Mandarin oranges, Jeju black pig, Hallasan Mountain, huge lava tubes, majestic waterfalls, beautiful beaches…. Those are just some of the things I’ll remember Jeju for.
For those of you who’ve never heard of Jeju (I hadn’t heard of it until we came to Korea), it’s a volcanic island off the southern coast of Korea. It’s fairly small, oval-shaped, with a population of roughly 600,000, the dormant Hallasan Mountain volcano rising at its center and hundreds of “oreums,” or volcanic cones, scattered all over the island that basically look like small mountains.
It rained for half of our time on the island, but I have to say, it didn’t ruin things one bit. In fact, the rain somewhat added to the “tropical” feel of the island (and kept away many tourists).
First, we checked out Jeongbang Waterfall, one of the three major falls on the island. It’s also the only waterfall in the country that spills directly into the sea. It was raining lightly when we got there, but within seconds of walking down and arriving at the falls, it started pouring! We only had one umbrella, but it’s ok because it meant I got to cuddle up close to Will. 😉
And the downpour:
Next, we headed to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. This one was in a slightly different setting, tucked away in a subtropical forest. According to legend, a holy dragon used to live at its basin. The water is also home to large, marbled (or mutae) eels … which made me stay away from the edge, jussst in case.
Since it was nearby, we also visited Oedolgae Rock. The pillar-like, 20-meter-tall rock was formed 1.5 million years ago by a volcanic eruption and is associated with a number of legends. The site has well maintained walking paths and platforms with views of the bluffs and the rocks. There’s just something so mesmerizing and almost hypnotic about watching the ocean waves crash against the rocks.
On our second day in Jeju, we ventured on a hike at Mt. Hallasan National Park. The peak of the dormant volcano features a beautiful crater lake, but we didn’t quite make it that far…. It takes hours to hike to the peak. We took the Eorimok Trail, 2.4 km or so, and it took us about 1.5 hours each way, if I remember correctly. (You can see in the map below that it would take several more hours to get to the summit.) FYI the entire leg up was going up steps — major butt workout! Exhausting. Thankfully it was a cloudy day. When we got to our turnaround point at Sajebidongsan Hill, a thick, cold fog rolled in. It looked awesome. Saw some nice streams and birds along the way, too.
Call us crazy, but on our way home from the hike, we decided to swing by the third and largest of Jeju’s major waterfalls, Cheonjeyeon Waterfall. The name is a bit misleading, since it actually consists of three waterfalls/tiers itself. I thought it’d be something where we could just park, walk a few yards to see it, and done. Quick visit. YEAH right! More walking, many more steps. I thought my legs were going to give out on me. BUT, most definitely worth the effort. Here are some photos and videos of each waterfall.
In between the second and third falls, you’re able to walk up onto the Seonimgyo Bridge, an arch bridge that hangs over the falls. There was thick fog the day we went, so when we looked down, all we saw was a wall of white. Eerie, for sure.
Did I mention it was our wedding anniversary? 🙂 Some quick shots of our dinner, it was amazing. A perfect ending to an eventful day.
Day 3. Manjanggul Cave. That is, the Manjanggul Lava Tube, part of a system of five lava tubes/caves on Jeju island, and the only one of those that’s open to the public. The Manjanggul Lava Tube is actually one of the longest in the world, at 7,416 meters long. I didn’t know what to expect — our only other cave experience was in Belize, and those were regular caves, not lava tubes. This was way different.
Unlike the Belize caves, where we were climbing over rocks and crawling on our knees through suffocatingly small spaces, you can fairly easily just walk through the lava tube. It’s uneven ground, but unless you’re wearing high heels, it’s not hard. It was cool and wet, water drops coming down off the ceiling the whole time, and they had lights set up the whole way illuminating the path (unlike Belize, where we relied on just our headlamps). Manjanggul is definitely more of an “official” tourist attraction, if you will. It was cool to see the law flow lines along the walls, the tiny shark-tooth-like stalactites on the ceiling, and the funky looking lava toes frozen in time. The lava tube widens out and opens up at certain points, ceilings reaching 30 meters at times. The most impressive sight is the 7.6-meter-tall lava column at the end (it’s only the “end” because they’ve only opened up about a one-mile stretch of the tube to the public), apparently the world’s largest one. They form when lava flows down from an upper tube into a lower tube and starts solidifying.
Also, no helmets required (scary!), and no, we didn’t see bats, although they do have bats living in the lava tube.
Jeju is also known for various foods and dishes. Driving through the island, you’ll see endless groves and roadside stands of hallabong and gamgyul, which are two types of mandarins/tangerines. Here’s a blog explaining just how popular these Jeju fruits are across Korea, and another site showing the difference between the two fruits. Jeju black pork is another local delicacy. The Jeju black pig itself has, as you would expect, black fur, as well as a long face, narrow snout, and perky ears. It’s known for its chewy texture. Here’s the little guy:
We tried some grilled Jeju black pork at this BBQ place, and it was alright. (I had it sautéed with vegetables another night, and I liked it that way better.) They actually serve you a piece of … how do I say this … pig skin that still has black fur stubble in it. Yeah. I guess you’re supposed to grill it and eat it. I had to stop looking at it so I wouldn’t gag. You can see it in the photo, top right corner above the meat. Will didn’t even eat it. That tells you something.
Our trip to Jeju island couldn’t have ended better. While Will was off at work on our last day, I went for a stroll along the hotel grounds. It was finally a sunny day and I wanted to see the ocean views. To my surprise, I discovered our hotel had direct beach access! I was SO excited. I walked down to the beach right away. It’s called Jungmun Beach and it is beautiful. My piece of paradise that day. And there were practically no people there! The water was a pretty clear blue, though slightly too cold to swim in just yet. Apparently this beach gets super crowded during the summer, so I am very grateful to have had it all to myself. I was definitely in my element. 🙂
Will came back to the beach with me later in the day and went exploring a bit through the tide pools. There was a group of older ladies collecting large conchs with snails in them, presumably to sell or eat for dinner. They were going crazy for them! Snatching them off the rocks and everything.
We ended our Jeju adventure with another delicious meal, including that sautéed black pork with vegetables I mentioned earlier. Mmm mm! (Unfortunately, they didn’t let me keep or buy the awesome mug.)
It was a fun, wonderful one-year anniversary trip, on an island, perfect for an island girl like me. I’ll leave you with some views of Hallasan Mountain and its summit, which you can see from almost anywhere on the island. Goodbye, Jeju! If you want to see the rest of our photos from the trip, go here.