There’s no Great Wall or Pyramids in South Korea, nor a legacy of Geishas or world-famous food. And yet thing young and thriving country, that rose from the ashes of occupation and war with the North, has developed a strong appeal for tourists, in the most unusual ways.
Jeju Island: The natural amusement park
We took a two and a half hour ferry from Fukuoka, Japan to South Korea in the southern city of Busan, just to take a quick flight away from the volcanic Island of Jeju.
Instead of a tropical island with palm trees and coconuts we found a medium size city, fully developed and not especially appealing, with overpriced restaurants by the port, through the local specialty “Black Pig” street (nothing to eat for Tal), and ending in a copy-pasted shopping street with all the leading brands.
But this was only our base to a three-day adventure in the Island.
On our first day, we got to the biggest lava tubes on earth (as they claim), where we walked underground through a tunnel that fits a train, left behind by the lava flowing into the ocean. The open-to-the-public part of it is about one kilometer, but it goes on for more than 13. Great lighting and panels explain the amazing phenomenon that millions of years ago created these tunnels.
Halla-san: The highest volcano in South Korea
Funny enough, the highest peak in South Korea is actually in an island 200km off the coast, in the center of the island, from the top you can enjoy 360 degrees view all around: ocean, boats, wind turbines and the city of Jeju-si. If that is not enough reason to get there, what is?
We took the free bus of UNESCO, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the addition of Jeju to the world heritage sites list in 2007. The bus took us to the base of the mountain where we started climbing the 1.200 meters to the top, constrained by tough checkpoints limiting ascension hours.
On the way up, as young tourists in sneakers and shorts tool over us, we understood we were over geared with our back filled with water, supplies, hot clothes and even a torchlight.
The climb was steep and the descent on a second path even more. But the view was amazing from the top and all the way up we were stunned by the red colors of the autumn leaves.
A week later, my leg muscles still ache.
Seongsan Ilchulbong and the Diving Women
This cone-shaped peninsula is the result of a recent (5000 year) underwater volcanic eruption. It’s an oddity and they recommend to see the sunrise from its top, given that you can wake up early, which is not our case. We enjoyed it in the afternoon.
Haenyeo is another strange South Korean attraction. These women dive to 20 meters deep to gather oysters, abalones and all kind of seafood from the bottom of the ocean. They are mothers and grandmothers that provide for their whole family and the most astonishing fact is that they do it without any diving equipment!!!