We kicked off our trip to South Korea on the busiest flight route in the world. And we’ll bet it’s one you’ve never heard of!
The flight route is from South Korea’s capital city of Seoul and a small island off the southern coast of the country called Jeju. Over 120 flights travel this route every day, amounting to over 60 000 flights a year.
It also helps that this one-way flight cost us a total of $25 (via JejuAir).
What’s the draw to this little island? Jeju is affectionately known as the “Hawaii of Korea” for its white sand beaches, palm trees and large central volcano. For Koreans, this island is not only a vacation getaway, but also a popular honeymoon destination!
On top of that, the island is also now one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
One Room, No Beds
Our first sleep in South Korea was in Jeju, and we had quite the welcome. Upon arriving at our small hotel on the island, where not one employee spoke English, we waited to check into our room. At one point during check-in the front staff looked up at us and said, “No beds?”
We looked at one another puzzled, trying to figure out what the employee was trying to say. Shane stated that he would like a bed. I laughed saying that there is no way we didn’t have beds, and wondered what word we were misunderstanding.
The employee looked at us again and said, “One room, no beds”. We looked at him confused, and he went on with the check-in process, handed us our room keys, and bowed for us to leave. We figured things were sorted out and headed up to our room.
We swiped our hotel key and entered our room. To our suprise, the room was completely empty. Just a few blankets stacked against the wall. No beds after all! We unrolled the blankets to find 3 small futons.
Looks like our next three nights were going to be on the floor!
Island of Plenties
According to the local tourist guide, Jeju is the island of three plenties: rocks, wind, and women. (It is also the island of three shortages – thieves, beggars, and gates in front of houses – but that’s besides the point).
And plenty of rocks is just what we saw along Jeju’s coast. Our first stop was the Jusangjeolli Cliffs. When Mount Hallasan, a now extinct volcano, erupted into the sea, the lava cooled suddenly into these basalt columns that stand proudly out of the water:
There are also a variety of coast walks, called Olle trails, that can be hiked around the island to enjoy these various rocky landscapes.
Just like Hawaii, it seems that around every corner is a waterfall to be enjoyed. The southern coast is full of waterfalls of varying sizes, including one that flows directly into the ocean.
The Ultimate Stair Master: Hallasan Volcano
Jeju’s landscape is dominated by the large central Hallasan Volcano. From anywhere on the island this cone-shaped mountain is visible, just begging to be conquered. And that’s just what we aimed to do!
There are two trails that reach the summit of Hallasan: Seongpanak and Gwaneumsa. Gwaneumsa is the more difficult of the two, but given that it advertised better landscapes and views, we chose to do it instead of the more popular Seongpanak.
Hikes in South Korea are generally well developed. Most of the time there is a parking lot with shops and bathrooms at the base. There is even an area at the start to spray yourself down with an air hose:
The hikes are well signed along the route – and given the sometimes garbled English translations – are humorous to read along the way.
The hike to the 1920 m peak of Hallasan ended up being decently strenuous, given the heat and thick humid air on the island. Also, the majority of the hike was climbing stairs, which left our legs burning after 3 hours of non-stop climbing!
Once we reached the top, we were somewhat shrouded in clouds. However, we could still enjoy views of the lake in the crater at the top.
White Sand Beaches
A visit to an island is not complete without a stop on the beach. Jeju has a number of white sand beaches to choose from. While we didn’t have time to check out all of them, we rewarded ourselves with an afternoon on Hyeopjae beach after a long day of hiking.
The water was very warm, and after enjoying a dip, we sat under a beach umbrella until sunset. As if the sunset wasn’t enough to keep our attention, we were even more amazed by the number of selfies being taken around us.