Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow.

James Dean

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ulleungdo / Dokdo - Korea's Jewel Islands

It all started at McDonalds. Friday night at 11pm a mixed crew of foreigners wandered into McDonalds, loaded down with luggage and anticipating a long night, followed by a fabulous weekend. We were due to leave at 3am for the port town of Donghae to catch a ferry over to Ulleungdo. Some of us opted to meet early and get to know each other before the journey. Finally at 3am with our bellys full of cheeseburgers, our eyes heavy with exhaustion - we were off. It would be a 3-4 hour bus ride and another 3 hour boat trip.
Ulleungdo is a small island located in the East Sea about 135km east of Korea. It is actually an extinct volcano, known for its quiet harbours, jagged cliffsides and fishing boats. The island is sparsely populated with most of its residents making their living fishing and catering to the summer tourists. Our high speed ferry ended in the largest town on Ulleungdo, Dodong. Dodong looked like what it once was, a pirate,s hideaway, hidden in a narrow valley between two forested mountains and only visible when approached directly. We left the ferry with the other hundreds of tourists and made our way to the hotel where we were staying. The hotel was in a perfect location - a mere 2 minute walk from the Dodong harbour. After dropping our luggage and eating a quick lunch of bean sprout soup and rice we were off to what was meant to be the highlight of our weekend, our visit to Dokdo.

Dokdo is nothing more than 2 rocky islands in the middle of the East Sea and yet it is one of the most controversial areas in Korea. Korea and Japan have long been in dispute over who owns this land. In 1905 Japan claimed if for their own renaming it Takeshima. After WW2, the US designated the island as belong to Korea and a monument was erected. In 1952 Japan destroyed that monument and the 2 countries have disputed the ownership ever since. The land itself is of no real value but what the 2 countries want is the fishing rights that come with it.

At 2pm we boarded the boat for the 2 and a half hour journey to Dokdo - knowing that when we arrived we could only stay on the island for 20 minutes. In the beginning the journey was rather pleasant. We were able to stand on the top deck, outside, and watch the water go by.

The further we got into the journey the rougher the water became and the sea sickness started. What was a highly anticipated trip soon became a nightmare. I spent most of the journey to Dokdo either throwing up or sitting in my seat waiting to throw up. I couldn't wait to get to Dokdo just to get off the boat - even for only 20 minutes - but when we arrived the sea was too rough for the boat to dock. We had to turn around and go back another 2 and a half hours to Ulleungdo. We had come so close to touching the controversial rock and yet had to be content with only taking pictures. At this point more half the people on the boat were sick so I think most were happy to go home.

That evening my roomates and I spent quietly relaxing in our room, most of us still feeling unwell and not wanting to do much. The room we had was pretty tiny and once we all lay down there was no space to be found. Fortunately we all go along so the coziness of the room became a joke.

Sunday arrived with bright sunshine and the promise of a better day. Sadly I still wasn't feeling well but I was determined to make the best of it. I ate a small breakfast of yogert and fruit down by the pier watching the fishermen bring in their catch and the ajummas expertly cutting up the raw fish for the Koreans waiting to buy it. The pier was lined with seaweed and squid drying in the sun and big tubs filled with fresh fish waiting to be sold.

That morning we set out on a bus tour around the island. The island itself wasn't that big but the coastline was beautiful. Throughout the ride we had all the famous sights pointed out to us, which mostly involved rocks shaped like various animals - this is turtle rock, this is elephant rock.

The highlight of the morning was a monorail ride in Taehadong. It started in a place called Charcoal Cove and ended at Taeha Lighthouse with spectacular views over the harbour

After lunch most of the group opted to hike up Seonginbong Mountain but I chose instead to do a cruise around the harbour. The ride lasted 2 hours and went around the entire island. I grabbed a prime spot along the rail on the top level and spent the next 2 hours taking pictures of the spectacular coastline. The only downside to this ride were the seagulls. The Korean passengers were fascinated with these birds and spent most of the trip throwing food to them, which meant that for most of the trip I had seagulls swooping down at me, sometimes coming within inches of my face. To me they were dirty animals but for them they were marvellous. Some were more interested in these birds than the views of the island. Despite this I enjoyed myself and it was a great way to spend 2 hours.

Our last day we were due to catch the boat at 10am so some of us got up early to explore the last bits of the island. On the edge of Dodong is a cliff walk that you can take along the edge of the water. We walked on this and it took us through little inlets and caves. It was a great way to finish off our visit to Ulleungdo.

Finally it was time to go and we boarded the ferry exhausted but pleased with the trip. I will say without a doubt this has been my favourite place so far in Korea and somewhere that anyone visiting Korea should see.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jeju Days 2, 3, 4 and 5

I appologize for the delay ay getting this published but here are some photos from the rest of my trip to Jeju. This entry will be almost all photos with little writing - so enjoy and remember all you have to do is click on the photo if you want to see it enlarged.

Day 2

Most of the people in our group chose to spend this day climbing up Halisan Mountain but given that it is 1. very high, 2. looked very difficult and 3. it was raining, I chose to stay back. There were 4 of us that didn't go and we spent the day visiting some of the many tourist sites on our side of Jeju. One of the places we went to was called the Glass Castle. Basically it was a glass factory where you could see demonstartions of glass blowing and wander around looking at all the statues made of glass. It was pretty neat.
Yes, these trees are made from glass.

Day 3

Once againwe woke up to a rainy day. The remainder of our group arrived and the rest of the trip was spent travelling by bus. Given that it was Budda's birthday the morning was spent at a buddist temple. The rain started clear and it looked like it would be a nice day afterall.

After the temple we moved onto Cheonjeyeon Falls. There were actually 3 waterfalls here and you could hike different paths to see all 3. These pictures are of the nicest one.

From the waterfalls we moved onto the rock formations at Jungman Daepo. This area was breathtaking.

Day 4

Today we headed over to Udo Island where we had the option of renting scooters or ATV for a few hours to drive around the island. I was all excited about getting a scooter when I saw 2 of the guys in our group crash. After seeing that I decided that an ATV was a safer bet. I opted to ride on the back of my friend Jenn's ATV so that I wouldn't have to drive. There road around the island that we drive on, stopping half way for some lunch. Udo island is famous for women divers who go to get the pearls from the oysters at the bottom of the sea. Sadly the closest I saw of the women divers was this statue.

Udo Island was great and probably the highlight of the trip. A great place to spend my birthday and funny enough I ran into a friend of mine there. It had been exactly one year since I last saw here as I spent my birthday last year with her touring the DMZ.

From Udo Island we made our way over to a giant maze. We given a map, sent on our way to find the way out. It was great fun.

We finished the day on the beach back at our hotel. That night we dined on bbq pork and grilled mackeral washed down with some makeoli. We were all sunburned but happy.

Day 5

Our last day on the island and once again it was raining. We decided to go to the trick art museum. It seemed that everyone had the same idea as the place was packed. This place was full of painting and illusions that you could pose with so that it seemed you were part of the picture.

From there we moved onto Loveland. This is a sex themed park for adults. It was full of penis statues and sex toys. The best part of the place was watching all the old Korean women look at the statues and start giggling like school girls.

From here we made our way to the airport and back to Daejeon. It was a great vacation,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jeju-Do - Day 1

When I found out that I had a 6 day holiday in May I thought to myself - what should I do? I knew that I didn't want to stay in Daejeon and briefly thought about going to another country when it hit me - Jeju Island. Then when I saw that Discover Korea was offering a trip it seemed like destiny.
Jeju Island is a small island off the southern coast of Korea. It is nicknamed the Hawaii of Asia and comes complete with palm trees, beaches and tangerines. It is one of those places that everyone says you must see before you leave Korea.
I arrived at Jeju Internation Airport after a quick 1 hour flight. I hopped into a taxi with 2 other trip members and with the guidance of our tour leader, William, we made our way to the hotel. There was already a group waiting there who had arrived earlier in the day and they were about to head out to the island of Marado. Not wanting to miss out I decided to join them. I put my luggage in the hotel, made some quick introductions, hopped in the van and we were off. When we arrived at the pier we discovered that it would be an hour until the next boat, what to do, what to do? We drove over to an area where you could walk down to the beach and see caves that had been built by the Japanese.

Some of these caves were quite large and at one time had been used to hide Japanese guns, weapons and other secrets. Now they sat empty but we entered the first one hoping to find some forgotten treasure. Sadly all we found was an unbelievable stench - reminiscent of the bathrooms in a subway station in Toronto. We made a hasty retreat and we content to stand on the beach and take pictures instead.

Finally it was time to board the ferry to Marado and we piled on the boat with hundreds of Korean tourists. Being the aquaphile that I am I made a beeline for the top deck while the rest of my group stayed in the warmth below. It was an easy 1/2 hour journey and before long we were there.

Marado Island is a small island that seemed built for tourists. Along the side of it were giant cliffs that reminded me of the coast of Ireland. Along the top were ajummas and ajosshis waiting to rent you golf carts to ride on around the island. The island itself is fairly small and could easily be walked around in less than an hour. There was a small village with some restaurants selling their famous black noodles and some small shops. A few in the group wandered away to explore the island while the rest grabbed some beer and snacks and sat out in a sunny field relaxing. After the hectic pace of the morning it was nice to sit and enjoy the sunshine and each others company. After an hour of relaxing we got back on the boat and headed back to the mainland.

From there we made our way back to the hotel where we could watch the sunset from the beach. The hotel looked like a mini resort right out of Hawaii. It came complete with a beautiful pool surrounded by palm trees and cheesy resort music coming out of the speakers . Sadly it was too early in the season for the pool to have any water in it but you could imagine what it would be like in the summer, sipping a cocktail and watching the palm trees sway.

At the hotel we had a delicious meal of bbq pork and then finished the night with a campfire on the beach. We all headed to bed exhausted but happy with the day that we had and eager for tomorrow's adventures.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Journey to Tongyoung

In the late hours of friday night I emerged from the depths of a Seoul subway station to surround myself with the eager faces of 80 expats all ready to embark on a journey across Korea. Our destination was the southern port town of Tongyong where some planned to board a ferry over to the island of So Mae Moor Do while the more daring ones would hike the island of a Sa Ryang Do. With our backpacks placed underneath and the clinking bottles of soju safely stowed away, we were off. Our transportation of choice was a burgundy bus complete with kareoke disco lights and an echoing microphone. After quick introductions around the bus, the lights were dimmed and as the bus rolled down the highway we attempted to get some sleep. At about 5:30 am we staggered off the bus into the cool, crisp sea air and the promise of a great day. Sitting huddled together for warmth we quickly downed some muffins, hopped into some taxis and headed to the pier for the ferry over to So Mae Moor Do. When we boarded the ferry we all eagerly ran to the top deck anticipating the stunning views and photo ops. The views were stunning with glimpses of jagged coastlines and tiny island popping up here and there. The sun was shining and it seemed as if the weather was going to cooperate.

After about 40 minutes, however, the stunning views became less of a novelty as we instead focused on staying warm. The open deck of a ship going full speed across the water in early April is not the warmest of places. Again we sat huddled together with our faces tucked inside our hoods praying that each island that we stopped at would be ours. Eventually 1 1/2 hours later, we were there, frozen and tired but ready for the day.

So Mae Moor Do is a small island that looks more like a giant hill rising out of the sea. There is a small fishing village at one end where sea weathered ajummas and ajosshis sat selling their wares. Offering such delicasies as fresh fish, eels and octopus.
There was a trail heading around the island slowly climbing its way to the top of the hill offering stunning views out over the sea. We headed up the path happy to stretch our legs expecting a nice, leisurely hike. The hike started out great and then it slowly started getting steeper and steeper until suddenly we found ourselves clamboring over rocks at an 80d angle hoping we were almost to the top. Every so often there would be lookouts with cliffs jutting out into the sea where we could rest, catch our breaths and take endless photos.

Finally after about an hour of climbing we emerged from the trail into the brilliant sunshine on the top of the mountain. We were a little exhausted and slightly in awe of the old men and women who had gone running past us up the hill. At the top we found a sunny field where we collapsed for an hour and admired the view looking down over the fishing village below.
Eventually we picked oursleves up , climbed the steep path back down to the village, grabbed some quick lunch and boarded the ferry back to Tongyoung. This time on the ferry we were smart enough not to sit outside and instead we climbed onto the heated floors where everyone quickly fell asleep.
Back in Tongyong we settled into our motel, admired the ocean views from our windows and then rested for a few hours while waiting for those on the other hike to arrive. Finally they made it back and regaled us with stories of steep climbs, sheer cliffs and propelling down rock faces with ropes. I was very thankful that I had opted out of that hike.

Finally the evening was here and it was time to chow down on some traditional Korean bbq. Seated at tables of 6 or 7 people with others milling around at the ends of the tables we feasted. The supply of meat seemed endless and we gorged ourselves with bits of seasoned pork, dipped in sauce and wrapped in fresh lettuce, washed down with icy cold beer. It was a delicious end to an adventurous day. With full stomachs and aching muscles we climbed into our beds and dreamed of the things that we had seen.