In Search of Real Mermaids

Do you sometimes feel that you are in your own movie (The Truman Show comes to mind) sometimes?  Like life somehow knows of your plan and all the travel shows you watch somehow relate to where you were planning to go next.  This happened a lot but I specifically remember it for Jeju.  We were just having our usual crash on the couch and watch a bit of TV before bed with our mates when suddenly on TV are the Haenyos of Jeju (Diving Ladies).  It gave me a bit more reason to visit the island.

So on our usual escape out of the Island last September of 2011, we decided to give South Korea a try.  We’ve included Jeju in our itinerary with a specific goal other than the awesome view: to see and talk to a Haenyo.

So from Seoul Gimpo Airport, we boarded our Jeju Air flight to Jeju Island.  Since I never looked at the map properly, I was shocked when we were trying to land.  The island is HUGE!  I really thought we took the wrong way and were landing on the wrong island.  It was no wonder that it takes one hour from the airport to get to our hostel.  We were actually very lucky that the owner herself was in Jeju at that time.  She was the one who picked us up and accompanied us to have dinner.

We stayed at Ssari’s Flower Hill, a hostel  owned by the same people who run Seoul Guest House.  It is a concrete bungalow on the outside, and all Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) interiors.  It is the perfect place to relax after a whole day of travelling.  The room smelled so nice and the interiors are just perfect.  They also have 2 huge dogs who are just the sweetest.

There’s a lot of things you can do in Jeju so don’t be like us and just allot at least 3 days there.  There’s Seongsun Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) — a UNESCO heritage site meaning castle hill.  A must see site.  It takes a while to reach the top but the view and the place is amazing on it’s own.  People actually climb up there to see the sunrise — hence the name.

We were fortunate that our landlady was such a sweetheart and dropped us off the next day near the base of Seongsun Ilchulbong.  So off we went to climb up to the peak where the view is spectacular but make sure you have enough water as it was quite a long hike.  I wouldn’t even think of climbing the higher one which was Hallasan until maybe I’ve trained for it.

After climbing down, we opted to walk to the pier to head towards Udo Island (Cow Island).  Udo Island is where they shot some part of the movie Il Mare of which the movie The Lakehouse was based on.  Once there, Jore saw simple modes of transportation that she decided to rent and force me to drive.  Good thing she rented a golf buggy and not some ATV.

We chugged along with me panicking every once in a while.  I had a scary thought running through my mind: If they didn’t check if I had a driver’s license, then what about the rest of the drivers zooming around the island…

Without much incident, we parked and had a little stroll along the beach where Il Mare was shot with Jore waiting for her Lee Jung-jae.

By the way, remember the goal of meeting a Haenyo?  We got to see a lot in action.  We ran into one but she was quite busy and only was able to say “Hello” to her.  The rest were all out at sea diving.  It was amazing how we just stared at them while they were out there doing their thing in the cold sea.

After chasing Haenyos, we explored the rest of the beautiful Udo and returned our rental vehicle.  Once arriving at the port, we took a cab to the Teddy Bear Museum at Jungmun.  Since, we are talking about taking cab, I suggest you take a cab service if you want to explore the island as it could easily cost you an arm and a leg just to keep on hailing cabs from the streets.  Our cab fare from Seongsan Pier to Jung Mun was a whopping 58,000 KRW which is more than I pay for a night stay in Jeju!  If you rented a cab for the whole day, they would only charge you around 100,000 KRW.

There’s a lot of other places in Jeju that we wished we could have seen.  We wanted to follow the Olle Trails but didn’t have the time nor cycling skills.  We’ll learn how to ride a bike, then we will be back, Jeju.

Soul of Asia – Seoul

If you are a fan of K-Pop or Korean drama, we might not be able to perk your curiosity as we didn’t go to sites in the film or series. But Seoul has a lot more to offer to non K-Pop or K-drama fans as well. I don’t think any trip to the country is ever complete without  Seoul.  I have to say that I’ve barely even seen Seoul even if I stayed there for 3 days.  One thing you must do is prioritize. You can get tired just focusing on UNESCO alone.  I have to say though that sturdy comfy shoes are a must.  You can use the guide books for outline as they barely give you a feel for what you will be experiencing.  The Korean Tourism Organization is a good place to start.

Some lessons we’ve learned while in Seoul:  1.  There are a couple of ways to get from the airport to the city: the train or the Airport Bus.  The Airport Bus has enough bus stops in the city for it to be really the top choice.  The driver/concierge helps you with your luggages unlike the train stations.  If you are choosing train, transferring from one line to the subway is a series of walkways, escalators and confusion.  One advantage of the train though is that it gives you a nice view from Incheon to Seoul.  2.  Korea runs only on 3G.  Please remember to enable the 3G on your phone but disable data roaming to avoid paying a bomb.  3. The major restaurant/coffee place garbage bins are recycle friendly. I had a hard time figuring out how to segregate in lesser time. 4.  It is still quite warm even when it is almost autumn. 5. People dress according to season in coats and closed shoes even if it feels warm.

We stayed at two hostels in Seoul.  One was Korea Central Backpackers when we just arrived.  We just stayed overnight.  The place is quite centrally located near Hyewha station which is the University District.  The place was quite new and very very clean.  Only thing is, the bathroom door.  The water has already warped it due to how Korean shower heads are connected.  When we arrived back from Gyeong Ju, we stayed at Fully Guesthouse until we flew back.  This hostel is in the same University District but nearer to the Airport Bus stop.  I would have to say that this is one of the best places to stay in the country.  The room floors are heated, the bathroom is very clean and has basic toiletries and there is a fridge. The internet and TV is only at the common area probably to encourage a hostel environment.  Mr Cho’s breakfast is quite nice and Kimmy is the best guide.  If ever the fares allow me to go back to Seoul, this will be my official temporary residence.

Seoul has a lot of nice places to visit:  They have a lot of Palaces, some of them connected by paths.  I think it would be best to choose which one you really want to visit.  We visited 2 but not on purpose.  I just wanted to see the one which was nearer to our side.  Changgyeonggung is connected to Changdeokgung.  Apparently, we missed all the excitement of being tourist as the ones which are interesting were Deoksugung with the changing of the guards and Gyeongbokgung which has a mountain behind it as a backdrop and there is opportunity for you to dress up in Korean finery. Jongmyo Shrine – might be better to visit the park outside with all the uncles playing chinese chess rather than the shrine itself. The place itself is lovely but it might be best to visit during the festival in May where they perform ceremonies and really bring out the spirit tablets.

Although it is a place full of history, it is also a shopping paradise. They have Dongdaemon and Namdaemon markets (east and south gates respectively) where you can buy anything from raw materials to finished products. Myeongdong is Seoul’s Orchard road, full of malls and stores. It is really really crowded and there are a lot of stalls on the side that sells street food.

Because I still need to satisfy my culture vulture side, we went to Insadong where we saw nice art shops and ate tasty dumplings. Samseungil was also a nice place giving a bit of the european vibe. The best is Bukcheongdong where most of the houses are still built in the traditional way with wood but beware the cctv is in operation so I didn’t dare touch the cute postbox. We wished we had more time in Seoul as there is still so much more to see. We’ll be on the lookout for discounted fares. See u soon, Seoul.