Spring in South Korea – Day 4

We had originally planned to climb up the shortest trail on Mt. Halla on Day 4, but the climb up Seongsan Ilchulbong the day before had us completely spent. That and the dearth of halal food which meant we weren’t having proper meals every day. Mr. Song was nice enough to pick us up a bit late as we checked out of our hotel and decided to drive up to Mt. Halla so we could at least enjoy the view. The drive was great and by the time we reached the top of Mt. Halla we were glad that we had changed our mind and decided not to hike up. It was freezing cold with even colder winds. We looked around for a while and watched hikers form their groups, get their instructions and set off.


At Mt. Halla

We drove down the mountain, past golf courses, university campuses and the mysterious road until we finally reached Jeju where the city was in full cherry blossom bloom, ready for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Every street was lined with blossoms and the city looked as though pinkish white clouds had settled over it.


Clouds of blossoms

We strolled through the blossom lined paths near the Jeju Stadium and came across a lovely couple and their friend who stopped to ask us where we were from, said my mum looked very pretty and wished us a great holiday. I’ve realized that most Koreans are under the impression that everyone who lives in Dubai is a 부자. I don’t know where they get that from, probably the media, but I feel compelled to set the record straight…being the farthest thing from a 부자.


Pink and yellow blossoms ❤

From there, we headed for some shopping. We passed the construction site of Mr. Song’s new house before we reached our first stop-  the Shilla Duty Free. We realized duty frees are really only for branded products which isn’t exactly what you look for on holiday, especially when you live in Dubai so we left Shilla and wandered the streets instead, picking up some souvenirs, wandering around sportswear stores, of which there were plenty, which probably explains why winter wear here translates into colourful lightweight hiking jackets. We stopped at Paris Baguette for a bite to eat and a bit of people watching and mum was happy to pick out the 동네 오빠 type in the crowd.


Time for some window-shopping

After a bit of light shopping, we headed to the Dragon Head Rock 용두암 where scores of high-school students had come for a class trip. The girls were loth to pass up such a great opportunity for a photo and so off came the jackets, a pose that lasted a few seconds followed by squeals of how cold it was and a rush to wear their jackets again. ^^ I miss high school. The airport is quite close to Dragon Rock which meant we were able to see planes coming in after every few minutes which gave us an insight into just how popular Jeju is as a tourist destination for both locals and foreigners.


Dragon Head Rock and another plane landing at Jeju International Airport

A prerequisite souvenir later, we headed for… wait for it… a halal lunch at Bagdad, which Mr. Song was able to locate easily on his GPS. At this point I was truly beginning to love the GPS in Korea- have they missed nothing on their map? Bagdad is a halal certified Indian restaurant which meant one thing… butter chicken, dal, naan and mango lassi. How very reminiscent of our Japan trip. The food was great, possibly made even more so by the lack of a decent meal for 2 days, and we ate till we were super-full. It was interesting to note that it was an Indian restaurant with a Nepali waiter waiting on Pakistani customers… a truly international experience.


Yummy yummy in my tummy

We weren’t sure where to head after lunch so Mr. Song decided it was time we do some shopping and dropped us off at Chilsungro Shopping Town and told us that if we kept going we’d come across the famous underground shopping market, Jungang Underground Shopping Mall. I loved walking around in the cold and wished there were more outdoor shopping areas back home, which is of course completely impractical given 9 months of the year is a sweltering summer. 😦 My brother found his favourite ABC mart, while I found one of my favourite stores in the whole trip –Artbox – with Gundams and hobby items in the basement and all things cute and cuddly on the first and second floors. This is where I found the only thing I was really looking to buy for myself this trip – Lago’s Scratch Night View.


Discovery at ABC Mart ^^

As the wind picked up, we started to look for the underground market to escape and were glad to find that it was nice and toasty there. There were loads and loads of shops, tax-free, mostly selling clothes but we were surprised to find that even the underground market was rather expensive and prices are mostly fixed. We later learnt that the large influx of Chinese tourists has meant that prices of almost everything on the island have gone up. In any case, we walked around, surprised to find a Hang Ten in the underground, and finally surfaced at Exit 7. At this point, we had lost our bearings and decided instead to call Mr. Song with his trusty GPS to locate us rather than search for him on foot.


Jungang Underground Shopping Mall – shop till you drop!

He was happy to find us and then take us to our next hotel – Ramada Plaza Jeju Ocean Front. He seemed sad that we weren’t staying out longer so he was awesome enough to recommend some great places to go that were within walking distance of our hotel- like the art gallery and of course E-Mart if we were looking to find any souvenirs or any groceries.


I feel welcome already ^^

We were sad to see Mr. Song go as he had been great in taking us around everywhere, mum loved his driving and he had recommended some great places to go that hadn’t been on our itinerary. With lots of promises to meet again, we checked in and decided to enjoy the ocean view from the hotel for a while before walking to E-Mart. It was super windy as we left the hotel, so we all linked arms to make sure we didn’t fly away – or mostly I didn’t fly away -__-. When we got to E-Mart, we explored the supermarket and then decided to head upstairs where there supposedly souvenirs. The escalator wasn’t working so we walked up instead but that meant mum started to feel rather unwell, still not having recovered from her trek up Seongsan Ilchulbong. We quickly grabbed a few things and headed back to the hotel, this time being smart enough to use the elevator.

We spent the night packing for our flight to Busan the next day and realized that we still hadn’t managed to secure a knife to cut our apples, which we would end up leaving behind in Jeju.


Spring in South Korea – Day 3

Day 3 – also known as The Day I Nearly Inadvertently Killed My Mum or more positively as The Day We Conquered Seongsan Ilchulbong.

We woke up at an unearthly early hour for a holiday to get ready for the hour long drive to Seongsan Ilchulbong where we were going to see the sunrise at 6.30am. Mr. Song arrived right on schedule and we ended up falling asleep in the car. That’s not to say we missed the entire night drive… I was awake enough to enjoy the sight of the silver moon in a pitch black sky untainted by light pollution and long enough to appreciate the comfort of a car heater on a freezing morning. We reached at about quarter to 6 and since it takes about half an hour to climb up, we decided to head out since we didn’t want to rush. We were bundled up pretty warmly but nothing could have prepared us for just how cold that morning was going to turn out to be.

We followed the many sunrise-hopefuls towards the entrance where we were expecting to pay for the tickets, but as luck would have it, there was no one manning the darkened booth and soon enough they started to let us all in free of charge to make sure we wouldn’t miss the sunrise. And so we climbed… and climbed up the steep, slippery, uneven, rocky pavement. The first part of the climb proved too much for my mum, so we decided to stop and watch from a lower area while my brother went on ahead. But after a while, my mum decided to venture up a bit higher… how much higher, we weren’t sure, so we just started to climb again and luckily we realized the rest of the way was in the form of wooden steps instead of rocks which made the climb much easier. I say ‘easier’ with much caution, because the climb is rather steep and for people who don’t get much exercise, it may prove to be a whole lot of panting and resting and looking up to see when the seemingly endless stairs will relent. There was a lot of encouragement in the form of a lot of senior citizens and even a lady with her newborn on her back who were also making their way up, which meant if they could do it, so could we! There were also lots and lots of couples making their way up to watch the sunrise together. Not only was the climb physically exerting, but the cold- the cold was biting, seeping through our gloves and freezing our fingers so much so that I ventured to take just a single photo on the way up, as the sky began to lighten into a pale blue. The rest of the way was spent wiping our noses, silently joining the chorus of 아이구s by middle aged 아줌마s and praying the next 거의 다 왔어 didn’t refer to the landing before the next staircase.

We made it eventually, and just in time to catch a seat for the sun, which was beginning to silently peek out from its blanket of morning mist and rise over the ocean’s blue.


The first glimpse

It was a splendid sight and the half an hour trudge up was beginning to be worth those 3 minutes of a glorious sunrise.


The sun in all its glory

It was here though that we truly came face to face with the 셀카봉phenomenon. It was a pity, to be honest, to see people more focused on themselves than enjoying the majestic sunrise, or even enjoying the company of the people they came up with. For most couples, it was just another photo op, so I can honestly say that most of them didn’t even see the sunrise, their backs having being turned so they could get a good shot of it in their selfies. And then it became about having the perfect shot, so off went the jackets in the freezing cold, because jackets just don’t look so fab. At one point, we saw one half of a couple so obsessed with taking her own picture that her boyfriend eventually had to remind her of his presence and convince her to stop so they could go back down.

We started the descent hoping it wouldn’t be as tiring as the climb up and it wasn’t. The steps on the way down are much better than the ones on the way up, which made it much easier to climb down and there were also lots of places where you could stop to admire the view, of both the city, the sea and Jeju’s famous horses (which you can ride too).


The sun shining down on the sea



Real stairs!


Horses and 유채꽃 fields in the distance

The first thing we noticed when we finally made it all the way down, was a large sign on the ticket booth saying that people with blood pressure, heart disease etc were not allowed to climb up… Had this sign been lit when we arrived, we would never have made the climb up with my mum.  We headed straight for Caffebene for a cup of hot tea (I say cup, but tea sizes in Korea are as big as coffee which we found quite odd) and a seat around the heater. We were hoping to have breakfast at a Korean restaurant, but it turned out they were closed for breakfast, so we headed to Paris Baguette instead. You would think that most bread products would be halal, but they weren’t which meant a lot of label reading and cross-checking with the lady there to make sure we were picking the right things. As we headed upstairs to eat, I overheard the teller telling one of the other staff that it was about time they had more vegetarian options to cater to the large vegetarian and Muslim crowd of tourists, even it meant just serving rice cakes 떡.

After having a yummy breakfast of 마늘빵 and tea, we headed out to our next destination just as the crowds of Chinese tourist buses were pulling in. On the way to Seopjikoji, we passed a beautiful field of 유채꽃and so we stopped there first to enjoy the  sea of yellow and then Mr. Song tempted us to cross the highway to enjoy another pristine beach with a view of the peak we had just climbed. The beach was lovely- cold clear water, black sands complete with hoofprints of horses galloping across the sands.


Fields of sunshine


View of the peak we had conquered


At Seopjikoji, we were in for another long walk, and climb around the coast. The good news was that the weather was not as cold as before, with the sun making its way up the sky and the climb was not so steep either which made for a leisurely walk with beautiful views of the black rocks framing the dark blue sea on one side and grassy plains sprinkled with yellow flowers on the other.


My mum and I decided those rocks would make a good place to live


Up to the lighthouse

We stopped at the famous Glass House which houses a Zippo lighter museum on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first. We ventured into the museum, but on finding that it was completely devoid of staff or visitors, decide to make an early exit and enjoy the surrounding views instead.


Stunning architecture with great landscaping

My brother headed on to climb upto the lighthouse while we waited below because mum couldn’t stand the thought of more stairs. (My friend was right… vacations  with lots of climbing involved are less of a vacation and more of 훈련). As we made our way back down, past hordes of oncoming tourists (our timing for the whole trip was really spot-on as we were managing to avoid all the major rush), we realized it was rather early to have lunch as we had initially planned, so decided to skip an early lunch and instead head on down to the Everyday Market near our hotel.

Being at the market reminded me of being in Japan, except there were more fish here ^^ From fruits and vegetables (we couldn’t resist getting some more 한라봉 oranges), to dried and live fish and all manner of unidentifiable seafood, the market had it all. The most rush, we found, was in front of a 떡집 but we didn’t stop to try any. Instead we wandered around, stopping occasionally in interesting stores like the one with a picture of 대한, 민국 and 만새 wearing traditional 감옷.

We took our things from the car, sent off Mr. Song who had had a long day, and decided to walk back to the hotel through the food street. Now Jeju is famous for all sorts of food, notably black pig, most of which is not halal. Nevertheless, we wandered through the food street, past murals painted on walls and past an 어린이집 where the cutest kid started waving to us much to the surprise of his teacher who was busy on her phone.


Why can’t offices be this colourful?


Murals on walls

We stopped at the supermarket and managed to get some bread sticks (explain to me why loaves of bread are so uncommon in Korea) which we ended up having with our duty free cheese, oranges and random assortment of other food for lunch and dinner. We still had not managed to eat our apples which we had bought the day before since, strangely enough, there were no knives to be found anywhere – not in the grocery stores, nor at the hotel. We called it a day early and even messaged Mr. Song to let him know that we had decided to scratch the short climb on Mt. Halla the next morning from our itinerary and instead rest our weary legs which had, by the estimation of our S health trackers, made it to our personal best for two consecutive days.

Spring in South Korea – Day 2

After the hectic rush of Day 1, we somehow managed to get a good night’s sleep and were up bright and early on Day 2- finally ready to start our tour of Jeju. After breakfast, that is. Breakfast was tea from Caffe Pascucci, bananas and some duty free goodies and by 10am we were meeting Mr. Song, who’d be driving us around for the day. The plan was to start of at Cheonjiyeon Falls which is hardly 5 minutes from the hotel, then make our way to Jusangjeolli Cliffs, Cheonjeyeon Falls and wrap up with a trip to the Joreunmosal Beach.

The walk from the parking lot to the Cheonjiyeon falls was simply beautiful. Having grown up in a country where deciduous trees are something of a rarity and summer all year round means the trees are always green and flowers forever in bloom, this was my first glimpse of a barren winter starting to be covered with the first colourful blossoms of spring. Evergreen boughs interlaced with barren branches and the first red, yellow and pink children of the spring.  It was breathtaking and probably even more so for those people who had weathered the long white winter.


Cheonjiyeon Waterfall from afar | 천지연폭포

The sound of the falls was so soothing that if I hadn’t been on a schedule, I would have been pretty happy to spend the day sitting by the water, feeding the passing ducks. As it were, we were on a schedule, and unfortunately huge numbers of tourist buses had begun to arrive which signaled the arrival of lots of noisy tourists armed with selfie-sticks, which meant it was time for us to move on.


Cheonjiyeon Waterfall up close | 천지연폭포

We headed next to the cliffs, a little over half an hour away. By the time we reached there, I was truly beginning to understand why Jeju is also known as 삼다도… being famous for having lots of wind, stones and women 바람. 돌. 여자. The wind was biting cold as we made our way to the viewing platform for a sight of the stunning hexagonal stone columns left by cooling lava from the last volcanic eruption.


Cooled lava of Jusanjeolli Cliffs | 주상절리


Jusangjeolli Cliffs | 주상절리

We spent some time walking in the area but as the wind picked up, we packed up and headed off for lunch.We had initially thought of stopping at Paris Baguette, but Mr. Song was nice enough to suggest a more picturesque location, past yellow canola fields with a beautiful view of the sea- Cafe 7373. We tried our luck finding something halal and the staff was nice enough to accommodate our requests so we ended up having a lunch of garlic bread, salad, fresh grape juice and a salmon baguette. The view was pretty spectacular and Mr. Song said this was the best place to come to watch the sunset. I can’t disagree.


Cafe 7373

From Cafe 7373 we headed to Cheonjeyeon Falls which consists of 3 waterfalls. Unfortunately for us, the first waterfall was not in a falling mood, so we moved down to the second and third waterfall viewing areas.


Silent Cheonjeyeon Waterfall | 천제연폭포

The third waterfall area was probably my favourite- the last fall before which the water flows away into the sea. Cheonjeyeon didn’t just have waterfalls to offer, but also our first taste of Jeju’s famous Hallabong oranges as we rested before climbing up the Seonimgyo Bridge for a stunning aerial view of the area.


3rd Fall | 천제연폭포


View from Seonimgyo Bridge | 서님교

Our last stop for the day before heading back to the hotel was Joreunmosal Beach, because one can never have enough water in a day. While this isn’t exactly one of Jeju’s most famous beaches,that is exactly what lends it its charm- peace and some much-needed silence to drink up the sound of the waves lapping the shore.  The beach is tucked away in a corner, reached only by a long spindly stone path lined with flowers and trees on either side, the last steps covered with sand – as the beach meets the forest. We spent a long time there, just breathing in the salty air, filling our shoes with sand and looking for shells.


Heading down to Joreunmosal Beach


And still further down


Say hello to Joreunmosal Beach | 조른모살해수욕장

We were pretty spent and opted to turn in early so we would be able to wake up for the Day 3 adventure which involved going to see the sunrise at the Sunrise Peak. This posed only one major problem… what to have for dinner. Coffee shops don’t exactly have the most elaborate menus and the 7/11 has extremely limited halal  options but we had the foresight to pack the salad from our afternoon lunch and together with microwaved ready-to-eat boiled white rice from GS25 we were all set for dinner. ^^ I don’t think I ever ate as much rice as I did that day in one sitting. 잘 먹었습니다~~


돌 하르방 씨도 배 불렀나 봐요 ㅎㅎ

Spring in South Korea – Day 1

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but one moment we had no vacation plans and the next we were applying for visas to South Korea during mum’s Spring Break. Needless to say our itinerary revolved primarily around chasing the cherry blossoms around the country, from Jeju to Jinhae up to Seoul, for what would be our first real Spring.

We were scheduled to take the midnight flight to Seoul with a four hour window in which to catch the 8.30pm flight to Jeju which meant that we should have slept earlier during the day to avoid jet-lag but us, being us, couldn’t sleep and ended up falling asleep shortly after boarding – in fact so soon after boarding that we didn’t realize the flight took off about half an hour late. Squeeze aforesaid window to 3.5 hours. Already the plan that took weeks to calibrate was beginning to look too tight. Strike 1.

We were optimistic though that we’d be able to make it on time. Immigration after all, at Incheon Airport, couldn’t possibly take that long. It wasn’t like there were millions of Chinese tourists like in Japan… right? Wrong! Strike 2. It took over an hour at immigration just to reach the immigration desk (Shrunken window – 2 hours) where Strike 3 took place in the form of our Pakistani passport. Now we’ve never had a problem travelling before, but it would appear that the rules in South Korea are a little unfavourable towards Pakistanis, in that Pakistanis coming from Pakistan are subjected to more rigorous questioning. That shouldn’t have mattered to us of course, since we’ve never lived in Pakistan but the ladies at the immigration counter were confused as to what to do with Pakistanis who don’t live in Pakistan and decided to play it safe and send us all for questioning too. -_- The staff was wonderfully polite which was great because my nerves were wrecked as I was beginning to come to the conclusion that we were not going to catch our next flight. They simply asked us about our itinerary which we had handy, cross-checked our hotel bookings, and gave us the sound advice that we would have to make a run for it if we were going to make it to Jeju that night. Stamp, stamp, stamp and half an hour later we were scrambling towards baggage claim, the money exchange and then down to B1F, running to catch the AREX. (Vanishing window – little over 1 hour).

Of course we needed to get a SIM card because I was supposed to contact our tour guide in Jeju to let him know that we had arrived and what time to pick us up the next morning – this meant further delays in the form of an excellent gentlemen who meticulously set up our EG SIM Cards while I ran to get the AREX tickets (Is it still a window if there’s only an hour left? When does check-in close again?) With promises of our SIM cards being activated at the latest by 9am the next morning we piled on to the AREX and began counting the stops down to Gimpo Airport.

The ride was comfortable and uneventful with the exception of the rather drunk 아저씨 who boarded at a later stop and decided to amuse himself by removing the stickers labelling each stop on the map, much to the chagrin of the many 아줌마s on board whose stares did little to dissuade him. I managed to get a hold of our guide on the train and let him know that our schedule had suddenly been thrown wide open to the possibility of change. We then ran through Plan Bs, Cs and Ds which involved all manner of rescheduling and re-bookings while a Korean Air air hostess seated opposite us continued to chat away on her phone in what may be the most silent conversation I have (n)ever heard. By the time we reached Gimpo our so-called window was narrowing quickly and as luck would have it, the AREX does not stop , as we had prayed, exactly at the departures gate. In fact, there is a lot of walking (in our case mad dashing) to be done before reaching domestic departures. For someone who’s never, and I mean never, ever, ever, been late for anything, this was turning into an absolutely unanticipated nightmare.

I ran on ahead to see if we had a sliver of a chance of boarding, while my brother and my mum hurried on behind. By the time we reached, there was half an hour left to take-off but surprisingly, thank God, we were still able to check-in (hold the applause). Of course, baggage has to be screened again, and this time we discovered that we were now required to move our battery pack to our carry-on (Please note that as of today all battery backs are required to be kept in carry-ons.) This meant tearing the film that we had our suitcases wrapped in (I knew that had been a bad idea) before we could unlock, remove said pack, relock and reseal. We reached the gate for boarding at 8.15pm. Boarding started at 8.20pm and by 8.30pm we were in the air, hopefully with all our luggage.

Within an hour we had landed at Jeju Airport and after collecting our baggage decided to see if we could find something to eat. Unfortunately, from the 7/11 to the coffee shop, everything was closed. Getting a taxi at the airport was a breeze, since the taxis are sorted based on their destinations- Jeju or Seogwipo. We were headed to Seogwipo to the Ocean Palace Hotel– an hour long drive in the dark. We were surprised by how few streetlights and how many cats eyes there are in Jeju especially on highways. On the way we passed a place called 사라마을 which made me feel right at home ^^

The check-in didn’t take long and before long we were in our surprisingly spacious…apartment? Calling it a hotel room would be doing it an injustice since it was literally an apartment. The hotel has a 7/11 in the lobby and plenty of coffee shops all around but by the time we reached only the 7/11 was open which meant dinner was going to be all the things we had wisely gotten from the Dubai Duty Free after receiving due warning that there are only three halal restaurants in Jeju (only one of which is in Seogwipo).

…And so the adventure had begun even before the adventure had begun.

Stay tuned for Day 2!