There were no fireworks. No hot dogs. No parades with small children waving red, white, and blue flags. However, we still managed to have an amazing Fourth of July in Korea!
Along with a group of friends, Jared and I ventured to Jeju island, located off the southern tip of South Korea, for a mini Independence Day celebration. In 2011, Jeju Island was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and is also a World Heritage Site. Jeju has been called “The Hawaii of Korea” and is a popular vacation spot in Asia. It was formed around 2 million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions; it last erupted in 1007 A.D. Hallasan (Mount Halla), the main volcano, is located in the center of the island and is the highest point in South Korea. Hallasan is a shield volcano; this means that it contains highly fluid lava, which travels farther than other types of lava. The lava continually builds up to create a shield-like shape around the volcano. All that lava added up to create Jeju and its absolutely beautiful scenery. As an island, Jeju has some breathtaking coastal spots, which I will focus on sharing in this post!
We flew out on Thursday using Jeju Air (same airline we used for our Kyoto trip). Flying here is so much easier than in the US. I had my carry-on bag loaded with toiletries (didn’t have to pull them out), and we didn’t have to take off our shoes. Our flight was super cheap (₩550,000 round-trip for two people), and took just one hour. We rented a car because we wanted to have the flexibility to come and go as we please. There are no subways or trains on the island, but there are buses and taxis. Our car rental was only ₩208,000 for 4 days! We did have to fill up on gas before we returned it, and that price hurt. We have only bought gas on the military posts since we have been here, and it is fairly comparable to what we would pay in the US. It cost almost ₩80,000 to put half a tank of gas in our rented Hyundai Sonata. Ouch. But, there isn’t a better way to tour Jeju. We stayed in Seogwipo, located on the southern side of Jeju. If you stay there, drive carefully. There is a crazy four-way intersection (I don’t know the names of the roads though); there is no stop sign, no traffic signal, no caution signs, no yield signs- just a pure free for all. It’s a fairly busy intersection and rule seems to be “grow a pair and go for it.” Each time we drove through it there was a collective “EEEEEHHH” in our car. Our hotel, Little France, was nice, but I found a few things a little unusual. Instead of travel size toiletries for me to steal, the hotel provided large family size bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a half used bar of soap. The room also had a clean (I think), but previously used hairbrush and shower shoes for guests to use. I think this is normal in Korea, and just germaphobic Americans would find this odd.
After flying in, driving to Seogwipo, and getting settled in our hotel, we were ready to start exploring. Before the trip we had been very excited about visiting some of Jeju’s many beaches; unfortunately, it was cloudy and raining during our entire visit and we were not able to enjoy a sunny beach day. We didn’t let the weather hold us back though! Armed with our rain jackets and tour books, we set off to see all that Jeju had to offer. We started at Saeyeon-gyo and Saeseom, which were just a quick walk from our hotel. Saeyeon-gyo is an impressively modern bridge that looks over a fishing harbor and leads to Saeseom, a small uninhabited island. We got our first glimpses of the sea and lava rocks. It was overcast, but still an impressive scene. At least it was to me; I am always a little mesmerized by the ocean. We crossed the bridge and followed a small trail around the island. There may have been a point when a few of us crossed a fence in order to climb on rocks and get closer to the sea. It’s a lot easier to pretend you don’t know what a sign says when you are in a foreign country. It’s not a vacation if you don’t break some rules, right? We took so many, many pictures that it was hard for me to choose which to share on here, but here are a few shots from Saeseom.
We visited Seongsan Ilchulbong, which is located on the eastern side of the island, on our second day in Jeju. It was formed around 5,000 years ago (fairly young in the geology world) by hydrovolcanic eruptions. The eruptions formed a crater that tourists can hike up to see. The hike consists of several sets of stairs, but isn’t too long. I saw several Korean women doing the hike in high heels; although I wouldn’t be able to manage that, it was interesting to see that it is possible, though not practical. I always wonder if they just don’t feel the pain, or if they are immensely tougher than I am. The view at the top is well worth the effort it takes to climb up the steps. The crater is filled with lush, bright green plants and then suddenly drops off to the ocean. Looking away from the crater provides views of the coast and a small town below.
The third day of our trip led us to to Jusangjeollidea on the southern side of the island. This bit of coastline has basalt rock formations that are shaped into hexagonal or rectangular columns. It’s similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (which has been on mine and Jared’s bucket list for a long time). The rocks were formed by lava cooling very quickly as it poured into the ocean. They may just be rocks, but they are stunning rocks. This was also our rainiest day, and the large waves crashing into the rocks made it even more impressive. There is a overlook to view the rocks, but I did not enjoy it much as I kept getting poked by umbrellas. (As I was in a rain jacket and had no umbrella, I felt that everyone should follow that same example.) I was much happier when our friends discovered a deserted rocky beach nearby. We could still see the formations, but it was far less crowded. The waves were crashing into the beach pretty forcefully, so of course we decided to climb on the rocky cliff over looking the ocean. Earlier in the trip I told our group about a story we read when we visited Vernazza, Italy. A woman from the US was in Vernazza on her honeymoon and was standing on some rocks by the sea; a crazy wave came and took her just as her husband snapped a picture. We also remember the old song “Clementine,” in which Clementine trips, falls into the ocean, and is never seen again. Neither story deterred us, but our friend, Kat, who once played Clementine in a school performance, had a close call with an uber-powerful waves decided to show off by splashing up to our area. She scampered away pretty quickly after that! Despite the rain, this was my favorite place that we visited. In fact, I think I may have liked it more because of the rain. The rain made the waves spectacular and kept away other tourists.
There’s a fisherman at the very edge of the cliff. That’s dedication!
Again, this just covers our Jeju activities around the coast; there is so much more to our Independence Day! Stay tuned to read our adventures with the local cuisine, how a group of locals challenged us in a bar, and the “coolest” place in South Korea!