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Jeju Island, S. Korea Trip Report

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I had a conference on the island of Jeju, Korea, and decided to extend the trip and have a week in Thailand, with 2 days of shopping in Seoul before returning home. I found it difficult to find out much information on Jeju before I left, so all I knew about the place was that it was a destination place for Korean newlyweds, and that it was tropical and lush.

We flew Asiana – business class nonstop from Seattle to Seoul, Korea, had to change airports and take a 30 minute bus ride to Gimpo airport to fly to Jeju. We had a good 12 hour flight over, and with the bus ride to Gimpo, and the hour flight to Jeju; we were exhausted from all the travel. Asiana has the reclining chair/beds which made life more tolerable, and video on demand for movies which was nice. I thought the food has really gone downhill on Asiana from the previous year. It used to really be great, but is really sadly lacking now.

We arrived Sunday night at 10pm and went right to bed pretty tired. I didn’t have jet lag at all which was good. My old trick which has served me well is to take sleeping pills for 3 nights in a row starting with the first night. I never suffer from jet lag. I also take it for 3 nights after returning from a trip.

We stayed at the Hyatt which left a lot to be desired. The beds were very hard, and the rooms really need a makeover. The one redeeming feature is the fabulous large koi pond right in the atrium lobby, and it was fun feeding the koi fish. They also have several Korean ducks swimming in the pond and they are gorgeous. The buffet breakfast was really overpriced at $24 (with tax and service it comes to $29) I thought, but there is nothing nearby, so you are stuck. A cup of tea in the atrium lobby bar was $8.00. A little overpriced for a Hyatt. I planned to use my ATM and credit card throughout my trip to get local currency, and was disappointed that I had a hard time finding machines that would take my card even when it was a plus or cirrus. Someone said that they need to be international machines, so I am not sure what the problem was, but it was hard to get money in Jeju. (I also had problems in Bangkok with several machines.) Didn’t have much fun at the conference, so I was looking forward to the last day which was taken up with sightseeing. The conference center is quite nice. The Shilla and Lotte hotel lobby looked beautiful and the people that stayed there said it was really nice. I wish I had booked into one of those hotels instead.

We had a wonderful tour guide – Heea Kim. She spoke very good English and grew up on the island so she is very knowledgeable about the culture and history. Contact info: heeao914@yahoo.co.kr tel: 018-605-5936. Jeju is actually a very pretty place. It has a large dormant volcano in the center of it – Mt. Halla, and goes from palm trees to pine trees as you climb the hills. Jeju is also known for growing tangerine oranges, so there are beautiful orchards all over the island. I was surprised to find the oranges were very expensive – about $1 per orange! We went to the Jeju Folk Village – an historic cultural village and saw how they lived centuries ago which was fascinating. They have a wonderful representation of the traditional houses and villages dating back several hundred years, and a lot of the pottery, cookware, and clothing on display. They have folk craft products (bells, wood carved objects etc.) produced on site by certified craftsmen, and are available for purchase. I would not miss this open air museum because it gives you a wonderful sense of how they lived even 30 years ago on this island. Our tour guide (who was probably 30 years old) lived in one of the 2-room traditional huts growing up on the island until she was 6. Very harsh living conditions to say the least and very interesting insight that she brought to her tour.

Then we went to the Jeju Stone Park, a geological and stone museum – yes stone museum! It was all about the volcanic action on the island many many years ago. It requires a lot of walking around the compound, and I personally did not find it that interesting. If you’re into lava rocks, you will love it!

Then we went to the Haenyeo Women Divers' Museum which was intriguing. It’s a beautiful museum that just opened 6 months ago, and you start the tour by watching a fascinating 8 minute video about the lives of the women divers. Our tour guide’s aunt is still a diver (at age 75!), and it was wonderful to hear firsthand accounts about the lives of these strong women. These women free dive for abalone and other shell fish without oxygen tanks or much else than a mask and sometimes make over 1000 dives a day! There are still about 25 women still doing it, but the work/life is dying out for the rich tradition of life for these women. The weather was perfect; around 50 degrees, sunny and a little windy which really helped cool me down.

I can’t say that I would highly recommend Jeju. It is difficult to get to, and there are so many other places I find more interesting. It seems like a great place for hikers. It is a pretty island and I’m sure if I had more time, I would have maybe come to like it more.

http://new.photos.yahoo.com/sscj2/album/576460762397826548

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