Saturday, 13 April 2013

Jeju Island in South Korea - Part I Jeju City

So how our trip to Japan is working out we had paid for 11 weeks of general Japanese lessons with NILS followed by 12 weeks of intensive JLPT study. Tourist visas to Japan only last for 90 days (unless you're from the UK when you can extend it to 180 days but USA people can't). So we decided that the week we had spare at the end of the 11 week course and before the JLPT course we would go abroad to South Korea so that we wouldn't violate our visas and get kicked out of the country.

The original plan was to go to Seoul and then visit people in Osaka but Wes and I are both poor students so we re-evaluated our funds and decided to go hiking around Jeju for a week. Jeju is an island in the south of South Korea that is famous for it's nature and volcanic rock formations. The island itself is a dormant volcano covered in about 360 mini volcanoes called "oreums" and in the middle is Mt Halla which is a 1950m high mountain that takes 7-9 hours to climb up and down it (more on that later).

((This'll probably be pretty long and detailed (we did a lot) so I'm splitting this entry into 3 sections))

Arriving in Jeju -  Friday 5th April

Our flight was in the morning meaning we arrived in Jeju at about midday. We had arrived in a different country where we didn't know the language with no plans and no where to stay. I had luckily done a bit of research before hand and written down a load of hostels that speak English and listed a few places to see, but our main plan to was to go to the tourist information in the airport and plan from there. The women at one information desk wasn't really helpful although she did  help us reserve the first hostel I had listed called Rainbow Hostel. We also got a pile of leaflets and a decent map and directions from the other tourist information desk. Our next step was to get money out which we could only do in the airport. I managed to get my funds for the week out but Wes had a minor problem in the fact that he hadn't told his bank he'd be in South Korea. I got some extra money out and we agreed we'd spend the afternoon finding a computer with skype to call his bank. So we head off to the first hostel using the bus system and the directions the tourist info lady had given least we tried.

We were wondering around for about an hour walking in circles trying to find the place and in the end I suggested we try this Community Centre. We went in and asked if anyone spoke English to while everyone pointed at one woman who had a look of terror on her face. I tried to explain that we were lost and looking for the Rainbow Hostel which they found online. She gestured to a co-worker and said he'd give us a lift and although we tried to say we could walk it we didn't know the language well enough to say we just wanted directions. So he drives us round the corner to a road that we'd passed but hadn't walked down *facepalm*. We had been so close!

We get into the hostel and it's warm and smells nice and the people there were so nice! We dumped our stuff and asked if their computer had skype which is did but no headphones! One employee said he'd go out and get some but we later found out that he forgot *sigh*. In the mean time we decided that because we couldn't do anything anyway because the banks in the US were closed we would walk down to one of the city's attractions. On the way we found this cool bridge over a river with blossoms growing around it.

On the other side of the bridge was the dragon rock. Apparently a 40 foot long dragon that wished so hard it turned into stone with 30 feet of it's body under the water and the last 10 above it. Most pictures of it online are of it during sunset, but I found it way more amusing to take a pic of it eating a hostel sign on the other side of the bay. Omnomnom

We were actually really lucky the whole time we were there and seemed to arrive at most of the attractions before coach loads of tourists turned up. It was spooky.

Anyway, we walked back through the city to the hostel where they said they were having a party with food and drinks which turned out to be fried chicken and the Korean alcohol called makori which kinda tasted like sake but different. We got talking with one of the employees at the hostel who could speak really good English and played a couple of games of Rumikub with her (which Wes had never played before!) It was good.

Rainy Saturday - Saturday 6th April

Our original plan had been to climb Mt. Halla on the Saturday when we arrived but the only problem was that it was raining and they close the mountain when the rain's really bad. So we decided to give the mountain time to dry and try climbing it on Wednesday. Our next plan was to find an internet cafe with skype and a headset or an international phone. We found a few pay phones in the international hotel next to us but weren't sure how to use it so we asked the desk if they knew of any internet cafes and one guy suggested something called PC Zone which was just down the road. But it wasn't exactly an internet cafe. We learnt something very interesting about South Korea...

I'd heard of people in South Korea dying from playing games too much without eating or drinking and I finally understood how that could happen. The PC rooms (which were all over the island, not just the city) were dark cigarette smelling rooms with rows of huge PC screens and big plush computer chairs. I looked at the price list and you could rent a computer for 13 hours for only 13,000 won (£7.50/$11.50). Unfortunately the clerks could not speak English and although their computers could connect to the internet and had headsets they did not have skype, only online role playing games. Interesting but ultimately a failure. We also only had a small window open that morning before the banks in the US shut. We had one more chance the following morning between 1am and 5am when the bank opened at the weekend. Plan C was to find somewhere to buy a headset or find some other way to get in contact.

Because we couldn't do anything about the bank we decided to check out the local museum and park which was just round the corner from us. Turned out the park was the location for the origin of 3 gods who landed on the island 5000 years ago, married 3 princesses from a nearby kingdom and set us the basic society for people living on Jeju. It was quite interesting and said how Jeju has a number of sites related to the legend of the 3 gods and how they founded the Jeju people. You could even see the 3 dents in the ground where they apparently landed. But they'd blocked it off so you could just see the dip in the ground surrounded by stones and 3 alters which they use for a ceremony each year offering pig heads and incense and fruit to the 3 gods.

Just round the corner from the park was the Jeju Natural History and Folk Museum which started with a display about the volcanic rocks and their formations on the island. Then into a section about the local wildlife ironically through taxidermy. Then into a huge section about the old practices on the island like hunting and important ceremonies in their lives. And then finished with a fish display including a huge replica of blue whale bones.

Now at this point the weather had turned for the worst and it really starting to pore down with rain. Wes suggested we check out a cafe in town that he saw in a magazine that seemed to have some really good hot chocolate. So we go out in the freezing rain and get to the cafe to find that we can't see hot chocolate on the list and we can't speak Korea to ask about it! We um and ahhed for a few minuets and I ask "hot chocolate" to the clerk and he points out the chocolate latte...turns out that's what hot chocolate is in Korea *facepalm*. We order 2 of those an a brownie to split and it was good!!! What was great was the cafe's atmosphere and layout. I really wish they had somewhere like this in the UK.

The hot chocolate and warm cafe was perfect after the cold rain but we had to leave eventually and just round the corner was apparently a Chinese refuge ship. We got there to find out that it was just a replica with a small museum inside say how at the end of WWII a similar ship had carried some Chinese refugees to Jeju.

Wandering back we stumbled across a market...and not just any market, the most awesome market ever! It had so many back allies we had to go down all of them. There was one section that was all oranges and local chocolates and touristy stuff, and another section with veg and kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage) and barrels of spice, a section selling clothes, one with meat counters with pigs heads out on display, and a huuuge row of fresh fish. And I mean fresh. Bikes were driving us with live fish in buckets which they'd transfer to larger tanks full of fish. There were muscles, sea cucumbers, crabs and other gribbly sea things alive and dead. Flat fish and other kinds were cut up into fresh sashimi (raw fish). Silver fish we'd never seen before. A women was carving up a whole tuna, and we say another guy take out a massive fish and smack it on the head with a hammer for a customer. It was impressive and we tried to get as many sneaky photos as possible without looking too much like pesky tourists.

Before heading back to the hostel we decided to eat dinner. We'd found earlier in the day an underground shopping distract that didn't have too many interesting shops but did have a cheap looking restaurant that we decided to try out. I got a simple pork katsu over rice and Wes being Wes decided it would be a great idea to get something spicy because we were in Korea....Yeeeaaah that didn't work out so well. He really struggled to finish it off but was determined to not be beaten no matter how hot it was. 

When we got back to the hostel it had got a lot busier including 5 guys from Seoul who were in Jeju making a video about cycling around the island. They decided to interview us about why we were in Jeju which was pretty funny when they couldn't speak very good English and we couldn't speak Korean at all. But it worked out in the end. They actually asked us togive them Western names! So in the end we knew them as Messi (he was wearing a Barcelona shirt), Peter (Pan cos he had a baby face), Charles (wearing a Paris shirt), Cillion (cos Wes was crazy and thought he looked like the actor), and Enrique (cos he looked like Enrique Iglesias). We then had a pretty intense game of old maid with them and some other people (the person who lost had to wash up). 

(See if you can guess which one was which)

Shortly after that we went to bed which was in our separate dorm rooms again. The next day we were going to the East of the island where there were lava caves and a maze and more cool stuff!!! 

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