Jejudo (Jeju island)

Posted on September 21, 2009

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After finishing the week at the university we were all set to go to Jejudo (Jeju island) for a weekend. Already before coming to Korea I knew that Jejudo was an absolute must-see in Korea. The island is located roughly 450km south of Seoul and about an hour’s flight from Gimpo, Seoul’s second airport serving most of the domestic traffic.

Jejudo is a small volcanic island 70 kilometres in length and 30 kilometres in width. The population of Jejudo is approximately 550,000 people with the majority of them living in Jeju city. Seogwipo is the second largest city in the south and a popular tourist destination; it was also one of the cities that hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002.

The island has a distinct volcanic landscape centred around Hallasan or Mount Halla (1950m), which is an extinct volcano. It also features an extinct volcanic crater of Ilchulbong on the eastern tip of the island and a variety of underground lava tubes (which basically are huge underground tunnels where lava once flowed), some of them the largest in the world.

It was quite late in the evening when we landed in Jejudo. We were to travel with a group of other exchange students from Kyung Hee, but they had arrived before us (we all took different flights from Seoul that day) and were waiting for us at the scooter rental place in Jeju city. It was my first time driving a scooter and I was really excited. As it turned out later, this is definitely the best and most fun way to explore the island. From the rental place in Jeju city we had to drive south to Seogwipo, where we had booked a hostel. It was a 30km drive (my first 30km with a scooter). As we left the Jeju city on the northern coast and got further inland the air got considerably colder and we had to stop and put on some warmer clothes. We were about to pass the Mount Halla on our right and so the road was slowly ascending to the altitude of about 700m before descending again to Seogwipo, where we were quickly warmed up by the gentle breeze from the sea. The road itself was curved and narrow making it somewhat dangerous especially since we couldn’t really see the surroundings. Despite that we felt quite safe and there was no traffic, so we were speeding up to 90 km/h.

Once in Seogwipo, we checked in to our hostel and went to sleep looking forward for a great day to come.

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The whole group in Seogwipo: Me, Matt from Poland, Harald from Holland, Agnė from Lithuania, Romana from Austria, Timm from Germany, Linnea and Anna from Sweden and Kristina from Lithuania

The next morning we set out for a trip around the western part of an island. We started with a 22m high Cheonjiyeon Pokpo waterfall next to Seogwipo and then continued further inland. It was truly breath-taking to speed through the narrow roads cleverly integrated into the volcanic landscape and surrounded by palms and tangerine trees. All of a sudden, we found ourselves next to the heavenly Hamdeok Beach in the North. We did not plan to stop there, but we couldn’t resist the perfectly still blue water and sandy beaches. It was very warm and sunny – exactly the kind of weather that empties the cities in Lithuania and clogs up the highways leading to the seaside or to the lakes. However, this beach (just like the whole island) was completely empty. Although the warm holiday weather continues well into September, the peak season ends in mid-August as Koreans rush back to work and study. This makes September the perfect month to visit Jejudo.

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22m high Cheonjiyeon Pokpo waterfall next to Seogwipo

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Hamdeok Beach in the North of Jejudo

After spending an hour or so at the beach (which was by all means not enough) we continued further to visit the impressive Manjanggul lava tube – the worlds longest and also featuring the largest lava pillar in the world. We then cruised along the coast in the North-East until we reached the volcanic crater of Ilchulbong aka “Sunrise Peak” (182m). Many Koreans come to this eastern tip of Jejudo to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately for us, we came just in time for the sunset, but it was nevertheless astounding to see the sun going down behind Mount Halla.

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The largest lava pillar in the world in the Manjanggul lava tube

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The volcanic crater of Ilchulbong aka “Sunrise Peak” (182m)

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Sunset we saw from the Sunrise Peak

Back in our hostel in Seogwipo we met a guy from Switzerland, who was doing his Ph.D in quantum physics and was visiting Korea for a science conference. Agnė was particularly interested and started a discussion about all the crazy theories about time, space, extra dimensions and parallel universes. I am still wondering if I was more amazed by the mind-blowing theories of quantum physics or the fact that Agnė seemed to be on the same level of knowledge as the Swiss guy (Agnė, at a time, was a student in publishing in Vilnius University).

On our second day, me, Kristina, Harald and Agnė set off for a hiking trip to Mount Halla. We drove up the same road we came from Jeju city the first night until we reached a parking lot next to the Seongpanak hiking trail.

The Seongpanak trail is 9,6 kilometres long and starts in a forest at ~700m above the sea level. We started hiking quite late compared to most of the other hikers (and we also didn’t want to spend the whole day for this hiking trip), so we decided we could only allow approximately two hours to go up, one hour on top, and two hours down. Normally, hiking 10 kilometres uphill requires four and a half hours. So to make it in time we had to almost run the whole time, overtaking large groups of elderly Korean hikers on our way (I was very surprised that most of the other hikers were elderly people of 60 years and more; in Lithuania most of the people this age would not be physically – or psychologically – able to do that).

Somewhere in the middle of the trail, the forest opened up and revealed the top of Mount Halla and a very different flora around. Soon, we reached the emergency shelter at ~1700m, which was a great place to have our gimbap (a sushi-like roll) lunch. A couple of Koreans who were having lunch next to us and could barely speak English offered us some snacks. It reminded me of our visit to the Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul, where an elderly Korean woman sitting next to us offered a potato. I don’t know what it means, but it certainly is a very welcoming albeit unusual gesture.

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Steep rocks on our way to Mount Halla

Once we reached the top of the highest mountain in Korea, I had to lie for 10 or 20 minutes just to catch my breath – I was exhausted! Only then I stood up and realized I climbed my highest peak ever (1950m). The view was overwhelming: the clouds were already below us and between them I could see the southern coast of the island (which was ~15 kilometres away) and the sea. The peak that we were standing on was actually on the edge of the green crater lake (with no water as this was the dry season). It is the remains of the once mighty volcano, said to be extinct for over 800 years.

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Me on top of Mount Halla

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The crater lake at Mount Halla

Going down the trail was easier and faster and we even made it to Seogwipo before the sunset allowing us to go to a beach before returning to our hostel. Later in the evening we went to the terrace on top of our hostel to drink a few beers and talk to some other foreigners who were staying in the hostel with us.

The weekend was over and we had to return to Seoul on Monday. It was only me and Kristina going back as the other guys stayed for one more day (I wish we could have done that too!). Monday morning we drove back to Jeju city. We had to return our scooter, but finding the rental place proved to be hard. We had no address and we could barely remember the location as it was dark when we arrived the other day. We were circling the streets for more than an hour before we finally found the place and could go to the airport.

Exploring this island was truly great and I have a feeling that one day I might come back for more.

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Posted in: Korea