Going Native Part 1: Jeju

In the Rough Guide to Korea Norbert Paxton describes Jeju as a Tectonic Pimple, that this ‘Special self governing province is the crater pocked culmination of the hundreds of islands draped of the southern tip of the Korean mainland. A traditional destination for Korean Honeymooners, Jeju has been styled in similar tomes to the likes of Bali and Hawaii. When one steps out of the terminal they are immediately confronted by the giant palms that cover the island, necessity when attempting to a pass off a Hawaiian likeness. My trip to Jeju came courtesy of the brilliant Seokjin Park of Adventure Korea. From Gimpo airport I flew to Jeju arriving late morning, even though the flight was subjected to an hours delay due to a fire on the runway at Jeju. What lay ahead was two days of craziness. Following a traditional and tasty Jeju meal at one of the islands most famous restaurants, we took ferry ride around the south east edge of Jeju. The ferry ride itself was a cultural experience, a two deck boat, we were with the ‘sleeping hikers and families who were obviously using the trip as some kind of naptime, below was where the party was at with hordes of ajumma’s and ajoshi’s swigging maekju soju and dancing and singing with a man dressed up as some kind of Turkish belly dancer in drag! Very strange and a great insight into how Korean’s like to deal with ferry trips, I was one of the the few people with their camera out snapping away at the view, the random scattered desolate lumps of island and the fisherman perched of the end, the waterfalls and some rather interesting rock formations. After the ferry we walked around the harbour to Bird Island, named because it is haven where birds are the favoured residence, the walk was less path based and a bit more cliff climbing, trying to ensure my converse didn’t slip on a sea battered rock and I fell in the water and watching aghast as either side or me Korea women jumped past in six inch stilettos. I also got to see a piece of architecture that more than reembled Portsmouth’s Spinnaker tower, a landmark that does not need an international doppelganger! The second cultural visit was to an area which Brits tend to avoid, it was to the famous Jeju rape flower fields. Rape fields? As in rape seed? Yes. The Korean’s were going nuts for them and it was easy to get sucked into the hype and despite the potential to bring on a severe allergic reaction, I got well into the fields to have my photos taken amoungst the bright yellow flowers. The opportunity was popular, to save the entire crop from being trampled on by tourists, the famer had cleverly allows a segment of around an acre available, cornering off the rest with large signs and barbed wire. Despite this, there were still bus loads of Ajumma’s clambering over the wire to have their photos taken with the unspoilt flowers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the money made from the rapeoil was probably designated on the farmer’s children’s Hagwon education.

After photos with the rapeflower, we headed to the O’Sulloc tea farm, wandered amoungst the tea plants and had a gander at the museum, before moving onto ‘Circus world’. Circus world was a circus show, unallocated seats meant it was a squashed scummage to find a good viewing point, and we found ourselves perched on the edge, inches from the action. The show consisted of some very flexible and rather young Chinese acrobats doing same crazy things involving bending, balance and lit candels, followed by a motorbike show, in which 6 full sixe motorbikes did tricks in a big metal ball! It was nerve wracking to watch. After the show we grabbed some food and headed to our pension. I wasn’t exactly sure of what a pension was although apparently the concept is rampant in Europe. It turned out a pension was essentially an empty apartment, complete with kitchen and bathroom in which you slept on mats on the floor. We dumped our stuff, before heading out to watch the night sea, sipping some maekju soju and trying out same amazing fresh sashimi that Seokjin had managed to purchase from a fisherman who had just caught the fish and was kind enough to let us experience it. I felt privileged from the first bite, it was AMAZING! He also showed us the manner in which Korean’s eat their raw fish, essentially it’s the same way they eat galbi; lettuce leaves, red pepper sauce, garlic and a dash of wasabi.

A night on the floor was surprisingly nice and I woke up feeling less bent than I had done for a while. We started off our second day, with a trek up to the Geomeun Oreum crater, the infamous pimple. IUnfortunately it had started to rain and was pretty windy. The fact we weren’t the only ones on the trail was also fun, to say the trail was packed would be an understatement, like most hiking paths during high season, there were queues midway up. It was a tough climb, weather wise, but the view from the top was brilliant and it was great to be this close to ‘the’ landmark of Jeju island. After our climb we headed to a traditional Jeju Barbecue Pork restaurant which was AMAZING, before heading off to participate in the optional activity of – horseriding, which was random and pretty standard, the best bit was watching the drunken old ladies on the horses, the poor horses! We then headed to Manjang cave, which contained the longest lava tube in the world, I’ve been in rather a lot of caves recently, in Chungju and Samcheok, but this one was by far the best, it was strange to be walking it path that was created by burning lava, and the patterns left behind were beautiful, if totally un photographical! We then flitted around the corner for some maze phone and a trip to the trick art museum, the outside was my favourite, multicoloured zebra’s are my new favourite animal! After the trick art museum, we had some time to burn, so we persuaded our guide to add two extra visits to our schedule, first ‘the mystery road’ and second, ‘Loveland’. The mystery road was a very strange optical illusion in which you stopped your coach, lifted the nadbreak and watched as you rolled UP a hill. Loveland was a little bit more intriguing. Built as a ‘sex education’ center to ‘advise’ those newlywed Koreans during their honeymood, ‘Loveland’ contains some rather graphic if not amusing statues and images of… well you can guess. It was a brilliant end to a great trip.

We flew back from Jeju to Gimpo on a packed plane full of Koreans who had come for a weekend of hiking and golf. We got back to Gimpo at around 930, and managed to find a local, ‘round the back streets’ bus that took us back to Geumchon, before we hailed a cab to Munsan. It was a great trip and I would highly recommend a visit to Jeju if you are in Korea. From speaking to others who were on our trip, going on an organised tour is definitely the best and most productive way of seeing the Island, some we knew had been before and had found travelling the island with no form of transport was tricky, frustrating and time consuming. Jeju was a great way to start off what was to be a fantastic month of great tourist activities.

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