Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jeju Island in South Korea - Part II East Jeju

Lava Tunnels and Mazes - Sunday 7th April

I mentioned before that we'd had problems trying to find an international phone, and Sunday 1am-5am was our last chance before the banks were shut until Tuesday. So in the end we got permission from the guesthouse owner to use her phone to call America, and to do it at 1am. We both woke up at 1am after a few hours of sleep and snuck downstairs to use the phone. Luckily Wes was able to get through and get things sorted so we left the Rainbow Guesthouse in Jeju early the following morning and headed to the airport again to get money out (it was the only place we could go). Once monies had been acquired we headed to the bus station to get the bus to our next location!

Our next hostel was called the Lefthander on the east of the island, but on the way was a number of lava tunnels that we wanted to check out. We got our tickets ok and the bus, but despite the fact that each stop was announced in Korean and English we missed our stop! Not only that but the stop buttons didn't work on the bus so it took us a while to indicated to the bus driver that we wanted to get off. Luckily public buses on Jeju are super cheap so we jumped on one coming the opposite direction. Although the sun was shinning it was a freezing cold day because the wind was so strong and cold. So when we got of the bus and a taxi stopped to offer us a ride to the caves we took it (it would have been another 20min walk ontop). Luckily that made up for lost time and it was cheap again.

So the lava tunnels are incredibly long but only 1km is open to the public. The lava tunnels and natural volcanic structures across Jeju are UNESCO World Heritage Conservation sites so they attract a lot of tourists. Meaning there were a lot of people at the tunnels, and the whole place was lit up with paths over the more rocky areas. What was insane was one we saw one woman with 3 inch heals walking out of the cave. I don't know how she managed to walk naturally in them let alone through a dark cave with uneven ground.

(At the end of the tunnel was this amazing lava column that I thought looked like a petrified undead goblin king)

Just down the road from the caves was a maze which we also wanted to check out. Luckily this wasn't too far so we walked it. At the maze someone had set up a wooden box with straw inside and a plastic roof and it had a cat inside! (When we'd finished the maze there were 2 cats with one asleep ontop of the other. It was adorabubble). The maze was good fun and a good level of difficulty. We got very lost before finding the middle. I think how they'd designed it was with a lot of long single pathways so if the choose the wrong way you end up following the path for a while before you realise it's no good.

As we wandered back to the main road we found the other 2 lava tunnels that had been discovered but the entrances were blocked off because they were dangerous. So we grabbed the bus again and headed to our next location in Sangdo-ri. Finding the hostel was a lot easier this time because they signs. So we dumped our stuff and went exploring. We were right by the sea and although it was windy it was really pretty. Right next to the beach was an amazingly nice cafe and the women there spoke English! So we got some hot chocolates and muffins which were amazing! The cafe itself was pretty modest with a seaside feel to it and a wood burner in the middle.

We explored the area a bit more after that but most of the restaurants in the area seemed really expensive. So when we got back to the hostel we asked if we could have dinner with them, which is another service they offer. For super cheap we had home cooked Korean food including kimchi, other spicy side dishes, duck and azuki rice. Korean food is very different from Japanese. It's similar in the way it had a main with lots of sides and perhaps some rice and soup, but those sides, rice and soup are all very very different. The soup was a seaweed soup, the sides were mostly spicy and the rice seemed to always be mixed with azuki beans. It was very good but very different.

Oreum Tour and Seongsan Ilchulbong - Monday 8th April

Another service the guest house offered was a free tour of some of the nearby oreums (volcanoes - I mentioned before there was about 360 small ones on the island). So we decided to go with the guy who owns the guest house and 4 other guests on this tour. It was early in the morning (9am) so we were finished by lunch time. The owner took us in his minivan to a nearby oreum explaining on the way how everything is made from volcanic rock especially the walls that separate the small farming fields. As we arrived to the first oreum (called Dragon Oreum because it looks like a sleeping dragon... apparently) he stopped the van to point out a number of mounds with carefully built walls around them. He explained that they were graves, a custom of burial unique to Jeju. And these weren't just really old graves but more recent ones as well mixed in. 

(Grave in front of the Dragon Oreum)

The oreums were mostly really small, no bigger than most hills in the UK. It only took us 30 mins to climb it and walk around the creator. We were the first group up there and were really lucky to get a glimps of a white dear which are rare but famous on the island of Jeju. We then climbed down and drove to another oreum just down the road called the King Oreum. This one was the second largest oreum on the island so took us a bit longer to climb up it. But climb it we did!  

That was the end of the tour but Wes and I had plans to go to Seongsan Ilchulbong (aka Sun Rise Peak, or to translate Castle Mountain) which was just down the coast. This is another pretty famous location on Jeju because it's a rock that formed 5000 years ago from a volcanic explosion. It's pretty iconic for the island as we saw so many pictures of it before we even got there. Sooo no surprise that it was full of tourists. That was 'mountain' 3 that we climbed that day, not bad practice for Mt Halla.
But before we did that we were starving and after some lunch. Unfortunately most of the resturants in the area seemed to be the expensive ones we'd seen before but we decided to give it a go. Although a number of things were expensive the portions seemed big enough that you're meant to share them so we got some grilled mackerel and Korean okonomiyaki which were both amazingly good! They also came with a pile of side dishes so we were pretty stuffed afterwards.

When we got down from that we climbed down some steps onto a beach under the rock where there was a restaurant and some female divers. The female divers of Jeju are again pretty famous. Long ago income taxes on working men was pretty high so to save money the women would help earn money through diving in the sea for octopuses, urchins and other sea creatures in the shallow water. They free swim up to 20m before the water and now get paid 2,000,000won ($2000/£1500) a month now because they're rare and they sell their produce to local restaurants and markets. Apparently there aren't many of them left so most of them are old, but there's a whole museum dedicated to them and you can see pictures of them all over island.

It was still pretty early in the day and neither of us felt like going back so we stopped off at the Dunkin Doughnuts (which Wes was excited about cos there aren't any on the west coast of the US but they were all over this tiny island in the south of South Korea) and got some cold drinks. We then just wandered down the road exploring this small temple and then the coast until we got bored enough to head back to town to get the bus. 

We had dinner again at the hostel which included a spicy mackerel stew and then got an early night. Then next day was going to be going to the south side of the island to the other city before climbing Mt Halla and heading home.

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