flying to the "Island of the Gods"
05/12/2009 - 05/14/2009
If you're a fan of Korean dramas, you've probably already heard of Jeju Island - it's the setting for the rich and elite to jet to when they're tired of glamorous city life. I've seen Jeju Island before - at least through the camera lens - in dramas like Goong, Boys over Flowers and My Girl, so I was pretty excited - maybe we'd see some hot Korean movie stars!
Anyway, with these high expectations we arrived in Gimpo International Airport and checked in at Jeju Air, which has a cute logo of winky face with a J for a nose. Our flight was at 7 am, so as soon as we passed through security we were taking a bus over the tarmac to our plane, and not long after that we were passing over patchworks of fields and groves, and then landing at Jeju Airport.
Jeju-do is off the southern coast of S. Korea, and the weather was perfectly balmy and warm. Outside, we were driven through Jeju City to the tour bus that would be taking us around to see various sites. In general, I'm not a fan of tour buses, but... well, I'm not a fan of them. Anyway, there were quite a few buses around, and we were a little confused at first. Then, we saw our bus - full of young, trendy-looking Asians - and started boarding. "错！错了!" They said as we stepped on. Hmm... I've only taken 1 semester of Mandarin, but I know that means WRONG! Finally SJ asked around and we got onto our real bus - which happened to be fully populated by visor-clad ahjummas (middle-aged women). Hot Korean men? No where in sight!
I know, I'm being superficial. And even though there was quite an age difference and a language barrier (except for SJ) the women were very friendly towards us, fueled by their curiosity. The tour guide was a younger woman, very energetic, who was constantly talking about the island and cracking jokes - she must have been hilarious because the bus would erupt in laughter every so often. Here are a few jokes that SJ translated for us:
- Q: What kind of crime is it if a woman enters the men's bathroom?
- A: .... Arson!
- Q: What kind of crime is it if a man enters the women's bathroom?
- A: .... Possession of an illegal weapon!
Which I thought was pretty funny, but it's kind of sad to be laughing at a joke 5 minutes after it's been told! Anyway, our first stop of the day was at Halla-san, the main mountain of Jeju Island. It's a broad, green ridge of a mountain, not very high but fairly visible from most places in Jeju. We only spent 15 minutes there before moving on to our next stop, a concrete building incongruously called "Happy Town" where we watched a Chinese acrobat and motorcycle show. After that, we took a tour of a mandarin orange orchard, which Jeju is famous for, and got imitation ginseng peddled to us. Another reason I don't like tours - they always try to sell you stuff!
Lunchtime was next, on a particular Food Street by the coast which we would return to several times throughout our stay on the island. For this first lunch, we had traditional Jeju-do fresh fish in a hotpot style, very tasty! We ate everything within 10 minutes, because we were hungry and also because we wanted to get some pictures outside by the coastline. The water was gorgeously clear and in the distance were the other small islands, with little caves.
We must have been really entranced by the scenery, because the next thing we knew SJ was getting a phone call from the tour guide - we were late! Unfortunately, this became a habit with us.
Next was a boat tour of the islands surrounding Jeju. I'll admit that I didn't get much out of this since everything was in Korean, but it was a beautiful day and the simply having the fresh breeze and seeing the numerous rocky islands, many with hidden little coves and caves, was relaxing in and of itself. On the lower levels of the boat, you could get snacks or simply lounge in the main area, where people were belting out old Korean songs on a karaoke machine. Pure, pure entertainment.
After we disembarked, our next stop was Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, with lots of little snack stalls outside. We took a picture with a fertility statue, the "dol hareubang", which are scattered across the island. Supposedly, if you rub its nose, you'll have sons when you get pregnant. Then we continued up the river towards its source, the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. It was a very scenic approach, with stepping stones across the river and lots of lush greenery on either side. Actually, I felt like the approach was better than the waterfall itself, which was a somewhat stingy trickle and swarming with tourists and schoolchildren.
I couldn't really believe that the day wasn't over. I felt like I'd already seen so much that I'd reached my saturation point and any new experiences would just slide off like water on a duck's feathers. But wait - there's more! We stopped at Mini World and Miniature Theme Park, an attraction with mini versions of famous world architecture. We had lots of fun posing with the Tower Bridge, Easter Island statues, and other landmarks. Interestingly enough, they also had life-size models of cartoon and video game characters like Winnie the Pooh and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But it was here that we discovered something terrible - my camera was running out of batteries AND I forgot the plug adapter for my camera charger in Seoul! For someone who can only remember something if I take a photo of it, this was painful news indeed. And the most painful part was that our next stop was at the Glass Castle, which is terribly photogenic with all the sparkly glass sculptures and decorations. We spent most of our time in the outdoor section, which had a garden of glass, glass musical instruments, and a maze of glass crystals. The late afternoon sun set all the glass afire with brilliance. It got so bad that we actually bought a disposable camera! But the main draw of the Glass Castle were the glass restrooms, which were placed outside for all to view. The premise of the restrooms was that when you closed the door and locked it, the glass would become opaque to prevent peeping. We tested this out - thumbs up in approval!
After the Glass Castle, we split up from the rest of the tour and returned to the Food Street where we had a delicious dinner of black-haired pork, grilled tableside. It was so fatty and delicious that I didn't care when SJ told me that these pigs were also famous because they were fed on human excrement! Another good thing about this restaurant was that they had a western-style plug adapter, so while I ate they could charge my camera. I was really happy about this, even though I couldn't charge it fully! We bought some instant ramen from the corner store to eat for breakfast, and arrived at the Euro Resort Pension, where we would be staying in Seogwipo. It wasn't really a hotel, but more like a cluster of little apartments or guesthouses. Our little apartment had a full kitchen and living room and a bedroom with two blankets, and a cute little balcony with a view of the sea. It was already dark when we checked in, so we settled in for the night, ready to wake up tomorrow for what would no doubt be another action-packed day on Jeju Island!