After about a week in Seoul, we flew down to Jeju Island, the largest island in South Korea. I’ve heard it called the Hawaii of Korea. It also used to be the main honeymoon spot for South Koreans, though I’ve been told that’s changed in recent years.
What in the world were we doing on Honeymoon Island with two little boys? Attending a conference, of course. You know, the “real” reason we went to South Korea…
We arrived on Jeju-do very early on a Tuesday morning. UNfortunately, we had to take a flight that left at 6:55am from Seoul Gimpo. Yikes. Fortunately, the flight is only an hour, and the Jeju Airport is extremely easy to navigate.
We found our bus quickly, paid 5,000W for the adults (about $4.50), and listened as the stops were announced in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. Over an hour later, we were standing in the lobby of the Tae Gong Gak Inn and Guesthouse. I’ll write a separate review of our time at the TGG, but suffice it say, we hit the jackpot with this place.
Our room wasn’t ready (no surprise, it was barely 9:30am), so we rearranged our belongings and hopped in a taxi to take us to the main event, Halla-san.
Four trails are open for hiking; only two lead to the top. There may be more trails on Halla-san now, but at the time of my visit, only four options were available.
The park people have strict opening/closing hours for trails in order to make sure no one is left on the mountain after dark. Because Tuesday was the only day we could hike and we weren’t starting out at 6am, we had to take the shortest route.
I debated which of the two shorter trails to take, consulting an “expert” on the TripAdvisor forum for advice. I settled on Yeongsil because we could take a taxi pretty far up the mountain which would help us to abide by the trail time rules. The taxi fare was a bit steep (25,000W), but I was prepared for it thanks again to my friend on TripAdvisor.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the swaying back and forth in the car on the switchback route up the mountain. Neither was T-Rex. I heard lots of whining, followed by “my stomach hurts.” And you can fill in the blank on what came next. I’m sure our taxi driver was none too pleased that I was cleaning up remnants of Korean Dunkin Donuts from his seats with crumbly tissues.
(No haters on the Dunkin Donuts breakfast – it was the ONLY place with edible food open at Gimpo before our flight. That’s saying a lot, I know. And we ate bagels.. only bagels…)
We kept the car window open the rest of the way up the mountain which, thankfully, wasn’t too far.
At the trail head, we bundled up. The temperature was 7C or 9C (I can’t remember exactly), but the wind was absolutely ferocious.
A note about Yeongsil Trail: The trail grade for our portion of the trail was A, difficult. I asked my trusty TripAdvisor know-it-all what “difficult” meant. I had read all over that one could hike Halla-san in tennis shoes, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? He posted pictures of the “difficult” part. It looked like stairs, and so we decided to go for it.
Yes, the “difficult” part of Yeongsil Trail involves stairs. But, you should know that that’s not part of the trail, that’s almost the whole stinkin’ thing. And, they’re mostly made of uneven lava rock, though some places do have wood planks. Be prepared – you CAN do it, but your legs are going to be shaking more than a Riverdance concert on the way back down.
Up we went, for two hours. Doc Sci carried Screech on his back, and I held T-Rex’s hand. I can still hardly believe it, but my almost four year-old made it the whole way with only a handful of piggy-back requests. Yeongsil does not go to the top, but it’s pretty darn close.
While T-Rex did not whine (much), Screech was having a fit. I wondered why on earth he was making such a fuss when he was getting carried. up. a. mountain. When we reached the “top,” I found out. The poor thing was REALLY cold.
Since Screech wasn’t moving around, he had no way to warm up or shield himself from the vicious wind. We paid a ransom for some super bland ramen noodles and funky instant coffee. Now Screech can say that he not only tried ramen in South Korea, but at the top of the highest mountain no less.
I found some wool socks in my pack which we tied around his neck like a scarf. I also found some athletic socks which we put over his shoes and then tucked his pant legs into the excess. Seriously stylin’.
(Why in the world did I have TWO extra pair of socks in my pack? Sorry, couldn’t tell ya. I’ve no idea.)
At the bottom of the trail, we debated our options. One, hire a taxi to go back to the hotel. That would be another $20+, and I wasn’t sure how much money I had with me. Two, walk another two hours down to the bus stop. That would be torture for all involved. Three, pray, and hope we could hitchhike to the bus stop with someone respectable.
We went with option 3.
No, I do not normally consider hitchhiking, kids or no kids.
While refilling our water bottles, Doc Sci used our girl bait (aka T-Rex) to get the attention of two twenty-something females. He asked the way to the bus stop, and they told us in broken English that we had to go down the hill. Then, they kept going.
Bummed, I took a bathroom break and tried to rouse the energy to go another two hours. We gathered our packs and kids, and started down the parking lot. And then, out of the blue, came the girls again. They said they wanted to give us a ride, but their car was too small.
Um, I don’t care how small your car is. Shucks, I’ll ride in the trunk if it means I don’t have to walk another two hours. We convinced them that two seats in the back of a compact Korean car would be enough for the four of us.
And off we went, down, down down. No barfing this time (I totally prayed). The girls stopped once to ask for directions to the bus stop.
But, we never saw it. The girls (we found out they were children’s book illustrators from Seoul) finally stopped again to say they would just take us to our hotel. We protested, that was too much and not necessary. I think they felt bad for us and couldn’t in good conscience dump such adorable little boys and their parents on the side of the road in hopes that a bus would someday come.
The GPS was programmed for Tae Gong Gak, and away we went. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a map girl. Never (wholly) trust a GPS. About ten minutes into the ride, Doc Sci and I recognized that the GPS would take us a longer route. We busted out our map from the hotel and tried to show the girls. They either didn’t understand or didn’t care. Maybe they preferred the scenic route.
And, scenic it was. An hour later, we arrived back at the hotel. After hugs, smiles, thanks, and a photo, off they went. Into the sunset. Never to be seen or heard from again. Well, other than in pictures and tall tales. Next time I think I ‘ll make sure the car is smaller, the ride is longer, and the job descriptions are something more to the tune of secret agents masquerading as book illustrators.
For the next two days in Jeju, I would be flying solo while Doc Sci attended his conference at the most expensive hotel in South Korea (hence why we did NOT stay there).
I have to be honest in that there’s not a lot to do in Jeju for children if you don’t rent a car or ride the bus. The bus is all in Korean so no go there. And at $100 a day for a car and driver (we don’t have international driving permits), I chose to stay local in and around Seogwipo.
On Wednesday, the boys and I went to Yeomiji Botanical Gardens. It wouldn’t be my first choice of activity, but I wanted a place where the boys could just walk and run around at their own place. Plus, it had an observation tower included in the price.
Ah, yes, the price. Most entrance fees to attractions in South Korea are quite affordable at 5,000W or less (recall that Gyeongbokgung was only 3,000W). Yeomiji was 6,000W, and the attendant wanted to charge me for the kids. I argued that they were 1 and 3 years old, and that was ridiculous. I won, and in we went.
The indoor botanical gardens are a bit boring for young kids. But, the grounds are extensive and a bit more exciting. The best part, however, is that from a lookout point near the plant nurseries, an excellent view (photo op!) of the Seonimgyo Bridge is possible.
The bridge is part of the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall complex. Cheonjeyeon Waterfall is actually three waterfalls. We visited waterfall #2 after traipsing through the gardens. I only made it to one of the falls since I was carrying Screech on my back and it was high time for nap.
On Thursday, our trio walked around Seogwipo City (not terribly thrilling), and then made our way to the Saeyeongyo Bridge in Seogwipo harbor (which looks suspiciously like the design of the Burj-al-Arab in Dubai.. those Koreans and their rip-offs!).
After collecting more candy and screams, we walked back over the bridge and down to the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which is practically underneath the Tae Gong Gak Inn. The falls were less impressive than the one we say the day before, but the design of the tourist area was better. We stopped to eat lunch here before grabbing an ice cream cone and heading back for naps.
That night, our hosts at TGG called a (free) shuttle to take us to the best Korean pork BBQ restaurant on Jeju Island. This is NOT the famous Jeju Black Pork. After finding out what this famous swine feasts upon, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
This particular pork was (hopefully) the regular pink kind, but marinated in a delicious sauce. As we’ve seen in k-dramas so many times, we cooked our food at the table. The boys were not keen on the side dishes (though T-Rex scarfed down the tofu), but tolerated the pork. Upon checkout, the owner gifted a multi-pack of yogurt to the boys. Bonus!
Friday was mostly devoted to exploring the Lotte Hotel where Doc Sci’s conference was held. We walked around the outdoor pool area, and found the Hello Kitty floor. Yep, an entire floor of hotel rooms and children’s activity rooms dedicated to the Asian phenomenon. Too bad I do not have little girls.
If you’re planning a trip to Jeju Island, you might wonder why I didn’t go to places like the Teddy Bear Museum or Ripley’s. My answer is, who cares? I’m not into teddy bears. I’ve been to (a) Ripley’s. My kids won’t really remember, and I’d rather just walk around, eat a picnic lunch, and take some pictures. After all, the best things to see in Jeju are outside and (mostly) free.
If you’re looking for a great place to stay on Jeju Island, I highly recommend the Tae Gong Gak. You can read my review here.