I have just wrapped up my second trip to South Korea. I feel very blessed to have been able to accompany my husband on his business trips. The Korean people are so kind and generous to have invited not only me, but our children as well. Only the youngest, Rachel who is 14, was able to go with us.
Since this was my second trip, I was a little more prepared for the long travel time. I packed mints and chapstick to help with the dry airplane air. That didn't help the boredom, however. I don't usually sit for more than a few minutes at a time before getting up and running (around). The flights to Detroit, Detroit to Seoul Inchon were thankfully uneventful and we arrived at our hotel tired yet ready for adventure.
At 5 am the next morning, Mark, Rachel, and I hit the running trail two blocks from the hotel. It was the same trail we had run before so was a very familiar and energizing run (for me at least).
After breakfast, Rachel and I set out to explore, this time with me as tour guide. We took the subway to Gangnam, walked around the neighborhood a bit until I spotted a sign for COEX. I remembered my son telling me it was a mall. We followed the sign, followed the sign, then finally asked someone how far. About an hour later, I spotted a little sign on a door that read COEX. We went in and was underwhelmed. It was a normal-looking underground shopping mall with an aquarium. We didn't go to the aquarium because it was crowded with school children. Following a short rest, we discovered a subway station - in the mall - and hopped a train back to the hotel.
When Mark returned that evening after work he asked if we'd like to go to Jeju Island in the morning. Heck Yeah!! I was thrilled. I had hoped to be able to go to this volcanic island we had been told about on the last trip.
Early the following morning we hopped a plane from Gimp airport to Jeju. That was an experience in itself. Lots of young couples and little children running around. Not a "non-Asian" in sight. The flight was quick, only 50 minutes. We arrived to clear blue skies and warm temps a little apprehensive about what to expect. We were blessed to have been given a driver for the duration of our trip who we were told spoke English. We hoped that was true.
The driver thankfully met us at the gate and immediately asked us, in pretty fair English, what our plans were. We didn't really have any. He drove us along the western border of the island along the shoreline. It was beautiful. Very much not what I had expected - not that I had great expectations. Maybe I was expecting the Hawaii I had seen on TV. The beaches were black volcanic rock with a little sand, not at all "touristy".
After about an hour of driving he stopped in the middle of the road and turned off his car engine. I thought he had car trouble until he smiled and pointed at the road. We were moving backward - uphill! The road was called Mysterious Road because of the optical illusion. Google it, there are videos that are pretty cool.
Next stop was a place called Tropical Hallimpark, a nice walking tour garden. He then took us to a Korean BBQ for dinner. This was awkward because no one in the place spoke any English and even though the menu had English and we were able to point to order, the lady couldn't understand what we wanted and the driver, oh his name was Mr. Moon, had a difficult time translating. We eventually ordered beef and rice and with it came the usual Korean fare which was pretty much untouched.
Finally, late in the day near sunset we arrived at the Y Hotel. I was completely surprised at the modern architecture of the building set in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It is located on the southern border near Seogwipo. We had a suite with two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the ocean. Can you say - I'm never going home?
Day two, I asked my husband where he wanted to go. His answer, to my surprise was Hallasan. My husband, the clean room engineer wanted to go hike a volcano. Can you say - I'm in love?! The driver picks us up on time and starts driving north. We pass through a little area full of buses and says casually, "I pick you up here." We don't comment because we weren't really sure what he said or meant and because he kept on driving for half an hour. We get to the beginning of the Seongpanak Trail, Mr. Moon gives us instructions and a map and says, "see you at 4." That's in 7 hours. We knew it was a long hike. I looked at my husband and he's all smiles (for now). And we're off!! We had hiked a mountain last trip so we sort of knew what to expect. This trail was different. For one, it was slippery. It had rained the day before. Two, the trail was rockier, smaller rocks, not quite as steep - at first. We stopped and took pictures at every trail maker all the way up to 1900 feet!. Four hours up and four hours down! About 3/4 of the way up we started crossing paths with young adults from Hyundai Motor Co all dressed alike. There must have been a thousand of them! That made the trek as little less enjoyable because they were running up and down, and a few fell and got injured. The peak was crowded with these guys, and a few females. Interestingly - we were the only Americans. We did see I think two "non-Asians" but I believe they were Eastern Europeans. Didn't get a chance to talk to them.
By the end of our hike, my husband was a mean mountain lion and I mean that in the most respectful and admirable way! He was so much out of his comfort zone as he hopped from rock to rock, boulder to boulder, up and down the mountain encouraging me and Rachel on. Rachel by the way was a real trooper!
Mr. Moon was at the finish line (that what it felt like to me) waiting as promised to take us to our hotel where we collapsed from exhaustion.
Tired, but not wanting to waste a moment of our precious gift, we traveled to Choenjiyeon to see a 'famous' waterfall the next morning. It was a cloudy day with a chance of rain but we wanted to see as much outdoor sites as possible. There were a ton of museums to choose from, but nature is so much better!! The waterfall was just that - a waterfall. The most interesting thing to watch was the tourists. A huge percentage of tourists in Jeju are Chinese and one of my favorite pastimes is people watching so we sat for half an hour just watching them take pictures of each other.
People watching over, we were hungry - but not for Korean BBQ. We found a Wester-style restaurant but alas it was closed. Mr. Moon took us to an alternative just down the street - Chinese buffet! Mark wasn't too sure until he saw the pizza and spaghetti! Really? That was so funny.
Next stop, Seongsanilchulbong. "Seongsanilchulbong sunrise peak is a classic tuff cone that was formed around five thousand years ago by a hydrovolcanic eruption in a shallow water seabed." It is located on the northeast corner of the island. When I looked it up, it appeared to be a short walk, not a hike, to the rim. I was wrong. Mr. Moon showed us that we could do the half course, which only took 30 minutes since we were tired from the day before. When we got to the base, I really wanted to go up. My husband said go, he and Rachel would walk around the bottom. So, I went. Rather, I jogged up the bazillion steps to the top. I was sweaty and exhausted. My thighs were burning but it was worth it. I only wished the sun were out and we could have done this at dawn. Nevertheless, the view of the clouds rolling in was breathtaking. I took a dozen or so pictures then jogged down another bazillion steps, calves aching all the way. I think we all fell asleep in the car ride back to the hotel.
Last day in Jeju we only had a half day. Our flight was late afternoon. Geomunoreum Lava Tube was the only item on the agenda. It was a dreary day and the information pamphlet said it was indoors so I figured that would be a good place to visit. Well... it was indoors. If you've ever been in a cave, and I have so I should have known, you will know that caves are cold and wet, especially when it's raining outside. I almost turned around and aborted but my awesome husband said something like, oh it's only two miles, you can do two miles. (one way mind you). I felt totally underdressed/improperly dressed. I almost changed and put my sneakers on but instead was wearing my Bob's. I felt a little better when I saw other tourists wearing dresses and heels. I think it's a culture thing. I can usually spot the tourist by the shoes. Europeans wear Crocs, Birkenstocks, or hiking sandals. Americans wear flip flops or running shoes.
*** For everyone out there reading this - I am not judging or prejudging or prejudiced against anyone!! I am merely having a running commentary on the people I observe, the culture I experience, and how out of place I felt. I completely loved my time and the people I have met here. Quite honestly, the US is such a melting pot, everyone looks American.
I digress. After the hike, it was back in Mr. Moon's car. He took us to another buffet - VIPs. It was sort of a fusion steak/salad bar buffet thing. Not too bad. Once at the airport, it was people-watching time. I could do a whole blog on people at the airport. Maybe I will later.
Our last day in Seoul we went to Lotte World. I could do a blog on that, too. Quite a different experience. It's sort of a Korean version of Disney World.
Enough said. How about some photos?
|View from the taxi, west side of Jeju.|
|Beach at Jeju Island.|
|Mark, Rachel, and myself with an island in the background, Jeju.|
|Statue in Hallimpark.|
|Beautiful waterfall with sculptures at Hallimpark.|
|Our starting point at Hallasan.|
|Going up Hallasan.|
|Rest stop at Hallasan. Locals in their North Face gear.|
|Rachel and Mark are TIRED at 1700.|
|Hallasan crater at 2000 meters.|
|Relief at the finish of our 8-hour trek.|
|View from our room at Y Resort.|