Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jeju Island!

Hello everyone!

Last weekend we went on a 3-day vacation to Jeju Island! Jeju is a decent sized island in the very south part of the country! Many people claim it is the “Hawaii” of South Korea! It definitely is a very different atmosphere from mainland Korea and is also very beautiful!

We decided we had to get this blog post up now as we leave again today to have another mini vacation to Seoul! :) Our 3 day weekend to Jeju was jam packed! We saw so many sites and really enjoyed getting out of our town for a bit!

We had Friday off because of a holiday (Korean National Foundation Day) and was invited to go on this vacation by some friends we met at orientation! This trip was planned by an organization called “When in Korea” (a.k.a WINK). This organization is led by foreigners and native Koreans who live in Korea and love to travel. They plan trips around Korea for foreigners (although Koreans are welcome as well!) and take care of the many details that can sometimes be challenging when you don’t speak the language! This trip included our motel, ferry, busses, entrance fees, and even a few meals! The cost was low for what all was included and it was definitely worth it. We would have never experienced Jeju like that by ourselves (It’s hard just to figure out how to get ferry tickets right now!) So for our first vacation, this was great!

We started out by taking a taxi to Gwangju at 1:30am on Friday morning. The tour bus was supposed to pick up the Gwangju people at 3am, so this gave us plenty of time to get to the bus station, order a KFC snack (yep, healthy), and find the rest of the group. We met up with our friends, Austin and Nicole and got on the bus around 3:30am. By that time, we were exhausted and fell right asleep on the bus. These are the same tour busses we’ve talked about before with the comfy seats, curtains in the window, bright colored lights, and crazy decorations. These busses are known for having the “most comfortable seats in Korea.” Since most Koreans sit on the floor a makes sense. ;)

From Gwangju, we drove south to the county of Wando. Wando is a coastle county with multiple islands. Some islands are connected by large bridges and some you have to take boats to. We woke up about 30 minutes before we were at the Ferry station. It was bright and sunny out and the view was beautiful! Mixing the green mountains with the beautiful beaches was amazing! We took lots of pictures from the bus, but we wish we could explore more!

We were told about 5 minutes before we arrived that we were late and will need to be fast unloading. So all 50 of us quickly got off the bus, got our tickets, and literally ran onto the boat. We were slightly disappointed when we found out not only were we not on the larger ferry with the Dunkin Donuts, but we were on the slower ferry with no Dunkin Donuts. ;) Instead of taking 2 hours to get to Jeju, it was going to take 5! Good thing we were prepared with pre-downloaded movies on the Kindle Fire and our pillows!

The Ferry ride actually wasn’t too bad. We started out just visiting with our friends and eating the Costco muffins provided by WINK. We took lots of pictures and then started a movie. Ferry’s are very different in Korea. In the US, usually seats are first come first serve, or maybe you get a reserved seat if it’s a nice ferry. In Korea, there is a class system. First class gets nice comfortable seats, second class gets regular seats, and third class gets put in one of many large rooms on the boat and you sit on the floor…yep the floor! Not only do you sit on the floor, but you must take off your shoes before you sit on the raised floor with thin carpet. For the first 3 hours of the trip we actually found metal seats outside, which were first come first serve. This was nice because it was so beautiful out! For the last two hours we went inside and sat on the floor because it got a little chilly. It was an interesting experience sitting with a mix of foreigners and Koreans on this big floor. It’s not uncommon or rude to lay down and sleep on the floor. Most people on the ferry (in 3rd class) did this for the rest of the trip. We enjoyed a bowl of ramen for a snack and finished our movie inside. Since the boat was slower, it was not too rocky, but we were still thankful to get to Jeju in the end!

Once we got to Jeju, we unloaded and found our new tour bus. Our first stop was lunch! We drove to a Korean restaurant with a 7-11 next door. Thankfully we were one of the first to order because there were only 2 cooks, and 50 hungry people! We ate mandu (Korean pot stickers) and rice and met another awesome foreigner named Nicole. Nicole actually works as a teacher in China at an international school! It was really cool hearing about her experiences there!

After lunch we were given tickets to a very “special” museum that was right next door. We were told about this museum before but had no intention of going there. Because our entrance fee was already paid for in our total tour cost, we decided “what the heck!” When in Korea, right? The museum is called “Loveland.” It is an out door art sculpture park focused on a theme of sex. Awkward, right? So after a very quick run through park, we were definitely finished. We got some ice cream from the 7-11 and got back on the bus.
The one appropriate statue in Loveland. ;)

After lunch and Loveland, we were on our way to the Manjangul Caves! The Mananjugal Cave is a large (and very well preserved) lava tunnel in Jeju. Only 1km of the 13,422m cave is open to the public, but the Koreans worked hard to make this accessible (and comfortable) for everyone. Inside there are lights on the cave walls, so there really isn’t much need to bring your own. They’ve placed large stepping stones in certain parts to cover up pot holes, and there is even a wooden bridge built inside! It was a little chilly in the caves, but not terrible! We made our way through the cave and enjoyed attempting to take pictures in the dark!

After the caves we were on our way to check into the motel. The motel was located at Hamdeok Beach, literally like 50 feet from the beach. It was a decent motel with lots of options for rooms. We got a private room with a double bed and our own bathroom, but most people got into groups of 4 and slept on the floor on mats and shared a bathroom. The room was plain, but it was clean and we even had a nice view of the ocean! The one interesting cultural thing we experienced were the pillows. The pillows provided did not have soft cotton or feathers inside, but instead something crunchy and hard was inside. Later, I researched it and found it was buckwheat husks inside. These pillows are actually supposed to be good for sleeping and keep away bed bugs. Not our favorite, but it was a interesting experience!

Simple, yet comfortable!

Beautiful view! 

For dinner we went to a popular “Black Pig” bbq restaurant.  The name comes from the “Jeju Black Pig” whose skin really is black. It is said that these pigs have a distinctive taste and supposed to be really special. We barbequed the pig at a communal table and met some other English teachers. The food was good, but we didn’t exactly notice any special taste. After dinner, we walked back to the motel and made a stop at the beach to enjoy it!

It was an early night for us as we had to be ready for our day long tour to begin at 7:30 the next morning! The next day we got on the bus with everyone and were ready for our day of exploring! Our first stop was Hyeobje Beach, about an hour away! Tyler will explain the rest!

Hyeobje Beach –

This beach was beautiful, but since it was our first stop in the morning, it was still quite windy and cold. The beach is famous for it’s black volcanic rocks, which were pretty cool. Val and I walked around and took pictures and played with our new selfie stick. Although selfie sticks look kind of ridiculous, they actually work pretty well and are very common in Korea. Also on the beach there were a bunch of little cairns, (stacked rocks) that people had made. We don’t know why, but it was cool to see so many of them.

Dragon Head Cliff Walk –

So the title for this place is a little deceiving because unfortunately the cliff walk was closed due to the big waves from the pending Typhoon. What we actually did at this location is go onto a model of a Dutch ship that had once washed ashore. After that we hiked up to an old signal post, which is like a stone watchtower for invading ships where a person would light a fire to warn everyone of anything suspicious. Then we headed further up to Sanbangsan Temple. The Buddhist temple was interesting to see. Inside the buildings everything was so colorful and then there were a lot of little statues everywhere. There was also a lot of food displayed before the statues as an offering. Outside was also a huge golden statue of Buda. From the temple we hiked up to a cave in the side of the mountain. In the cave there were people burning incense and people praying. We got to drink from a pool of blessed water, where the water was dripping through the rock above. On the way back to the tour bus, we stopped at one of the many booths to buy some famous Jeju chocolates and fresh squeezed Jeju unshiu orange juice. The chocolates we bought to share at our schools. After sampling the chocolates, we bought the unshiu orange flavor and the cactus flavor, which was my favorite. The chocolates were good, but Val and I prefer just regular chocolate without any fruit flavoring.
The buddhist temple was in that mountain. Really pretty!
Little bit windy... ;) 

Buffet Lunch – 
After our busy morning, we were taken to a Korean Buffet restaurant for lunch! We were looking forward to this because we were starving! When we walked in, the buffet was huge! There were many long tables spread out with giant warm serving platters filled with a variety of foods. There were many choices for lunch. Surprisingly enough there wasn’t too many dishes that we hadn’t seen or tried before (thanks to school lunch and being fed at orientation!). So it was good to know what we liked and what we didn’t like. There were still many things we stayed away from, but we found a plateful of food and sat down. We also ended up trying Pineapple Fanta (soda pop) to try….it’s not as good as we thought. ;) Tyler’s favorite dish was fried pot stickers and Val’s favorite was the sweet and sour meat.

Cheonjeyeon Water Fall –

After lunch we went to see three different waterfalls. The first waterfall was pretty small, but flowed into a beautiful pool of water and was backed by a really cool rock wall. Despite the sign that reads, “No swimming,” and “When swimming you can be died with heart attack,” some people from our tour still decided it was worth the risk and went for a quick swim. I am pleased to report that none of them died with heart attack. Although, the Koreans that saw all the foreigners swimming in the deadly pool of water sure thought we were crazy. The second waterfall was our favorite! It was a good size waterfall with stunning surroundings! The third waterfall was also a good size, but the viewpoint just wasn’t as good. The whole area was absolutely beautiful in a valley of such green lush trees everywhere and you could even see the ocean in the distance. We also walked over this huge bridge, which had a great view spanning over the valley. On a side note, I’d also like to mention that they also had camping available near the trails to the waterfalls. This camping consisted of renting a tent that is already set up on a raised wooden platform. It also had very nice bathrooms and showers just a short walk away. Koreans love camping, although their camping experience seems quite different than ours.

Waterfall area 1... 
Waterfall 2... our favorite! Do you see the rainbow? :)

So many stairs to climb! 

Waterfall 3! 

Jungmun Beach –

By the time we visited this beach, it was nice and hot outside and the sun was shining! This beach is known for its water sports like surfing because it has bigger waves than the rest of the island. We enjoyed relaxing on the beach watching the waves break and knock people over who were wading in the surf. Every now and then an alarm would go off, which we think may be warning people of any extra big waves. The waves were also bigger than normal because of the incoming typhoon. This was a great spot to enjoy some ice cream and just take a break from our busy schedule.

Jusangjeolli –

This is a viewpoint to see the famous stone pillars at the ocean’s edge. The pillars are admired for their naturally formed hexagonal shape. The unofficial name for the rocks is Superman Rocks because they resemble crystals in the Fortress of Solitude. There is also a spot where the waves would crash and spout water high into the air, which was pretty cool. You would know a big wave is coming when all the Koreans got excited. This was a short stop, but we got some good pictures and savored the beautiful view.

Sea Pool Diving and Swimming

Our last stop of the day was to go to this spot where a natural sea pool was made. There are cliffs next to it, which leads many adventurous and brave people to climb the cliffs and dive into the pool…After seeing the pictures you may (or may not) agree that this looks a little dangerous and with the Typhoon coming, the waves were very strong. Still, a few of our group members participated and had a great time. It was about 5pm at that time, sun was starting to set, and the wind was picking up. It started to get more dangerous as the waves were pushing the people into the cliff. So we decided it was time to go! We made our way back up the stairs we came down and went to a different view point to watch the sunset! It was really beautiful!

Jeju City

For our late dinner (8:30pm!) that night we all went to Jeju city to an Indian restaurant. Tyler and I sat with Nicole and Austin and enjoyed Lamb curry and Tandoori chicken! After that we walked around Jeju for a bit and looked in some of the shops. However, we were so exhausted from the day that we caught a cab back to the motel after not too long.

That day we were told that the Typhoon was coming to Jeju soon. We thought that was interesting and everything, but it was still beautiful and sunny outside so we didn’t think too much of it. It turns out that it was coming the next day and was going to be bad enough that the ferry drivers would not leave Jeju past 8am in the morning. People who had cell phones with data plans even got text messages warning them about the Typhoon. Our original schedule said we would leave Jeju at noon on Sunday, but instead we now had to leave Jeju at 8am. That meant we all got on the bus at 7am and drive to the ferry station. Once there, we saw how many other Koreans needed to get off the island as well. It was packed with people wanting to get a ferry ticket. We waited a while, finally got our ticket, and got on our new ferry. The good news was that this was a bigger and faster ferry (2.5 hours!) but unfortunately because of the speed and the typhoon waters, it was a very rocky ride! Our WINK group got a private room on the boat and we all claimed our spaces on the floor. Most people slept the entire boat ride. On a bathroom trip I (Val) saw just how bad the Koreans were handling the rocky boat. It was kind of like a scene from a horror movie. People were spread out all over the boat looking terribly sick, running to the bathroom, and “tossing their cookies” in any trash can they could find. This was not what I wanted to see as I wasn’t feeling so great myself, so I went back to our room, took some Dramamine, and went to sleep! We finally made it to Wando again and made our journey back to Gwangju!

Overall it was truly an amazing weekend in Jeju! It was our first vacation together that we paid for completely by ourselves and we felt we did everything we wanted to in that short time! Here is the link to our shutterfly share site that allows you to see all the photos of our trip! :D

And off we go again, this time to Seoul for a 4 day, 3 night adventure! We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do yet (spontaneity is best right?) but we’re excited to finally be able to visit this giant city!

Here is the link to our Shutterfly Share Site with all the photos from Jeju! There were so many beautiful sites, we had to take lots of photos! :) Enjoy!

 ~Tyler and Val 

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