Two-thirds of the Korean mainland consists of mountains, and it has more than 3,000 islands. We spent many of our weekends hiking in the mountains, but also were fortunate to visit three of its most beautiful islands.
Jeju-Do (“Do” means island in this case; it also means “the way”, known as “Dao” in the West. Of course, the written forms differ.) is a volcanic island south of the mainland. Hallasan (“san” means mountain) on the island is the highest one in South Korea with its peak at 1,950 meters.
Koreans liked to call it their “Hawaii”; it has a mild climate, but it is far from tropical. When we lived in Korea, bananas were very expensive, since they grew bananas on Jeju but not very successfully. However, the government wanted to support banana growers, so there was a very high import tax on them. Many foreigners would buy a big stack of bananas on boats from Japan to Korea, which they could import them duty free and then sell them for a big profit.
At that time, it was difficult for Koreans to travel overseas, because the government was afraid of them spending too much money abroad and lowering the exchange rate for Korean won. Hence, Jeju was a popular tourist attraction, especially for honeymooners.
Korean tour group
You can often see stone carvings, called dol hareubangs, which were carved from volcanic rock. Their name probably means “stone grandfathers”, and some conjecture that they represent gods. Replicas are sold throughout the island as souvenirs.
We were lucky to witness a dance performance at the folk village
In spring, the island is covered by fields of yellow canola flowers, presenting a stark contrast to the
volcanic stone walls/fences
Straw thatched roofs are traditional on the island, the origin of which dates back to between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago.
Cheju is famous for its female divers called “haenyeo”, who dive without an oxygen tank to collect sea cucumbers, sea urchins, abalone, etc. There are not many haenyeo remaining, and many of them are older than 50 (some even in their 80s).
Hike up to the peak of Hallasan
The crater lake on the mountain
The only problem was that the many Koreans hiking up the mountain wanted to touch our daughter, sometimes to pinch her cheeks. I had to move fast to prevent that.
Of course, lots of fishy stuff going on at the harbor.
We flew to the island, but took a boat back. There was a group of “ajummas”, middle-aged women, traveling together. Korean men worked long hours while their wives raised their children. Once the children were grown, many women were without much to do and consequently often banded together to travel. These ladies were quite fun-loving, singing, dancing and drinking and generally having a good time.
Ulleung Do is approx. 120 km east of the Korean mainland. Tourism was not very developed when we visited, and we decided against a long hike away from the port, since there were no facilities and little information about trails at that time. I’ve read that has changed and that there are great trails (and many tourists) in the meantime.
Squid fishing boats: they fish at night and use lights to attract the squids.
In the morning
Dried squid is a popular bar snack.
Hong Do is 120 km from the southwest coast of Korea. It is noted for its island rock formation, often partly covered by fog giving them an eerie appearance.
Sunset and good night