Jeju had long been on my travel list. With nearly 20 trips to Korea under my belt, my friends found it border-line abominable that despite visiting the country so many times, I hadn’t yet been to Jeju Island. It wasn’t just the guilt tripping that made me so keen to go, with multiple UNESCO titles to its name, Jeju Island is a place of jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one keen to go – when I mentioned my plans to visit to my sister (who’d recently returned from adventures in South America and was suffering a terrible case of itchy feet), she wanted in on the action! It was agreed I’d spend some time in Seoul catching up with friends and then we’d meet up in Jeju Island for 4 days of sister bonding, topped off with a foodie weekend in Seoul before she headed back and I carried on to Thailand.
On the Tuesday, with barely no sleep having been out since goodness only knows what time-o’clock, I made my way to the airport for my Jeju air flight to … surprise surprise, Jeju Island. I was asleep before take off and woke up on landing feeling rather more awake than when I’d left the house that morning. With only a rucksack to carry, I was off and ready to explore.
Having surveyed my Korean friends before I went, Laura and I had decided to start our itinerary from Seogwipo city on the South side of the island. Not expecting Laura until later that night, we’d agreed to meet near the hostel and so off I went in search of the city bus. Getting around proved rather easy – I took a local bus from the airport to the bus station where I changed onto one of the island’s intercity buses.
Roughly two hours later, I hopped off the bus where I thought I was meant to be…only to find I was in very much the wrong place and would need to get a taxi to the guesthouse (which ended up being roughly 20 minutes back the way I came and down towards the coast). Feeling rather worn out already, I arrived at Madam J’s Guesthouse. As I’d arrived rather early, the room was still being cleaned however the staff kindly let me leave my rucksack in their room and use their bathroom to tidy myself up.
Leaving the heaviest stuff in the staff locker, I repacked my bag and off I went. Where I was going, I wasn’t exactly sure but I did know I was hungry and so off I went to explore.
My first stop was the 천지연폭포 (Cheong JiYeon Pokpo) aka the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. The falls are one of the top spots on the island, highly rated for their natural beauty. Of course, this makes it an incredibly popular tourist spot. When I went, the place was heaving with Chinese tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I know Chinese tourism to Korea has increased in recent years but this was just comical – walking along, all I heard was Chinese. I barely saw a Korean, let alone another Western tourist. I had quite a bit of fun eaves-dropping and managed to snap my pictures sans tourists in the few seconds of shock that followed me asking various tour groups in Chinese if they could please move!
I’m not a massive ice cream fan outside of Korea but when I’m in Korea…it goes down! One of my favourite ice creams is the one below; vanilla ice cream with a layer of sweet red pean enclosed in a fish wafer (just to clarify, it doesn’t actually taste of fish). So given the rather dramatic day I’d been having and the fact is was sweltering and I’d ever so foolishly gone out in a long sleeved shirt and jeans, I figured it was about time for ice cream.
With the simple map I’d picked up from the tourist office and no specific plan in mind, I figured I’d keep walking. While I was out walking, I got the message from my sister saying she hadn’t made it onto the flight and would be flying out a day late. Feeling rather down after hearing the news and now with no reason to rush back to the hostel, I kept walking along the coast. Eventually time began to catch up with me and I stopped off in a coffee shop to rest and recharge (my phone, not me). I got chatting to a lady there who turned out to be the owner and very kindly invited me to have lunch with her and her friends – probably the most delicious 비빔냉면 (spicy noodles) I’ve ever had – and then treated me to coffee afterwards! Despite a crappy start to the afternoon, great conversation and yummy food saved the day.
I continued along the coast in search of another one of Jeju Island’s famed waterfalls; 정방폭포 Jeongbang Waterfall, which falls right into the sea. After climbing down a long, windy flight of steps to sea level, there it was. After a bit of a drought, it wasn’t quite the majestic picture I’d been led to expect but nevertheless, it was pretty cool and well worth a photo!
I eventually turned my back to the sea and headed into town, bound for the Lee Jung-seop art gallery. Renowned in Korea for his contributions to the domestic art scene, he fled to Jeju after the outbreak of the Korean War seeking safety for his young family. Sadly, his wife struggled to adapt and left for Japan with their two young sons – tragically, he’d only see his family once again before he died. The majority of his most well known pieces were produced during his time in Seogwipo and so the main street has become a walking street with murals to commemorate his work.
Inspired, although admittedly rather distracted by growing hunger, it was food time. With Little Darnley delayed a day, I realised there was one positive that came of all this. I could have Korean sashimi! (Little Darnley fervently hates sashimi). Most places wouldn’t serve me because I was alone but after striking up conversation with fishmonger and casually mentioning how nobody would serve me (and doing my best attempt at puppy eyes), he burst out laughing and told me he’d do me a special deal. Delicious didn’t even cut it. The fish was some of the best I’ve ever eaten in Korea – and I’ve eaten a lot of fish. Hunger satiated and sense of humour restored, it was time to head back to the hostel. By now, I’d got my head around the local bus system and knew (vaguely) what I was doing.
I came home to find two other girls had moved into our dorm room. With Laura absent, it would just be the three of us so in typical Korean fashion, we cracked open a bottle of soju, got the shot glasses out and the rest is history!