2011.05.08 - Jeju

Jeju - a big surprise

This week was the Japanese Golden Week and although Korea does not have a similar long holiday, the Busan Yard pushed over the May 1st holiday to May 2nd (Monday) and with Children's Day on Thursday, we had a golden opportunity (!) to go on a short get-away to Jeju without missing out on too much work wise.

We drove down to Busan airport Monday morning, through clouds of yellow dust from the Gobi desert in China. It was really bad this morning. From Busan we flew the 40 minutes to Jeju and had a rental car waiting for us at the airport. After a quick lunch stop in Jeju city (where we couldn't find much activity in what we thought was the centre of town - 4 days later we realized that the centre was located somewhere completely different), we started driving towards our base at Haevichi Hotel. We soon realized that Jeju was something completely different from Mainland Korea. First of all this is a vulcanic island, so the coastline is mainly vulcanic rock with a few exquisite white sand beached here and there. The water is clean and Paula was fascinated by the colors. Another thing which immediately came to our attention was the much more relaxed traffic on the island than in Korea proper. We were able to slowly cruise the shore roads without any stress or hassle at all. Hardly saw other cars ....

According to Paula, my smile grows significantly whenever i am close to the sea!

They say that three things are plentiful in Jeju - strong wind, strong rocks and strong women!

There were flowers everywhere

One of the many small backroads

We slowly made our way to the hotel, where we were first met by a bit of a surprise ... what appeared to be the hotel was just a small apartment block and not at all what we had been led to expect! After a few seconds of disbelief, we realized that we had ended up at the staff quarters and not at the hotel itself ! Back on the road, down to the beach and there it was - Big and imposing and fantastic ! We are not normally fans of big hotels and in fact this one proved our point in general. We stayed 4 days and we didn't have one conversation with any other guest that whole time. Had we stayed at a hostel we would for sure have made friends the first day ! But the hotel was still fantastic - it was of course clean and ample, the restaurants were great and the top attraction was the swimming pools. One huge outdoor heated pool used exclusively by me. Filled with what appeared to be mineral water - no clorine and no stinging eyes. It was perfect for both soul and sprained ankle! On top of that there was both an indoor and outdoor jaccuzi - we left the indoor to the children and spent our time away from the crowds in the outside pools. It was worth the whole trip!

Rainy day at our hotel

Our hotel lobby in the evening

Next day we explored the surrounding area with it's small back roads. All houses, fields and smaller roads on Jeju are fenced by vulcanic stone walls - it makes it feel a little like Wales - just different. It is really picturesque. We also went to one of the Unesco heritage sites along the coast - an ancient vulcanic crater. Due to my not-yet-healed ankle, we were only able to make it half-way up to the top, but we were still able to enjoy the scenery together with thousands of Korean tourists.

Paula checking out the lady divers at Seongsan Ilchulbong.

This is how it looks from the air - we didn't make it all the way up.

Following the tourist map, we then went looking for the tea plantations. There was supposed to be a tea factory in the area, so we took off in search of it. We happily got detoured by several fine-looking backroads and therefore drove through hallabong and orange plantations, cementaries and small villages. In the end we found the tea factory but this was in fact only a factory and not a tourist destination. But in front of the factory there was a tea plantation where we could see the tea bushes and believe it or not - a chocolate factory ! And the chocolate factory had a small outlet and displays for the tourists, so the trip was fruitful in the end (in more than one way - the chocolate is really a orange-chocolate factory, although they also make many other fruit-chokolates).

Paula and her favorite drink!

A tea plantation next to the factory

We ended the day off by circleling the vulcano in the middle of the island. This is the highest point in Korea at about 2100m above sea level and we went through a couple of clima zones just on the road around the vulcano. The mountain (Mt. Halla) is of course a popular trekking destination for the trekking-fanatic Koreans, but this was out of bounds for me and Paula due to my condition. So we had to make do with an auto-tour. We stopped at a temple on the mountain side. This temple was different from any other temple we have seen in Korea by having a long entrance lined with hundreds of Buddhas and at the back of the temple there was an amphitheatre with maybe thousands of stone carved Buddhas. It was quite unusual.

The Buddhas aligned the entrance to Cheonwang temple

There were thousands of Buddhas at the amphitheatre as well

Paula took her place amongst the Buddhas

Next day we toured the southern shore. Here we saw a couple of waterfalls, villages and beaches before we headed inland to a tea plantation. This tea plantation was much more of a tourist park than the factory from the day before. Most of the tea bushes were still without leaves from the winter, but there were some good walks through tea mazes and a very nice tea house with good green tea. I also got to see an upside-down house and a modern tealeaf harvester, which was a treat for any engineer!

Jeju is full of museums. There are museums for everything ... citrus museum, paper doll museum, chocolate museums etc. I think we counted 3 different sex museums, which goes well in hand with Jeju's reputation of being a honeymoon destination. There are also themeparks and golf courses everywhere, but the island is big enough to leave us with a quite undisturbed and authentic impression. Maybe it was just that we stayed in the less developed coastline.

Drying sea weed on the side of the road

The beautiful scenery of the south coast was easily accessible by a walking path - as always in Korea!

Paula at Jeonbang Waterfall

The lady divers with their makeshift restaurant. At the Jeongbang waterfall

Last day we headed for the chocolate museum with a short stop at the world cup stadium. It was a bit of a surprise that 2002 World Cup soccer matches were played in Jeju, but it is so.

Paula at the World cup stadium

The chocolate museum was a popular destination for the families on Childrens' day. It was a nice museum and apparently one of the top-10 rated chocolate museums in the world. There was a lot of information - both in an easily understood English and in a totally incomprehensible English. The English was not the only thing which was a little difficult to understand. I still wonder why a chocolate museum gives out a free coffee with the entrance ticket and not a free hot chocolate. I also failed to understand why one big room was dedicated Christmas (in May) and another small dolls, bears, houses and other tidbits.

Paula and the stone face - at the Sanbangsan lava dome

This turned out to be our last stop on Jeju (apart from a desperate fast-food stop in Jeju town - word of advise ... there are several restaurants in the airport so no need to get desperate like we did!). It was a fantastic trip and we can highly recommend to spend some time there. It surely is the best tourist destination in Korea and I don't think there is anywhere quite like it in the World!

The upside-down house at the tea plantation

Overview of the tea plantation with the maze on the right hand side by the yellow sign.

Me with some hand made chocolate from the outlet

This Sunday we went to the swimmng pool in the morning, being well conditioned from our holiday, then got home and prepared a bit of food and drinks for a lovely afternoon barbeque with Marlene and Anders - the first of the season. Even Peo got a chance to enjoy a bit of the fine spring weather !

Preparing Pisco Sour .... more sugar/less pisco next time !!

The first BBQ of the season!

Maybe not the perfect place for a BBQ, but the perfect company!

The two complete families were present !

Please see the slide show below for more photos: