I can’t believe it’s taken me two weeks to share my Korea trip with you guys! When we were planning our trip, I didn’t really take into account how far behind I would fall after a whole week away. We came home from Seoul on a Tuesday, and I started a new job the next Monday (woohoo!) So this past week was my first at a new job, and I just couldn’t find the time to write this post. Then when I finally sat down to write it, I realized that it was way to long to do in one go, so I am going to split it into two (probably still very long) posts.
For a little background, Shiraz and I decided to go on vacation over the May holiday to celebrate out engagement and get out of Shanghai for some much needed travel time. The last time we went abroad was nearly two years ago when we went to Singapore, so this was well overdue. We were gone for a whole week (felt like a month), and we went to Jeju Island for three days, and then Seoul for four. We came up with this theory that there are two types of vacations: they type were you do nothing (laying by the pool, drinking, massages, etc…) and the type were you do everything (eat everything, see everything, walk ten miles a day). Our Korea trip was definitely the latter. Each day felt like three. Our first stop was Jeju Island and even though we got a little unlucky with weather, it was such a great place!Jeju Island is only a one hour flight from Shanghai, and is an incredibly popular vacation spot for Chinese, Japanese & Koreans, as well as honeymooners from all over Asia. It is a volcanic island, which gives it a very tropical look. The beaches are quite rocky, but some have black sand and many have very clear water. The island is dominated by the mountain in the middle, Hallasan, which is visible from all over the island on a clear day. We had planned on climbing the mountain, which is an all day activity, but worth it for the views. However, we got really unlucky with the weather on Jeju, it rained all three days were there, so we opted to skip the mountain since it was completely obscured by clouds the whole time. We flew on Spring Airlines (which, UGH) and left realllllly early on a Tuesday morning. We got to Jeju so early that we basically had the whole day Tuesday to explore. We found our hostel relatively easily, it was a quaint little guesthouse with a very gracious host named Martin. Martin gave us tons of maps and circled places all over the island, and then wrote down the bus routes we would need to get around.
Buses on Jeju were actually really convenient. They run all over the island and we didn’t have any issues getting around. The guesthouse was in Jeju City in the north, and there are a lot of things to see on the south side, so we spent plenty of time on buses.On our first day, we took about an hour bus ride from Jeju City to Hallim Park. This is a huge park on the Northwest side of the island, surround by two famous beaches: Hyeopjae and Geumneung. The weather was not cooperating with us, but luckily Martin had given us two very fashionable yellow ponchos. We walked down the beach (pictured above) and it was actually very beautiful in the rainy weather. There was barely anyone there, so it was like a private beach experience.
We headed into the park, but it ended up being the most kitschy, touristy place I have been in awhile, which was kind of disappointing. The whole thing was set up as a self-guided walking tour, and there was a model village, a zen rock garden, and a bird “sanctuary” (which had an ostrich behind a two foot high fence, that it could definitely escape from) to name a few things. The only cool part was the couple of caves you could walk through. Jeju is covered in caves carved out by ancient lava flows. There a huge one on the Northeast side of mountain, but we didn’t have enough time to see that one.
We bused back over to Jeju City, and went out for our first meal in Korea: fried chicken and beer. Korean fried chicken is famous for a reason, y’all. SO. GOOD.On day two we woke up to more rain, so we scrapped our mountain climbing plan and hopped a two hour bus to the largest city on the south side of Jeju, Seogwipo.
This is actually a really cool city. It is very artsy, and even has a few mile long “art walk”, which is a self guided walking tour with lots of street art and museums along the way. It also has tons of waterfalls, including Jeongbang waterfall, which flows right into the ocean.
We went straight here from the bus station, before the rain really started coming down, and had a great time hopping from rock to rock trying to get the best picture. The coast of Jeju is very beautiful! We walked back towards the city in search of some lunch, and started to realize that lots of restaurants in Korea are only open for dinner, which is such a bummer because we were on the weirdest eating schedule the whole time.
We managed to find a Korean BBQ place that was open, and woman who was running the joint was so sweet. We don’t speak a word of Korean, so she was miming to us what to order, and how to eat it. We finally settled on some Jeju black pork, which is a Jeju specialty. It is really fatty and delicious.
In case you didn’t know, Korean BBQ is delicious. You cook the meat on a hot plate right in front of you, and then stuff your face with kimchi and tons of other pickled things. Make sure you get a bottle of soju (like we did) and take a few shots to wash down all the meat!After stuffing our faces, we had to walk it off, so we went to another beautiful waterfall. Cheonjiyeon Falls was in a really pretty park with the creek running through the middle. The rain had stopped, the temperature was perfect, and our bellies were full. What more could you ask for? We walked around Seogwipo for awhile in between visiting waterfalls, and found a huge market selling everything from seafood to clothes, to fruits and touristy trinkets. There were beautiful churches everywhere, and every restaurant had their seafood tanks outside the front door with everything inside from abalone to flounder to octopus trying to escape. Seogwipo was covered in the famous hallabong trees, which is native citrus fruit of Jeju. It was a really beautiful island. Our last day in Jeju was my favorite day. We went to Seongsan crater on the Southeast side of the island to hike to the top. On a clear day, you can stand on the rim and see the whole crater basin and it looks like some tropical rain forest. Of course it had been raining for days when we went, so the whole thing was shrouded in clouds. It was so eerie but still seriously beautiful, we both kept saying how much it looks like Jurassic Park! The hike to the top of the crater wasn’t too bad, it took about 30 minutes of climbing stone stairs. We were a little bummed out about the cloud coverage, I really wanted to see the whole crater. But the most awesome part was after we hiked back down, we kept going all the way to the beach that it was in the shadow of the crater’s cliff side. It was seriously breathtaking. It wasn’t crowded at all compared to tourist attractions in China, so it was really refreshing to be able to walk around and take pictures without someone being in them! We were starving after the hike, so we walked around to find some seafood. We hadn’t really eaten any up to that point and I wasn’t about to leave an island without eating seafood. We ate a stone pot full of abalone, clams, and crab, and a pancake full of scallions and cuttlefish. After a day of trekking round, it was the best tasting food you can imagine. However, to be 100% honest it wasn’t as good at the seafood in my hometown of Myrtle Beach, SC 🙂 We went out a couple of nights in Jeju to see if we could find some expats to have a beer with, and luckily for us we found some very cool people who are teachers on the island. They took us the bar with the cheapest beer around, and then to the most popular expat hangout in the city, Island Stone (go there and ask for a “dragon tear”). I love meeting other expats when abroad, it really feels like such a community, no matter where you are from being an expat bonds you somehow.
All in All, Jeju Island was a great trip! If you live in Asia and want to get away for a long weekend, I definitely recommend it. Our next stop on the trip was Seoul, which is about an hour flight from Jeju. So we sadly waved good bye to the island and went on part 2 of our Korean adventure!