Jeju Island, South Korea
Korea’s Hawaii, A Volcanic Honeymoon Island of Waterfalls, Swaying Palm Trees & A UNESCO-Listed Lava Tube (& Love Land)
Manjanggul Lava Tube, Jeju Island, South Korea. July 16, 2011
Jeju-do (island) is a small island – although it’s still South Korea’s largest – situated in the East China Sea some 100 kilometres south of the Korean mainland. I’d been meaning to pay a visit to the volcanic island for a while. I’d heard the tags – Korea’s ‘Honeymoon Island’, the ‘Korean Hawaii’, complete with palm trees, beaches & a volcano, Hallasan (Mount Halla), a massive shield volcano & the country’s highest peak. Jeju had me intrigued. Had me intrigued for a while. So I decided to pay it a visit all the way from the Korean capital on the mainland. I spent two days touring the island, one of South Korea’s nine provinces – day one was spent zipping around on a scooter visiting some of the islands’ most well-known sights while day two was spent nursing sunburn & experiencing the island’s most unique & most erotic attraction.
South Korea Overview
Republic of (South) Korea
Region – East Asia (dMb tag: East Asia). Capital – Seoul. Population – 52 million. Official Language – Korean. Currency – South Korean Won (KRW). GDP (nominal) per capita – US$27,500 (26th). Political System – Presidential republic. UN Member? – Yes (admitted September 1991). G20 Member? – Yes. Size – 100,295 km² (one-fifth smaller than North Korea, its northern & only neighbour, and slightly smaller than the US state of Kentucky). Topography – Mostly mountainous; a hikers nirvana, over 70% of the country is covered in largely uninhabitable mountains. Climate – Hot & sticky summers, bitterly cold winters. Formation/Independence & Brief History – Independence from Japan, who annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910 ending centuries of dynastic rule, on August 15, 1945, thereafter the peninsula officially divided by the US & the Soviet Union at the 38th parallel. The Republic of Korea declared on August 15, 1948, 3-plus weeks before the September 9 formation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a.k.a. North Korea. The failure of talks to unify the peninsula sparked the 1950-1953 Korean War, with the communist-led North invading the South. This ended in a military stalemate, the formation of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and the signing of an armistice (but no peace treaty). UNESCO World Heritage sites – 12. Tourism Catchphrase/Slogans – Imagine Your Korea. Famous For – Sharing the world’s most fortified border with its troublesome & aloof northern neighbour; cosmetics; electronics (home to Samsung, the world’s largest electronics firm, & LG); internet connectivity; cars (home to Hyundai & Kia); K-pop & the Korean Wave; ajumma power; Psy’s Gangnam Style; its cuisine (kimchi & BBQ) & communal eating; soju (a clear, colourless distilled beverage liberally drank in shots); noribang (karaoke rooms); hospitality. Highlights – The buzz & palaces of Seoul, a.k.a. The Soul of Asia; Jeju Island; Gyeongju; Seoraksan National Park. South Korea Titbits – Rising from the ashes of the Korean War, a multi-decade economic surge, termed the ‘Miracle on the Han River’, means that today South Korea is the world’s sixth largest exporter (it ranks 1st in worldwide mobile phone shipments, 2nd in shipbuilding & semiconductor sales and 5th in automobile production). Not bad for a country that has been officially at war since 1950; after many failed bids, South Korea’s PyeongChang will host the 2018 Winter Olympics; pre-empting the future & echoing the wish of the South Korean populous, the country’s constitution officially recognises the Korean peninsula as one country; the world’s first country to fully transition to high-speed Internet (in 2005), today South Korea boasts the world’s fastest internet speeds; although largely insular, Korean society is truly one of a kind with its own language, script (hangul), food & culture.
Visits – Numerous (1st visit December 2003). Where I went/What I saw (selected South Korea highlights) – Seoul; Gyeongju; Jeju Island; Suwon Hwaseong Fortress; Busan; Yongin Folk Village; The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The second waterfall I visited was the much more impressive and accessible Jeongbang falls. At 23 meters, it is only one meter taller than Cheonjiyeon falls but its location, falling into a pool right by the sea, makes it all the more impressive looking. According to some sources, no doubt most of them Korean, Jeongbang falls is the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly in the ocean, even though it technically doesn’t (although it does come mighty close).
UPDATE – November 11th, 2011: Jeju Island, A New7Wonder of Nature
Following a 4-year initiative, Jeju Island has been added to the New7Wonders of Nature list. The list, peculiarly named considering there is no preceding ‘old’ list, was chosen by Joe & Josephine Public through a global internet poll, with Jeju garnering enough of the some 100 million votes cast to crack the list. Personally I didn’t think little-known Jeju stood a chance – of the 28 finalists there were what I would consider better known, more deserving options, including the likes of the Grand Canyon, Uluru (Ayers Rock) & Galapagos. That said, & with the benefit of hindsight, I should have suspected Jeju would do well given South Korea’s ‘connected’ status & the fact that the final list was determined by an internet poll (did the Mud Volcanoes in Azerbaijan really stand a chance?).
Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak)
One of the most recognisable natural features of Jeju-do is Seongsan Ilchubong (Sunrise Peak), located at the extreme east of the island. It’s a 180-metre high tuff (hard volcanic rock composed of compacted volcanic ash) volcano & scaling its 600+ steps to take in a Jeju sunrise is one of the Jeju’s most popular must-dos. Not that I did; after taking over an hour to scooter here from my base in the southern city of Seogwipo (where the two aforementioned waterfalls are to be found), I preferred to view Seongsan Ilchubong from afar, a much more relaxing pursuit.