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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Hong Kong: Breathtaking in every light

Today was the day where I got to go to my first real tourist-y attraction in Hong Kong. The Peak is over 396 metres above sea level and from this area, you can see Victoria Harbour, the International Finance Centre, and Mong Kok (on the Western side of Kowloon) alongside many other buildings and regions of HK. Over the past few days, protesting in certain parts of HK meant that my friend steered me away from these areas and subsequently, what activities we had planned during my first stint here were susceptible to change. However, because the Peak is not too close to Central, I got the chance to go up there today. And it was this that made me really appreciate Hong Kong’s beauty. Because from a natural scenic perspective, this may not be the first place that comes to mind (or indeed, a place that comes to mind at all). But from an urbanization viewpoint, the Hong Kong skyline does for the eyes what any form of chocolate does for the soul. It is an absolute visual treat!

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Getting to see HK from above!

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Hong Kong skyscrapers during the day

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A different viewpoint from Sky Terrace 428 (as was the photo above)

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Hong Kong at night (from Café Deco terrace) 

Note that the Sky Terrace 428 is at the top part of the Peak. You have to pay an extra 45 HK dollars but it is well worth it for 360 degree views above Hong Kong.

Upon arriving at the Peak by taxi (because the queue for the tram was unbelievably long and today has been hot and humid), we walked around the shopping centre which lies at the bottom of the free viewing platform and the higher Sky Terrace 428. Normally there are different displays on- my friend told me that a month ago the display was Mr Men and Little Miss (which, truthfully, I would have quite enjoyed). Today however, in preparation for Halloween, a number of attraction employees were roaming around dressed as clowns, headless individuals, zombie girls (with zombie teddy bears) etc and Halloween decorations were dotted around the shopping centre. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it could be fun, but on a warm, bright day when you want to take scenic photos, having to watch out for Halloween characters creeping up on you or jumping behind you is a little bit of an inconvenience. And ironically, later in the evening when such characters would have created more of a stir, we were unable to see any of them roaming around (although this may have just been coincidence).

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My new best friends!!!

Another thing I’ll say about the Peak shopping centre is that a couple (though not all) shops have policies on individuals not being able to take photos or touch items. And as someone who has been to other shops in Hong Kong whereby these rules are not applicable, this does irritate me a little.  Also, if you are not obviously local or bilingual, watch out for shop owners negotiating a smaller price drop downwards, especially since some items are costly. My friend speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese, and shop owners were more keen to drop prices for him. However, this is just a minor point, because the shops (though obviously geared towards tourism) had some really quirky and cheap items in them (such as a Dim Sum compact mirror- I had to get it, it was only a pound!). Plus I found my sister part of a present but I won’t say what it is in case she reads this 🙂

We decided to queue for the tram upon leaving the Peak that evening. Although the queue looked long, we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the line moved.

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A to-scale model of the tram at the Peak

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The back wall of the tram station turns a rainbow spectrum of colours. It’s very pretty!

The ride home was quick, only 7 or 8 minutes, and is very beautiful but here’s something to bear in mind; when the tram arrives (if you are taking it at a busy time), you won’t get a seat waiting patiently to get onto the transportation. We experienced a situation on the tram whereby one women purposely prevented a whole bunch of people from sitting on a free bench next to her in order to make room for her female companion who had drifted behind in the rush that was boarding the tram. And if that happens and you stand, your calf muscles will get a fairly intense workout as the tram is downhill and quite fast. I would suggest that if it looks too busy, get the next one (they run every fifteen minutes) and make sure you look out for the yellow markings on the platform to stand at since this is where the tram doors will open.

 Overall, the abundance of shops and restaurants, alongside some gorgeous viewing points, made the Peak a lovely way to spend the afternoon and part of the evening. Not only was the Sky Terrace 428 particularly spectacular, but having paid entry you get free audio-guides in whichever language, allowing you to learn more about the history of the Peak and the buildings and regions of Hong Kong identifiable from the viewing platform. Note that the Mandarin and English version contains slightly different facts and sound effects (the English version had few sound effects, the Mandarin version apparently had more). This is not a bad thing, just something to be aware of 🙂

A huge positive of the Peak and it’s surrounding amenities is that a number of restaurants have similar spectacular views over Hong Kong (and these don’t necessarily have to be pricey, such restaurants include Burger King and McDonalds and also include many non-fast food restaurants). These views can make for an enhanced dining, dessert or drinks experience.

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My really nice dessert and drink (watermelon cocktail) experience at the Café Deco terrace.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog!

*Note that the opinions regarding the Peak in this blog post are purely my own, and in the interests of being honest, I wanted to include both the favourable and not so favourable aspects (in my opinion) of the attraction.*