Jeju Bike Tour
If you teach at an Academy in Korea, you get abysmally little vacation time. My first year teaching was a little different; the school that I taught at recognized observed holidays and we got a whopping 10 days off for Chuseok. It was pretty amazing. When I lived in Canada I worked two jobs, so I usually worked 60+ hours a week. It was pretty brutal looking back on those times now... but my jobs never drained me as much as teaching does. Anyway, for the first time in a long time I could actually take vacations! I traveled all around Korea, and went to Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan. I love traveling with friends, but sometimes it's nice to go it alone. This past summer vacation I chose to do a solo bike tour around the illustrious Jeju Island. I had made the trip before with a group, and had a lot of fun! But we couldn't stay for long on and I wanted to go back for more.
Being a generally lazy person, I did not prepare too much for this trip. I bought a tent, bag, and rented a bike. That's about it. The tent I bought is a single person, 1 door, rig from Flytop. I bought it for 100,000won from Gmarket and overall I'm pretty pleased with it. It packs down pretty small and it's light enough, and the tent itself seems pretty sturdy. I rented my bike from BMS Biking http://www.bms-hiking.co.kr/ for 90,000won for the week. There are different courses you can do, but the longest and most popular follows the coast around the island for about 234kms. Being from an island originally, I know that it's impossible to get lost if you simply follow the coast, so that's what I aimed to do.
At all of the stops shown on this maps are stamping stations where you can stamp your "Jeju biking passport". If you get all the stamps you can get a certificate of completion at the end. I didn't get the passport, but the bike rental shop did give me a map to stamp. It got wet on the first day and fell to pieces...
I flew Air Busan from Gimpo International Airport in Seoul to Jeju City, Jeju. The flight gave me some anxiety because I didn't get a confirmation email when I booked, and then I forgot the time and dates I booked for. My friend and coworker called their customer support for me (no English line and my Korean isn't that good) and got it sorted. The flight was short and I arrived in Jeju with little difficulty. Jeju City is pretty small, the population is only about 500,000, so it was pretty easy for me to just simply walk to the bike rental place. It was HOT, and my phone was being curiously slow, so by the time I reached the store I was frustrated and sweaty. The bike that I originally reserved was a little small for me, so I got to pick out a bigger bike which was extremely comfortable to ride. When you're going to be sitting on a bike for a long time, you definitely want to get something that fits your body. After some finagling we got my gear strapped down and I was ready to go.
Unfortunately this is the only picture that I took that day... which is too bad because there were a lot of pretty sights. The first stop was Yongduam rock (요두암). There's a place to stamp your passport (if you have one) and a cool lava/rock formation that looks like a dragon. Legend goes that a dragon from the underwater palace wanted to ascend to heaven, but needed the orb from the Halla mountain god to do so. The dragon stole the orb, but the mountain god shot him down. The dragon then turned to rock when he fell.
I biked about 30kms that day to my first campsite at Hyeopjae Beach (협재해변). The camping there was free and the beach was very nice! Be careful where you set up your tents though; ants everywhere. A trend that would continue in the days to come.
I ran out of data. Thankfully there's pretty good public wifi in Jeju, but it still made me nervous that I didn't have constant access to a map. I left the campsite a little later than I had intended, but I still covered a lot of ground that day. There's not a ton to see on this part of the route. When I did it with the tour group in the fall we cut inland to save time, so all of the coastal scenery was new to me. I skipped the tea fields, but I did end up biking through the cactus fields. Jeju, like most islands, is extremely windy and wind turbines are common sites along the water. Around noon I hopped off my bike to stretch my legs.
I was struck by how blue the water was, and the hues of the ocean, sky, and land side by side was a sight to see. It was also super sunny, and I ended up burning the heck out of my shoulders. I spent a full week after I got back sloughing the dead skin off. I covered the most ground this day, and I was also biking into the wind the whole time, so I was pretty pooped by evening. Without data I couldn't check to see where the next campground was, so when I rolled into a large city, Seogwipo (서귀포시), I booked a bed in a guesthouse. Because there was a team of some sort staying in the 6-bed room I had booked, they upgraded me to a single for free. Lucky me! There weren't any showers at the campground I had stayed at the night before, so it felt really good to wash off those two days' worth of sweat and grime.
I didn't have too far to go this day so I took my time getting ready and leaving the city. I used the Wifi at the guesthouse to check out my next destination, Pyoseon Beach (표선해수욕장) where I would be camping. It was only 36kms away so I dallied a bit along the route. I stopped just outside of the city at the Jeongbang Waterfall (정방폭포) and bristled at the 2,000won fee I had to pay to walk down to see it. I saw some nice scenery and passed by some temples and small villages. I stopped at a seaside park in the afternoon and napped for an hour and half to avoid biking in the heat. Being from Canada, I don't fare well in hot weather, though I've acclimated a bit over the past few years. I arrived at the beach around 2 o'clock, set up my tent in a nice shady spot under a tree (no ants), and since it was still early, I visited the the Jeju Folk village which was nearby. The entrance fee was pretty steep (11,000won), but I quickly understood the reason for the price. The interior of the place is HUGE. The ticket lady said it would take an hour to complete the tour, but it definitely took me 2 hours to wander through the park, and I didn't even look at all of the displays. They had sections built up like different kinds of traditional villages, with houses built for every purpose and people from all walks of life. They even had some hidden piggies and chickens around. I also saw a male donkey. It's true what they say btw.
When I got back to the campsite, some dinguses had set up their glamping set ON TOP of my tiny tent. For real, my tent was on their "front porch". Like, what were they thinking? I mumbled something about them being too close, tore up my pegs, and carried my tent some distance away. Unfortunately, I wasn't under the tree anymore and there were lots of ants scurrying around in my new spot. It would be an understatement to say that I was annoyed.
At this point I was pretty sure that I had somehow passed by something that I really wanted to see; Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산 일출봉). I visited it before with the group, but I was too lazy to hike it. I also had the most delicious hallabong ice-cream there that I desperately wanted to try again. Needless to say, I was elated when, in the distance, I spotted the Lava tuff cone rising out of the sea. On the way I was also fortunate enough to see some women gathering seafood along the black shores. Haenyeo (해녀) are women who dive to collect shellfish sometimes as deep as 10m below the surface without the aid of oxygen tanks. Haenyeo are physically and mentally strong women, whose independence form the core of Jeju's semi-matriarchal society. For a long time, Jeju women played the role of both breadwinner and homemaker, and they maintain much of their power to this day.
Seongsan is only 180ms high, so it took about 10-15mins to climb. You have to purchase a ticket in order to go up which was... 5,000Won maybe? I can't remember. it's free to take the path to the left towards the water. But, like I said, I was looking forward to seeing the top. As you can see from the video, the peak of the cone was shrouded in clouds, so I couldn't see much of the surrounding scenery. It was pretty cool-literally and figuratively-to walk in the clouds though.
The biking for the rest of the day was very easy, and I was able to make the next campsite in no time at all. The eastern side of the island is probably my favourite: there are lots of nice beaches, seaside towns and the scenery is somehow prettier. I camped at Gimnyeong Haesuyokjang (김녕해수욕장) on the northern side of the Island. I paid 5,000won per night for two nights to camp there. Showers are available for use, but they close at 8pm, I think? so I never used them. For the second time this trip I set up my tent in a nice shady spot and then left to do some laundry. When I cam back, my tent was enveloped by the smoke of my neighbour's barbeque. Neighbours who had decided to set up their gods forsaken glamping gear too close to my tent! So I had to move my shit once again. I discovered later that where I had moved was in the middle of an ant path. Ants everywhere.
This probably wasn't the most efficient way to do it... but on the fifth day I woke up, shook off the ants, and boarded a bus to the city. From there, I got on another bus headed to Seongpanak (성판악) where I began my hike up Hallasan (한라산). Hallasan is a volcano, so as far as Korean hikes go... this is one of the easier ones. It's the highest mountain in South Korea at 6,400ft (1,950ms). The recommended completion time is 9 hours, though it took me around 5 and half. There are a few different hiking trails, but there's only one that goes up to the peak. Seongpanak is the easier start point, as the other side is way more steep. I saw a lot of people huffing and puffing up the other side on my way down-one guy even let out a triumphant yell when he reached the top. He was pretty cool. There's a gift shop and information centre at entrance where a Korean lady yelled out to me as I was about to take off. I politely declined her help (I ran away), and made my way to the mouth of the trail. I was more dehydrated than I though; I brought a little more than a litre of water with me, and although I wasn't in danger of dying of thirst, I still became quite parched. I also foolishly forgot to charge my MP3 player the night before, so I was tuneless for the hike. Pity. A few of my friends complain that hiking Hallasan is boring... and, ok, it's not exactly as exciting as Dinosaur Ridge on Seoraksan (설악산 공룡능산)... but the peak is just so goddamn high! I reached the peak in 2 and half hours, and entered the clouds.
And I mean, the hike wasn't totally boring. Just the bits at the lower altitudes where all you can see is trees for a few hours. There's some nice views just past the peak when you start your decent. I amused myself by trying to befriend some crows. At the peak I fed one some beef jerky, and on the way down I left a trail of crackers for them to snack on. They didn't like the crackers as much as the meat, just FYI. After crossing a bridge, I came across a spring where I could refill my water bottles. I hadn't tasted water so sweet since leaving my village. I know that sounds corny, but I'm not kidding. We had natural spring water where I grew up and I haven't tasted water as good since... well until I drank that water on Hallasan.
Getting home was a bit tricky. the bus from the mountain to the city only comes once every 45 mins. I ended up getting a cab and it wasn't too expensive. It was 15,000won for a 15-20min ride. The driver definitely over-charged me, but I thought it was fair considering business must be slow for them up in the mountains. I took a bus from the city back to my campsite and went for a dip in the ocean before it got too dark.
Day 6 and 7
The next morning I packed up my things and started lashing them to the back of my bike. My campsite neighbour (not the douchy one, but the cool one) asked me if I would speak Korean. I said "한국어 찰 못해요." She gave me a thumbs up and said that what I was doing was cool. Thanks man, I think so too. I got packed up, waved bye to my new bro, and set out. This day was pretty chill. I biked towards the city, looking forward to a shower at the hostel I booked for the night. The biking was pretty easy except for this huge hill I had to bike up just before entering the city. I think you can bypass this by staying on the highway, but it was pretty fun to bike down the hill on the other side. I was able to find my hostel, return my bike, go for a walk, get cake at Starbucks, and take a shower. In the evening I went down to the shore and drank a cider while looking at the water.
The next day I ate some breakfast at the hostel and headed to the airport. When I arrived in Seoul, the first thing I did was eat an entire pizza.
If you want to tour around Jeju Island, buses are cool, I guess, but one out of one ahjummas think that doing it by bike is cooler.
Until next time, everyone!