Thursday evening we drove, in lotsa traffic, up to Gimpo airport on the west side of Seoul. It took a long time and we were rushed to check in for our flight – thank goodness you only need to do so 30 minutes prior or we would’ve been in a bad situation. We made it just fine, though, and got to the boarding area with (not much) time to spare before getting on Jeju Airlines. The flight was a quick 1 hour down to the island just south of Korea.
I had booked a rental car ahead of time and picking it up went surprisingly smoothly. It’s a tiny Kia morning that we are all crammed into. It would fit nicely except I did book a kid seat for Avi and it takes up a ton of room. We drove to the hotel I booked, the Four Seasons (but not really), and got settled for the evening. Took a walkabout town to find some raymon noodles for dinner, and then the kids were all restless at bedtime. We read some books and switched up sleeping arrangements to get some sleep.
Friday morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before starting our adventure driving around Jeju Island. It’s a volcanic island, with a huge ancient shield volcano called Hallasan in the center and lots of small craters everywhere. There is also a ton of volcanic rock, so there are lots of houses and fences build with the stuff. Unlike the rest of Korea, too, there is a significant amount of open space which we loved! Our first stop was a quick visit to one of the many little beaches along the north coast. Being winter, it was cold and windy but still a neat place to explore. From there we were off to a real volcanic lava tube! The volcanic sites on Jeju have made the UNESCO “new 7 wonders of nature list” and we got to walk in the biggest lava tube in the world. The kids thought this was awesome. 1km of the tube is open to walk in and out with many signs along the way explaining the geology. It was very cool!
Continuing on our volcano theme, our next stop was the well-photographed crater on the west coast of the island. It’s called Ilchulbong crater and we were able to hike all the way up to the edge and look down in. Both kids feel asleep on the way over, so we parked and snoozed for an hour in the car, snagged some lunch and then headed up the crater! Zoe was super excited about it, but Avi was dragging his feet. Eventually he got motivated when they got to play in a few caves along the way up. At the top we were afforded a cool view of the inside of the ancient crater and the island itself. Again, it was SUPER windy but we were lucky that the rain held off and sun actually came out. On the way down the mountain we followed the trail along the high cliff to look down and watch some traditional haeyno divers fishing in the little lagoon. These are traditional female divers that are one of the ‘symbols’ of Jeju island – along with the volcano and tangerines!
Our next stop would bring us to LOVE the island even more. Along a small local road we encountered tons of small local tangerine groves with little old people working the stalls selling citrus. We stopped at one and pointy-talkied our way into picking our own. The owner was super excited about this and took us back to the best part of the grove, showed us how and left us to own. It was fun and delicious. These tangerines are sooooo good. The kids had fun picking and eating, and running around in the little grove. The trees are only about 6 foot high, so there were lots of low branches to hide under.
The town of Seongnam on the south side of the island was our goal for the night. We drove around and asked for prices at a few hotels before settling on one between the two town waterfalls. As the sun set we walked to one of the waterfalls and found it closed. Bummer, but we were able to sneak around the local town park to get a glimpse. We briefly looked for a restaurant and then decided to just grab some raymon again. One thing nice about being in Asia is that hot water is readily available. Seems an expected necessity at hotels, restaurants, and even convenience stores. So, the kids each picked their own bowl and we took them back to the hotel to add hot water and eat in front of the TV watching 라바 (larva) our favorite Korean cartoon…followed a close second by Avi’s favorite show called 꼬마버스 타요 (Tayo the little bus).
On Saturday we woke to a nice warmer day and started by exploring the other waterfall. We walked along the riverside park that was above the waterfall, but didn’t go in the actual waterfall area so we didn’t get a good view. oh well. Zoe was more interested in collecting acorns and Avi liked running along the boardwalk. We got back in the car and drove to the next village over – this is the fancy tourist spot where Koreans traditionally honeymoon. We were here to meet up with some friends we know! And get breakfast at Starbucks. …yes, real starbucks. It’s that kind of place. It was nice to catch up and they gave us a great tip about where to park for our next adventure.
The southern portion of the island has big basaltic (volcanic) hexagonal cliffs. We parked at the fancy Hyatt and walked down along the beach and rocky shore to explore. Avi and Zoe each found a great stick and carved things in the sand. It was much less windy and not as cold today, so we lingered for a long time. Avi drew ‘sheep’ in the sand and Zoe was having fun writing everyone’s name. The cliffs were neat. The sand was fun, and there were tidepools to look at which the kids love. They both are great at spotting anemones and snails and urchins. It was great and the water is super blue and clear. This would definitely be awesome in the summer, but crowded I’m sure. We were one of two families out that morning. Then, disaster struck. Avi fell in a tidepool. I don’t mean stepped in or got an arm we, I mean he was balancing between two and fell into one the whole way. Full submersion. We were fortunate for two reasons. One, it was a big deep one so he didn’t hit his head or cut himself on the sharp edge rocks…and two, he had refused to wear his coat so it wasn’t drenched for the rest of the trip. He was freezing, though. We quickly stripped him naked and wrapped him in my puffy down coat. Bryan hustled him back to the car to warm up where he got a nice set of dry clothes on. We took his soaked shoes apart and cranked the floor heat to dry them a bit, then we went for a drive.
By now it was afternoon and the kids were due a nap, so there was plenty of time to drive along the west coast and really complete the loop and allow the shoes to dry. Eventually we came upon a small beach where our friends recommended an early dinner, so we stopped for some delicious fish and chips! The beach was also sunny and had a playground for some run around time.
With our time on the island coming to a close we chose to visit the biggest claim to fame last: Hallasan National Park. When we arrived, the rental car company said the Hallasan roads were off limits for snow, so we figured we would just go up until we couldn’t drive. By now, though, it was clear all the way up to the first National park station. And, there was lots of snow!!! So, after all that drying our shoes and socks and pants got nice and frozen and soaked. But it was fun! The snow was deep and we all had a blast throwing snowballs and building snowmen until the sun got too low. It was such a fun day to be on a beach in the morning and up a mountain in the snow this evening! Luckily we each had one extra pair of dry (if not clean) clothes from our first day.
Back down in Jeju city we made a pit stop at HomePlus to take up some time and energy before our 9pm flight home. The kids played in the playland while Bryan and I shopped around the ToysRUs. Then Bryan got a phone call – Avi needed picked up. He had peed his pants. We made a point to take them both to the bathroom ahead of time, but I guess he had to go and couldn’t find Zoe to help nor could he say “wanjangshil” to the Korean monitors. Poor guy….by now all 3 of his outfits were wet – from the tidepool, from the snow, and now the pee. So, Bryan took him in the store for a new set of monkey PJs. And that was that.
We drove the rental car back to the drop off which was simple, rode the little bus to the airport and had time to spare. The Jeju airport has a few little shops and lots of food. The kids asked for dunkin donuts and we finally said yes. Time for a special treat for all. Spent a bit of time in the airport playland and then waiting to board before hustling onto our hour long flight home. Shockingly, no one slept. Zoe colored and Avi looked at magazines the whole flight. Our drive back home was simple and fairly quick at 11pm – when both kids DID fall asleep. We plopped them into bed and then into our own comfy tempurpedic. It is so nice to sleep in that bed after a long trip on hard Korean beds!
We will have to hop down to Jeju again. It was really awesome. As expected we stuck to the cheap or free Natural sites and activities. But there are a ton of “attractions” on that island…crazy tourist traps like Ripleys, a Greek museum, Bear-themed museums, giant mazes, boat tours, go-carts, and all kinds of crazy themed places to go. Not that we will do those, but camping sounds fun!