Saturday, January 2, 2016

KOREA Day 2: Jeju ~ Western Loop

​Day 2: The Western Loop of Jeju Island
Jeju island is a very scenic destination that is not only popular with foreigners but also the local domestic tourists.  Its weather was relatively milder as compared with the northern parts of South Korea, and in many ways, its pace of life, slower.
On this first proper day of travelling on Jeju island, we would traverse the Western parts.

The Story of our Korean Trip
Click on each of the following to go to that day.  Or just read on..
KOREA Day 1: Singapore - Seoul - Jeju.  A brand new experience!
KOREA Day 2: Jeju ~ Western Loop
KOREA Day 3: Jeju ~ Eastern Loop
KOREA Day 4: Jeju ~ Southern Bumps
KOREA Day 5: Back to Seoul!
KOREA Day 6: Jisan Forest Resort
KOREA Day 7: It's just so Seoul ~ a tour of the Old Palace & Myeongdong
KOREA Day 8: A Christmas Eve of History and Academia...
KOREA Day 9: Where is Hangang?

Jeju Island

Jeju-do 济州岛 is a volcanic island about 2.5 times the size of Singapore, off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula.   Jeju-do was formed almost entirely by lava laid down by volcanic eruption. In the center of the island is Hallasan (Mt. Halla), the highest mountain (1950m) in South Korea. Due to years of volcanic activities, Jeju island and its lava tubes (cavelike formations formed when erupting lava cools) as well as lava formations at the coastal region, gave Jeju its characteristic beauty.

The Yi Maos and Santa Claus Dol-Hareubangs in Spirited Garden, Jeju.

Koreans, Japanese and Asian newlyweds flock to Jeju-do in hordes for their wedding photographs during the milder seasons, and the island is bustling with tourist activities during these peak periods.

One thing must be said about Jeju is, as much as the island's natural beauty, the Jeju women have made a name for themselves for their beauty.  The most interesting women on the island are the haenyeo, the women divers who dive for seafood and seaweed. Although they're a dying breed, their diving skills are legendary. Many of these women divers are in their 70's and are still actively working.

A Dol Hareubang from atop Sanbang San 山房山, Jeju.
From Frommer's: "Although the island is now a vacation spot, it has a long and bleak history. In 1273, invading Mongols used the island as a training ground for their horses. It later became the site of a prison for those banished from the royal court, and subsequently a fort to protect the rest of the peninsula from Japanese pirates. What little the natives could produce in horses, tangerines, and abalone were taken as tribute taxes for the king.
The Korean War brought more trouble to the island as hundreds of refugees flocked here, taxing its already scarce natural resources. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the island began its transformation into a tourist destination. The main road was widened, and transportation improved with increased arrival of boats and planes. This relatively recent modernization and influx of people has brought the island more into the mainstream. Yet signs of the island's traditions remain, not only in the stone walls surrounding humble houses, but in the open and trusting personalities of the people who populate the island."

Travelling around Jeju in winter?

Jeju's sights were conveniently sectioned into three: The Western, the Southern and the Eastern.  Each had its own unique features and own geographical-historical significance. 
My original plan was to simply sign up with Yeha Tour bus for their three day-tours.  But a fear from certain sectors in the troupe, of being inundated by northern tourists put paid to that idea.  Instead, Kairen managed to find an English-speaking driver, Mr Park Tae Ho, a very experienced 60 year old driver-cum-guide who, with his immaculate service and knowledge of the whole place, drove us around Jeju.  He would meet us at 9am at our Guesthouse and bring us to all the sights we wanted to visit and bring us back by around 5pm.
For first timers to Jeju who wished to go semi-free and easy, this was a highly recommended means of touring.

Early morning FREE breakfast of omelette and scrambled egg, courtesy of ME!
Yes, yours truly woke up just before 8am to come down to the nice little kitchen next to the lobby and started whipping up some eggs, in my half-awaken state.  Fann took a nice shot of me with my tousled hair.  I really appreciate the free and easy nature of Yeha.

So on this day, our itinerary was:
  • Hallim park
  • Suwolbong weather station
  • Sanbang mountain
  • Spirited garden
 Click on the image below to see our Strava recording of this day's trip.

Mr Park Tae Ho, our wonderful Driver-cum guide.

Our 60 year old Triathlete Driver-cum-Guide Mr Park Tae Ho, and yours truly here at Dongmun Beach, Jeju.

"Good morning, Kairen, Mr Lim!" greeted Mr Park Tae Ho cheerfully when we first met at the lobby of Yeha Guesthouse. 
He drove a comfortable and new 8-seater MPV for our family.  A steady car. It took to the good roads in Jeju well and soon we were on our way along the famed Coastal Roads, taking in the full view of the Jeju shoreline.  The heater in the car was so good that we were insulated from the cold outside.

"The sea of Jeju is so nice, and the weather is so good.  Many people come to Jeju to do Triathlon, and I (myself) did ten years of Triathlon when I was younger!" happily announced our jovial driver-cum-guide.  And he was equally thrilled when he realised that we were a little into Triathlons and stuffs too.

Hallim Park

So our first destination for the morning was this serene park in western Jeju called Hallim Park.
From VisitKorea site: "Hallim Park is one of the most popular tourist spots on Jeju Island, located 33km west of Jeju City and Mt. Hallasan along the beach in Hallimeup. It faces the pleasant scenery of Biyangdo Island, Hyeopjae Beach and Geumneung Beach. The park was established on barren land in Hyeopjaeri, Hallimeup, then covered with tons of earth and the planting of assorted subtropical plants began in early 1971.
Jeju lava rocks.

Hallim Park, reaching almost 100 thousand square meters, has a variety of gardens that can be enjoyed in any season. Visitors can enjoy checking out Palm Tree Road, Jeju Stone and Bonsai Garden, Water Garden, Subtropical Botanic Garden and much more. The most famous tourist sites in Hallim Park are Hyeopjaegul and Ssangyonggul Caves, known to be the only two-dimensional caves in the world. In addition, a folk village, children's amusement park and outdoor resort facilities make it enjoyable for both children and adults."
Click to enlarge. [Taken with my trusty tripod]
The morning was still just as cold.  And for some strange reasons, Questal and Fann were very sensitive to the cold wind of Jeju.  And walking along Hallim park, I was so amused when I turned back and saw them huddling in the cold.

Ah Sing was so much more steady this morning.  The cold did not affect her as she was visibly thrilled by the Park.

It was early morning and it was cold.  And our brains were still struggling to wake up to the Jeju-ian day.  So when Hallim Park came, it was like a transition from dreamland to the real world.  I was not sure how many of us were fully awake, but I knew I was still kind of dazed from the Soju of the previous night.  So walking became merely a mechanical exercise, and Ah Sing was clever to have taken shots of the landscaping of this park.
[Photo: Ah Sing]
Fann was up to her usual nonsense again, making Questal duck behind the sign and making a joker of themselves.

"OK Kairen, Questal... you both got to just stand over here and let me take a series of photos of you both.  It's such a lovely wintry scene here. You cannot get this any where else!" I instructed, trying to shake the sluggishness out of my brain.
And the sound of the shutter sort of woke me up.

... and my eyes started working.  And started looking for subjects.  Curiosity got the better of the children as most of them started exploring on their own, looking at different features that interested each of them - Ah Sing at the birds and peacocks, and Fann at anything that was GREEN.  Just green.

Click to enlarge the Map. [Photo; Ah Sing]
Mr Park brought us to this lava cave called Ssangyong caves (Two-dragon caves).  At first we really didn't know what to expect.  But he gestured us on, and urged us to walk down into the tunnel.  And my it was one of those rare opportunities that a group of Singaporeans had to walk right into the belly of a naturally-formed laval tunnel, fully furnished with stalactites and stalagmites of lava origins.  

I believed the enormity of this wonder of Nature hadn't hit us when we first stepped foot onto its rocky steps.  But as the darkness fell away and our eyes acclimatised to the low light environment we began to pick out structures on the ground and rocky protuberances from the roof, as well as repetitive patterns on the walls.  It was winter, and surprisingly there wasn't many tourists to the Park and we really had most of the compound to ourselves.

"Take your time.  30 minutes. Walk in and see," encouraged Mr Park.
This was what I came to Jeju for.  These wonders of Nature.  They were precisely what I told Kairen that I wanted to see when we first started planning for Jeju.
At the entrance to SsangyongGul. Click to enlarge big big.
Not far into the SsangYongGul.. [Photo: Fann]
The cool air gently brushed our skin as we trodded gently on the wet ground.  I had to really jack up the ISO of my rangefinder.  I could not care less about the graininess.  I just wanted to capture the shot.

It was not every day that we were able to coax the smile out of the face.

And the Green Penguin was thrilled by everything that was rock-like and vaguely greenish... her favourite colour!

This was a great shot of the entrance to the SsangyongGul taken by Ah Sing with her iPhone.  I love the way she framed the shot.
[Photo: Ah Sing]
It wasn't every day that these two young ones could sit down on a bench somewhere on a wintry island and enjoying some cold air among the pine trees and greenery.

... and to find themselves framed up in a most appropriately shaped Bonzai.

While Serene and I were fascinated by the uniqueness of the Dol Hareubang, the ever-present rock idol in Jeju.  This one with his right hand up was a Scholar.
[Photo: Fann]

Jeju Folk Village

Honestly by the time we reached the folk village part, I was quite lost.  And Questal was, as always being the very conscientious time-keeper, urging us to keep up.  But I was really quite happy to see some 汉字 HanJa.

And I just had to search hard to find the frame to capture Ah Li as she captured her Yi Maos.

And here the 12 year old Green Penguin was happily sitting on a horse with the 15 year old Pink Cheer Cub.
"Uncle, my dream is to sit on a horse in Jeju," said the Green Penguin.

Up till this time, our trip was still pretty tame and pretty peaceful.  And the peace of the Park certainly added to the enjoyment. It was a surreal experience.  I wasn't expecting anything like this.  But then again, I didn't know what to expect.
Still, it was a nice time walking in this Park.

We were gently herded out of Hallim Park and driven to our next destination.
Now this was an interesting one...

Suwolbong 水月峰 Observatory

"This is Sulwolbong trekking trail," Mr Park kept saying.
I guess this Suwolbong must be some famous trekking area.  However on this nice cold morning we arrived we quite literally landed on gusts of strong winds tearing at us.
We didn't know what to do until Mr Park pointed out a pavillion some where up the slope.  We walked over and found to our amazement a weather station.
Both of us atop Sam Gumburi... windy and cold.  [Photo: Ah Li]

Yes, this Suwolbong Observatory is indeed the landmark of this place.  However, what interested us more was the vast stretch of high grasses surrounding it.  It looked like lalangs of the tropic.  But I didn't know what was the name of this grass. But what we knew was, in the wild, howling wind, the sway of the grass was creating beautiful waves.

And we couldn't help but immerse ourselves right in the middle of the grassland.

The temperature was cold.  The wind was colder.  And we couldn't last long.  Questal and Kairen were clever.  They didn't even attempt to come up to the Korean lalang fields.

[Photo: Serene]
A short while, we descended and Serene was thrilled to see a stall selling Kao-lat, although the Korean version of it.  So we directed Ah Li to do her job.

[Photo: Ah Sing]
Abalone Lunch at Gang Nam Restaurant

"I will bring you all to have fresh abalone steam boat for lunch," announced Mr Park.
Now that sounded really exciting.  Abalone itself had always been a delicacy that most of us enjoyed and treasured.
As we sat down on the long table, and after Mr Park called out and had a few jovial quick exchanges with the lady boss, the dishes kept coming up.  With his deft fingers, he shucked all the fresh abalone and immersed them in the steaming kimchi soup.
Wow! Real, fresh abalone for the very first time in our lives!

That wasn't the only thing.  A string of seafood kept appearing - prawn, shellfishes, and all.

Here is a VIDEO of Mr Park preparing the fresh abalone for us

This was that memorable scene of all of us blur blur seated and just being served.

So how was the abalone?

Honestly, we had spent our lives eating preserved and brine-soaked abalone in cans such that our palates had become so attuned to the taste and texture of these canned delicacies.  When we were presented with the fresh version, our taste buds could not detect the all-so-familiar salty sensation and the fresh juicy abalone landed blandly on our tongues. 
But hey, at least we could say we had tasted real, fresh ones!

Sanpangsan 山房山

[Photo: Serene]




[Photo: Serene]

Spirited Gardens


[Photo: Ah Li]


[Photo: Ah Li]
[Photo: Ah Li]

[Photo: Ah Li]
The Jeju Thinker


Kimchi Jjigae


Wang bari (王)person- refers to men. They usually do nothing.
Neng Bari (能)usually refers to the capable woman at home.
Tong Bari (young boy)
Pee Bari (young girl- flying high)
Seongsan 城山 Ichul 日出(sunrise) Bol (peak)