Last two days on Jejudo

Our last day of biking went smoothly – about 45 miles of coast, with an old fortress wall, offshore islands, gorgeous beaches, and an inland jaunt to one of the many lava tube caves dotting Jejudo, this one a UNESCO world heritage site purporting to contain the world’s largest lava column!

If you ever end up looking for a low-key bike trip, I would highly recommend the loop around Jejudo. Nowhere else I know of can you bike 170 miles on gorgeous coastline with the option of stopping anywhere you want at one of a thousand different guesthouses and pensions with a view of the beach. Here’s our route, with stops and guesthouses:
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A small part of the island map gives you an idea of the density of attractions:
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Sights on our last day of biking: coastline, fortresses, fields, caves, and squid boats!

We made it back to Jeju city around 5pm last night and decided to finish up our Jejudo visit with a trip up Mt. Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea. But after a week of biking, our muscles told us that instead of doing the 13-hour full ascent of the peak, we should instead aim our sights a little lower, and so today we had a lovely 6-hour hike on the foothills of Mt. Hallasan, with fabulous views back down to the coast we’d just finished biking around and striking rock formations.

And now we depart Jejudo tomorrow morning, taking the ferry back to mainland Korea and working our way eastward to Haiensa and Gyeongju before hoping to board the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka, Japan, in a few days …

Rest day? Who needs a rest day?

So, remember when I mentioned that it was rainy and blustery so we’d spend the day relaxing at our hotel and catching up on reading?

Well, by noon the rain had stopped, so we went on a short hike up Seongsan Ichulbong, the imposing volcanic tuff crater that’s supposed to be one of Jejudo’s must-do sights. The views were stunning – so many small craters! – and the rain clearing, so we decided to take the ferry to the nearby small island of Udo and bike around for a few hours. Rest day, what’s that?

Seongsan Ichulbong:
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The view from the top:
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As it turned out, the rain started again as we set out for the Udo ferry, but we decided to brave the rain and hope the weather changed again. With rain blowing into our faces, we set out on the coastal road around Udo, wondering if we were in fact crazy to be out in this terrible weather. But the coast was beautiful and the roads smooth, and so I was having a great time even before the rain stopped, about half an hour into our ride, and we paused at a beachside cafe for a churro in peanut ice cream (a local specialty – well, the ice cream, not the churro).

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The coast was gorgeous, the island just the right size to bike around – and so when we realized at 4pm that we’d almost finished our circumnavigation, we decided that instead of just crossing the last little bit to the ferry we’d reverse our route and re-circle the whole island! The clouds were clearing and we had some beautiful views, even if we did continue to feel a little bit crazy:

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Here we are on our bicycles just after it stopped raining:
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This was my kind of rest day – a lovely hike, beautiful biking, and churros to top it all off! We wrapped up the day with seafood soup and squid pajeon at a local restaurant, ready for our last day of real biking – and better weather – tomorrow!

Photos from Jejudo, days 2-4

Three more days of biking on Jeju!

It’s a rainy, blustery day here, so we opted for a rest day in the middle of our bike trip rather than slogging through steady rain. That makes it a good day for catching up on email, work, and … our blog!

This bike trip around Jeju is pretty awesome. You’re cycling directly on the coast for much of the trip, gazing out at crashing waves, interesting rock formations, volcanic craters, and offshore islands. When you’re not on the coast, there’s either a tangerine orchard or cabbage field on either side, or some crazy tourist magnet like a chocolate museum (there are at least 2), teddy bear museum (ditto), tea museum, go kart course, giant maze, you name it, on the road beside you. The density of attractions on our map is kind of insane.

We’ve mostly stuck to the coast and skipped the crazy tourist spots, but we did do an inland detour on day 2 to see the Jeoji Artists’ Village and the Glass Castle. The bike ride there, through rolling fields of cabbage, was lovely. The sights? The artists village had some interesting sculptures and made for a nice place to wander around for 15 minutes or so. But the Glass Castle! Lonely Planet’s description: “This fascinating park features more than 350 glass sculptures created by global artists, including the world’s largest glass ball and glass diamond.” My description: “This tacky, overpriced park is somehow overrun by teenage girls taking selfies despite its lack of artistic merit or interest.” On the bright side, it started raining while we were here, so we could sit out the worst of the downpour in the cafe instead of getting soaked through.

Since the Glass Castle, we’ve stuck with outdoors activities – biking the beautiful coastline, of course, but also a few hikes up the volcanic craters and down to incredible geological formations, not to mention through an abandoned sculpture park. The scenery is just stunning, and seeing it by bicycle lets us go at a pace to absorb it all. Especially yesterday, when we were biking into 15-mph winds the entire day… hence grateful for today’s rest, despite the weather!

Jeju island, day 1

Yesterday morning we took the 9am ferry from Mokpo to Jeju Island, where instead of seats they assign a dozen travelers each to a small room where everyone sits on the floor for the 4.5-hour trip! We chose instead to spend most of the journey on the deck, enjoying the view and the presence of actual chairs.

Our boat to Jeju Island seemed pretty choppy, and when we biked off the ferry we learned why: gale-force winds were whipping up quite a storm! We made our way to our hotel by mid-afternoon, but lacked energy for sightseeing (in no small part because one of us had gotten up at 4:20 am to watch the Stanford homecoming football game) and so spent the afternoon reading about Jejudo and wandering the neighborhood for a laundromat and afternoon snack.

But this morning we set out on our next bike adventure: the 250-km trip along the coast of Jeju Island. The winds had died down a little bit this morning, and more importantly we had them at our backs as we headed west from Jeju City. The clouds lifted and we had a fabulous few hours of biking, punctuated by sandy beaches, interesting volcanic rock formations, and a lunch of Mexican tortas and octopus tacos!

Bicycling down the Geumgang River

Michael and I spent the last three days bicycling down the Geumgang River in central / western Korea, starting from Daejeon (the 5th largest city in Korea) and ending at the sea. Other than the first ten miles to get out of Daejeon and the last few miles to get to the bus station in Gunsan, we were on 144km of beautifully maintained, well marked bike paths along the river, with purpose-built bike bridges, wooden bicycle decks perched above the water, and thankfully few hills to climb.

For your orientation, a map of Korea:
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Here’s the bike path we followed:
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The bike path was beautiful, with cool bridges, beautiful flowers, plentiful crickets, a dedicated bike level under the expressway for one of the bridges, lots of bike rest stops, and a few praying mantises. It was very little used – we saw about two dozen or so other bikers in our three days – and so local farmers used it to dry their crops, and we also saw a snake using the path to warm in the sun.

We had great weather – sun but not too hot the first day; the next day we awoke to an emergency alert entirely in Korean that turned out to be a warning about dense fog, which burned off by early afternoon; and on our last day we biked mostly in a light sprinkle of rain, not enough to get us wet but just enough to keep us cool. Our bikes worked out well and we got used to washing out our bike clothes every evening and getting back on to ride in the morning. In the evenings, we stayed in two historic capitals of the Baekje kingdom and visited a 1500-year-old fortress as well as a modern reconstruction of an entire Baekje city, a kind of historical theme park. We ate well, too — bulgogi wrapped in lettuce, cabbage, and other leaves, complete with edible flowers and 14 side dishes; and homemade dumplings and noodle soup.

We spent today on transport, getting from Daejeon down to the port of Mokpo, where we embark in the morning on a ferry to Jeju Island. There’s a 250-km bike route circling the island, not to mention a lot of great hiking and scenery, so we plan to get back on our bikes the day after tomorrow and start the circumnavigation.

Buying bikes in Korea: a new kind of impulse buy!

Today we took the bus from Sokcho, on the northeast coast, to Daejeon, inland about 140km south of Seoul.

From here we had hoped to rent bikes and explore a riverside bike path, so we walked around for a few hours to a few bike shops, but none was willing to rent a bike, nor had any idea of anywhere that renting might be possible. So … we got a little crazy and decided to just buy their least expensive bikes! We are now the proud owners of two relatively heavy hybrid bicycles, equipped by two very friendly and completely non-English-speaking shop owners who, after considerable confusion (“we would like to buy these. Could you help us inflate the tires?” getting responses like “do you want to install different tires?”) but eventually we worked out all the details, they threw in a discount for buying two bikes, plus free water bottle holders, bike locks, and a rear rack. Overall we couldn’t entirely tell what was happening, but we ended up with two nice looking bikes, helmets, locks, spare tubes, tire levers, repair kits, and all for about $360. The guy was even nice enough that when I asked him where we might be able to buy a bungee cord that he just grabbed a used inner tube, cut it, and knotted it around the rack!

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Now of course we have to bike as much as possible, which is a pretty fun prospect. We plan to leave in the morning for a 3-4 day trip along the Geumgang river from Daejeon to Gongju and Buyeo to Gunsan. From there, we will return here to retrieve our bags and then head southeast.

We aren’t bringing much with us – just a change of clothes, bike and rain gear, and a lot of food and water – since we don’t even have panniers. So we will be in touch according to our degree of cell phone coverage!

Hiking in Seoraksan National Park, day 2: toward Daechongbong

After the first day of hiking in Seoraksan, I thought we had just been lucky to choose the most spectacular trail in the park, and that day two might be a disappointment, but not only did Monday dawn sunny instead of hazy but we also happened upon an amazing trail up a rocky gorge, with pools of clear blue water, several waterfalls, gorgeous foliage, and above all amazing rocks. The guidebook simply described it as one of the routes up to Daechongbong, the highest peak in the park and an 11-hour roundtrip, so we decided to just hike up for a few hours and see how it went.

We got an early start to give ourselves the opportunity for a nice long hike, and boy was it a butt-kicker! The first few miles of the trail were crowded, mostly with hikers going more slowly than we were, and so we would struggle to get past the big groups of slow hikers and then feel like we couldn’t stop lest we end up having to pass the same groups again! So we hiked rapidly up and up and up through stunning scenery.

After two hours or so the crowds thinned somewhat and the trail steepened even further. I can’t believe the number of stone stairs we climbed up and up. Wearily we made it to a high pass with spectacular views down at the valley we had climbed and out to the mountains beyond.

Following lunch there, we could make our way much more slowly down the trail, with much less company en route and plenty of time to just gaze in awe at the scenery we were lucky enough to be passing through. Photos wouldn’t do it justice. Among our fellow hikers were a man who proudly declared he was 72 as he hiked rapidly down from the 1100m pass and a friendly woman who chatted with us in English for a while, both of which made for nice encounters.

On the way home, Michael found raving reviews for an Italian restaurant kind of in the middle of nowhere so we ended up having a delicious dinner and getting to go home early and collapse into bed!

Hiking in Seoraksan National Park, day 1: Ulsan Bawi

We arrived at Seoraksan National Park around 2 in the afternoon, and set out on the first 4-hour hike we saw on the map. Turned out to be quite the hike, with the last mile almost entirely climbing up stairs, first stone and then metal walkways superimposed on huge cliffs. But the foliage was breathtaking and the rock summit we emerged onto impressive – a wonderful hike!