For example: Saying to a cab driver, I want to go to the Dragon Head Rock, will get you nowhere. Saying 용두암 (Yong-du-am) will get you there for sure. The Korean names are all easily found on the internet.