Visiting Jeju Island Day 1 – Loveland, Lava, and Beaches

Seoul to Wando
Seoul to Wando

To celebrate National Foundation Day in Korea, and no work Friday, Nicole and I booked a trip to Jeju Island, Korea’s Hawaii. Jeju had been on our radar for quite some time. We were both very interested in visiting Jeju, but everyone we spoke with seemed to have just an alright time. Some people complained about having to take taxis everywhere. Some people ended up paying an arm and a leg to visit Jeju. Other people almost missed work after their trip because the ferry or flight back from Jeju sold out. So for a whole year, Nicole and I avoided Jeju, not because we didn’t want to go, but because it was such a logistical challenge to visit.

The Night Bus

However, fortune smiled upon us this National Foundation day and we found a foreign travel group offering trips to Jeju. We jumped at the opportunity and booked two spots for ourselves on the trip. The tour group was based in Seoul taking a bus Thursday night in time to catch a ferry from Wando at 6am Friday morning, in the far south of Korea. This meant that Nicole and I had to intercept the bus somewhere along its path in the middle of the night. Luckily the bus was making a stop in Gwangju at 3am. Thursday night we took a bus to Gwangju, caught up with some old friends, and then met the rest of our tour group a little after 3am at the Gwangju bus terminal. [divider_flat]

The Slow Boat to Jeju

Our ferry
Our ferry

Nicole and I slept most of the drive from Gwangju to Wando and woke up just in time for free muffins before boarding the ferry to Jeju. I had a chocolate chip muffin. Nicole had a different flavor. Our ferry boat ride took 5 hours and because we arrived late, all of the spots in the 3rd class section (yes, 3rd class) were full, so we sat outside on the deck chairs. Nicole and I discussed the outcome of the ferry sinking. Would we be safe in 3rd class? Would we be locked below while the ritzy first class passengers disembarked on nearly empty lifeboats? Would there be an Irish dance celebration below deck where we could meet other drifters and vagabonds?

Fortunately for us, the boat never sank so we never found answers to our questions. There was never an Irish dance celebration below deck either. I read a bit, watched some Brooklyn Nine Nine, and had cup noodles with Nicole to keep warm. About halfway through our voyage we made a stop at a smaller island for some people to get off. I couldn’t find it on google maps, but I swear it exists. Anyways, we took this opportunity to move from the outside of the ship to the inside where it was much warmer.

Loveland

Early in the afternoon, we arrived in Jeju. There was a bus at the ferry terminal waiting to take us to our first stop: Loveland. Loveland is a park filled with erotic statues of people in various stages of coitus. According to its website it’s “the only sexual theme park in Korea”. I found the claim somewhat dubious. It’s not really a theme park, although I suppose it could be considered one in a very literal sense. It is a park…with a theme. However, there aren’t any rides, or entertainment shows. I don’t even want to think about what they would be if they did exist.

Manjanggul Cave

After Loveland we took our tour bus another 20 minutes up the road to Manjanggul Cave, Jeju’s underground network of lava tubes. The tubes were formed between 200 and 300,000 years ago and they’re in relatively good condition. The tube system is also one of the top ten largest in the world. The caves were really cool, both literally and figuratively. There were a few lights and some walkways, but it wasn’t overly commercialized. I got a few pictures down there with Nicole and myself before it was time to hop back on the bus and visit the motel.

Yusong Motel

Our Motel
Our Motel

I remember the name because our group leader made us memorize it in case we got lost and needed to get back. I can tell you that its near Hamdeok Beach as well. I can also tell you that there isn’t a lobby, just a big messy dining room covered in all kinds of various boxes, the pillows are filled with almonds (or something), and the family that owns it sleeps under the stairs like Harry Potter. Don’t let its ordinary appearance fool you. Its an odd place. The location was nice though. We were right across from the beach and only a few minutes away from several restaurants.

After we checked into the motel, we had 30 minutes to shower and change before dinner. I unpacked, took a quick shower, and tried to relax on the bed. Although, as I mentioned before, the pillow was filled with almonds or something. I never opened it to find out, but it certainly wasn’t soft or fluffy, just very….firm.

Everybody We’re Going Streaking!

Dinner was…interesting. We walked from the hotel to a nice Korean barbecue place on the beach only a few minutes away. The meal was delicious Jeju black pig and it really was delicious. Jeju black pig has a unique taste and origin story compared with traditional Korea pork. Originally, Jeju black pigs were fed human feces in special pig sties located below outhouses. However, that practice was outlawed in the 1960s so now the pigs just eat whatever it is that pigs eat these days. Supposedly feeding the pigs anything other than human poop has adversely affected the taste. However, I felt much better eating pigs that weren’t eating my poop.

During dinner, we were all given a bottle of soju and some beer as part of our meal. Nicole and I had a bit of each but not much. It was dinner and we were coming to the end of a long day, or rather two days since we didn’t sleep much on the bus. Our group leader felt otherwise. By the time we finished dinner, he had finished several bottles of Soju and was pretty drunk. Somehow he wagered a bet between him and his Korean coleader as to who could drink a full glass of Soju faster. He won the bet but still opted to strip down and run naked out of the restaurant into the ocean. No one followed him. In fact, no one seemed to bat an eye after he left. I think he was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get much of a reaction. Most people just returned to their meal.

Since there’s no topping a performance like that, especially in front of a room full of strangers, Nicole and I decided to call it a night and walk back along the beach to our motel. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures when we visit the beach, see beautiful rocks, waterfalls, wooden sailing ships, and temples.

Second Day in Iceland – Caves and Volcanoes

Our second day in Iceland we had less of a structure to our day. We knew we wanted to see caves and volcanoes so we hopped in our rental car for the last day we had it and set a course for the nearest caves we could find, which turned out to be quite good. The caves were about a 30 minute drive away from out Airbnb, but first we needed to stock up for the day and that required snacks. Iceland was quickly becoming one of my favorite places and the supermarket was yet another reason why. The supermarket we stopped at was excellently stocked with a variety of health foods, protein, and various juices. It was so fantastic I didn’t even mind the arm and the leg I was charged for it.

Icelandic Caves

From the supermarket we drove through a series of random back roads thanks to our GPS and eventually found our way to a neat group of caves on the side of the road. If our GPS hadn’t told us about the caves, we might have driven past. The caves were submerged into the ground so on a drive past, they didn’t look like anything at all.

Volcanoes

After our cave exploring adventures Nicole and I went in search of volcanoes. We found one on our GPS in the middle of nowhere, and only a 30 minute drive from where we were caving because unless you’re in Reykjavik, you’re in the middle of nowhere. The drive leading up to the volcanoes was completely devoid of any sort of vegetation aside from this thick green moss that seemed to cover every exposed surface in all directions for miles. The view was incredible. It felt like being on an alien planet. Just mountains, volcanoes, and this green moss. We made it to the volcanic craters just before a massive storm started pouring on us so we didn’t stay for too long.

Failed adventures in Thermal Spas

Nicole and I had big thermal spring spa plans for today. We found some neat hot springs in a valley high up between two mountains. They looked fantastic and according to the blog that recommended them, they were only a 45 minute hike away. We parked at the base of the mountain and packed a little bag with snacks and bathing suits and towels and started our hike up the mountain. As we hiked the mountain, we slowly began to realize we were incredibly under prepared for the hike at hand. People were regularly passing us on their way down with jackets, hiking boots, hiking poles, and some people even had horses. We had none of those things, just a plastic bag full of bathing suits and our determination to make it to the hot springs. The hike was beautiful though and the views were breath taking. We could see some hot springs and waterfalls along the hike but the ones we came across were only 1 or two feet deep and literally boiling.

After maybe an hour or so of hiking we could see that there were no hot springs in sight. The blog we found could very well be right about the location, but their time estimate was way off and the storm we just drove away from near the volcanoes was approaching our mythical hot springs. We decided to call the hike off and return to the car since we were going to the Blue Lagoon hot springs tomorrow anyways.

Returning the Rental Car

After our hike we drove back into town to return our rental car. We shared so many memories with that little silver car.  We took it to hell and back driving over really bumpy gravel roads and through deep potholes. It held up the whole time and we would miss it, but like the rest of Iceland, the rental car cost a small fortune and we had plans in Reykjavik for the next day.

We dropped our rental car off near the Reyjkavik airport and got a free ride back to our AirBnB thanks to the good people at Hertz Iceland.