Published: July 10th 2009July 10th 2009
At Jeju Airport
Definitely a tropical feeling upon exiting the airport
In June 2006, one of my co-workers and I decided to head down to Jeju Island for a vacation. I had heard more than a few stories about the tropical climate and unique beauty of the island. I heard stories of orange trees and palm trees, beaches of warm, white sand peppered with outcroppings of black volcanic rock and beautiful ocean vistas. I heard stories of it being a honeymoon hotspot for Korean couples and a must-see destination for tourists. It seemed, then, an ideal spot for a summer vacation; and, to be honest, my expectations grew increasingly as I waited at the airport for my flight to the island.
It should be noted that I’m finally writing this travel journal almost three years after visiting Jeju Island. The condition of the places I visited back then may not be the same as they are now. Also, I’ve done my best to reconstruct where I was when I took each of the following photos. Some of the photos, especially the waterfall photos around the southern area of the island may not be exact. I implore your forgiveness for any errors and welcome any corrections you may be able to offer.
After making my way though the airport, I stepped out to see exactly what I was waiting to see: a tropical vista. There were palm trees, tall and short, and the undeniable air of a tropical get-away.
After leaving the airport with our rented GPS-equipped car (map included), we headed west along the coast in search of sites and a good dinner. Our first stop was a dozen or so kilometers down the coast west of Jeju city for a wonderful seafood dinner. It was a wonderful dinner accompanied by a wide variety of side-dishes. After dinner, we continued moving west along the coast.
After driving a little while longer down the coast, we decided it was time to make a pit-stop, walk off our dinner and have our first walk on the sands of Jeju Island. We spotted a strip of beach, turned off the main road and stopped the car.
Walking toward the beach, we came upon the ruins of an old stone, beach-front building flanked by some beautifully sculpted volcanic stone statues. Though I’m not quite sure what the original intent of the building was, it felt as if I was walking through
either the remnants of some old coastal lookout point or some long forgotten beach-front spa.
Standing next to the ruins, looking down along the coast, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the fine, white sand and the coarse outcroppings of matte-black volcanic stone. And as I knelt down to scoop up a handful of sand and feel it trickle through my fingers, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the greenery growing up midst the rocks. Leaving the beach, I finally noticed the grid-work of volcanic stone hedges dividing each of the properties.
A little further down the coast (westward) we stopped at Hyeop-jae Beach. Unfortunately, fog had started rolling in and the beach was covered in a thick haze. Despite the fog, we decided to spend a few hours at the beach. During the afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds periodically, but we spent most of the afternoon on an eerie fog-laden beach. The beach itself was nice. The water was shallow, nice for wading. And though I didn’t take part, there were horse rides available people who wanted to gallop up and down the beach. I didn’t give the facilities any sort
of thorough inspection, as we were just stopping by for a short visit, but there were washroom facilities, restaurants and some basic lodging available.
Continuing on, admittedly with a little “creative driving”, back-tracking and searching, we found a wonderful coastal lookout point. After a short walk to the top of the lookout point we were pleasantly surprised. There was a great view looking down the coast with some of Jeju’s wind power turbines far off in the distance.
Atop the lookout point, there was a small pagoda structure which was unfortunately closed to the public for renovations, denying us shelter from the mid-day heat. Out in front of us, we could see one of the submarine tour operations. My travelling companion and I decided to forego the underwater submarine adventure. I have heard both good and bad anecdotes about these rides, so I leave it up to you whether or not it’s something you want to include in your own vacation.
Turning our backs to the coast, there was an inspiring view of mainland Jeju Island: a panorama of farms, towns and mountains.
Doubling back on our travel route, we headed back toward Hyeop-jae Beach to
Hallim Park. This was one of my favourite places to visit while we were on the island. There is a wonderful cave network to explore and a fairly expansive outdoor park area to stroll through.
Within the Hallim Park, the caves were my favourite.
Prior to entering the caves, there are some useful information boards, but they can’t begin to describe the beauty of the caves. The caves have a well-built boardwalk running through them and English signboards explaining highlights inside the caves.
As for the rest of the park, there is a wonderful zoo area.
There are extensive walking paths. The wide variety of plants and sculptured gardens makes for a very, very well spent day.
In addition to the outdoor area, there is also a greenhouse area offering a short respite from the summer heat. Inside the greenhouse, we saw beautiful garden displays. For anyone interested in photographing flowers, I’m sure you could spend a couple of hours here snapping photos.
Finally, there is a folk village area. Located in this area, you can view a variety of cultural artifacts.
You can even try your hand at some traditional Korean games.
Moving on to a somewhat more remote site, we discovered a historical site chronically the Japanese occupation of Jeju Island: The Jeju Peace Museum. This site was an unplanned surprise for us, something we didn’t discuss visiting or even knew existed prior to our arrival. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, we learned, Koreans were forced to dig underground tunnels and fortifications. Fortunately for us, these tunnels had been recently renovated and opened up to the public. There is also an informative museum in the main building displaying artifacts from the occupation period. From what I remember, two or three tunnel sites were being excavated, but only the first tunnel area was open to the public.
Inside the first tunnel area, the tunnels were very, very narrow. Within the tunnels there were alcoves with statues of Japanese military officials as well as alcoves with statues depicting the Korean labour force that dug the tunnels.
Not wanting to limit ourselves to the pre-planned routes of tourist attractions, we left the underground war-time tunnels and decided to roam around on the surrounding hillside. We climbed the nearby hillside looking for a good vantage point of the surrounding area and
ran across an isolated area of ruins. I saw an old tombstone and did my best to make it a good photographic moment.
Next, we made our way further along the southern coast and stopped at a town just outside the largest southern coastal city of Seogwipo. From my motel window, I could see Halla Mountain in the distance. Most of the rooms we stayed in while traveling were clean and comfortable. Here are a couple photos of one of the more spacious rooms I stayed in. If memory serves me well, the room cost around 50,000 won for the night.
Located a short distance east of Seogwipo, is the Cheon-ji-yeon Waterfall Area. Here, there are some nice walking trails and beautiful waterfall vistas.
Located a short drive west of Seogwipo, is the Cheon-jae-yeon Waterfall, Seonimgyo Bridge and Yeomiji Botanical Garden Complex Area. This is a wonderful to spend a day or two. Next to the waterfall there is a trail and stairs that take you down to water, a nice place to dip your feet in to cool off on a warm summer day.
The view from Seonimgyo Bridge is quite breath-taking. You can look
down into the gorge it spans and see it wind its way to the coast. Also from the bridge, you can see the tops of a nearby temple and the domed top of the main building of Yeomiji Botanical Garden. The temple next to Seonimgyo Bridge is open to the public (at least it was when I visited). The ceiling crossbeams on the second floor are decorated with beautifully painted scenes.
The Yeomiji Botanical Garden is a must see for nature lovers. Sadly, there was heavy fog and rain the day we visited, so we weren’t able to see the outdoor garden areas. Inside the main building, which is a large, circular domed building, there are a variety of separate biosphere areas containing plants representative of each of the areas; for example, a tropical climate area with some banana trees and a desert climate area with cacti.
We again decided to venture on to places less well traveled and headed back to the coast. After driving along some narrow, winding roads, we arrived at the water’s edge. Large boulders of volcanic rock jutted out along the beach, and the wind-worn cliffs gave the coast an elegant, sculpted appearance.
Deciding to take in one more underground tour, we set out toward Manjang Cave. An Information Board at the cave entrance describes it as one of the longest cave systems in the world. Just inside the main entrance to the park, there is a large statue depicting one of the more interesting features of the cave system, a tall lava pillar formed when lava broke through an upper chamber and cooled as it flowed into a lower chamber.
The textures on the walls and ceiling of the caves are quite spectacular and sometimes eerily beautiful.
Walking the full length of the cave to see the lava pillar is a must.
Folk villages have always held a special place in my heart. I was born and raised in Southern Ontario, Canada, and have fond memories of visiting placing like Doon Heritage Crossroads historical park during my childhood. So, I couldn’t resist going to the Jeju Folk Village. It is a fairly large place with a wide variety of buildings representing the unique characteristics of villages from different areas on the island. Among the various buildings, there are reproductions of administrative buildings, craftwork buildings and an old Confucian
Another interesting historical place we visited was the Hamel Ship Exhibition, a reproduction of a shipwrecked Dutch ship traveling from Taiwan to Japan. Inside the ship, there are models, artifact reproductions and scene recreations of the ship’s crew.
There is also a walking trail that leads down to the waterfront. The day we visited was rainy and foggy which, in my opinion, added a wonderfully tangible quality to visiting the site of a shipwreck.
The last tourist stop we made during our visit was to the Museum of African Art. Apparently, the building is a replica of the Grand Mosque of Djenne in Mali. Inside the museum, there are hundreds of pieces of stunning African art, as well as a gift shop for anyone wanting to bring home souvenirs with a more international flair.
There are more photos below