Currency: Korean Won (₩)
₩1000 = 72.5p . £1 = ₩1378
Time Zone: GMT +9 (8 hours ahead of UK summer time)
10th – 13th Oct
Due to our previous problems with airport food shortage Kate was massively hungry. I wasn’t far off. After a little bit of internet research we found a fish & chip shop not far from our hostel and filled our bellies with Western style fish & chips. Once sufficiently full we bought a selection of Korean booze to see which ones (if any) we liked. We got soju, rice wine, something called sweet blossom and a strawberry cocktail drink as backup. At the hostel when the owner saw we had soju he gave us a little bowl of sausage to go with it, which was very tasty (for me). Soju mixed with sprite probably won, although apparently the strawberry cocktail thing was delicious.
We were researching what to do the following day and had come to the conclusion that we needed to get a tour if we wanted to see as much as we could. But then the hostel owner told us (after seeing the tour price) that it would be a hell of a lot cheaper to just get the local buses. We couldn’t find any info online but he showed us his map on where to get the 701, which goes around the whole east side of Jeju-do (with the 702 going around the west). By suggesting this he probably saved us more money than a night in his hostel! Free night, free sausage!
So the next day, after breakfast, we set off to get the 701 to Seongsan. From our restaurant research the previous night we had found another fish & chips shop called Willala at the bus stop so we stopped in for some lunch. It was run by a Korean guy from Seoul that had lived in Australia and fallen in love with fish & chips so moved to a far-flung corner of Jeju-do (albeit with plenty of tourists) to open his own place. He told us he doesn’t get many locals (probably because the fish isn’t raw) but we were glad he was there.
After lunch we made the short hop up the hill to the base of Seongsan Ilchulbong. It is the picture postcard dormant volcano jutting out from the little village of Seongsan. We paid our entry fee and climbed the well-maintained steps up 182m to the top.
The name Ilchulbong means “Sunrise Peak” with it being at the far east point of the island, but with us not being particularly early risers we were far too late for that. On the way down (a different set stairs, they have a one-way system) the background was the whole eastern side of Jeju-do.
At the bottom there was a path off to the side where you can watch Korean ladies diving for fish, calle haenyeo, a fond tradition in Jeju. We just missed the show unfortunately but we still managed to get some great views of the whole of Seongsan Ilchulbong.
We grabbed some local fresh mandarin juice (citrus fruits are everywhere in Jeju) which was delicious. We also spotted another traditional Jeju sight: the “Granfather stones” or “dol hareubang”. They are all over the island and are one of the many symbols of Jeju. They are supposed to symbolise gods who offer protection and fertility. For the latter reason Jeju-do has become a favourite destination for Korean honeymooners.
After Seongsan it was back on the trusty 701. It turned out the view from this magical bus was arguably the best view of the Ilchulbong we’d had.
Our second destination was Manjanggul Cave. This is the largest lava tube (a cave formed by the underground flow of lava) in Jeju-do and one of the 10 largest in the world. Only 1km of the nearly 9km are accessible to the public. We had a 20 minute walk from the bus stop to the entrance and a reasonable hike through puddles and drippy celings to the end of the cave. There we found what is the world’s biggest known lava column.
We hiked back through the cave and back to the bus stop to head back to the hostel. Once on the bus we got to enjoy Jeju’s premier thrill ride – the angriest bus driver ever! The signs were there as we stepped on the bus, we told him our destination and he just shouted at us and waved us through and set off within around 3 seconds. Every time someone got on they were ignored and the route would continue post haste. If they were disembarking his foot was on rhe pedal as their foot was still on the bus. Speed bumps were sped up for, red lights meant drive faster and bus stops were approached as if he didn’t know they existed until he was at them. When it was our turn to get off thankfully it was a busy stop and people were also getting on, so our limbs remained attached, but we both let out a huge sigh of relief when our feet hit the tarmac.
After that experience we needed food and, much more importantly, booze. We headed to what we had been told was called food street. We found something called Maruara which described itself as a “salmon dining pub”. When we set foot in the restaurant we were attacked by a viscious corgi puppy! She was super cute.
The menu consisted of various plates of salmon, which suited us both. We got a vast, banquet-sized selection and at the end of it they gave us a free plate of more salmon! Not that Kate noticed, she was off playing with the dog.
The next day we had big plans to hike up Hallasan: a 1950m high dormant volcano with multiple tracks to the rim of the crater.
Only two tracks go to the peak and we went for the most popular Seongpanak trail. We got the bus to the start of the trail and were there for 10:30. We were told it was a 6-9 hour round trip so figured even if we had an hour or two to walk after sunset we had headtorches and phones and would be fine. Turns out the dictatorial national park authority in Korea have other ideas.
We saw a sign at the bottom in Korean saying something about 12:30. We thought this was the end of the time constraints and as long as we started before 12:30 all was good. At this point we were having a lovely mountain stroll.
About an hour in we saw a sign in English that told us we needed to be at the last checkpoint by 12:30 to climb to the summit. At this point we were 3.8km away, a tall order uphill but we had made good time so we went for it. 12:30 came and went and we hadn’t made it but ten minutes later we arrived at the checkpoint to a man shouting “closed” at us repeatedly. I had given up at this point but Kate was determined not to let a measly ten minutes stop us after we’d come this far. She argued with the man leaning out of his hut and eventually, thank god, he agreed we could go on up to the top. He did however point out the sign also said everyone must start their descent before 14:00 which we said was fine, figuring there was no way that everyday some bloke climbs Korea’s highest mountain to tell people to go down at 2pm.
Kate was full of adrenaline at this point and powered on but shortly afterwards the speed of our ascent had caught up with her and she decided she couldn’t get to the top by 2. I tried to be encouraging but she began to feel dizzy so she had a sit down and I powered on solo.
I got to the top at 13:45. The last bit is a gruelling path of mostly wooden steps up the side of the crater but I did it and I got myself some pictographic evidence.
At 13:50 the man I was sure wouldn’t exist began shouting at people and pointing down the hill. I was a bit shocked they were this pernickety about your time on the mountain. I had powered up this mountain in just over 3 hours due to their time constraints and it had almost broken Kate. I’m sure they feel they are saving lives but we weren’t fans.
On the way back down I went a little slower and took in the views.
Once I’d met up with Kate and we’d enjoyed our lunch we set off to the bottom. Our friend at the hut was directing us down the mountain to ensure none of us stopped for a drinks break or anything dangerous like that. The walk down was not much quicker than the walk up, such was our pace on the ascent, but also the paths are largely craggy volcanic rock deposits and more difficult to traverse on the descent.
At the bottom we were pooped. We made it down just before half 5 and got our bus back to the hostel. Thankfully this bus driver was in less of a rush and we got back with our nerves intact.
We got ourselves washed and changed and set off for food but struggled to find any English menus as easily as the previous night. We eventually stumbled across a Mr Pizza and went for it. The unlimited salad bar and free refills were a big plus and when the pizza came we only managed half. But we needed lunch for our journey the next day so we asked them to bag it up. We got back just after 9 and decided, after our epic adventure, that was late enough.
The next day we were off back to the mainland.
Jeju Hiking Inn is a fairly large family run venture in the Saegwipo-si in the south of the island with a roof terrace overlooking the bay. We got ourselves an ensuite double room for less than we were paying for dorms elsewhere, including a simple breakfast of eggs and bread. The room was simple and small but sufficient. The owners’ English wasn’t great but they spokr enough to get by and they were super helpful! With the money we saved by not going on a tour the room almost paid for itself!