I was torn. Part of me wanted to stay in Mongolia for another day (I really love that place), but the other part of me wanted to see someplace new. And that’s the side that won out. I’m drawn to new places. The excitement!
I consulted the Traveler’s Century Club List and noticed that Jeju Island, just south of South Korea, warranted a spot. The Traveler’s Century Club is an organization that created a list of 325 distinct places deemed unique in its own right. This list contains places that are geographically or culturally distinct.
By way of example, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the United States are separated on this list.
Once you’ve visited 100 of them, you’re eligible to join the ranks of the Traveler’s Century Club. As of today, I’m at 59.
Since I’m eager to join, how could I pass up the opportunity to add another hashmark? So, I left Mongolia excited about visiting a new place and optimistic that it be more peaceful than Ulaanbaatar!
Prior to booking the visit, all I knew about Jeju was that it was a volcanic island off the southern coast of South Korea. So, I began doing a bit of research. And I found a few of note:
- Lava spewed from the ocean 2 million years ago to create what we now know as Jeju.
- The island is home to many beautiful beaches.
- In terms of honeymoons…Jeju : Korea :: Niagra Falls : USA.
But, since I love airplanes, the most interesting fact to me is that the air route between Seoul (where I was based) and Jeju is the busiest in the world, with well over 10,000,000 people making the flight every year.
So, I booked a cheap ticket (supply and demand, my friends) and was off!
I was staying at the Seoul Incheon airport and had to take a bus to Gimpo airport (about 40 minutes away) since that’s where my flights departed and arrived.
No wonder they can carry so many people on the route, not only were they using jumbo jets (747’s, 777’s), it was also far and away the most efficient check-in and boarding process I’ve experienced. The massive planes were fully loaded in a matter of just a few minutes.
And, before I knew it, we’d touched down: The flight only takes 50 minutes.
I always do a bit of research before going to a new place. In this case, it involved reading the Wikipedia page (See above) and finding an English-Speaking taxi driver.
Mr. Kang had a grasp of English that, although it far exceeded my grasp of Korean, was extremely limited. Most of the English words he knew were punctuated with”y’s.” But who am I to complain? I speak no Korean. And he was my lifeline on this island with very few Westerners (I saw exactly three during my seven-hour stay)
“Welcomy to Jeju Islandy,” was my greeting from Mr. Kang.
“What wouldy you like to see-y?”
Thanks to my reading of the Wikipedia page, I know that Jeju is home to many interesting geologic features. The most unique of which is an extremely long lava tube (one of the longest on the planety).
Since I’ve never been inside a lava tube, I indicated my desire to check it out.
We were off!
Jeju Island is a hot place. Like really hot. We’re talking upper 90’s and extremely humid. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I regretted not bringing a change of clothes for the return trip.
Thankfully, when I stepped down into the lava tube, the temperature immediately dropped.
“It’s like naturally air conditionery.”
At the end of the section open to the public, visitors are greeted by the world’s tallest lava column. At nearly 25 feet tall, it was truly amazing. Especially with its purple uplighting.
Mr. Kang was particularly proud of one beach whose name I didn’t quite catch on account of the fact that it had a lot of “-y’s” in it. He was proud of it because it featured as one of the main settings in a Korean TV Drama. It was beautiful.
We also got to check out the world’s largest volcanic crater that’s NOT on a mountain. That’s kind of like the world’s largest ball of string out in Kansas or wherever, if you ask me. But I’m a sucker for Number 1’s!
He also dropped me off at a different volcanic crater that was on the top of the mountain. He pointed to the top and said, “See you an hour-y.”
The climb looked practically vertical. Since my flight had left Seoul so early, I hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Between hunger pangs and the omnipresent heat, I needed food. Without it, I’m sure I would have passed out on the way up. So, Mr. Kang took me to a local restaurant (bypassing, thankfully, the McDonald’s). As local fishermen delivered still-flopping fish in nets to the kitchen, I ordered Bibimbap, which is one of my favorite Korean dishes.
Sustained by a combination of rice, vegetables, and unidentified proteins, I was ready for the hike. It was brutal! And totally worth it.
Because I care deeply about the olfactory senses of my fellow passengers, I also bought a new t-shirt at the bottom of the mountain.
In the end, Jeju was cool. Flying on the world’s busiest air route (in a 747 down and 777 on the way back!!!) was great. But it was the unique landscape that I’ll most remember. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I went was that it was listed on the Traveler’s Century Club List. And there’s a reason the places on that list earn spots. They’re interesting and worth visiting.
So, my takeaway? If you want to increase tourism, get your town added to that list!