(A victory selfie, as we conquer the Kimnyong Maze Park)
Among the many places Jiye Nam of Donato’s told us about were two special spots, one for watching the sunrise and the other for watching the sunset.
My friend and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.”
And so the longest, most amazing day was created.
Seongsan Ilchubong Sunrise Peak (성산일출봉)
Getting up to see the sunrise meant waking up at 5 to make the two hour drive to the other side of the island. This turned out to be tougher than I thought because the owner of the guesthouse we stayed at was a party animal and had parties with all the other guests every night. Having gotten through the previous night without any problems (because I was drunk), I declined the ear plugs and tried to do without. I ended up drifting in and out of sleep all night, the music messing with my dreams.
Somehow, I got up. We drove the car along the dark highways, through the city and the countryside. We passed windmills we could only half see, until we reached Seongsan Ilchubong Sunrise Peak (성산일출봉). We knew we were getting close because we started seeing Koreans with the same idea walking up the mountain. Sadly, it turned out that we had to pay to reach the peak and watch the sunrise. It was freezing cold and we were not fully dressed for it. We decided not to make the climb and this is what we missed out on.
We got back into the car where I promptly passed out and missed seeing any sunrise whatsoever. My friend found a beach area to take pictures of.
Kimnyong Maze Park (김녕미로공원)
I’m not actually sure how we ended up at the maze. All I know is that we were wide awake at 8am, going past the windmills again with the entire day ahead of us. We could do anything. We had Jiye Nam’s map, a coupon book and the Internet and we somehow found this place that was between us and Jeju City.
First, we huddled in the warmth of the souvenir shop and bought gloves with fingers for texting and tiny dol hareubang-esque key chain charms. I love how many volcanic art pieces Jeju has. It’s very distinctive.
We then stopped by to see their cats before entering the maze. The maze is shaped like Jeju Island when you look at it from above, but that didn’t help us navigate at all. We got hopelessly lost. I’m glad we did, we wouldn’t have seen as much of the maze that way. The goal of the maze is to find a staircase and at the top of the staircase is a bell you ring to let everyone know you’d found the exit.
We found a large “DON’T KISS HERE” sign in English and only English. Usually, these signs are bilingual. In a more secluded spot, we found a sign saying the same thing in Korean and only Korean. It amused me to think of what decisions went into that, where couples of different cultures choose to kiss, if they have different places in mind at all.
Obviously, we found the exit or I wouldn’t be here to blog about it. It’s interesting to think about the maze as a metaphor for life and how getting lost and being unable to find the exit right away made the journey so much more fun and worthwhile.
Manjanggul Lava Tubes (만장굴)
The maze park turned out to be close to these lava tubes so we drove a little further down the road and checked them out. Lava tubes are made by lava flows that cool on the outside while the lava is still flowing through the middle. They have very interesting formations in them.
Volcanoes are such a huge part of what makes Jeju Jeju. It was beautiful to see. It was fun to wander through a long, dark tunnel and be close to nature.
Dreaming Snowdonkey Cafe
The GPS would tell us how to get to our next destination, but every now and then, my friend and I just wanted to see seashore and ocean. We would get on the shore road, despite the GPS’ annoying declarations of route recalculations.
We found this cafe. It looked so beat up on the outside and didn’t even have a sign. I thought it was an abandoned building but once you got through the wooden doors, there were sliding automatic glass doors. Inside, it was cozy and very modern while still taking full advantage of its location as a seaside cafe.
We ordered drinks and cozied up to the windows, watching the waves go in and out. I love how Korean cafes have little blankets available for guests to drape over their legs. I got one each for my friend and myself. We drank our hot chocolate and just enjoyed the moment.
I fell asleep again. The next thing I know we’re at E-Mart and my friend is trying to get me out. I beg off, unable to keep my eyes open.
A few minutes later, I get a call. “They’re selling Jeju chocolate,” my friend said. “Come down and let’s buy some!”
And then we went to Jeju’s Loveland. For the sake of kiddies, that story is over here.
My friend is an experienced horseback rider and one of the things she was most looking forward to on Jeju was finally getting the chance to ride horses. Our guesthouse recommended a place and we tried to drive there. This is how we encountered snow.
And partly because of the snow, we opted out of horseback riding for the day. Maybe in the summer, my friend will go.
That left us loads of time to head to Suwolbong Peak, the place Jiye Nam noted as good for sunsets and to see Hallasan. The only catch was that the weather was atrocious. You could tell night was coming because the sky was getting darker, but no one was going to be able to watch the sunset, much less see Hallasan through the clouds.
We decided to go anyway. We took the shore road again and found a haenyeo school. The haenyeo are women divers who made a living catching seafood. They were the main breadwinners and the matriarchs of their family. That’s changing now, as other skills are becoming more lucrative and luring their daughters away. But it turns out they still have a school that teaches their deep diving techniques.
That would be an amazing adventure to have.
We found more windmills on that side of the island too. They roared sweetly and looked awe-inspiring.
Slowly, we continued to make our way to Suwolbong. We passed an old Korean grandmother (할머니) along the way and tried to offer her a ride up to the peak, but she refused. Guess she wanted her exercise.
Suwolbong Peak was impossibly windy. A few kids were there, trying to fly kites vainly. It was hilarious.
Hanrim Childonga (한림칠돈가)
We drove back into town to eat Jeju’s famous black pig. This restaurant was recommended to us by our guesthouse as being particularly famous. It was small and at one point became quite thick with exhaust from roasting so many pigs.
The meat was delicious. You could still see the black bristles in the thick fat. I don’t feel like it’s all that different from the other roasted pigs I’ve eaten in Korea though.
Sanbangsan Hot Springs Spa (산방산)
Our last stop of the night was the hot springs spa. Essentially, it’s a huge jjimjilbang (bathhouse) with mineral water springs.
No strangers to jjimjilbang (and the loads of nakedness involved), my friend and I stripped down and tried everything. We cleaned off the dirt of a really full day before trying out the myriad pools.
First we went outside dressed in these bathing suits you could rent from the jjimjilbang. That was almost more awkward than being naked with the other ladies. The outside area was shared space for both sexes. It was a proper winter cold, so everyone (and I mean everyone, from couples to college students to families) huddled together in the warm pools.
I left because I wanted an ahjumma to scrape all the dead skin off my body. I wasn’t sure they actually did those kind of rubdowns at this spa, so I just dipped into the indoor pools. I didn’t want to put the suit back on. I later joined my friend to sweat it out in the sauna then use our newly purchased pumice stones to work on our feet.
I love jjimjilbangs so much.
We drove back to our guesthouse, exhausted but so happy.
[This post was originally published on February 13, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]