The small island of Jeju is located south of South Korea, only about a 45min flight away from Busan. The little island hosts magnificent natural sights, tons of interesting and strange museums, and delicious food. The island has a unique culture, albeit being a part of South Korea.
I traveled to Jeju during my spring break in April this year (2016) for 5 days, as well as spending one night at the end of my trip in Busan. I left from Taiwan, so it wasn’t too long of a journey. I went with my good, motherly friend who luckily can speak Korean (as I don’t know any Korean other than 안녕하세요, 이거 주세요, 사랑해요, and 감사합니다). We planned out a few sights to see, some food to eat, and were excited for our adventure.
Aside from getting lost on our way to our hostel at night, our trip included a lot of other adventures and mishaps. On our first day in Jeju we decided to go to Hallasan National Park and hike. Hallasan is a shield volcano, as well as the highest mountain on Jeju and in all of South Korea. We were a little unprepared to for this huge hike we eventually realized. We arrived at the national park around 9:30-10:00 in the morning and thought we could hike the entire mountain in that one day before it got dark. We soon learned that we had to reach the fourth checkpoint by 12:30 in order to be permitted to hike to the top, for safety reasons. It didn’t deter us, we kept our spirits high because we we hiked a lot in Taiwan, we could definitely make it. No sweat! It started out as an easy hike, the path had forests on both sides with some of the trees not yet covered in leaves due to the colder Spring weather. There were many birds singing in the morning sun, which luckily didn’t pound on us too hard. Some of the bird were crows, actually no, a lot of the birds were crows staring at us from the trees. Caw Caw Caw… Their echos slightly unnerved us because it sounded like they were mocking and laughing at us from above.
We reached our first checkpoint a little later than planned. We were tired and took a lunch break because the hike only became steeper from that point on. Over lunch, we discussed our options. A little disappointment in faces because of our realization we wouldn’t make it to the cut-off point in order to hike all the way to the top of the volcano. Still, we wanted to make it as far as possible, quitters never succeed. And I crave the feeling of accomplishment when conquering a mountain, there was no turning back yet. So we continued to hike, but between the first and second checkpoint the mountain trail just became a magnitude steeper, which slowed our pace. Trudging on through the rocky path, we eventually we ended up in an evergreen forest at the higher altitude. It reminded me of Canada’s forests, which are mostly coniferous trees. These tall trees towered over us, towering over all of Jeju from their mountain homes. This is when we started to feel a tired, thinking, yeah, I’m glad we are not going all the way to top on a 6hr one-way hike up. Instead, we decided to go to the third checkpoint at the least.
The hike was on an incline. The signboards and trail markers confirmed that the hike would just increase in difficulty as one went on. This is around the point where I finished my first bottle of water and moved on to my bottle of Pocari Sweat. Keeping hydrated is important when hiking outdoors. Huffing, sweating, the midday sun high in the blue sky, we saw some Korean girls hiking with full face make-up on too. I felt so ugly compared to them as I was melting into a puddle of sweat. When we reached the third checkpoint, we arrived a fork in the road and a sign. The sign indicated one way was to the top of Hallasan, another 3hrs away (so we were about halfway), another direction was to a crater lake, about 30min away. Of course we chose the lake! The hike didn’t end here, we had a Plan C now! We were heading past the third checkpoint with a second wind thanks to our new goals. In higher spirits we climbed up the trail towards the crater lake. We reached the shining blue waters as the midday sun was turning into the afternoon sun. The crater lake proudly reflected the majestic volcano of Hallasan in its waters. Ducks and crows rested in the shores while yellow spring grass grew all around. It was a sight that was definitely worth the tiring hike.
We continued past the lake as well. The path continued and we were curious to see what lay ahead. There was no stopping us yet. After only a few minutes of hiking, we ended up arriving at a lookout point into the National Park’s evergreen forests. The lookout point lay above the nearby trees, overlooking the vast area of wilderness. I felt like a bird looking down on to the land. I love the feeling of being so high up in the mountains — it’s the feeling of accomplishment I search for when I hike to tall heights in other places. I just love mountains. The wind blew hard without the cover of the trees at the higher altitude, but it was welcome after being pounded by the heat of the sun for hours. We shared chocolate with some other hikers who reached those heights as well because it’s a Korean tradition to eat chocolate while hiking). Afterwards, we headed past the lake again, and down the trail. It was time to descend back to lower heights, to rejoin the majority of the population on the ground.
The descent down I found more tiring on my knees than the hike up. I was ready to tap-out halfway down. It was so painful hiking down on uneven rocky ground. I also fell and slightly twisted my ankle, and that’s when the crows swooped in! No, not really. I didn’t want to slow my friend down, but she helped me get up and sat with me on the side of trail until I felt better. It was a good time to just take in the nature around us and reflect on our great day going up. It hurt, however it’s impossible to just stop on a mountain. So I roughed it out and headed back down, slightly limping, but it already hurt a little less by the time we reached the bus stop at the base. I think I’ve sprained my ankle twice in my life, so this injury wasn’t anything new. Once was playing Ultimate Frisbee, and once was by tripping in a hole in the sidewalk. I’m so graceful.
I think if we wanted to go to the top we would’ve had to start hiking much earlier in the day. We also would have needed to bring more food and more water, we were pretty hungry by the time we reached the bottom. Regardless, I enjoyed the change in scenery with the altitude differences. I also slept incredibly well that night, just like a rock. Zzz… I think I passed out in my bed instantly and my motherly friend had to turn off all the lights and take off my glasses for me. She also removed the glass of water I drinking from off the bed too so it wouldn’t fall and break. I’m grateful for friends like her.
And then we went on to have more adventures the rest of the week.