The Queen Hotel actually had the first comfortable bed we had come across so far in our travels, so we slept in a bit to enjoy it. Still sitting in bed, we decided we had better buy our plane tickets off the island. I had researched Jeju Air, which flies out of Jeju to Pusan, before coming to Korea, and saw that there were about six to ten flights each day in the neighborhood of $67 to $80. We didn’t know exactly what dates we would be on Jeju however, so we didn’t purchase the tickets ahead of time.
Big mistake, as we found out it was “peak season,” and there were no two seats on any one flight to be had. We agreed to both fly on separate planes and went to book online when Jeju Air’s website informed us that further transactions could only be performed on Window’s Internet Explorer. Excuse me, Jeju Air? Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries I have been to and you only use Internet Explorer? Way to hate on Apple, Chrome, Firefox and all tablet users. We called customer service and asked the woman who answered if there was someone to help us in English. While using perfect English, she proceeded to explain that no, there was no one available but she would have an English-speaking representative call us back. By this time, there were only two seats even available for Saturday, so we logged on to Korean Air and purchased two tickets, unfortunately for double that of Jeju Air, but at least it gave us peace of mind for the next leg of our journey.
After some lame convenience store breakfast (Japan definitely has a one-up on Korea in this department) we grabbed a taxi and headed to the Jusangjeolli Cliffs on the Jungmung Daepo Coast. I have a thing for volcanoes. They are awesome, and I attribute some of my fascination with them to the fact that I was born in Mt. Shasta. Wherever we travel, I usually end up dragging Andrew to some kind of volcanic phenomenon. Last year it was Santorini and Dikteon, and this year it’s Jeju, basically one big volcano. When Mt. Hallsan was active, between 140,000 and 250,000 years ago, lava flowed down toward the ocean and when it reached the cool water the lava cracked, fractured and contracted, creating pillars of hexagonal rock formations reaching 20 meters into the sky.
I like to think of them as “The Cliffs of Insanity.” Again, you have to pay a couple bucks to walk down and enjoy them from a restricted viewing area among other tourists, but they are definitely worth the time. The rows and stacks of nearly perfect hexagonal columns is almost too amazing to be believed. We reveled in the view and the sea breeze for about half an hour, and then decided to head up to Jeju City on the north side of the island to see more volcanic rock formations. Next up, the Manjanggul lava tubes!
The tourist information booth at Jusangjeolli gave us directions on which bus to take to Jeju-si, but the actual bus stop was a thirty minute walk because a major tourist destination doesn’t need its own bus stop or anything. Since we were carrying our luggage, we decided to ride in a taxi to the stop, which we had them write down in Korean. This is very important to do if you are taking taxis on Jeju! We found a cab no problem, but halfway to the bus stop he asks us where we are going on the bus. We tell him Jeju City Bus Terminal and he immediately lights up and tells us that he will take us there. Considering this ride took 90 minutes on the bus, we declined, only wondering what the meter would ring up to by then. But Thailand tuk-tuk driver-style, he showed us 15,000 won (about $15) and promised it would only be fifteen. Having seen this trick before, we were naturally very hesitant, but it was more tempting than waiting for the bus. We also managed to save a lot of time, as he flew across the island, proceeding to point our various tourist attractions along the way. As we neared Jeju-si, I realized I had been holding my breath, not only for the wild driving but in expectance of something worse to come when we arrived. I couldn’t think of just what he might decide to ask for in addition to the fifteen bucks, but my mind was ripe with possibilities. Luckily, he stopped in front of the bus terminal, took the fifteen and smiled. Whew! No proverbial “other shoe” dropped.
Again, we had to hunt around for a bit to find a guesthouse with vacancy, but this time we made the smart decision to stay within walking distance of the bus terminal. We found a reasonably priced guesthouse that let us leave our baggage with them, even though we couldn’t officially check in yet. Back to the terminal, we took a bus headed east to the Manjanggul lava tubes, which are part of the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System on Jeju. Hundreds of thousands of years ago underground magma from the volcano flowed from Mt. Hallasan until it eventually reached the surface, creating these long, hollow caves in its wake. There are actually numerous underground tubes all over Jeju Island, but Manjangull has one kilometer that has been outfitted for visitors. The whole cave has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. The bus stop for the lava tubes is actually quite a trek from the site itself. Luckily we had read about this ahead of time and found a couple other tourists to share a taxi with. Soon we were descending into the tunnel, which was fantastically cold! Footlights had been placed to help you see your way through, but the floor has not been altered, so you walk on actual hardened lava flow. It is quite uneven, so I was glad I wore my hiking shoes.
After a kilometer of pure volcanic bliss filled with stalactites, stalagmites, lava rafts and lava shelfs, you come to a 7 meter high lava pillar, the largest in the world. It is truly impressive, and is eerily lit by colored lights that slowly change, so you can get a picture of it in hellish red, electric blue, or neon green. Thoroughly impressed and quite cold by now, we headed back out the way we came. The tubes continue on for over three kilometers, but the rest is not open to the public. Unfortunately, the moment we surfaced we were hit by the heat, the feeling of which is akin to having all of the moisture in your body suddenly transport itself outside your body via explosive decompression. Immediately drenched in sweat, we met back up with our taxi share-mates and headed to the bus stop. After a few minutes of waiting, we boarded a crowded bus that unbeknownst to us was being driven by a fiend of hell.
You may debate over whether it is a sad day or an awesome day in which the only reasonable comparison you can make for your bus ride is a roller coaster from Six Flags, but in the moment, any possible enjoyment was lost on us. Initially we had to stand in the aisle, hanging from bars on the ceiling as our bodies proceeded to slam against every possible nearby surface, including other passengers. Our driver had apparently decided to execute a crude Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Through Hell while impersonating Murdock from the A-Team, rocketing through blind turns, catapulting the back of the bus off the ground as he hit speed bumps at full force, and leaving himself exactly one second before imminent collision to apply the breaks. There are seat belts on the bus for a reason. Finally managing to snag an open seat, I attempted to sit down. My behind was forcefully greeted by the arm rest and not the cushion as the bus lurched and swayed, leaving me a nice shiner to remember my adventure.
After nearly an hour of this nightmare on wheels, we nauseously stumbled off and walked to our guesthouse for a little air conditioning and stable ground. Eventually we recovered our appetites and headed down to a local’s area west of the bus terminal for some dinner. Enticed by some pictures of what appeared to be Chinese food, we wandered into an empty restaurant and encountered a gentleman employee clearly startled to see foreigners. Since he had no English skills, we pointed to a couple photos on the wall and soon enjoyed some kind of saucy octopus and noodle dish and gyoza. $10 later and still a bit hungry, we found a Korean BBQ place with patio seating and cold beer. While it’s definitely a messy meal, I could probably eat this for a week and not get tired of it. I suppose this is passé for a local, when there is so much good Korean food out there, but there is something comforting about a meal you know how to eat when you are traveling. If only for a moment, you get to pretend that you live in Korea and know what you are doing.
After a relaxing meal we went to Loveland, a cheesy “museum” on Jeju filled with pornographic sculptures and sexual dioramas. For some reason, all the travel guides include this as a must-see, if only for the novelty of watching reserved Asian people’s reactions, but I found it pretty tame and a bit expensive. Since it is one of the only things you can do after dark, at least it wasn’t blazing hot. Back to our guesthouse for a late night glass of makgeolli and plans for tomorrow’s beach day excursion.