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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.