Sunday, December 8, 2013

Summer 2013 - 13th Stop: Jeju

Naaaaa, na na, NA-NA NA NAAA, NA-NA NA NAAA, Jeju...

Bonus points to anyone who correctly sang the above to the tune of Hey Jude. My deepest apologies to those who didn't. I guess as songs go, it doesn't really translate that well into text...

So, as we head to the south of the South, we meet the island of Jeju! And what a great time we had. Really great! In terms of fun factor, Jeju packs some serious heat, well up there with our top destinations ever. It ticked all the boxes and then some! Some boxes we didn't even know existed! We spent nine days here overall and were thoroughly entertained the entire time, with something new around every corner. Not many places can boast that level of potency. It's like a whole island perfectly designed for tourists, and not in a tacky way at all, that's why it's so perfect! Nice beaches, natural wonders, quirky parks and museums; I defy you to come here and be bored! And not too far from HK at all. So, all of you Hong Kongers, if you're looking for an ideal spot for a short break, Jeju's got you covered.

We arrived on the night of August 17th, after a short flight down from Seoul, and then hopped on a bus from the airport in Jeju City to the town of Seogwipo on the opposite side of the island. Tired and hungry, we checked in to our hostel and went for a wander around town to rustle up some grub. I did say Jeju ticked all the boxes, but well, to be honest, all except for one - food. On the island, (at least where we were on the south coast), your options were limited to simply: Korean or cafés. Now in fairness, we never actually tried any of the Korean places. They might have actually been very nice, but they just looked too strange and intimidating from the outside. Regardless of that, what's the harm in having a bit of variety? And I don't just mean Western stuff; what about some Indian, or Thai, or Vietnamese? Something! Anything!? Instead, we survived almost exclusively on café cuisine for the 9 days; bagels here, paninis there and more muffins than you could shake a stick at. We really pushed the limits of human bread consumption. I was half expecting to end up with a yeast infection by the end of it (presumably, that's how it works...).

As I mentioned, we gave ourselves plenty of time here, so for our first full day, we really just took it easy with a nice day at the beach.

The next day was a different story as we were up and active, exploring the island's many sights, starting with Majanggul Lava Cave which was a bus ride and short walk away. But actually, before that, only 500m down the road was one of the island's highlights, or rather, a highlight in a sea of highlights - Kimnyoung Maze Park. I was unbelievably excited about this beforehand and it did not disappoint. I just don't understand why they don't have life-sized mazes like these all over the world, they're so much fun!

As you step inside, of course your natural reaction is to find the exit as soon as possible in the spirit of competition. Yet, there was another part of us that wanted it to last for as long as possible, to really get our money's worth. So, we first set off casually, just wandering about, taking random turns here and there, nothing methodical, we didn't want to bring our A-game just yet. Impressively, we found ourselves hitting dead ends and going back over old ground again and again - this was actually going to be a challenge! So we quit messing around, focused on the task at hand, and planned our route more carefully... and we still had trouble getting out!

They give you a map at the very start "for when you get lost" but we felt that kinda goes against the spirit of a maze (besides, we like to live life on the hedge!) And thankfully, we never had to resort to using it, as we eventually worked our way through this pleasingly pruned puzzle, to ring the bell at the end. So much fun though!

Afterwards, we continued on to the lava cave, which ultimately failed in comparison (well, what wouldn't?!). It was very well recommended and that's why we decided to go, but in the end it was a bit of a let down. It's our own fault really. When we were in Borneo, we saw some of the biggest and most incredible caves in the world, so anything after that will always be a let down (Snobbish traveller alert!). It's probably a lesson for the future though, and a mistake we always make - less caves, less temples, more mazes!

We got a bus back to Seongsan, and after lunch visited the uniquely shaped volcanic crater of Ilchulbong (known as Sunrise Peak), probably Jeju's most famous and recognisable landmark, jutting out of the sea like an impregnable rock fortress.

Like pretty much everything on the island, the admission fee was minimal and there was a nice view from the top after a sweaty 25 minute climb. At the summit itself, you're restricted to a viewing platform, which was a shame really. I mean come on, take a look at that picture above and tell me you don't just have the strongest urge to run around inside the crater!

There was also a tour guide up there whose job it was to chat to tourists and give out information about the site (which is apparently an example of a 'tuff cone' volcano). At first we were a bit wary, as we're used to encountering people like this on our travels who try to provide a service you never asked for and then expect money at the end. But no, he was employed to just be friendly and helpful! No ulterior motives at all! Developed countries FTW!

The next morning we got up extra early (well, half eight) to do a bit more climbing, this time tackling Mt. Halla, the tallest mountain in South Korea, which probably sounds more impressive than it is. It's really not that big at all (although, still twice the size of Ireland's highest point). You can get to the top without too much effort, but in the end, we didn't even attempt that much. Instead, we just opted for the route nearest our base in the south of the island - the Yongsil Trail, and returned back down on the shorter but steeper, Ermiok Trail. We chose these two as, like in Seoraksan, we didn't want the unpleasant experience of spending the whole day climbing under the hot, summer sun. But as it turned out, it was probably the cloudiest day we'd had since arriving in the South. And while that meant much easier hiking, it also fogged up any views that were there to see. On the plus side, we were able to zip up and back down again in less than three hours.

And from massive rocks to massive cocks (how about that for a slick transition!), introducing: Jeju Love Land, another of the island's quirky attractions. It's just like a regular park really; nice greenery, statues, fountains, the usual. Except for the fact that those statues, and fountains, and every other feature kind of have a unique theme running through them... Maybe not somewhere for a family day out.

And if this isn't enough to satisfy your appetite, there's even a fully dedicated "Penis Park" on the mainland for serious enthusiasts. I think we're good for the moment though...

It certainly gives a whole new meaning to statue-tory rape!

Jeju has an abundance of quirky little parks and museums like this and the next day we visited a few more, starting off at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Love Land, with Jeju's very own Teddy Bear Museum. If you've ever wondered what history would look like if everyone was a bear (and honestly, who hasn't?!), then this is the place for you!

From historic moments to famous figures, ancient wonders to works of art; the Teddy Bear Museum has everything you could ever want, and more! If only all history, and every subject for that matter, was taught through the (vastly under-appreciated) medium of 'teddy bears dressed as people'. My only complaint would be the complete absence of any sort of bear related puns. I mean, there was no 'Bearlin Wall', no 'Bearacotta Warriors'. Not even an 'Abearham Lincoln'! Serious opportunity missed.

You'd think the novelty would wear off quite quickly but it just didn't! It actually became more fun, the more we saw! They even had an outdoor area complete with a teddy bear's picnic! How unbearably cool is that?! Pun very much intended.

But seriously, where else in the world could you have such a contrast of attractions? Love Land one day, Teddy Bear Museum the next. We've gone from naked statues to clothed teddies - from bare cheek to bear chic! (I just high-fived myself for that one).

Afterwards, and just across the road, we visited the Ripley's 'Believe it or not' museum, which was also extremely good fun, featuring weird and wonderful stories, pictures, videos and items from all over the world. Jeju just gets better every day!

Day 6, and after visiting Jeju's World Cup Stadium from the 2002 tournament, we popped around the corner to yet another maze park. We just can't get enough of them! Seriously though, someone in the Irish tourism board write this down: buy a field, build a maze, make millions! The recession would be over in no time!

We were a bit unsure at first about this particular maze, as it was in the middle of a theme park for little kids, but it turned out to be just as good as the first one! In fact, it was doubly good as there was nobody else there, so we could have a laugh and go at our own pace.

Back in Seogwipo, we went to a real life batting cage! The Koreans seem to be as big into baseball as the Japanese, although we never saw one of these anywhere last summer. In fact, I had never seen anything of the sort outside of American TV! We played a few rounds anyway, and I actually wasn't too bad at all, if I can be so immodest. Wasted potential there maybe? If only I had grown up in Korea, I could've been the next... eh... good Korean baseball guy...

The next morning, we got a bus and a ferry across to Udo Island - an island, off the coast of a bigger island, off the coast of the South Korean mainland which, for all intents and purposes, is an island itself, seeing as its only connection to the continent is its border with the DPRK.

Upon arrival, there was a broad range of options for our next mode of transport; scooters, ATVs... but because we didn't have an international licence, we had to settle for a pair of simple old bicycles. We never had such problems in Vietnam or Indonesia! I guess that's one of the downsides of visiting developed countries, people actually take the law seriously! It was even worse watching the locals scoot off on their motorised vehicles while we had to pedal ourselves along like a couple of North Koreans!

In all honesty, we shouldn't have needed an international licence at all. The mere fact that we weren't Asian should have been proof enough of our driving credentials! Sorry, sorry, I shouldn't propagate racial stereotypes. I'm sure Koreans are great drivers...

40 mins later...

The island is quite small, only 17km full circle, so bikes were fine in the end (we didn't want your stupid motorbikes anyway!). There were a few rain showers over the past couple of days too, so we were lucky to avoid a downpour, but it did stay quite cloudy and humid for the afternoon. We had a lovely day out though. It's a great little spot, and with better weather and a few more hours it could've been a real gem.

After handing in our bikes and getting a ferry back to the (relative) mainland, we made our way to the Trick Art Museum - another of Jeju's off the wall attractions. And like all the others, buckets of fun! We just love things like this! As the name (and photos) suggest, it's a museum of zany and interactive paintings where you can jump in and be part of the picture. From famous works of art with a slight twist, to optical illusions, there's definitely enough to keep you, your partner and a camera busy for an hour or two! Not much fun I'd imagine for a solo traveller though, unless you don't mind asking strangers to take photos of you in embarrassing poses.

And to continue the theme, the next day we went to the Alive Museum, which is, well, pretty much the exact same thing! Now, most people would think this was a waste of time, but we actually enjoyed it even more the second time around! It was, being honest, a bit better than the Trick Art Museum, so if (for some strange reason) you only want to see one such attraction while in Jeju, the Alive Museum is the better call. It's a lot more centrally located too (and with great pizza!) but inevitably, also bigger crowds.

In the end, visiting the Trick Art Museum beforehand served as a kind of warm-up for the new day's many photo opportunities. It was almost stressful at some stages, making sure we got each one perfect!

Don't think all we did here was go to novelty museums either (although, they were undoubtedly the best part). Earlier that afternoon, we also went to Cheonjiyeon Falls and Seonimgyo Bridge, which were both very nice but unfortunately the weather didn't help us out. We can't really complain too much though, it is the rainy season here after all.

We took another swing at the batting cages on our final day before heading to the airport. We were planning on making an extra special video diary there too - hitting and narrating at the same time! But it was too crowded in the end, so we made an extra un-special one by the side of the road instead:

And that's it for Jeju, an incredibly fun spot with something to satisfy every taste (especially if you have a taste for teddy bears and giant dicks!). Only one more post to go for the summer, as we make the short flight over to South Korea's second city, Busan. See you there!

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