Day 1 – Brief Stopover in Busan
This was my first attempt at travelling with an infant on a flight of more than couple hours. As much as I was looking forward to this holiday, I was nervous about dealing with Emma’s unpredictable moods and demands. Little did I know, something worse would creep behind my back. Emma got ill a few days before our trip. When an infant is down with a bad viral flu infection, say goodbye to rest and alone time. I had one extremely clingy child, whose nose was runny every minute. Children with fever is always a scary experience. I was hoping her fever would subside completely before we travel, but to my dismay it did not. At least, it wasn’t dangerous and the doctor said she was fit to travel. I was prepared for the worst – screaming on the plane, refusing to eat or drink milk, etc … but to my surprise, she slept most of the time. It was a good thing since she was probably weak and tired. So when we arrived in Busan late afternoon, she was in a better mood to explore the streets a little after we checked in at the hotel.
Why Jeju, you may ask. We didn’t plan to go at first. My dad had arranged this trip for my mom as her birthday gift. It so happened my mom’s birthday falls around the best time to visit Jeju (October-November). The fall season there is dry and not too cold, perfect for a nice, comfy vacation.
We had a fair share of drama trying to figure out taxi transportation to the hotel from the airport. Our immediate impression of Koreans were that they were unfriendly and rude. However, maybe it was because my dad and aunt tried to haggle the price of the taxi, and that sparked some conflicts. There were six adults and one infant, and we had lots of luggage. I was doubtful if a van taxi can fit all of us, and I think my dad was frustrated with the situation already. In the end, we had to take 3 separate taxis to get there. Remember, always prepare the address because Koreans speak very little English. It was very hard to communicate with them. Get ready for some crazy-ass driving in these taxis. They swerve in and out really fast, and speed way past the speed limit! So buckle up to be safe …
Our stay at Hotel Flamingo was decent. It was a clean and convenient business hotel, just 15 minutes away from the airport. It is also close to Lotte Mall and there are a variety of restaurants along the street. The reason for a short stayover is because we felt travelling straight to Jeju Island after a long flight may be too tiring. After we had put Emma to sleep, hubby and I headed out for a late night snack at a Korean dessert cafe. We ordered this shaved-ice dessert, and it was literally shaved to powder. I felt like I was eating air (nothing) when I tasted it in my mouth.
Day 2 – Off to Jeju Island (Jeju-do)
We arrived in Jeju quite early in the morning, around 10 AM. It was a tough deciding whether we should rent a car and drive ourselves or get around Jeju with a private driver. Personally, I’ve never really enjoyed tours as I prefer to explore on my own if time permits. My aunt was very worried about driving in a foreign country. Moreover, it is left-hand drive and Malaysians drive on the right. My dad was keen on driving ourselves too because he believes that these private drivers are crooks to some extent. He thinks they always have something up their sleeves, based on his previous travel experiences in other countries as well. Either way, we could not get a rental van to fit all of us in one since we booked too late. Therefore, we ended up with two cars. I rented from KT kumho and my dad rented from Avis. I recommend renting from KT kumho. The process was easy (be sure to sign up as a member to receive the discount), and the staff speaks English quite well. You will need an International Driving Permit. My husband tried to get away with his US driver’s license as a second driver, but the lady was very stern about the permit requirement. You don’t need an English GPS. The Korean GPS works just fine as long as you have the phone numbers of the destinations you want to visit. Remember to take a map that has these phone numbers from the car rental place. If you have time before your trip, I recommend doing some research about restaurants to eat as well in each major area around Jeju. That way you save time driving around trying to find something to eat. All the restaurant signs are in Korean and it can get overwhelming because they all look alike and you can’t really tell if it’s a restaurant or not from the exterior.
After settling comfortably in the rental cars, we decided to take a drive West towards Halim Park (1132 route). Since the GPS takes you on the highway routes, you have to be aware of the road signs that say “Shore Road” or “Coastal Road”, if you want a better view while driving. My dad missed this as he was still getting used to driving in Korea. My husband and I managed to drive through the beautiful Hagwi-Aewol coastal drive, all thanks to my sharp observation of the road signs 😉
If you plan to drive in Jeju and you are travelling with an infant, I strongly recommend bringing your child car seat along. We had it checked-in during our flight, and it was fine. If you are worried about damage or scratches, get a carseat cover bag. I don’t think it is that easy for airport staff to mishandle a child car seat. It will take a lot of impact to damage it like how it was made for in the event of a car accident. I’m glad we considered this piece of our trip. Emma rested very comfortably in the seat when she needed to. When she is resting, I can help hubby with the directions and communication with my dad in the other car.
We did not get to visit Halim Park as time did not permit. When we got there, it was already lunch time and Emma was hungry. So we parked at the public parking lot, and walked around the town near Hyoepjae beach. Finally, we settled for some food at a Guesthouse as we figured they probably would have some English on their menu. My husband was quite annoyed by the lack of English around. I think he’s just not used to travelling in Asia (he’s Canadian). If there is one thing I was not used to during this trip was the lack of variety in their food. You are either getting grilled or stewed seafood (fish) or their barbeque pork (Jeju is famous for their native black pigs). So … it was the same old meal, day in, day out. We could not even find a simple bowl of hot noodles!
After lunch we retreated back to Hotel W Shinjeju, in Jeju city. It was a pleasant and clean hotel. The only downside were the extremely hard mattresses. I think most of us had backaches and stiff neck the next morning. We spent the rest of the evening walking around the shopping area on Yeondong street. The street was filled with mostly outdoor/sports wear though. Either Koreans have a thing for outdoor wear fashion, or it is catered for hikers who come to Jeju.
Day 3 – Seogwipo
My dad suggested we travel to Seogwipo as this day marked the last day of the Chilsimni festival. We decided drive through Mt Hallasan by taking the 1139 route to get to Seogwipo. On our way, we turned into the Eorimok Trail (1117 route) at Mt Hallasan to take a look. Since we were travelling with an infant, and my mom can’t walk too long of a distance due to leg pains, we did not plan to hike Mt Hallasan. It was very windy and cold, and so we all had to put on a thicker coat. Emma’s coughing and congestion was still bad but she was enjoying the walkaround at the base of the trail. There was a building which served as an information center with restroom facilities. If you decide not to hike up Mt Hallasan but would love a picture of yourself at the summit, there is a photobooth where you can use. The fee is KRW 200, I believe. You get an instant photo printout with the Mt Hallasan summit as the background picture, haha. On drive down the mountain base, we stopped at another scenic checkpoint to take more pictures. It was a nice, sunny day and the view was gorgeous. Oh, and the weather got warmer too!
When we got to Seogwipo area, it was time for lunch and so we had to search for some food. I noticed there were many horse-riding attractions in this area. It was also a much laid-back place compared to the hustle and bustle of Jeju downtown city. We entered in the phone number of a popular restaurant, Ankori Pakori, into the GPS and headed in that direction in no time. The restaurant looked very family friendly, and luckily we were there early because the crowd just hustled in minutes after we sat down at the last available table. I’m so glad it wasn’t another barbeque pork meal! This time is was a real full-blown Korean meal with side dishes, rice, and a main dish. Now, that’s more like it! We ate to our heart’s content. I really recommend this restaurant if you do make a trip to Seogwipo.
After satisfying our tummies, we drove in search of Cheonjeyeon Falls. Little did I know, there was another waterfall by the name of Cheonjiyeon. I wonder if we made a mistake, and we weren’t sure which one was better. All I knew was the Cheonjeyeon Falls had a nearby attraction, Seonimgyo Bridge, and so it must be the main place to visit. If you brought a stroller with you, and you intend to hike to the waterfalls, please don’t bring it down from the car. The pathway to the waterfalls are all stone steps! Best to bring a baby carrier with you, or if you want you can skip the main hike, and head straight to the bridge. There is a big map of the area you can refer to in front of the ticketing office. Of course, we didn’t know about this until we come to the end of the hike, and realized there was another route without the stone steps to get to the bridge. Oh well, Emma enjoyed the close cuddle for awhile as she was kind of tired from travelling.
Day 4 – Rainy Weather
The weather started to take a turn today due to the nearby Typhoon VongFong, which hit Japan. It was rainy and gloomy … and windy. We decided to do some indoor sightseeing today, and so headed for the Trick Art Museum. It was a fun museum, Emma was intrigued with the art. My uncle and aunt were really hardcore in snapping a picture with every trick art. We couldn’t take pictures outside in the garden area because of the weather. I would have loved to bring Emma out there.
Next, was lunch. We drove towards the Pyoseon Folk Village Museum (Jeju Folk Village Museum). On our way we stopped along the coastal road to snap pictures of the rough seas. It was really amazing to see those big waves crashing against the rock so close to us! We stopped at a restaurant nearby to eat. It was barbeque pork again, but it was not too bad. The waitress was friendly and accomodating even though she spoke little English. I have found the people in the south of the island to be more friendly. When we were back in the city, it just felt like the place was invaded by many Chinese immigrants. Since we look like Chinese nationals to them, some of the locals don’t like to serve us at their restaurants or shops until they realize we were not speaking Mandarin …
Since the rain had stopped, we decided to head into the Folk Village Museum. It was a bad idea because there was nothing much going on in there. I had the impression there would be workers dressed up in traditional costumes and doing role-playing but there was no one at all. Then, I realized – it was a Sunday. Perhaps, they don’t work on Sundays and just open it up to visitors who would like to take a stroll inside (it is a large outdoor park). Also, there was a possibility that they knew the weather was getting bad towards that day, and so they cancelled all the activities. True enough, we were half way done when the rain came pouring torrentially, and to make matters worse it was really windy too. We had to take shelter at a covered dance stage area. We waited for the rain to stop but it didn’t look like it was going to. Umbrellas wouldn’t work in this situation because of the wind, and we had no rain coat. Luckily our jackets had hoods, and we literally had to walk fast to the main entrance, and to our vehicles. It was not a fun day actually. Back in Jeju city, we thought of heading to the underground shopping street, but the rain was so bad, and the traffic got worse … it was too stressful driving around trying to look for parking (they do not have underground parking and building parking is reserved for the tenants). Therefore, we retreated back to the hotel to rest.
Day 5 – Seongsan Ilchubong
Our plan today was to go with the flow since we weren’t sure what the weather was going to bring us. Our last main attraction to visit is the UNESCO site Seongsan Ilchulbong, but if the weather does not permit us to climb, we would just drive by, snap some pictures and call it done. We drove East towards Seongsan Ilchubong, by taking HWY 1132. We turned into the coastal drives near Samyang and Hamdeok. It was still a blustery day, but at least there was no heavy rain. Along the way, we stopped at a pier point to take some pictures. The sea was still rough and the winds were strong. It was nevertheless a relaxing sightseeing opportunity.
On our way to Seongsan Ilchubong, we found a cosy, little cafe for lunch. It was pleasant and inviting, and the staff was friendly. Oh, and did I mention they had a baby highchair? I was super-elated! It’s really hard to find a restaurant here with a baby highchair. Another word of advice … be sure to carry a travel infant seat for use at restaurants if your child is able to sit by herself and eat. It really is handy in Korea! Across the road from the cafe, there were cute little wooden benches of different size and colour for visitors to take scenic photos. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. If anything, I never bothered to ask because everything is written in Korean, and the locals truly have limited English vocabulary. I’m glad though it was a pleasant experience overall.
The weather was improving by mid-day and we’re able to hike up Seongsan Ilchulbong. Initially, we had planned not to go all the way to the top. It is most definitely not a stroller-friendly place, so best to have a baby carrier with you if you do plan to bring baby up with you. Climbing up with a 9 kg baby is not easy … and I had to leave her with my mom and aunt at the mid-point rest area. My hubby and I then went all the way up. Oh man, I was out of breath by the time we reached the top! I’m so out of shape!! The view of the island was breathtaking. There was not much to see of the summit itself, but definitely worth getting up there to view the town as well as the nearby Udo island.
Day 6 – Goodbye Jeju
It was our last day in Jeju, and as we bid farewell to this charming place, we took a last drive along the beautiful Hagwil-Aewol coastal drive before heading to the airport. We spent two nights in Busan before departing for Malaysia, our home. I felt bad for my dad as he did not have a good experience with the Koreans in general. When we went to visit Gukje Market in Busan, my dad got chased out of a shoe shop for no apparent reason (well, we didn’t know exactly why). My dad was furious because the owner of the shop did not do that to the next customer! We figured the owner might have suspected my dad was a Chinese tourist … and decided not to welcome him. It was a pity. We would have liked Korea better if it wasn’t for the unintended discrimination we had experienced. My husband felt Jeju was a joke … but perhaps he didn’t know what to expect of it since he decided to join us last minute as soon as he got off the rig. Maybe next time, we will return to Korea, and perhaps Seoul this time.
P.S.: If you’re planning to drive around Jeju Island by yourself, it’s best to prepare a rough itinerary ahead of time. That way you can decide which routes to take and plan your day better. We did this and it helped alot!