Jeju is a beautiful, but surprisingly big island. As with all islands, the coastal beauty is scattered in every direction, meaning that wherever you stay you are likely to end up doing a fair amount of transit if you want to see everything! With the price of renting a car vs the low cost of public transit, Emily and I decided to use the many bus routes to visit everything we wanted to. We did learn on our first morning however, that when trying to work out transfers on country buses (which often run late) you need to be prepared to be flexible with your itinerary!
Jeju – expect island views!
Our first full day on the island was spent exploring the eastern side. We decided on two places we really wanted to see that live up to the volcanic nature of the island. We headed all the way out to Seongsan, to hike around the park and head up Sunrise Peak. A 180m high volcano jutting out of the sea and crater to boot. The black rocks give dramatic views all around the coast as you climb to the rim. And while it is hard with a camera to get perspective on the caldera, peering over the edge into the bowl is such an impressive way to reward yourself at the summit of a trail. Geological violence turned into natural beauty.
Peering into the volcano
Walking along the black volcanic ash beaches at the bottom was equally as cool. We didn’t have time on this trip to fit everything into Jeju, so while we may have missed the main resort beach on the island, we did get the chance to see this incredible scenery up close. We’ve seen plenty of white beaches, but never a volcanic one. We also got to see the Haenyeo women shucking shellfish, but missed the times to see them diving for abalone. It’s cool to see this traditional way of life preserved though, especially in a country as hyper developed as South Korea!
Black is the new white
On the way back we stopped at Manjanggal cave. Asides from having a funny name, it is actually one of the biggest lava tubes on the planet. Wandering through the tunnel bored by molten lava for over a kilometre is something I can recommend to anyone. Lava stalagmites are as impressive as they sound. Lava rafts don’t move any more, but must have been terrifying when they did. And at 7.2 metres high it has the tallest known lava column in the world. Lava, lava, lava. It’s pretty damn cool. And if you get bored of the awesome geology, there is a cat park less than 500 metres away. A short walk out and you can be giving all of the pets.
7+ metres of phallic lava glory
After a day outside in the brisk cold air we decided to splash out and have our first proper Korean BBQ. We visited the famous “Black Pork Street” that specialises in bbq from the Jeju breed of miniature black pig and chose a tasting menu that included belly pork, shoulder, cheek and abalone. All of which were expertly cooked table side and served with delicious sides to really get our tastebuds going. Food in Korea has been amazing. For us trying the regional food in each place we visit is a must on our travel agenda and it’s meals like this one where it really pays off!
Black pork BBQ, abalone, grilled kimchi and soju – truly delicious!
Day two we headed south to Jusangjeollidae cliffs. These are a bit like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland that I visited last year while staying in Belfast. Basalt columns form crisscrossing hexagonal shapes that make intricate walkways, cliffs and precipices that don’t look real. Nature as if designed by M C Escher. The world is such a beautiful place I never want to forget how lucky I am to be able to explore every corner of it. But sometimes it is truly absurd! Jusangjeollidae is one of those places that is a fantastic mixture of the two. Science fiction in front of our eyes.
Giant’s Causeway à la Korea
The final site we wanted to see on Jeju was Jeongbang waterfall. Close to the southern city of Seogwipo, this impressive landmark is the result of a river tumbling off a cliff on its final effort to get out to sea. Legend has it an ancient Chinese king came to Jeju and landed at Jeongbang on his quest for the elixir of life. An ultimately unsuccessful venture, but one that certainly fuelled our imagination in the impressive landscape and surrounding park. I can see how after a voyage across the sea, seeing such a beautiful waterfall would have filled me with hope on my quest! Which is fitting as Jeongbang ended ours in Jeju.
We rewarded ourselves with a visit to the top local noodle restaurant. Everyone else was Korean, presumably on holiday, and it was absolutely packed. A terrific sign on whether a place is going to be delicious, authentic and good value. We tried the Jeju speciality, Mom Guk – a seaweed stew that was much nicer than it sounds as it is cooked in braised pork stock – and a mixed noodle bowl. Both were delicious and rounded off our stay on this stunning island in the best foodie way we could have hoped for!
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