Jeju Motorcycle Diaries

By Marion Gregory

jeju motorcycle editedWhile looking into travel options for summer vacation, some friends and I were keen on sticking around Korea to see more of the local culture.

One destination we’d heard nothing but good things about was Jeju Island. Also known as Cheju, “Home of Hallasan”, “Island of the Gods”, and “Korea’s Hawaii,” this little jewel is a mere four hour ferry ride from Mokpo in the Korea Strait.

The options to get there are varied (and cheap!) and with all of the information we found on the internet about places to stay, things to see and pictures to be had, there didn’t seem to be a better place to go for some sun and pre-second semester relaxation.

Four Canadians, two travel packs, camping gear, and two motorcycles later we drove southwest to Mokpo on the number one highway to meet our ferry.

Ferries leave regularly to Jeju from Mokpo, Incheon, Busan, and Wando. It is also possible to take a flight from most major cities for a comparable price.

Booking our tickets was easy, thanks to the help of a Korean friend, but there are English speakers working at the ferry terminals who can help book tickets.

Prices vary depending on what kind of accommodation you’d like while aboard (anything from a space on the floor to a double bed with a picture window).

We chose seats for 39,500 won each and paid 14,000 won for each motorcycle. The ferry staff was organized, helpful, and spoke excellent English, making our 9 AM departure painless.

Once we hit Jeju City’s port, it became obvious that this was a place very much concerned with ensuring every visitor has a good time. We’d had the option to pre-book tours on the ferry, with the promise of a full refund on any tickets we didn’t use, but we decided to search out a tourist information booth instead. Jeju Port has a well-stocked information booth, complete with maps and pamphlets in English or any of Asia’s major languages.

Our bible for the trip became the Welcome to Jeju pamphlet, which had information, pictures and phone numbers for every major site, along with a listing of accommodations and an island map that also included Jeju City and Seogwipo-si roadmaps.

All we had to do was pick a place, point the bikes, and ride.

As any Korean will tell you, a trip to Jeju is incomplete without a visit to Halla Mountain. Sitting directly in the centre of the island, this now dormant volcano is also Korea’s tallest peak at 1950 m.

The trailheads are a twenty minute drive from Jeju city or, for those who are interested, there’s a campground at the base of Gwaneumsa Trail. Hallasan

Only three routes are available on the mountain as it is a protected environment. Two of those trails (Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak) will take you all the way up to the sulphur lake at the peak. An early start is definitely recommended as a round trip takes about nine hours and getting down can be a bit tricky in the dark.

There are also signs along the trail to let you know how much farther you have to get by a certain time before you are supposed to be turned back by park staff.

If you’re heading that way, make sure that you also check the weather. We took Gwaneumsa trail up to the peak, but the lake was hidden by a very nasty and windy cloud, making our descent down Seongpanak a bit hastier than we would have liked.

Jeju is not without its tourist traps, the most popular of these being Loveland, Mini Mini Land and the Trick Art Museum. Loveland is a sex culture park that was created by twenty artists from Hongik University in 2002. It boasts the most liberal sculptures you’ll see in Korea and is only open to those 18 and over. Mini Mini Land is an outdoor, slightly run-down display of miniature world landmarks, such as the Forbidden City and the Eiffel Tower, giving your short trip to Jeju an international feel. The Trick Art Museum has famous paintings on display in such a way that you can stand near them and become part of the picture. These places are great for an afternoon of fun and each costs around 7,000 won for entry.

Try to get there very early or toward closing time as the crowds get feisty when everyone is trying to take pictures.

The best parts of Jeju, though, are the natural sights you don’t see too often on the mainland. Because Jeju is a volcanic island, the soil is rich and the vegetation is a great mix of tropical plants and coniferous forest.
There is also an abundance of waterfalls, lava tubes, caves, trails, beaches, and off-shore islands to explore. Jungmun Beach is a popular spot on the south coast and has a resort town nearby. The beach itself is impressive as the sea bed drops off very near the shore, creating powerful waves that are as much fun to watch as they are to swim in. You can also partake in many marine sports, such as parasailing, jetskiing, scuba diving, and fishing. Further east, past the resort, you can find impressive rock formations and waterfalls, including Jeongang Waterfall, which falls directly into the sea.

If, by this point of your trip, you are all Jeju-ed out and want to head back to the city, hang on for one more day. Just off the northeast coast is an island called Udo which, I have to say, was my favourite place on the trip.

There is a cheap ferry (about 7,000 won one way) near Seongsan to this little island that has a lot to offer. You can take your own transportation to the island or rent anything from a golfcart to an ATV once you’re there. Watch out when driving, as the roads are narrower and curvier here than on the main island and, with so many honeymooning couples, it can get a bit tricky.

A major facet of Jeju’s culture resides on Udo: the haenyo or women divers. These women are known for being able to dive up to twenty metres near rocky outcroppings and can hold their breath for nearly two minutes while in search of shellfish. There are many places to see these divers, including the shooting location for the movie “My Mother the Mermaid”, which focuses on the family of a haenyo diver.

Alongside the rocky outcroppings are white sand beaches with crystal-clear water. You may want to stay away from the “famous” Hongjodangoe coral beach, as it is comprised mainly of large chunks of coral that have washed up on shore. Go instead to Hagosudong Beach on the east coast or, better yet, keep your eyes peeled for hidden beaches along the way.

If you are interested in visiting Jeju, taking or renting your own transportation is highly recommended. Although the island has a great highway system and buses can be found anywhere, the schedules are not as tourist
friendly as having your own wheels can be; taxis are also expensive. If you don’t have a scooter or motorbike of your own, there are plenty of rental places around the island, usually found on the main roads and near tourist sites. It is also possible to bike around the island on your own power, pedalling on the bike path that runs alongside the highway. Don’t be too worried about trying to keep up with traffic: the path is divided from the highway by a curb.

Camping is also a great option if you’re looking to keep the budget to a minimum. A listing of campsites is available at any information centre and most have bathroom and shower facilities.

It is also possible to find a nice piece of field off the main road to throw a tent on if you’re not near a government campsite. If camping’s not your thing, minbaks or pensions are available along the coast and in most towns. We were able to find rooms for 40,000 won or less, including bedding, towels, hot water and air conditioning or a fan.

Jeju has become one of my favourite places in Korea and I would gladly write another hundred pages about everything we did and wanted to do while we were there.

It’s easy to measure the enjoyment you get out of a place by how willing you are to leave it at the end of your time there. On our last day, we were all brainstorming excuses for skipping work to live on Jeju instead.
It is a welcoming, easy-to-navigate, gorgeous place and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t see it at least once while you’re here. Who needs to go to Thailand or the Philippines to get their bronze on?

Jeju may be just a short distance away but it will leave you wondering what took you so long to get there.

If you’d like more information on travelling Jeju, visit:
http://www.visitkorea.or.kr for information on getting to and around the island.
http://www.lifeinkorea.com/travel2/cheju
http://english.tour2jeju.net Jeju’s official tourist site.

Marion Gregory
Marion is an English teacher in Gwangju from Rosetown, Saskatchewan, Canada. E-mail her at [email protected]