Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Vacationing in Jeju

For the first week of my official vacation, my mom and I flew off with Scott and his parents to Jeju-do; an island province off the southern coast of mainland Korea. It attracts foreign tourists, but also a high concentration of Korean vacationers and honeymooners. Koreans weren't allowed to travel outside of the country until the mid 1980's, so it has a long history of being the exotic travel destination within Korean boundaries. It was once home to several active volcanoes, but now the large inactive craters just decorate the horizon. The largest of these is Hallasan, located in the center of the island and is both the largest mountain and home to the only natural lake in South Korea. Other smaller (the one below) craters sit on the outside borders.

The rocks created created by the volcanos have also contributed artistically to the residents, and perhaps the most signature image of Jeju is of the dol hareubangs (literally, "stone grandfather"). These little guys are everywhere: along roadsides, at entrances to paths and buildings, or set upon hills. I started to regard them as silent but charming tour guides.

We arrived at a somewhat ironic time. Right as we left Andong to go to Jeju, I learned that George W Bush had been in Jeju and had just left to go to Andong. I can't decide if I'm disappointed or if it was fate.

The Hyatt Regency and It's Beaches

Instead of staying in Jeju city on the north end where we flew in, we booked a hotel on the southern coast at the Hyatt Regency.

It reminded me of a cruise ship on the outside, and on the inside all of the rooms centered around a big courtyard.

The pond is home to many fish, and if you get close enough to the edge of the pond they will swim up to you, stick up their mouths, and make sucking motions in case you have food for them.

It was the perfect place to mentally get away from teaching for a few days. At night we left the patio door open to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. The twenty or so bug bites I incurred as a result were so worth it.

The Hyatt has two main beaches next to it. The first is large and sandy, and attracts the most people to it because it's between two hotels. The other beach was more my style, rocks everywhere and the sand is darker with grains of black and orange mixed in. Since Jeju was once highly volcanic, most of the rocks were formed by lava, and are covered into little speckled holes and depressions.

At night, Scott and I went down as the sun was setting and the tide was coming in. We drew little pictures in the sand at various depths to see how long it took for the water to engulf them. This eventually turned into a battle between us and the ocean, and the pictures turned into written taunts to see if the ocean was strong enough to erase them.

Further down this beach, the rocks become more concentrated, presumably because the cliff that shadows it has dropped bits of itself. On our last day, my mom and I decided to do a bit of beach combing for interesting rocks. As I walked down toward the shore, I was alerted to a crunch under my feet. When I looked down, I saw dozens of little snail shells bobbling along in a mad migration away from me. The expanse of rocks from the cliff to the water line is so dense; it forms several little communities that I started paying more careful attention to.

Yeomiji Botanical Gardens

During our first full day we all went to the Yeomiji Botanical Gardens, which is hailed for it's diverse garden themes and thousands of plant species. It has a large greenhouse in the center, which is surrounded by different garden styles: French, Italian, Sunken, Korean, and Jeju Native. The Jeju garden was a wild tangle of plants, and it led to the more visibly defined Korean garden, with signature intricately painted gazebo and large square lily pad pools.

The Italian garden's best feature was a large fountain that I could walk under or take steps to a small area above, which gave me a nice view of the French garden.
Inside the greenhouse, it is also sectioned off by garden type: Cactus, Jungle, Flower, and Tropical Fruit.

The flower garden was by far the simplest, with its pockets of flowers standing out on their own against largely green leafy backgrounds.

In addition to the plant life, the gardens were helped along creatively by a number of statues. Some, like this one in the flower garden, were worked naturally in to the curves of the surrounding life.

Others were a bit more lighthearted in setting the mood of the garden location- dinosaurs in the jungle garden, or this one in the tropical fruits garden.

Cheonjeyeon Falls

Near the botanical gardens is a bridge that leads to the Cheonjeyeon Falls. The bridge is covered with images of seven nymphs, handmaidens to the Emperor of Heaven, traveling to the falls to bathe.

There are three falls, although the first is the most tranquil with a large unbelievably blue pool. The water seems to come magically through the rocks itself, though on rainier days it would also roll over the flat space above the rock wall.

Sanbanggulsa Grotto

Sanbanggulsa Grotto was about a 45 minute bus ride east along the coast from the Jungmun resort complex. It's a Buddhist temple and shrine winding up the lower regions of Sanbang mountain, with a breathtaking view of coastline below at every level.

Apart from the view, it was the most interesting Buddhist temple area I've visited so far. Most of them are very simple, with most of the extravagance contained inside the temple buildings except for the painted roofs and possibly a small shrine outside. Sanbanggulsa is a true grotto, and is a cluster of buildings and statues of stone, ceramic, and marble.

Not everything matched perfectly, but it was like walking through an antique shop; once everything could be taken in, it was easy to be drawn to certain smaller items tucked away in the nooks of the grotto.

The largest statue in the grotto is large golden Buddha- my head came about midway up his seated knees. There is only one other gold Buddha in the grotto, which I passed on the way to this one; it appeared to be a younger version of Buddha, seated in a thinking-man pose, while this larger one was Buddha in his characteristic, divine, seated pose.

From the busiest bulk of the grotto, stairs continued to wind up the side of the mountain. The stairs ended at a more simply laid shrine set into an open cavern. Water dripped from cracks along the ceiling, and collected in a trough below for drinking.

At first I wasn't sure if I should be taking pictures, because there was a monk sitting peacefully at the entrance and another older man standing watch over the place. However, when the older man saw me sneaking a few shots, he grabbed my wrist and led me up the stairs at the back of the cavern and pointed to the view. If I wanted to take pictures, he wanted to make sure I had the most choice vantage point.

After leaving the grotto, a short walk led us to investigate a sizable stone box on a hill.

This is just one of many such structures around the island, and once acted as a lookout for enemy ships. The posted guard would light a fire to send smoke signals across the island in the event he spotted something (or run on foot to the next lookout during rainy days). A summon to the Rohirrim, perhaps?
Teddy Bear Museum
After all of the walking of the week, my mom and I chose to visit one of the island's many strange museums, and the Teddy Bear museum sounded too adorable to pass up. I wasn't sure if it was going to be a gimmick when we first went in; I might have expected all of the quality of an American tourist trap off the highway, but it was actually very interesting and true to the the subject area.
It had three galleries- the first was a historical look at Teddy Bears throughout the decades with a collection of iconic bears from the original Teddy, to Paddington Bear, to Winnie the Pooh and Beanie Babies. It also displayed a number of Teddy Bear substitutes for famous figures like the Beatles, Queen Elizabeth, and Elvis- as well as great moments in history like the moon landing and the fall of the Berlin wall.

The second gallery was of great art redone by teddy bears: The Creation of Man, The Kiss, the Mona Lisa, and many others. The third gallery was devoted to saving the polar bears, which I suspect is a changing gallery, and had several displays of teddy polar bears trying to escape from extinction by trying such methods as moving to warmer climates or painting themselves at panda bears.
Perhaps if I can come back, I'll try out the miniature theme park, the chocolate museum, or the park of over a thousand goblin statues. Jeju is certainly full of exotic island beauty and curious oddities, and it would take me more than a week to explore everything new and interesting.


  1. Again you have out done yourself. The narative and the pictures are great. I hope there is more that you will post. Everything is so very interesting.

  2. Once again your post was worth the wait! I enjoyed hearing about all the interesting things you discovered. Keep them coming!
    Aunt Sheryl

  3. South Koreans were always allowed to travel overseas as students, businessmen, immigrants, but not usually as toruists and backpackers thanks to the strict foreign currency exchange law. The law was changed in the mid 1980s to allow any kind overseas travel. That's all.

  4. Ah yes, I was referring to the vacationers and honeymooners, the subjects of the previous sentence, not at all about businessmen and students. Indeed, they were not bound by the same rules. It was just a side anecdote anyway, and I hope you found the rest of my blog agreeable.

  5. Great post, darlin'! I love the pictures of the botanical gardens. I skipped that in my blog cause I didn't get many good picture, but you certainly did!

    And to anonymous above, we know about the situation with South Koreans and traveling. Sara just wanted to point out as a side-note that Koreans had a difficult time TRAVELING until the 80s to provide some context for our readers at home.

  6. That was sure nice of the anonymous person to correct your blog like he/she did. Knowing how new you are to Korea and not speaking the language. I’ve seen in your past blogs how hard it is to figure out the true definition and the meanings of things.
    You are sure a talented writer and I love coming back each week to read all the up dates on your stay while you’re over there. Keep up the GREAT JOB!

  7. Thanks for the great post! As soon as I got home from my recent visit (with wonderful hosts in a beautiful city) I pulled up the blog to see the photos of Jeju. Beautiful! Tim

  8. Sara, your photos and your blog made me really jealous that I can not be there to have you as a tour guide. You are my tour guide to a land I love to see and read about. You bring life to your photos wiwth your stories. I can not tell you how much I enjoy reading them. Glad you got to see your mom. If I had known in advance she was going, I would have sent your story we have been working on to you. Keep up the great work, it is my only view into that wonderful land you are experiencing.

    Much luv

    Aunt Helen

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