After 3 days in Busan and Boseong, we packed up for our last stop of our South Korean itinerary: Jeju, the honeymoon island frequently compared to “the Hawai’i” of South Korea or the Okinawa of Japan,
Taking the metro for about an hour from Busan’s Haeundae area to the Busan Gimhae International Airport, we made it with plenty of time to our 2:20pm one hour Jeju Air flight.
“Jeju” know this is the busiest air route in the world?
Landing at 3:20pm and picking up our luggage, we then proceeded to the rental area for a 5 minute shuttle bus across the expressway to Tamra Rent-A-Car to pick up our 3 pre-reserved SUVs and a last minute sedan for the group.
They need you to bring international drivers’ licenses to drive their rentals, so make sure you had that arranged ahead of time before your trip at your local DMV.
Driving only 8 minutes into Jeju’s only major city, we checked into our fancier digs at Ventimo Hotel and headed out for Jeju’s local seafood for dinner, some of which sashimi looks like glass shards!
Definitely took care of business:
Then Ann wanted dessert, so dessert she gets. I looked up a nearby mango shop called Mango Holic and it became our de facto nightly hangout dessert heaven of a spot for the rest of our week in Jeju:
After the mango shop kicked us out at 10pm, Kelly found us a nearby karaoke bar for our next move. Despite a minor scare of getting stuck in their elevator for bringing on too many people, I told Gina to pry the door opens to quickly escape even before help arrived.
We promptly celebrated our near-death experience with lots of Whitney Houston and 90s pop:
The next morning we set out at 11am with our convoy first to Love Land, a blush-worthy outdoor sculpture park (unfortunately closed for renovations at time of posting) famous for its 140 sculptures representing us humans in various sexual positions. The park also happens to be located on Mysterious Road, an offbeat roadway that claims an optical illusion of a downward-sloping hill that looks like an incline.
We drove down it for science and was very disappointed. The incline appearing hill…was an incline.
From there we drove east and inland for Sangumburi, a popular film location for many K-dramas:
It’s a very guided, paved path. Not the “hike” I thought it was going to be.
But you should really come here for its views of a huge volcanic crater.
We then drove to the northern coast for Kelly’s recommended experience of a robot serving us Kalbi set lunches, and then to Manjanggul Cave, one of the world’s largest lava tubes at 9km in length.
The crazy must be noted how Paul left us 6 days ago back in Seoul to photograph for a wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and then returned back to South Korea to join us today in Jeju. Stay awake Paul!
The whole walk to explore the cave takes 40 minutes:
Manjanggul also claims home to the world’s largest and tallest naturally forming lava column:
After spelunking, we drove east to Seongsan Ilchulbong, also known as Sunrise Peak.
Resembling somewhat a fort castle, its archetypal tuff cone structure resting on a shallow seabed was formed 5000 years ago by an underwater volcanic eruption.
By the ocean is where you can witness the Haenyeo of Jeju, a community of women (some even in their 80s!) who freedive without oxygen or equipment up to 10 meters under the sea to gather shellfish such as abalone or sea urchins for a living. It seemed like one of their headquarters is here.
Afterwards we drove back west along the north coast to look for the perfect sunset spot.
Then by 8pm we reunited back in Jeju City for Jeju’s famous and unique black pork BBQ at Donsadong:
Instead of going out on the town afterwards, the group elected for drinking together back at the hotel until we slowly passed out one by one. We also held an after after party in my room where we even had our very own arcade to jam with.
The next morning as Matt and Jenny headed back to climb up Seongsan Ilchulbong, the rest of us drove an hour to the southern in search of Jeju’s famous waterfalls.
Although we at first failed to find Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls after a short hike through the city park, perhaps it was meant to be as we eventually regrouped after an unexpectedly decent lunch on the southern coast of Jeju . . .
. . . for the much prettier Jeongbang Waterfalls nearby instead.
Those of you nostalgic for Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland may find familiarity at another volcanic formation called Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff, to which we drove another 30 minutes for the southern coast of Jeju.
Then finally we wanted to visit Jeju’s arguably most photogenic beach, which we found in the northwest at Hyeopjae Beach:
The multiverse of DSLRs
Then despite unable to find and coordinate either a final group dinner back in Jeju City or a ramen dinner at Hyeopjae as everything was closing down early there, we opted to play it safe and get as much of the group together for a final dinner instead at Salad Basket (to accommodate our vegetarians), then dessert again at Mango Holic, and goodbye drinks at the Stone Island Taphouse.
And despite all of us expecting to be spending one last night together (I even gave a goodbye speech at Mango Holic!), everyone was starting to receive notifications of our flights getting cancelled the next morning due to heavy rain and wind affecting nearly all of the South Korean peninsula; “goodbye…maybe” became a “see you tomorrow for lunch?”
Stressed about not knowing what tomorrow would bring, we all slept earlier than expected and then woke up the next morning to find out that all domestic flights out of Jeju were indeed being cancelled. My own original plan of leaving early with Raubern for an 8:30am Air Busan flight to Busan to catch an onward flight to Taipei and join up with Ann and Donna (who left on an already sold out 10:30am Tiger Air flight direct from Jeju to Taipei) was dashed when we saw that our Air Busan flight was listed as “cancelled” on their website.
Curiously, however, neither Raubern or I had received an Air Busan e-mail confirming a cancellation or offering a rebooking/refund, so we took our chances in sleeping in past our flight departure times and then drove to the airport late next morning both to drop off our cars and to confirm indeed that it was cancelled. Only by showing up in person at the Air Busan desk could we get an official cancellation document as well as a full refund request.
Then the happy dominoes fell into place: Having asked for and been handed a official document indicating the flight cancellation by Air Busan, I was then able to use that as proof to obtain a full refund for my onward Busan to Taipei Jeju Air flight that I had to also miss in the morning (thankfully I was able to take care of this easily on JejuAir’s customer service chat on their website). Hyatt was also nice enough to cancel my Taipei room reservations without a cancellation fee.
Even better, our alternative flights from Jeju to Taipei 2 days from now would be Ann and Donna’s direct Tiger Air flight for $200 cheaper! Win win win!
A pitstop at Small City Doughnuts also helped:
Raubern, Jenny, and I then reconvened back with everyone else at Salad Basket for lunch where I got to formally meet and befriend fellow New Yorker Jessica and Scotland-based trauma surgeon-in-training Mostafa, both of whom our own Paul had picked up from the airport earlier in the morning (when he too had to go to the airport to see when his cancelled flights could get rebooked). Maybe this shitshow really was meant to be…
There’s a beauty in the serendipity of getting stranded.
Even made time to sign a copy of my book for Bhavana!
After an afternoon of redesigning our return itineraries home and catching up on sleep back at Ventimo Hotel, we took advantage of our extra unplanned time in Jeju and we finally got to try Gejang aka soy marinated raw crab.
It was unbelievably good.
And then after a third round of desserts at Mango Holic and repeat drinks at Stone Island, it was goodbye for real; we were about to overstay our farewells. The next morning, I woke up to the final 5: myself, Raubern, Natalie, Gina, and Cece.
Couldn’t have asked for a better post-mortem as the 5 of us skipped plans for surfing or biking around Udo island and instead chatted all day over brunch at Café Lara, then leisurely walking back to Ventimo, doing last minute shopping at Artbox (where I even got souvenirs; the horror!), picking up more Small City Donuts, and then a final final beef and black pork BBQ dinner at Yuk Daepyo.
Now it’s 6 hours in Taipei with Ann, Donna, and Raubern before I return home for my first shift back tomorrow.
–AFTER RETURNING HOME–
Even though I have voiced often that South Korea isn’t my typical destination for a monsoon, intuition always prevails. Seeing everyone form and reform relationships that otherwise would have never happened (thanks Eric for pointing this out so well) among the countless little private corners, nooks, and crannies of spaces across 10 days and 5 cities in South Korea, I am reminded again from this trip that a monsoon’s typical destination have always been each other.
We all came into this space this trusting an intuition without anything else to back it up, and however this trip ended for each of us, it looks like we all came back trusting ourselves a little more that something impalpably powerful in our gut can still lead us in the right directions.
We can now come back trusting our intuition and hence loving ourselves a little more; the confirmatory signposts would be every former stranger that had been traveling, driving, moving, sitting, living next to you the past 10 days. And that’s a destination worth traveling for.
- At time of posting in Jeju Island, it was 2 °C - Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: rainy, cloudy, flight cancelling worthy