For the second year in a row the calendar placement of Chuseok blessed us with a five day holiday! This gave us the perfect opportunity to venture to Korea’s most talked about island, Jeju. We booked our flight well in advance but due to the amount of people flying to Jeju for the holiday were only able to get tickets going to Jeju. Returning back to Busan we made reservations for the Wando Ferry, which was around a 2-hour ride to the mainland.
We really wanted this trip to be about relaxing and exploring the island at our own pace. We made scooter reservations before arriving on the island and the rental company provided airport pick up service and brought us into Jeju City to pick up our wheels. It was about 7:30pm when we finally hit the road and darkness had fallen. Our accommodation was on the far East Coast of the island and we had a solid hours ride through unknown territory ahead of us. Luckily Jeju has, what we think to be, the best roads in Asia. Every bit of road was sealed in fresh asphalt, making our night ride safe and smooth.
We booked our accommodation at Ssari’s Flower Hill through www.airbnb.com. The house was a little tricky to find, but we pinned it on our map and found the hidden dirt road leading up into the countryside and to our house. A quirky Japanese woman managed the place and prepared breakfast for us each morning and provided useful tips about the area. There were also two rare native Korean dogs known as “Sapsaree’ who lived at the guesthouse. We stayed here a total of 4 nights but wished we could have stayed longer. The guesthouse felt as if it was ours, as we were the only ones staying there at the time. Our stay on the East Coast was by far the most relaxed we’ve felt in Korea. It isn’t too often where we can fall asleep to the sound of waves, see the stars and hear ourselves think. It was the perfect place to recharge.
Lucky for us, The Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (UNESCO World Heritage Site) was only a 15-minute ride away from our place. This anomaly of nature rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago. It is so beautiful to look at both up-close and from afar. Visiting the peak at sunrise is said to be the most beautiful, but we went for sunset which ended up being the highlight of our trip. For 2,000 won ($2CAD) you can hike up the side of the peak and reach the huge crater in less than 25 minutes. Once you reach the crater there are several places to sit and enjoy the most amazing view of the grassy hills, Seongsan Village and Mount Hallasan in the distance. The peak opens one hour before sunrise and closed at 9pm.
We had our first Jeju black pig dinner experience after sunset in Seongsan Village. We weren’t really sure what to expect…but we heard trying this meat was an absolute must if were to visit Jeju. So we ordered 400g of meat that ended up costing 40,000 won. The meat was SO fatty, something that isn’t sought after in the western world. Not only was it fatty but it had the pig skin still on it. We grilled it and eventually ended up cutting away all of the fat which left us both with a nibble of meat each. We hoped no one saw how badly we were butchering their precious “black pig”. We are glad we gave it a try, but can’t say we would order it again.
Jeju Stone Park
Scooting around the island we were intrigued by the Dol Hareubang statues (old grandfather) that were scattered throughout the island. You can see them just about everywhere on the island, often by gates or entrances, as their duty is to offer protection and ward off evil. We happened to ride by the Jeju Stone Park one day and decided it would be worth checking out. For 5,000 won a person you can see massive historical stone carvings, including the Dol Hareubang statues, and recreated traditional villages. The park was huge and could have easily taken half a day to see everything. Along with the outdoor artifacts we also saw the Jeju Stone Museum, which was built underground and looked like it belonged to a James Bond villain. Visiting this park is a great way to experience the unique culture and history of Jeju Island.
Another attractions we ended up riding by was the Bijarim Forest, a forest that has 2,800 nutmeg trees between 500 and 800 years old. This is said to be the largest nutmeg tree forest in the world. A short stroll through this fresh forest will cost you 1,500 won. It’s worth the visit if you’re looking to find some peace within nature…but that might not happen if a tour bus happens to arrive when you do!
Manjanggul Cave (Lava Tubes)
The Manjanggul caves are one of the worlds largest known lava caves created by volcanic activity. The cave stretches for about 7km, but visitors are only able to walk 1km. It was really cool to see, especially the turtle stone that resembles the shape of Jeju Island. We’d recommend wearing closed shoes and bringing a sweater along because it is pretty wet and cold.
We were so impressed by the quantity and quality of the beaches on Jeju. We were so lucky that we had a beautiful small beach only 3-minutes walk distance from our guesthouse. We visited a different beach everyday and plan on camping on one of them the next time we visit. Out of all the beaches we visited there were three that really stood out:
Udo Island & Hagosudong Beach
During one afternoon we took a 15-minute ferry to Udo, an island located on the northeast of Seongsan 3.5 km off the coast of Jeju. The island is known as “Cow Island” because the island is said to resemble a cow lying down. The great thing about this island was that the ferry was able to bring cars and scooters to the island. This made touring the island much more fun. We spent most of our time on one of the nicest beaches on Udo called Hagosudong Beach. This beach had beautiful clear blue water and powder white sand. We spent a lot of our time on Udo at this particular beach. As we made our way back to catch the last ferry we cruised around the island cruising the coastlines and interior lane ways. The ferry to Udo leaves every hour, the first ferry leaving at 7:30am and the last one at 5:30pm.
Hyeop-jae Beach, located on the West Coast, is probably the most gorgeous beach that exists on Jeju. The beach itself is made of powdery white sand and the water is stunningly blue and clear. Standing at the waters edge we were impressed by the beautiful view of Bi-yang-do, a fishing island, in the distance.
Jungmun Beach is Jeju’s most well known beach and is enjoyed by patrons of the islands biggest resorts. To access the beach you must descend to the bottom of it’s surrounding dunes which make for a very nice view. The sand is yellow and soft and we have heard Jungmum is the best place to find some occasional surf.
Cruising Through the Island
The trip home
As previously mentioned we were not able to get a flight back to Busan. So we boarded the high-speed ferry bound for Wando in the South West of the Korean Peninsula. The boat was big, fast and comfortable but people prone to motion sickness should be wary. During about an hour of the ride back to the mainland the boat heaved in every direction over massive swells in the open ocean, due to a typhoon in China. About 70% of the people on board became violently ill. People tried to make it to the head of the boat but the steady rocking was too much for most people to stay on two feet. Luckily a few people were well and able enough to make it to the café front and distribute barf bags to the masses. The second half of the trip was through a series of islands and protected waters were slightly calmer. Once on land we took a taxi to the bus terminal and bought our tickets home. The bus seemed to stop in every market town along the South Coast and it was over six hours before we reached Busan. Our only advice… try hard to get a flight.
All in all we were extremely impressed by our visit to Jeju. We had heard it was a beautiful island but during our visit all our expectations were exceeded. It truly is a special place. Falling asleep to the sound of waves, waking up and strolling to the beach to watch the sunrise with a fresh cup of coffee, then spending the days exploring on two wheels; Chuseok could not have been spent any better.