Taking A Korea Break – To The Philippines

Tl;dr – walk, metro, airport express (non-express), traditional Korean airport, completely uncomplicated nterterminal train, flight, quick transfer at Manila, Manila airport is freaking crazy, terminal transfer but no bus for 40 minutes, scam taxi through gridlock, thought we were too late but successful check-in, 2 hour flight delay, flight, transfer stickers, bus, boat, minibus, guided walk

So it was time to say goodbye to Korea and say hello to the Philippines. We got up early, grabbed a quick brekkie and headed to the metro. We tried to buy our tickets but the machine said we couldn’t change trains where we needed to. We asked a member of staff who found an English speaking staff member and said we were heading to Incheon Airport. The first guy came back and told the second guy to tell us to get the bus. He then went away, came back 30 seconds later and told the second guy to tell us to get the metro. So we did. We were assured we could transfer despite the machine telling us otherwise.

We got to Seoul station and thankfully transferred no problem. I knew the next departure was a direct express train to Incheon and we got on the first train to arrive at the station, which said it was the airport express. Another train came and went and when we left we stopped everywhere en route. Turns out the line is the Airport Express and there’s an Airport Express Express.

Despite this we made it to Incheon with plenty of time and checked in. We were flying from Seoul to Manila and Manila to Kalibo so thought we would be able to check in for both but were informed we couldn’t. We had a 1 hour 40 minute turn around in Manila and we were starting to worry we had not left enough time.

We sat down in an area of the airport that looked very out of place in a busy international airport.

It felt quite nice and would have helped us relax about our impending short flight transfer had we not started reading about our first airport destination. “It is a nightmare” read one. “Try and leave at least 3-4 hours” read another. Oh.

We got through security and had to board a shuttle train to get to the area of Incheon airport where we would find our gate. As if that wasn’t enough our gate was once more at the very far end of the terminal. It meant we got to watch the planes go by though.

Once on our flight we had a chance to sit back and relax for a few hours. We had a plan for the other end and we were determined to give this transfer our best shot. We were out of our seats as fast as we could to get off the plane and to security at the front of the queue. We breezed through quarantine, breezed through customs and were ready at either end of the carousel to get Bertha as soon as she popped out of the hatch. It wasn’t long before Kate and Big B were reunited and we were ready to go check-in to our next flight.

We landed into terminal 3 and needed to hop across to terminal 4. Unlike our five minute shuttle train in Seoul we knew this was going to be difficult. All of Manila’s four terminals are completely separate and connected by busy public roads that are prone to epic traffic jams. We asked a lady at the bag collection how best to get to terminal 4 and she informed us we could get the free shuttle bus. Brilliant, we thought. We walked around the building to a bus transfer waiting area. We had to go through a security screening and sat down in a holding area where was no information at all, anywhere. I asked a guy when the next bus was and he informed me one had just left and the next one would be showing up in 45 minutes. We couldn’t believe it. We had 40 minutes to check-in closing and just couldn’t wait that long. We were told plan b was to head back out to the front of the terminal and get a taxi.

We went back out of the bus holding area, walked back round the front and outside the terminal. We were immediately accosted by a man asking if we needed a taxi. He then asked our flight time and, after I divulged this information assuming he was an airport employee, he began to run away from the taxi stand to the public pick-up/drop-off bit beckoning us to follow saying we had no time. I knew at that point this was not going to be a regulation taxi, nor was it cheap. But with neither the time nor know-how to negotiate we figured it best to just do whatever to catch our connecting flight. He told us it was 1500 pesos and at that point we should have just left and found a proper taxi. But this was a high pressure terminal change and we weren’t thinking straight. I therefore went back into the terminal building (through my second security checkpoint) to get cash out leaving Kate behind to reserve our taxi.

After my card was spat out by 2 machines I headed for the only other one I could see, with a queue of five or six people. The guy at the front seemed to be watching a short film on the screen and after a minute or so of him not moving I left the queue and went and found another machine. This one was happy with my foreign card because it could charge me an extra 200 pesos. But time was more important than money so I accepted the charge, grabbed my cash and found Mr Scam Taxi Man who was holding Kate hostage.

We paid Mr STM who asked for even more money again. I politely declined his request and thankfully that was fine. He shut the door and our driver set off. We travelled about 20m and got stuck in an epic gridlock. We had 20 minutes till check-in closed and this was not what we needed. 20 minutes later we had barely moved. At this point I just wanted to not have to pay anymore and get to our terminal to rearrange our flight.

When we eventually turned up at terminal 4 we escaped the taxi without paying any hidden fees and walked into the terminal (through my third security checkpoint) assuming the worst. We found the check-in desk with a bloke that said nothinh to is. We asked if it was closed and he just asked for our passports. It appeared as if he was checking us in, and shortly afterwards he presented us with 2 boarding passes. We couldn’t believe it! The flight was due to leave in 20 minutes though so we grabbed our bags and rushed through my fourth and final security screening in Manila. We found an information board to look for our gate and discovered our flight was delayed by an hour. Oh.

Terminal 4 feels more like a bus station than an airport, with rows and rows of chairs and TVs playing local channels. It caters only for domestic flights so is the smallest of the four terminals (???). Seeing as we had some time until our flight we checked out our dining options. There were two doughnut shops, Papa Johns (with no veggie option) and a canteen style counter selling food and beer. I went for food and beer, Kate made do with plain rice and a cinnamon roll.

Our new flight time came and went but we boarded the plane shortly afterwards. We were sat on the plane for about 40 minutes before we moved anywhere though. Eventually we did take off and,.bar a rather steep descent and landing, the flight itself was relatively pleasant.

On the ground in Kalibo we picked up Bertha from the solo baggage carousel and headed outside. We had pre-arranged a private transfer through our hostel so we headed towards the company’s counter where a man was delighted to show us a board with “Lane Kate” on.

The reason we had organised a private transfer was due to the logistics of the transport. Boracay is a small island 70km from Kalibo airport which means you need a bus, a boat and a bus or tricycle taxi at the other end, something we would have struggled with had our flight been on time, let alone landing so late in the evening.

To identify us we were given stickers with our hostel name which delighted us because we were staying at Frendz resort and this made us look super cool.

And unlike our introduction to the Philippines’ transport network, this transfer ran like clockwork. After a relatively smooth bus journey (bar a couple of hairy overtaking manoeuvres) we arrived at Caticlan ferry port. At the port we had to pay a couple of taxes and then an army of orange t-shirted men and women escorted onto our 20 seater boat for the short crossing to Boracay. At the Boracay side we were met by a second army of orange t-shirted men to usher us onto our correct minibus. Within minutes we were off.

As we approached our resort we were escorted off the bus by our own personal orange t-shirted guide who walked us the 3 minutes down a lane, into the resort and straight to reception! We had beaten the odds and we had actually made it!

The stats

08:55 (GMT +9) walk from B&J Guesthouse to Hansung University Metro Station: 8 minutes

09:13 metro to Incheon International Airport: ₩8,700 (£6.31), 1 hour 25 minutes

12:55 flight to Ninoy Aquino (Manila): £192.16, 4 hours 20 minutes

16:40 (GMT +8) taxi from terminal 3 to terminal 4: 1500 PHP (£25.47), 35 minutes

19:23 (2 hours 3 minutes delay) flight to Kalibo: 3164.80 (£53.75), 1 hour 22 minutes (2 hours 20 minutes delay)

21:00 bus to Caticlan: 1100 PHP (as part of complete transfer deal) (£18.67), 1 hour 17 minutes

22:35 boat to Boracay: Included with above but extra 350 PHP (200 PHP terminal tax, 150 PHP environment tax) (£5.95), 7 minutes

22:45 minibus to Frendz Resort (almost): Included with above, 13 minutes

22:58 walk to Frendz Resort: 3 minutes

Arrived 23:01 (GMT +8)

Total time in transit: 9 hours 30 minutes

Total travel time: 16 hours 6 minutes

Total cost: £302.31 (£151.16 each)

Always Believe In Your Seoul

Overview

Population: 9,971,111

Currency: Korean Won (₩)

₩1000 = 72.5p . £1 = ₩1378

Time Zone: GMT +9 (8 hours ahead of UK summer time)

13th-17th Oct

So the last stop on the Korean leg of our travels was to be the capital, Seoul. Our first planned activity in this buzzing metropolis was to have a short nap! We had arranged to meet a friend of mine in the evening. I had met 2 South Korean ladies when in Toronto in 2012 and I had arranged to meet them both but they were only available on seperate nights. So the first night we were meeting Gyusun.

When we were in Kyoto we had spoken to a Frenchman who recommended we visit the Hongnik University region of Seoul, so Gyusun was waiting for us outside the KFC at the station. Gyusun explained that this region was for the young folk, mostly 19 year olds, and we were all too old, so we walked to the nearby district of Hapjeong to a trendy beer bar called Bali Superstore. We ate Indinesian food, drank beer (or wine) and had a great time catching up.

The next day some of us felt a little rough around the edges so it didn’t start as early as we would have liked. For lunch we wondered south from our hostel and found a few eateries around a nearby roundabout. We tried to find a veggie option written in English but eventually settled for the Korean fast food chain Lotteria, where Kate could have chips and mozzarella sticks at least. I ordered a burger with a giant hash brown and mozzarella but I had accidentally ordered it without the burger, which meant it was entirely veggie friendly. So we shared everythinh in true Korean tradition.

With our bellies full we set off in search of one of Seoul’s 5 grand palaces, Changgyeonggung (창경궁). It was a very pleasant 10 minute walk to the entrance and cost ₩1000 (about 73p). The buildings are pretty but entirely empty and there was little in the way of information.

The grounds however were lovely and we had a good wander around to burn off our unhealthy lunch.

We wandered south to find an ATM that both worked for us and didn’t charge us for the privilege. We had no trouble in Busan but had found only 1 machine in Jeju (that particular bank had 4 but only one worked for us). After trying maybe 7 different machines we found one we could use for free! By this point however we had ventured a long way from our hostel so carried on walking along Jongno, one of Seoul’s major streets. It was incredibly busy with all sorts of niche shops that always seemed to come in pairs. Wig shops? One’s not enough. Artificial limb shops? Obviously you need a pair. Industrial lighting? I think you get the picture.

We eventually found ourselves a subway stop and headed back to the hostel. We were meeting Bitna, my other Toronto friend, and her boyfriend that evening so after a horrendous ordeal with 2 broken washing machines and frantically hanging dripping wet clothes, we were a little late. We were meeting at Dongdaemun Night Market, a big open space event of food and crafts. Bitna was keeping a table for us whilst her boyfriend came to find us. Again, it was great to catch up and we went round the market ro get some bits and bobs to eat. After the market the plan had been to head to BBQ restaurant but it was because I had neglected to mention Kate’s dietary requirements. So after some frantic Googling by Bitna’s boyfriend they found a seafood BBQ joint a short taxi ride away.

We had a fantastic time sampling the many seafood options: clams, mussels, octopus and plenty of sides.

We also both had the Korean traditional cocktail of someak: soju (the super popular Korean spirit) and maekju (beer). I am not a big believer in beer cocktails but it’s not bad!

The whole thing was an experience we wouldn’t have been able to have without their guidance and it was so nice spending time with another old friend and a brand new one! And Kate of course!

Day 3 was marginally more productive than the previous day, despite the large quantities of Somaek consumed. We caught a subway to get to the premier palace of Seoul: Gyeongbokgung (경복궁). Built in 1395 it is the largest of the five palaces and quite an impressive collection of structures, especially considering its surroundings.

The main gate to the grounds
The main palace building. Too big to fit in a wide angle shot

The grounds are huge and littered with various functioning buildings from living quarters to parliament rooms to kitchens. And again some lovely gardens.

We walked around the outside of the grounds in an attempt to find somewhere nice for lunch but ended up in a Chicago theme restaurant. They had a curious menu item that I felt obliged to try: cheeseburger soup. Mince, bread and cheese in a thick cheesy broth. Super unhealthy, not even slightly Korean but amazing!

After lunch we went to the National Folk Museum. They have plenty of outdoor exhibits looking at aspects of Korean life through the ages. They also have this giant pagoda.

Inside the museum we turned up just as a volunteer guided tour was beginning so we took up the opportunity and learnt all about Korean history. The first area focussed on the importance of seasons and explained that it was viewed as essential for a big city to have a river one side and mountains on the other, which was why Seoul became the capital. The second area was the life of a Korean from birth, marriage and death. Apparently the biggest buffets are thrown for the wake. This is apparently a “typical” one.

After the folk museum we popped to Gangnam to see what Psy was on about in 2012. It turns out they have a stage dedicated to the dance, despite the fact the song is aimed squarely at taking the mick out of the residents.

We wandered the streets for a bit and stopped for a drink to people watch. We ended up mostly watching a middle aged lady shoving a BBQ restaurant sign in everyone’s face. Not quite the Gangnam reaident I thought we’d see but the large number of people driving a Mercedes or a Bentley was closer to our expectations.

After Gangnam we aimed for Banpo bridge. I had seen a photo of it lit up in rainbow colours at night and thought it would be worth seeing. After a short subway ride and a 20 minute walk we discovered it was not rainbow coloured but lit up by street lamps. It wasn’t even a pretty bridge. But the park on the south side of the river Hangang was heaving with people, presumably for the pretty night views of Seoul.

Banpo bridge is on the left

We walked through the park and found a shop to get us some instant ramen bowls, something we definitely should have done before. They are like pot noodles except they’re in bowls and some have fancy thick noodles. We scoffed them down in our hostel (with a couple of pre-boiled eggs).

Day 4 Kate and I had seperate plans. I had booked onto a tour of the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone), a 4km wide, 250km long stretch of land that seperates North Korea and South Korea. Kate on the other hand was going to save her money and have a relaxing day. Normally I try and avoid tours due to the cost hikes compared to doing it yourself, but to get into the DMZ you need to be on a tour. The tour promised to take us to within spitting distance of North Korea, as well as showing us various points of interest related to the ongoing conflict between the 2 halves of the Korean peninsula.

The tour started at 8 so I was up at the crack of dawn to get me there on time. This meant I missed the free breakfast slot and was a little peckish from the beginning. Our first stop on the tour was a memorial park called Imjingak in the town of Paju, a town on the fringe of the DMZ. It is home to a number of memorials as well as the symbolic Freedom Bridge.

The end of South Korea
Memorial to families broken apart by the conflict

They also have a steam train, riddled with over a thousand bullet holes, that was ambushed during the Korean war.

This area, known as Imjingak, was probably the best part of the tour but we only had 10 minutes to look around. There was a huge amount of info on each memorial and various photos and stories from the conflict. Paju is also renowned for its ginseng festival that was going on during this time, so it was rather busy.

The next stop was the “Third Tunnel”. During the 7os peace appeared to be on the horizon, until it was discovered that North Koreans had been digging at least four tunnels to attack the south. They plastered the walls with coal to try and fool the south into believing they were mining for coal. The south unsurprisingly didn’t fall for this and, after attempting to accuse the south of digging them themselves, they eventually admitted fault and apologised, but this had ramped up the tension between the two.

At the site of the tunnel there is a small exhibit on the history of the conflict with a model of the JSA (Joint Security Area) where the two nations can sit down and talk.

The tunnel itself was our next stop. It required walking for 10 minutes down a steep slope descending 187m, walking for another 10 minutes hunched over with hard hats due to the 5-foot-high ceiling, looking at some barbed wire and a window to nothing before returning the way we came. It was exhausting and probably not worth it. But at the end we were 170m from North Korea. Photos were not allowed but I wasn’t particularly bothered.

Back up on ground level we had some time to explore another collection of monuments to unity and peace before we were back on the bus.

A memorial garden with distances to destinations north and south
Hope for world unity

Dora observatory was our next stop, a hilltop observatory where you can see into the north. They have built a village called Kijongdong, or Peace Village, that was known in the south as propaganda village as it remained empty for many years and was seen as a message to the south about the supposed quality of life in the north. It has what is officially recognised as the world’s tallest flagpole. As we experienced with Fuji, the fog ruined this opportunity to catch a glimpse of North Korean life.

We had one more stop before lunch (or so I thought): the Dorasan Station. This state-of-the-art station was built in 2002 as the last South Korean station in an attempt to connect Seoul to Pyongyang. Peace seemed to be on the horizon once more but the north refused to cooperate and it remains out of use, along with the many adjacent cargo warehouses. Due to the geography of the Korean peninsula, the south’s only land border is with North Korea and they had dreamed of international train travel.

At this point I thought the plan was lunch then back to Seoul. It was already 2pm and I was starving. Unfortunately our next stop was a 1 hour wait at an amethyst shop before arriving at an area called Itaewon at 3:30. I was then informed my lunch was a 20 minute walk away because the road was closed for a festival. And no-one else had paid for lunch so it was just me. The guide walked with me to the restaurant, paid and left. Finally, at around 4pm, I was given my bowl of bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice, veg and an egg.

It was nice, but I was far from satisfied. I trudged grumpily to the subway through the rain and returned to heae Kate had been drinking tea and chilling in the hostel and I think she chose the better option.

That evening we went back to Lotteria to stuff ourselves with hash brown and mozzarella burgers and went to a Korean craft beer pub for a couple of drinks. We picked up some snacks at a supermarket on our way back to the hostel and got ourselves to bed to prepare for a big journey to the Philippines.

The Hostel

The view from the terrace

The unfortunately named B&J Guesthouse was our base in Seoul. A family run budget guesthouse in the north of the city, relatively close to the subway, it seemed like a good base. Unfortunately, an unclean room, having only 2 toilet/shower/dry rooms and a disappointing breakfast of toast and jam meant we weren’t particularly impressed. The staff were nice, as ever and the free laundry was a nice addition, or at least it would’ve been if the machines hadn’t broken and made us late.

Leaving Jeju To Do Some Seoul Searching

Tl;dr – uphill walk, bus, flight, metro, walk

Our journey to Seoul began with two sets of very sore legs climbing the incredibly steep hill we had been delighted to stroll down on our way in. The bus stop had a lady in a little ticket office who we bought our tickets off and within 10 minutes our bus had arrived. We set off back up the island past the world cup stadium.

One super smooth bus journey later we arrived at our airport. After checking in and watching Bertha and Max clear security we ate our pizza leftovers and  headed through security ourselves. We have been at the furthest possible gate for a few of our flights now and it is becoming a rather annoying trend. We were delighted to discover we were boarding at gate 1A, but after walking through the entire terminal to reach our gate, we realised airports hate us.

We got our flight with no problems and landed on time into Seoul Gimpo. We picked up our bags and went to find the metro. We had 2 options – line 6 and line 4 or airport express and line 4. After our experience with the many variations of speed and price fron Tokyo airport we figured the airport express would be the pricier option. Turns out Seoul has adopted a far simpler approach to airport travel and it would have been the same price and quicker but hey ho, we got there. The only slight oddity with the Seoul metro is that every ticket has a ₩500 deposit attached which you reclaim at the end of every journey.

We surfaced to street level and set off toward our hostel to go have a nap and rest our weary cramping legs.

The stats

10:00 walk from Jeju Hiking Inn to New Kyungnam Hotel bus stop: 8 minutes

10:17 bus to Jeju International Airport: ₩11,000 (£7.98), 1 hour 5 minutes

13:05 flight to Seoul Gimpo: ₩60,000 (£43.54), 1 hour 10 minutes

14:45 metro to Hansung University: ₩3,300 (£2.39), 56 minutes

15:41 walk to B&J Guesthouse: 7 minutes

Arrived 15:48

Total time in transit: 3 hours 26 minutes

Total travel time: 5 hours 48 minutes

Total cost: £53.91 (£26.96 each)

Jeju-do do do, Push Pineapple Shake The Tree

Overview (Seogwipo)

Population: 155,691

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.

The hostel

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!

Jinju Jeju Journey

Tl;dr – ghost checkout, hop to the nextdoor intercity bus terminal, bus, simpler walk, monorail, no food in the terminal, scenic flight, better bus, nice downhill walk

We wanted to checkout to get our bus and so we walked down to reception. We found no staff so knocked on various doors and windows to no avail. We shouted for attention but still nothing. There was no visible key deposit box so after a few minutes we just left the key on the reception desk.

We knew our way to the bus station, mostly because it was next door, and we got our tickets with very little barging (perhaps partly due to the fact that no-one else was waiting). We got on our bus that was waiting there for us and this time we could pop our bags underneath. The bus was another rickety, hot, stuffy bus but it helped not being squished by our bags.

Once into Busan we knew where we were going, which was good because there were no useful visible signs. We got to the monorail station and jumped on. The raised track gave us some pretty good views of Busan.

A mere 3 stops later we were at Busan’s international airport ready to check in. We were flying with Jeju Air, one of Korea’s many budget airlines. They have chosen their company colour to be Easyjet orange. But unlike Easyjet you can check in a bag for free, which was a first for us.

I had picked up some pizza bread in the bus station but Kate had decided to wait to get something at the airport. We were in the domestic terminal and the food choices seemed minimal so we thought perhaps the bulk were through security. Through security there was a coffee shop and a souvenir fish cake shop selling cold fish cakes. I got a coffee and Kate wanted an orange juice and a cream cheese bagel, both of which had sold out. So it was cold fishcakes, which funnily enough Kate didn’t fancy. A bit later, once the hunger had really set in, we we went back to the coffee shop to see if they had any other options and we noticed a basket had appeared near the till with scones. So Kate got a cranberry scone (which was nice) and a sweetcirn scone (which was not nice) and a tea with whipped cream (which was sacrilege). Belly still rumbling we boarded our flight.

The flight was lovely. We skirted the southern coastline before circling Jeju to land. The views across the sea and across Jeju were very nice.

Once on the ground we found the tourist info booth who were very helpful and gave us 3 informative booklets before directing us to the #600 bus. We were staying in the south of Jeju-do (the island of Jeju) and the airport was in the north, near Jeju-si (the city of Jeju) so we had a fairly long bus ride. Thankfully the bus was new and had bags of legroom and no barging occured whatsoever!

After touring the many resorts in the south of the island we came up to our stop in the main city in the south, Saegwipo-si, where we were staying. We got off at a major tourist hotel, that we were advised was our nearest stop, and walked the 5 minutes down a very steep hill to our hostel. It was nice with gravity on our side but it was the only time on this island that the hills were kind to us…

The stats

10:45 walk from Goodstay Eden Motel, Jinju to Jinju Bus Station: 1 minute

10:50 bus to Busan Seobu Bus Station: ₩15,000 (£10.89), 1 hour 23 minutes

12:23 walk to Sansang Light Rail Station:  10 minutes

12:33 monorail to Gimhae Airport: ₩2,600 (£1.89), 10 minutes

14:30 flight to Jeju: ₩102,000 (£74.02), 1 hour 5 minutes (5 minutes delay)

16:00 bus to Seogwipu: ₩11,000 (£7.98), 1 hour 10 minutes

17:10 walk to Jeju Hiking Inn: 5 minutes

Arrived 17:15

Total time in transit: 4 hours 4 minutes

Total travel time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Total cost: £94.78 (£47.39 each)

Treading Jinju-ly Around The Lanterns

Overview

Population: 337,230

Currency: Korean Won (₩)

₩1000 = 72.5p . £1 = ₩1378

Time Zone: GMT +9 (8 hours ahead of UK summer time)

9th – 10th Oct

Our purpose for being here was Namgang Yudeung, an annual event held over 3 weeks in October where hundreds of intricate lanterns are made and erected around the Jinju fortress to commemorate their usage in the war against the Japanese in the 16th century and remember the fallen.

We had a 5 minute walk to the entrance. We paid our won and wandered in. The festival is huge and spread across the fortress grounds, the river and a small patch of land on the other side of the river.

Our first destination was across the river. To get across they installed 2 floating walkways which were a lot of fun on their own! Our destination on the opposite bank was the lantern tunnel whilst there was some daylight left. This is made from 40,000 personalised lanterns funded by individuals or groups that can personalise their message. It’s a beautiful sight to behold both in daytime and nightime and I’m sure we’re missing out on a lot of significance by not being able to read Korean.

We spent ages walking round the grounds seeing so many fantastic displays. Rather than take you through step by step I shall just show you the photos.

Some comedy lanterns were at the entrance we came in at
Giant lanterns with a big fountain display in front
Cinderella
Collection of floating lanterns with lantern tunnels in the background
Traditional tiger with top hat
Storytale lanterns
Lantern reenactment of 1592 war
Hanging lanterns around the fortress

Around the grounds there were various stages for live performances. During our time there we saw some dancing drummers, an accordionist, North Korean refugee singers, a theatre troup, techno panpipes, the can-can and a young chap playing the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean.

They had a good variety of street food available inside the grounds. I had a big battered sausage thing and a chicken kebab. Kate had eomukguk (fishcake soup) and corn on the cob. Then we both had big creamy waffles!

After all our fun it was back to the hotel. There was a Korean drama festival going on at the same time further down the river and they played livr music very loudly just outside our window. But thankfully it stopped promptly at 11:30 so we could sleep. We had a fair journey the next day.

The hotel

Goodstay Eden Motel was the only (decent looking) available room we could book! Jinju gets full up during these festivals so I think we were lucky to be staying so close to the action. Our room was equipped with a giant TV, a desktop PC, ensuite bathroom and a massage bed! Apart from the complete lack of staff presence the next morning (see the next entry) I think it was a great hotel for the price.

Bus(an) To Jinju

Tl;dr – subway, poor signage resulting in a couple of laps of the locale, rather poor customer service (and customers), fortunate bus route, hotel in the perfect spot

We had heard about lantern festivals in Korea and there was one going on in a city not far from Busan. It was in the direction of where we were heading afterwards and we figured we would stay overnight and move on the next day. It turned out afterwards we needed to head back to Busan after so we could have done it as a day trip but at that point we’d booked our hotel, so we were heading to Jinju with Bertha and Max.

We had checked out and taken them out of the hostel but only down the road to our food stops. From there we headed onwards to the subway.

We had been assured by Laura that at Sansang station it was very easy to get to the bus station. We followed the signs and came up to street level expecting to be greeted by hundreds of buses. We saw none. We walked a bit in the direction we were facing but still no buses. We turned around and saw some local buses coming from the Sasang monorail station so we thought perhaps the bus station was attached. We found a bus stop and a car park but no bus station. I knew it would have to be big as it serves all the intercity buses to all of Korea so a couple of local buses wasn’t going to cut it. We went into the monorail station to try and find more clues but our attempt was fruitless. We did however get some sweet wifi which was also difficult to get much info from. But we established it was nearer the station we had come from than the one we were in. The signage going out of the station pointed down the stairs for the bus station but neglected to mention you need to turn back on yourself at the bottom. Thankfully our wifiing had given us a heads up so we did what many others I’m sure have not and headed in the supposed direction of the bus station. We headed back the way we’d come and found a shopping centre. We walked round said shopping centre and found a small Korean sign that pointed towards the bus station (I had been practicing enough to be able to read it) and lo and behold it was pointing in the right direction!

At the bus station we found the ticket counter and while Kate waited with our bags I queued up. Having recently been in Japan where someone apologised to Kate when she walked into them, we noticed Koreans generally were less extreme with their courtesies but were a long, long way from rude. At the bus station it was a different story. The queue was more for show than to serve a purpose. If you came in from the side at the right time you went first, as long as you barged hardest. And the poor little old lady at the front, she had to barge with all her might to push past everyone to get there. Once actually at the counter I put 2 fingers up and said 2 to Jinju. She pointed at her screen for the cost, I paid, 2 tickets were deposited in front of me and as I was halfway through asking which platform she started serving the guy behind me that had shouted louder than the guy in front of him.

Once at the stop a little old lady asked if we were going to Jinju. I said yes and she seemed happy. I’m not sure if she was asking for our sake or for her own sake but I don’t think she was a local. It was us and her at the stop and when the bus turned up we were flanked from all angles and about twelfth on the bus. We showed our tickets to the driver and he pointed onto the bus. We pointed at our bags to signify we wanted them underneath and he pointed aggressively onto the bus. During this time 7 more people had barged onto the bus so the only free seats were toward the back. I managed to squeeze my bag by my feet but Bertha is a bit bigger than mine so she needed a whole seat. The bus filled up quickly and we set off once full as the stream was constant and the buses were every 10 minutes.

The bus was hot, stuffy and super old but we both managed to catch some z’s (and flies). On waking I checked where we were on the map and we were about to arrive into Jinju. I knew there were 2 bus stations in Jinju, one in the south and one in the north. The north one was much nearer the hotel but wasn’t what was written on the ticket. I was going to ask about that at the bus station but I figured for the tiny chance of an answer it would be better to avoid the shouting and bruises. It meant we would need 2 buses or a taxi but I was prepared. I followed the blue dot on Google Maps as it headed towards the south station. We came off the highway and headed north. Great! Then we turned around and went south. Rubbish. We were heading straight to the south station before we stopped about half a kilometre away. As a few people got off I saw a taxi rank and thought about getting off but thought we were better sticking it out in case we turned around. When we set off again the driver took a sharp right and then another and started to head north. We kept on heading north and crossed the river where we got our first glimpse of the dozens of floating lanterns that we’d come to see. Not long afterwards we ended up at the bus station I never thought we’d see.

I got out the trusty Google Maps once more to see how to get to our hotel. We walked out the front of the bus station, all the way to the end, around the side and there on the opposite corner of the bus station was our hotel. Not only that it was right next to the river where we would be heading for our one and only reason for suffering that journey.

The stats

14:05 walk from unknown local Korean restsurant to Haeundae Subway Station: 4 minutes

14:15 subway to Sasang Station: ₩3,000 (£2.18), 43 minutes

14:58 walk around the station and to Seobu Bus Station: 25 minutes

15:30 bus to Jinju: ₩15,400 (£11.18), 1 hour 26 minutes

16:56 walk to Goodstay Eden Motel: 2 minutes

Arrived 16:58

Total time in transit: 2 hours 40 minutes

Total travel time: 2 hours 53 minutes

Total cost: £13.36 (£6.68 each)