Jubilant in Jeju Part 1; exploring the gem of a volcanic island south of South Korea.

To the south of South Korea lies Jeju Island; this volcanic island is one of the nine provinces that makes up SK and is an extremely popular tourist destination for inhabitants of both South Korea and China.

Jeju Island first appeared on our radar when my Korean friend Anna suggested it as somewhere to visit alongside Seoul and Daegu. I had not heard of it before but a quick Google search enlightened me about how Jeju was renowned for its famous lava tubes and general relaxed ambience. As we thought it would make a more rural contrast to the other major cities we were doing in South Korea, we touched down there for a few days after Seoul and before Daegu.

We were staying at the Hotel W Shinjeju in Jeju-Do which was in an excellent location, just a couple of minutes from a large number of restaurants, cafes and shops.

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Following on from my vegetarian issues in Japan (see “the struggle is real: attempting to survive as a Vegetarian in Japan”), my first port of call was to hit up Happy Cow. Here, we found a gem in the form of the Oasis bar and restaurant, which we liked so much we visited there twice over our few days in Jeju; the menu is very Western (you’ll find pastas, pizzas, salads and toasties amongst other things) but the staff have no issues with removing or changing ingredients to suit any dietary requirements you may have. As a self-confessed carbohydrate junky, I found the creamy mushroom spaghetti to be delicious- just enough to feel satiated without feeling like you have overloaded on rich stodgy food. The restaurant was also the location of a chip eating contest between myself and my travel companion (yes, I think that speaks volumes about the sort of travellers we are) and victory has never tasted sweeter (or so potato-ey- he will never live it down).

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Onto the attractions- with such a short amount of time in Jeju, we knew we had to pick and choose what to do. We considered NANTA theatre (50,000 KRW per person/ £30 per person) and Hamdeok Beach (but a beach is still just a beach) before we stumbled across Manjangul Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which had the Geographer in me weeping with joy. The bus route to get to the Cave is simple enough from a central Jeju bus station but be warned- drivers expect tourists to know how payment for tickets works and are not particularly considerate to those who are unaware. Also, since very few bus drivers speak any English, the best thing to do is to speak to the tourist information staff at any of the central bus stations in order to ensure you know what to pay and how the system works. Our bus driver was probably one of the rudest people I encountered in my travels, and passengers were confronted with the most fearsome of situations- bus doors that closed without any warning whatsoever. It was almost hypnotic, watching passengers sprint onto and off of the bus in an attempt to avoid sustaining any form of injury. About an hour and 10 minutes later, my very relieved travel companion and I disembarked from the bus and found ourselves confronted with a dusty but scenic landscape, silent aside from the occasional whoosh of a car speeding past.

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Never has “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” felt more apt.

We felt like gods walking down the road overlooking such views whilst singing this.

We decided to walk to Manjangul Cave, which was about 2.5km away from the bus stop. Note that if you don’t wish to walk, there are plenty of taxis that will slow down upon spotting a person and offer to drive you there but we reasoned that the weather was nice and we both had a fair amount of energy so walking was a perfectly acceptable option.

During the walk, we passed Yongcheondonggul Lava Tube, considered one of the most valuable lava tubes in the world. The tube was only discovered by accident in 2005 when an electric pole was replaced and should you wish to visit the tube, you can observe a variety of carbonate speleothem such as soda straw, stalactite, stalagmite and cave pearl. You can also detour on foot to take a look at Kimnyoung Lava Tube. During our walk, we found Kimnyoung Maze Park. We were intrigued, and had more than a brief glance at the attraction but at that point, I honestly thought we would not end up in the maze. I was wrong, and we had an absolute blast reconnecting with our childish sides (which, to be honest, we’ve never really been that out of touch with). But more on the maze park in “Jubilant in Jeju Part 2” still to come.

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Sorry about the gum (wish it wasn’t there)                     The view along our walk

The Manjangul Lava Tube is part of the Geomunoreum Lava Tube system and has been awarded a UNESCO Triple Crown as well as being one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. On the day we visited, the tube was open from 8.40am until 5.40pm. For those craving something educational, Manjangul fits the bill perfectly. At the entrance, there is an information centre where the evolution of lava tubes are explained (skip the next mini paragraph if you just wish to read about what walking around the cave was like and look at the photos).

The process starts with the cooling and hardening of lava on the cave surface, forming lava crusts on the surface of the flows. Next comes the deepening of the cave as more lava flows then melts the existing bedrock, deepening the floor. After this, whilst lava flow stays at a consistent level, the formation of new lava crust within the tube becoming the roof of lower level tubes occurs. This forms a multi-layer lava tube. The last lava to flow through the tubes sticks and remains on the floor and walls of the caves before, over time, the ceiling of lava caves collapse, creating new windows or enlarging existing ones. Weaker parts of the inner cave partially collapse and block the passage.

On site is a convenience store, Korean Restaurant and toilets; despite the fact that food is available if you absolutely need it, having the foresight to bring a packed lunch is a very good idea. I believe the Korean Restaurant was shut when we went to the site (if not, it was just very deserted) and the convenience shop does charge a fair amount for even basic refreshments. The walk to the lava tube entrance is about another 1km, and the walking part of the cave open to the public is about the same distance.

The cave itself in full is 7.4km long, one of the largest in the world, and is exceptionally well-preserved despite being so old. Upon descending some steps, you reach the uneven and damp rock which lines the floor of the cave. Trainers and walking boots are a must here, and some people were even wearing jackets whilst exploring the cave. There are three entrances to the cave due to the collapse of the ceiling, with tourists using the second entrance. The main passage (which you walk through) has a width of up to 18m and a height of up to 23m.

Although the cave is unbelievable beautiful because of its natural charm, there are a couple of coloured lights here and there. However, by and large, the only lighting in the cave is natural and colourless- there for safety and guidance rather than turning something natural into an entirely new artificial entity.

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Underneath the various volcanic phenomenons, such as lava flowlines, lava stalacites and stalagmites, lava benches and lava rafts, is a description so that you can connect the visual image with knowledge about how the formations and decorations came to be.

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We spent a while in the cave before climbing up to the surface again. Although I felt like this:

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The day was not over yet. Next, we got to experience Kimnyoung Maze Park, an absolutely unexpected treat! If you want, I’d love for you to read on to Part 2 (which I’m posting over the next few days) for more about Jeju Island.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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Why so over-jeju? My explanation to you.

Time is liquid, it ebbs and flows,

Plan for the future- sure- but who really knows?

You can anticipate, and this steers our imagination I suppose.

But the longer I go without writing,

the more my regret grows.

It’s been a while on the blog post front. I know this, and I spoke to my mum just now (trust her to feed me a strong dose of reality). She asked me when my next entry would be up, she told me my readers might lose interest because of the inconsistency of my blog entries- the fact that it has been a while since I’ve written a post which encapsulates the normal essence of my writing (my recent entry on Melbourne was an in the moment snapshot, an exception to my normal travel posts) is not great.

So I guess I am writing this for two reasons. 1. an explanation and 2. what you can expect from now on.

1. I’m in Melbourne. And I’m very happy right now. But it has not been without it’s challenges, and whilst trying to find a job, and somewhere to live, and adapting to a new dynamic (without my travel companion but with incredible friends and distant relatives) time has just disappeared ridiculously fast. When I travelled Asia, my companion disciplined me to write up my diary entries, put a post up, and gave me time to accommodate this. Here, self-discipline is key and I have so much more of my adventure to relay to you (whilst trying to monitor my current experiences and document them so that they can also go onto this blog) that I feel slightly overwhelmed. Nonetheless memory is a tricky customer, both friend and foe, and I realise as I read over old entries just how grateful I am to have posted about these experiences, to know that I can revisit them at leisure and lessen the risk of inaccurate recall.

2. You guys know I’m doing Asia and Australia. You might have read about my time in HK, Japan and part of South Korea. But as of yet, you don’t know the rest of South Korea or any of China or my second stint in Hong Kong or Melbourne. So here’s the new deal- I’ll be putting a post up weekly MINIMUM. Doesn’t matter if I’m in Melbourne, Hong Kong or London (that’s my next few months right there), I want to share with you and am so grateful for you if you’ve had the patience to wait for me, and continue to support me.

Travel is beautiful and I am fortunate to have experienced some really cool things. And what makes me so happy is knowing that you are reading an entry and in some cases, pressing that star. Because it makes me realise that although I can always improve, and some will dislike or disagree with what I have to say, there are others that have been undertaking this journey with me, and will hopefully continue to do so.

If you like, look out for my next post on Jeju Island over the next few days (hence the title- why so over-Jeju instead of why so overdue… sorry I couldn’t resist) .

And a very Happy New Year to you all  🙂

My mum asked me if I regret attempting to settle in Melbourne for a while… it made me think, but here’s my response.

It’s not been sunshine and roses (metaphorically speaking- in a literal sense, there is some sunshine). And it’s no walk in the park. But putting myself around the other side of the globe with only distant relatives to provide a temporary crash pad has taught me more than I could have anticipated.

 

I feel like I’ve been knocked down, yet (so far) my stubbornness makes me get back up (aches and all). My (relatively well-regarded) CV in the UK is scorned in Australia. Maybe it’s just my experience, but saying you’re on a “Working Holiday Visa” is like saying to an Aussie that you prefer Kiwis (New Zealanders).

 

It doesn’t go down well. At all.

 

I’ve had to deal with the rough and the smooth. The smooth was upon arrival; despite having only one Melbourne-based contact (bar the distant relatives), my friend Pum and a friend in Exeter who studied in Melbourne last year helped me. I was welcomed with open arms by Pum, her friends Bronte and Sarah and Emily’s friend Mary. So if you’re reading this, thank you so much guys! I’m really grateful.

 

I marvelled at the beauty of Melbourne in the sunlight (it’s not London in the rain), found Flinders Street to be more pleasant and easy to navigate than Paddington and Waterloo and reclined on the sand of St Kilda beach, relishing in the quirky ambience of the area-adorned with falafel shops, bars, boutiques and seafood restaurants.

 

I enjoyed the London Camden Vibe (hippy, alternative bars, charity/second hand shops) in Windsor and being able to meet generations of family I’d never met before made me feel so fortunate- like I was floating on air.

 

But soon reality settles in.

 

For the first time in my life, I don’t spend Christmas with my mum, dad and sister. There are 10,500 miles approximately (sorry metric system users) between us. And everywhere I look, reminders of Christmas- unnerving in the bright sunshine when people are wearing skorts, summer dresses and sandals.

 

I walk into Myer and David Jones (Aussie department stores) and, like their British counterparts (Debenhams and John Lewis), Christmas music is being piped out. A lady sings about how she can only dream of being home for Christmas, and I know that description is applicable to me.

 

Without the company of my closest friends or travel companion around Asia, I took this huge risk- to abandon Christmas Sweaters and an icy breeze, roast potatoes and Cadbury Roses in front of Harry Potter (and of course, Oxford Street Christmas Lights) for Xmas, my birthday and New Years in a place where I’ve only resided for a month and had never been to previously.

 

And, unlike friends who have done a year abroad or study abroad, I had no job or university course waiting for me. I’m also not in a position whereby my family can help me get a job- forget pulling strings, my distant family do not have a single thread. In spite of being incredibly lucky that I can even afford to get to Melbourne in the first place, I’m taking a total stab in the dark.

 

I’m trying to make this work, by and large alone- I say by and large because whilst family can’t help with jobs or finding somewhere to rent, they are very lovely and either let me stay at theirs or have me for dinner (or both).

 

Dozens and dozens of resumes get sent- to no avail.

 

And I view homes/share rooms/apartments in places that I thought only existed at home (South Kensington, St Albans and Rickmond- Melbourne to name a few). It’s an odd parallel between England and Australia. Close enough to feel familiar, different enough to feel foreign.

 

I’ve had a job here, a 6.30am- 8.30pm day (this includes an hour and a half travel time and back to the office, and further travel from there). Here, I had to sell car wax to innocent (and normally stressed) shoppers in Geelong (an hour and a bit outside of Melbourne). In 31 degree Celsius heat. And let me tell you (unless money is your whole life), face-to-face direct sales is every bit as unfulfilling as it sounds.

 

I quit on day 5 (though another British girl who lives 10 minutes from where I live at home and started at the same time as me quit after 2 hours).

 

But I have never chucked in a job before purely because I felt it was making me that unhappy. It taught me that no matter how stubborn you are, if a job is a bit meh but you need the money- do it. But if it makes you weep, almost faint with exhaustion and involves bosses that are still yet to pay you for the hours you’ve worked…

 

Cut your losses and get out of there (a.k.a. what the other British girl did).

 

And during my time in Melbourne, I’ve had to learn to rely on my own instincts more, and grow accustomed to being on my own.

 

As a resident singleton and future owner of a house filled with 50 cats to keep me company, some may think I’d grow used to this kind of lifestyle. But as an outrageous extravert with a good circle of friends at home, I’ve never really had to until now.

 

I went to view a property in a part of Melbourne I had never been before two days ago. In spite of what the bright sunshine conceals, alarm bells rang about the area.

 

I knew nothing about the place, but walking through two alleyways and a park to get between the train station and road (with no more direct routes available) set warning bells chiming.

 

Those same warning bells chimed even more after the block I viewed was offering a reward for a resident injury in the foyer and the front door of the flat looked like it could be kicked down by a 4 year old in the midst of a temper tantrum.

 

So maybe that property was not ideal for me. Onto the next ten viewings.

 

I’ve missed my friends, felt emotional watching my distant relatives share time together in a way that (I feel) one can only share with their immediate family and friends, those who know you that well and love you unconditionally for all your flaws.

 

I’ve left ample voicemails on my one remaining Grandma’s voicemail because I don’t want to not speak to her when I haven’t seen her for a while.

 

I’ve roamed around in a daze wondering whether today, a job application (normally fruitless) will actually bear fruit. During breaks from completing other job applications.

 

On paper, Melbourne sounds like a mistake. Iknow my mum is starting to think like that.

 

But despite the layer of obviousness which radiates with failure, there are some personal triumphs concealed but very much present under the surface.

 

I am more resilient and self-sufficient than I have ever realised (though I do still take life too seriously).

 

And I have bonded with people (Aussie residents and distant family) who I would never have been able to spend time with were it not for landing myself in Melbourne.

 

Should I regret my decision to come here? I wonder what you guys, my readers, think?

 

If nothing else, I tried, and removed myself far out of my comfort zone. And for that, I just can’t regret.

Calguksu (칼국수), hiking and staying up for shopping in Seoul (clearly all cities should have shopping until 5am)

Our stint in Seoul was coming to an end; after two days of running around, we were tired but still aiming to cram as much as possible into our final day in Korea’s capital.

Our first stop was lunch (we slept in a little that morning). As a result of the abundance of food we had ordered and/or were served in Ohseagyehyang (오세계향) (see the Gyeongokbung Palace blog post for more information), I decided that my lunch would be yesterday’s leftover dumplings and Sichuan spicy noodles, whilst Anna and my travel companion went on the hunt for food. We found a restaurant called Eunseong Calguksu for lunch, a traditional Korean eatery whereby my two companions ordered Calguksu. Calguksu is a noodle dish originating in Korea, which consists of noodles in a fish broth (or some other form of meat broth) with vegetables and long egg noodles.

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The area where the Calguksu restaurant was

After lunch, we grabbed a quick coffee before getting a bus from near the restaurant and heading towards Bukhansen National Park (which took about an hour and 15 minutes) to do some hiking. Because of our lack of climbing experience and the fact that we didn’t own a single cagoule between us (let alone three), we took an easier hiking route which meant that we missed a lot of the best views that exist further up the mountain. Unless you can climb that far up and are incredibly well kitted out (which we weren’t- climbing gear is not cheap), the views are not unbelievably impressive. However, the hiking route was very pleasant nonetheless, and a nice contrast to the urbanised and high-paced lifestyle we’d been living in Seoul until that point.

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The entrance to the walking route and map of the area

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A view whilst hiking and the leaves we stumbled across

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Interesting graffiti in the park

We found a cute little coffee shop near the park at the end of the hiking route. Here, we ordered some food and drink (a lovely onion bagel with Philadelphia and a peppermint mocha) and just relaxed and chatted. We were considering what to do that evening; a large part of me want to visit the Gangnam district (and I won’t lie, that infamous song by Psy definitely had something to do with it) but in the end we decided to head to the Dongdaemun area- reknowned for its late night shopping and upbeat ambience.

We returned to Gongjon restaurant (the Vegan restaurant we visited on the first evening- see the “A little sample of Seoul” blog post), located in the Dongdaemun-gu region. When we arrived at the café, it was crammed full of people- with lots of gorgeous dogs running around as well! We quickly deduced that this must have been an animal rights/lovers, vegetarian or vegan or pet-owners meet up (sorry guys, we weren’t detective enough to find out which, I think the former). Fortunately, the owners had enough space to squeeze us in so, like the carefree tourists we are, we gate-crashed the gathering. Dinner was good, but spicy was an understatement! Last time I ordered the tomato and burdock spaghetti- lovely, but with a definite kick of chilli. This time, under the recommendation of my travel companion who thought it would be less spicy, I ordered Aglio e Olio Pasta. After all, I thought, how spicy can a garlic and olive oil pasta be?

I was wrong.

One word, my friends. Jalapenos.

And yes, I ate it all.

And yes, the flavours were great but my mouth watered and tears were forming in my eyes and I got through my raspberry squash at a record pace.

What was bittersweet about this meal, though, was the fact that it was our Seoul goodbye to Anna (although we were seeing her in a few days in Daegu).

We gave her our gifts, a white patterned umbrella from Osaka and two hand-picked pearls from a stall in Cheung Chau (where we were also able to choose what silver pendant we wanted the pearls to be set in- see “Cheung Chau: sunshine, seafood and street stalls”).

After some shared sentimentality, we hailed a cab onto Dongdaemun. And wow- what an amazing vibe!

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Dongdaemun shops lit up at night

Lit up like a Christmas tree, with blue lights radiating outside one building, stairs lit up with black animated figures walking across them and the DDP (Dongdemun Design Plaza) festival in full swing, the shopping district managed to effortlessly encompass a clubbing and nightlife vibe, with bars and clubs being replaced by shops- both high-end and bargain priced. Music was being blasted out from a stage, where a band were performing and multiple people were crowded around. Street stalls were selling all sorts of foods- from twisty potatoes to sausages and doughnuts to waffles.

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Feeling so Avatar right now

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The animated stairs

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A sign leading towards the Art Hall                     The expensive shopping area

We first walked around the expensive shops and, despite finding some avant garde and genuinely gorgeous pieces, our wallets were not going to stretch that far. We walked down the street a bit to a building selling every kind of clothing imaginable alongside bags, shoes, souvenirs and accessories. The format was that of a market, spread out like a shopping centre; a range of stalls selling similar types of item existed on each floor yet each stall was manned by different people and stall owners. In spite of their unwillingness to smile, Anna managed to find herself some wonderful shoes for work and a very smart watch. The pricing was okay- not the cheapest but definitely affordable- think shops like New Look and H&M (with perhaps some clothing shops undercutting these prices slightly).

Although a big part of us wanted to stay out late (the 5am closing time hung over us- the huge temptation being staying out until that time purely to shop), we had to be sensible. An early flight out of Seoul to Jeju Island- combined with the fact that we hadn’t repacked our bags yet- meant that after a few hours, we returned back to the Blessing Hotel to pack. Spurred on by some excellent 90s hits (thank you Youtube) we packed whilst wondering why no boy band currently comes close to matching “Backstreet’s back- alright”. When we got to Britney, we realised that if our neighbours could hear us and didn’t grow up in the 90s, we were probably responsible for their suffering. So apologies if you’re reading this blog post 🙂

Stay tuned for Jeju Island, a hidden gem (at least to us Westerners, it is apparently a popular tourist destination to Koreans and Chinese people) which turned out to be rather enjoyable!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this entry- I really appreciate your continued support.