Shoulders on flame with bags of clothes – Seongsan Ichulbong

We had a full day to kill before our Korean Air flight to B/Pusan in the evening. We left our bags at the guesthouse and caught the first bus to Seongsan Ichulbong, also known as, “Sunrise Peak,” due to its easterly position on Jeju island.

the crater

the crater

Shana’s obsession with volcanic phenomena usually involves descending into things. I on the other hand have a peculiar interest in climbing stairs. Well, not the stairs so much as just seeing what’s at the top, or also seeing what can be seen from the top. My desire to see whats up that next set of steps has been with me since I climbed the Statue of Liberty in the fifth grade. Since then I have dominated stair wells and flights such as: Yamadera (1,000 steps), Le Tour Eiffel (710 steps – that are open to the public), Sacré Cœur (534 steps-including the hill), St. Peter’s Basilica (491 steps),  The Statue of Liberty (354 steps), St. Stephen’s of Vienna (343 steps), and (but not limited to) The Acropolis (156 m, not strictly speaking stairs but it’s a good hike). Seongsan’s website sadly does not list the number of steps to the top but it’s roughly as tall as the Seattle Space Needle.Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 1.05.36 PM

Seongsan is a “tuff cone” and a very good example of one at that. Standing at roughly 180 meters (600 ft.) Seongsan was a great pile of ash that hardened with the reaction of ascending magma and sea water. Seongsan had a wet eruption which caused the interior to become a smooth bowl unfilled with lava and ripe for vegetation. The eruption’s proximity to the ocean allowed a great wave or waves to form steep cliffs on all sides save the north western portion of the volcano. Even more unique than the well preserved tuff cone is that there are plants on the volcano that are only found on Jeju island and one plant that is only found in the crater of the volcano.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bus ride to Seongsan is about one and a half hours depending on your bus driver’s mental state. Upon arrival at Sunrise Peak a fifteen minute walk is required to get to the ticket office. From there it takes about an hour round trip to the top and back if you’re moving fast. That means if you want to do anything else that day plan on at least 5 hours to really spend time there at make it worth your while. There is a complex at the bottom where you can get slushies and over priced food.

The hike to the top is not that unreasonable, well it wouldn’t be unreasonable if it the temperature and humidity outside are not record breaking. It’s more than reasonable if you’re not suffering from unreasonably bad sunburns from being UNDERNEATH an umbrella the previous day. Despite our cautious sun exposure and appropriate chemical protection we had both acquired awful sunburns from our day at the beach. Mine was on the shoulders and Shana’s was her shoulders and strangely just her right thigh. Sunburns that were bad enough where the sun can be felt through a shirt. At the top of Seongsan there is no respite from the sun. A massive view deck awaits with no shade.

panorama including the viewing deck at the top

panorama including the viewing deck at the top

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This picture also shows how terribly sunburnt Shana got

Someone asked me at the top, “Was it worth it?” Maybe. I was going to tell myself that it was regardless of my actual feelings. On the way down to the north of the peak is a small cove where tours of a local island, free diving elderly women and fresh sea food are available. We decided not to spend time there but we did stop on our way back to the bus to get a massive hamburger. Massive in the sense that it could be cut into pizza slices. We managed to have some excellent luck as we arrived at the bus stop right as the bus was pulling up.

Back at the Jeju bus terminal we hopped on local city bus to the Jungang Underground shopping mall. We didn’t have anything to shop for but felt like it would a good place to enjoy some air conditioning while we killed time before heading to the airport. The Jungang mall is comprised of small shops that sell almost exclusively clothes. There were a few shops that sold cell phone accessories or food. During our tour we noticed several stores selling matching sets of his and hers; polo shirts, horizontally striped t-shirts, bathing suits, underwear, and full outfits including sandals. One of the few souvenirs we bought in Korea was a matching set of Pud & Lix (I have no idea what it means) t-shirts.

We then headed above ground to walk around the “famous” traditional Dongmun market which is above the Jungang underground mall. The Dongmun market is several city blocks at odd angles to each other featuring numerous elements of Korean cuisine, knick-knacks, seafood… so much… sea food, and an occasional clothing store. Just wandering among the stalls, avoiding delivery boys hot shotting around on mopeds, and occasionally stopping to gawk at their food preparation is cool in and of itself. Many of the fish and meat stalls have tables behind them where they pull the (you name it) out of the tank/freezer and cook it for you right there. Some things do not appear to be edible like skinned but still alive eel (true story). Some things look amazing like the vats of different types of kim-chi.

Nevertheless we wandered for a while and decided it was time to head to the airport. The bus for Jeju airport is not particularly frequent so we opted for a taxi and arrived at an incredibly busy airport terminal. In terms of passengers Seoul to Jeju is the busiest route in the world. In 2012 there were over ten million passengers that came through Jeju terminal. Unlike the island airports of Crete and Santorini, Jeju’s airport was big with many lounge areas and lots of overpriced food. However, in the actual boarding area there were not a great quantity of seats.

Our short flight to Pusan was uneventful. I had booked us a hotel near Haeundae beach earlier that day on a deal through hotels.com and it was about an hour from Pusan airport to Haeundae via the Pusan subway. We arrived at our hotel and checked in around 11pm, dropped our bags and spruced up a little because Saturday in Haeundae during the summer is a 24 hour party. Haeundae is chock full of Korean love hotels and they are all essentially pretty nice with loads of neon on the outside and hidden entrances. We stayed at Hotel The Sun about a 10 minute walk from Haeundae Beach proper.IMG_6099

The main street, Gunam-ro, was absolutely electric around midnight. We had donned our matching t-shirts and khaki shorts to disguise ourselves as locals. Down at the beach no one is allowed to swim after dark but the beach is open 24 hours. The Korean laws are also not squeamish about drinking in public. Just about ever 10 steps on the beach was a group Koreans with guitars or a jam box playing their favorite tunes, drinking and dancing. They were packed in so close that we wondering how they heard themselves play. Most of the bars and clubs along Gunam-ro are way way overpriced. Especially for a place like Korea where most everywhere else the drinks are pretty cheap. The best way to solve this problem is convenience stores. A tall beer at a convenience store is $2.50 or a bottle soju is about $1.50 and then people watch from the numerous benches or sit on the beach with your cheap beer.

Haeundae at night

Haeundae at night

Around 2AM we figured it was time for dinner so we found an outdoor patio that served the famous Korean fried chicken and finally wrapped up our night around 3AM.

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Samyang, the black sand beach

Shana and I had been itching for a day of nothing. While that’s not particularly interesting travel blog material it was a much needed break from the LETS SEE EVERYTHING TODAY attitude that we normally have when we travel.

We had decided on a day at Samyang Beach or Black Sand Beach about 40 minutes East by bus which is considered to be a less crowded beach than Iho Teu Beach which is the closest beach to Jeju City. We had our towels, swimming gear, sunscreen and some reading material.IMG_1704

You can rent a patio table with an umbrella for about $10 which we did because it was blazing hot again. We had got to the beach relatively early and it was mostly empty except for a windsurfing class going on at the far eastern side of the beach. We had our pick of spots. We set up under the umbrella and applied a good amount of sunscreen while we chuckled at those silly Koreans swimming in long sleeve shirts and pants. There was even a group of old ladies who were on the bus that appeared to be dressed in floral armor.

Mostly the thing to do at Korean beaches is to rent an inner tube and float above the water. Then go back the umbrella, drink and eat Korean BBQ. I decided to save some coin and hoofed it to the convenience store across the street from the beach and bought a couple large beers, some Korean flavored Doritos and cups of ice.

Black Sand

Black Sand

Our total time in the sun was probably around 45 minutes to an hour. We applied sunscreen twice after getting out of the water. Otherwise we were under the umbrella.

At around 4PM we headed back to the bus stop and took a thankfully uneventful bus ride back to Jeju City Bus Terminal where we took a shower and changed in preparation for a trip to “Black Pork Street” or Heuk Dwaeji.

Black Pork is one of the signature dishes of Jeju Island. There are these little black pigs that live there and they have a special sauce for it. It is on all the tourist maps. I had a tourist map of Jeju City and I thought, “I’ll just point to the spot on the map where the street is when we get in a cab.” My advice would be to NOT do this.

The taxi driver that we stopped started a map of THE CITY HE WAS IN for 5 solid minutes, holding up traffic, trying to figure out what I was pointing to. I said, “Black Pork Street, Huaek Dwaeji.” Nothing. Frustrated as all hell, we got out of the cab and went back to the guest house to use the internet to get a street address in Korean. I also used Google Translate to get, “Black Pork Street” written in hangeul, the Korean writing system.IMG_1724

The next cab we stopped I showed him the address in hangeul and he stared at it for too long. I took the phone back and showed him “Black Pork” written in hangeul. If a lightbulb had appeared over his head it would have shattered. As a taxi driver I could not believe that an address for a major tourist destination didn’t register and neither did the English name for the street. Mind blown.

Regardless, we made it Black Pork Street and stopped at a placed I had found on someone else’s travel blog.  We ordered their signature dish and the food started to pile up on the table.

We went here

We went here

It started with the  black pork and all the side dishes. Having the grill at the table looks like you’re supposed to cook it your self, but clearly we were doing it wrong and the staff would kind of huff at us and take the tools and “fix” it. I would start messing with the stuff on the grill just to amuse myself with their reactions. Then came this seafood soup which looked like it may never cool down enough to actually ingest. The soup was followed by a bowl of spiced meat which I plainly heard the server call, “pork loin.” We didn’t think much of it until we piled it on the cooking surface at our table and watched as the baby octopus that was in the bowl started to move and curl on the grill. It was only a little unsettling. The baby octopus was maybe one of the spiciest things I ever tried. It was really quite good, from that moment Shana began to have a vampire like craving for baby octopus. Maybe baby octopus needs to be classified as a schedule one controlled substance.

At first we had declined the dessert option for our meal, as there was already a ton of food we hadn’t finished, but we had ordered magkeolli which had enamoured the wait staff with us. They insisted on bringing us dessert. We capitulated and this was the right decision. The dessert was an “ice noodle” dish. It was a cold sweet/salty broth with buckwheat glass noodles, a hard boiled egg and giant ice cube. While not a traditional dessert it was still delicious.

After that we headed back to the guest house to sneak some beer into our room and hit the sack. We had to climb a volcanic formation the next day and then catch a flight to P/Busan.

My obsession with volcanoes continues…

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.

Our view from the Queen

Our view from the Queen

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.IMG_1700

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.

We have a problem with heat.

Shana and I have made a solemn pact that the next place we travel will be cold. Sweden, Finland, Andes Mountains, Sweden, Mongolia, The Alps, Russia, Hokkaido, deep space… really anywhere that doesn’t result in a full sweat just leaving the hotel room. Our three most recent trips have been beset with… slightly above average temperatures for the region. Osaka and Kyoto experienced record breaking heat while we were there. Seoul basically turned into a steaming pot with the high temperatures and excessive rain. Did I mention that we visited Santorini and experienced record breaking heat there too? Athens, Yep. Venice? Uh huh. Thailand? Well what did we expect? Yeah of course it was hot there. We been on a record breaking streak of temperature record breaking while traveling.

Anyways, we had planned to visit Jeju island, the “Hawaii of Korea” as a way to beat the heat, hang out on the beach and generally enjoy some laid back island time.

From the back of the ferry as we leave Mokpo

From the back of the ferry as we leave Mokpo

A couple short notes on logistics. If you plan on taking a ferry from Mokpo there are three different ferry terminals in Mokpo (that I saw) and the international one is where you get tickets and board the ferry. Jeju has some sort of ambiguous self governing relationship with the Korean government so its technically an international boat ride. Second, if you plan on going to Jeju in Late July or August, don’t. Seriously. Go some where else. It’s peak season in that time frame so many of the nicer hotels will be booked solid and guest houses can be hit and miss. Also, IT’S REALLY HOT!

The ferry was quite pleasant and a brief respite from the heat while being on open water. Once at the ferry terminal Bus #95 goes to the Jeju-si (Jeju City) Bus Terminal which is the only effective way of really getting anywhere on the island without paying a fortune in cab fare or renting a car.

If you hate logic and have zero sense of self preservation, a scooter may be a cheap rental on Jeju and an efficiently dangerous way to get around. One tourist we met had done just that. Our chosen form of near death experiences was put it in the hands of deranged bus driving maniacs. Lacking the stones to risk our lives to see half assed museums the bus is really the only way to go. It may be inefficient, slow, dangerous, nauseating and occasionally smelly but it beats walking. Based on the pattern of the bus routes, staying close to Jeju City Bus Terminal is the best option. Just about everything thats worth seeing on the island is about an hour by bus from something else. It’s a hub and spoke system basically run out of Jeju City and there aren’t a lot of transfers to be had because most bus lines don’t cross.

From the ferry terminal we arrived at the bus terminal and had to catch another bus to get to the south side of Jeju where Seogwipo-si is located. Total travel time, 4.5 hours on the ferry, 40 min from ferry terminal to Jeju-si bus terminal – 1.2 hours to Seogwipo by bus. When we arrived in Seogwipo we had assumed that when the bus said it went to the Seogwipo bus terminal that was where it was going. However the bus driver pulled over at a round about in Seogwipo and basically asked all the foreigners to get off the bus. I’m still not sure if it was good or bad but we had a about ten minute walk from there to where the hotels were.

Not Jeju

Not Jeju

We stopped in at a guest house that came highly recommended on TripAdvisor.com and found they were completely booked. However the woman at the front desk was super nice and called around to the other hotels to see who had any vacancy. On the fourth or fifth call she found a love hotel nearby called Hotel Queen that had a room.

After spending some time in the AC we decided we would walk down and see the waterfall that is one of the main attractions in Seogwipo as well as catch a glimpse of the setting sun. After a brief incident that involved some water, band-aids and a sterile wipe proffered to use by a British couple we made our way down the 800 meter path following signs to Jeonbang Falls. Keeping in mind that there is an entrance to the entrance, and when we finally arrived at the stairway to the falls proper we found out that it A) costs money and B) closed about 10 minutes before we got there. If the Jeju tourism board is interested in money they should look into extending hours during summer when it would be light for another 2 hours after the gate closed. Also, a sign at the front with the hours posted would be nice so that a person who is unfamiliar with the area, say… a tourist for instance, doesn’t have to walk the 800 meters to find out that its closed. No waterfall for us.

View from "Food Street"

View from “Food Street”

Thoroughly disappointed and starting to get a bit hungry we made our way down Chilsmini-ro towards the harbor, what Seogwipo calls, Seogwipo Food Street. While there is plenty of food on this street that has a view of the ocean, all of it was incredibly over priced. I even saw a fish listed at 237,000 won. Thats in the neighborhood of 230 dollars for a fish. Anyways, we ended up getting pizza that was decent enough and relatively inexpensive. We also decided that we had essentially had enough of Seogwipo and would be heading to Jeju City the next day.

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