Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jeju Island: A second honeymoon paradise

We arrived in Jeju city on a Tuesday afternoon.  The flight there from Busan was a mere fifty minutes.  Buckle your seatbelt, drink some juice, buckle up again for landing.

After we deplaned it began to sprinkle lightly.  Dark, threatening clouds loomed overhead.  We took a shuttle to our hotel, dropped off our bags, and set off to explore the area of Jungmun

Our nearest escape from the now downpour was The Teddy Bear Museum, which provided some great entertainment.  The building is famous for its depictions of teddy bears throughout history.

I took way too many photos.  Here are a few of my favorites.

This one was especially fitting for the occasion.

After we’d gotten our fill of the bears we pondered our next move.  We inadvertently found “Chocolate Land” just down the street.  It was truly bizarre.  A big screen played “Willy Wonka,” presumably at all hours, and the popular Jeju chocolates were for sale in flavors including tangerine, cactus and pineapple.  I would hardly call it a “land,” but whatever it was, it kept us out of the rain.

Accepting that it wouldn’t be an evening conducive to a walk on the beach, we headed back towards our hotel for dinner.  The hotel buffet featured fresh fruit, salads, sushi and delicious garlic pizza.  We went to bed hoping for sunny skies in the morning.

We were happy to see some sunshine peeking through the clouds in the morning.  Stepping out onto our balcony confirmed that it was hot and humid.  This was our view.

We began our first full vacation day at the Yeomiji Botanical Gardens.  The outdoor Japanese, Korean, Chinese and French Gardens were gorgeous and romantic.

Inside we explored five unique and spacious rooms.  The Tropical Fruit, Jungle, Cactus, Water and Flower gardens were simply beautiful.  

We traveled to the top of a tower in the middle of the gardens and absorbed views of the gorgeous island.  Our first glimpse of the ocean was amazing. 

We decided on dinner in Jeju city.  I’d read about a Mexican place that sounded perfect.  However, after a forty minute taxi ride to the address I had from the book, there was no restaurant to be found.  Once we finally spotted it behind a building, we realized the place was out of business.  The review I’d read was two years old.  Oops.  Our back up plan was an Indian restaurant I’d also heard about.  Up to a PC bong (internet café) we went.  In his messy Korean handwriting, Ryan scrawled the address and phone number of the second place.  Finally we were back in a taxi with what we hoped was an existing location.  The driver turned a corner, made a call, and stopped to chat with a woman in the street.  Soon we realized the woman was on the other end of the driver’s phone.  Less than two blocks later, we had arrived.  Slightly embarrassed but happy to be in the right place, we were led inside.

Bagdad Café opened up to a cozy outdoor terrace and served some of the best Indian food either of us has ever experienced.  The restaurant boasts a chef hailing from Nepal and has been open since 2006.  Our waiter addressed Ryan as “brotha” and brought us wine and delicious items from the preset menu for two.  

Mango and Strawberry Lassis made the perfect dessert. 

We thoroughly enjoyed the food, drinks and romantic atmosphere.

The next day we explored the O’Sulloc Tea Museum.  Famous for producing green tea, the museum gave a brief history of the drink displaying various teacups and from the past and more modern ones for sale.  The museum also had a café featuring green tea cakes and ice cream.  

Across the road was the tea plantation itself, with rows of leaves to be harvested. 

After returning to the hotel we spent the next few hours at the pool enjoying drinks, snacks and each other’s company.

That evening we walked down to see a dolphin show at Pacific Land on the water.  It turned out to be complete with monkeys parading around in clothes, seals clapping for each other with their flippers, and the main attraction, beautifully synchronized dolphins who swam and flipped together on cue.  

We took the long way back to our hotel, which allowed us our first opportunity to step onto the beautiful Jungmun Beach.  

Dinner was pajeon and a delicious tofu dish accompanied by kimchi and stir-fried vegetables at a quaint outdoor Korean restaurant.  We sipped Makgeolli and enjoyed dining beneath a wooden gazebo beside a coy pond.

The next morning was a beach day.  Prior to sand and swimming, we headed to Cheonjeyon Waterfalls, which were just a short walk from the hotel.  I bought a coconut with a straw to sip its milk on the unbelievably hot and sticky day.  

To reach the falls we walked across the curved Seonimgyo Bridge, which we had spotted from the botanical gardens.  It overlooked lush greenery.  

After stepping off the bridge, we wound down some stairs to glimpse two beautiful waterfalls.  At the second we even stepped in the water to cool down.  

The iced pineapple we purchased from a vendor was also quite refreshing.

Our final destination was Jungmun Beach.  We relaxed in the sand and attempted to brave the intense waves.   They were as tall as Ryan.  Lifeguards were frantically running around in an attempt to control and herd the swimmers into a confined area. 

That evening we strolled through the luxurious Lotte Hotel, which sprawled behind our own accommodations.  The outdoor garden was complete with "Honeymoon Gate," where newlyweds are encouraged to make a wish for their marriage.  We we were considered newlyweds up until our anniversary right?

Saturday was our last full day, which we took full advantage of by renting a taxi and driver to take us around the island.  Although he spoke little English, the driver was very sweet.  He was constantly questioning our comfort and offering to take our picture.  When he noticed we were ready to leave each stop, he motioned for us to wait in the shade while he cooled the taxi down with AC.

Mount Halla, South Korea’s tallest mountain was our first stop.   A quick walk in the woods showcased the true beauty of the volcanic island. 

On our way to the next destination we stopped on Mysterious Road.  

The site is famous for the optical illusion that it defies gravity.  Things on the road appear to be “rolling up” rather than down.  We tested the theory by shifting our taxi into neutral.  We found it proved true.  Next we pulled over and fed fresh picked grass to a group of small Jeju horses.

After a windy ride through the immense green countryside we arrived at Seongsan Ilchubong, also known as Sunrise Peak.  

A steep and scenic hike led us to the top.  From there we could see the ocean and numerous rolling hills.  While we didn't manage to arrive at dawn to catch the sunrise, the views were still breathtaking.

We dined at a local Korean restaurant for lunch, where Ryan tried a cold cuttlefish soup popular on the island.
Next it was on to The Manjanggul Lava Tubes, the largest known lava tubes in the world. 

The pictures don’t begin to do the site justice.  The four and a half mile long tube is eighteen meters wide and twenty-three meters high.  Stalactites, stalagmites, lava benches and lava rafts are all around.  Intricate patterns have formed on the walls, which reminded us that we were on a volcanic island.

Temperatures dropped from above ninety degrees outside, to less than fifty after a trip down cement stairs and into the tube.  We were freezing, but the incredible and  expansive tube was worth the discomfort.

After a walk along the boardwalk in Jeju city we did some souvenir shopping.  Jeju is famous for its lava rock statues.  Dolhareubang (meaning old grandfather) statues can be seen all over the island, and are said to protect it, as well as increase fertility.  Here we are with larger ones at various points in our trip.

We bought a much smaller Dolhareubang which will appear in our house at home.  Someday.

For dinner it was back to Bagdad Café for a meal just as delicious as our first.  Although to us it was a perfect night, the weather was warm and it seemed most diners preferred to eat inside where it was cooler.   Ryan and I had the patio to ourselves.  We had a leisurely dinner, complete with wine and a hookah for dessert.  It was a delightful way to end our trip.

Sunday we begrudgingly packed our bags and relished our last moments of vacation.  I took full advantage. 

Goodbye Jeju!

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