Jeju, Day 1: Manjanggul, Seongsan, & Seogwipo

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Last week I ventured to South Korea’s famous Jeju Island for four days of vacation. Often called the “Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju is one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations, drawing not only Koreans but many Chinese and other international tourists as well. The island is home to many incredible natural sites but is small enough that these are all pretty close together and easy to get to in a short amount of time.

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I began my journey at Manjang Cave, an impressive lava tunnel on the north side of the island. Lava tunnels are formed when lava that was deep underground spouts from the peak of a volcano and flows to the surface. The cave hosts an impressive array of stalagmites, stalactites, pillars, and all sorts of interesting textures formed by the cooling of the lava. The cave was also remarkable for its size. Most caves I have been in before feel quite cramped but Manjang was cathedral-like in its spaciousness. Traveling through the kilometer of the cave that is open to the public was a refreshing break from the heat and humidity of the outside.

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Entering the darkness of Manjang Cave.

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The spacious tunnels of Manjanggul.

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The path to the lava column.

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The impressive central lava column of Manjang Cave.

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An interesting formation in the ceiling, bathed in colored light.

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Vein-like textures in the rock.

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So much varied texture made the cave surfaces seem almost alive.

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Lava flowlines, indicating the levels at which the lava flowed continuously through the active tube.

When I emerged from the cave, the outside humidity was incredibly intense and my camera lens immediately fogged up. The weather remained like this for most of the trip and there were thunderstorms on and off throughout the week. Thankfully the day I hiked Halla Mountain was rain-free.

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Returning to the light.

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The magnificent canopy above the entrance to Manjang Cave.

My next stop after Manjang Cave was Seongsan Ilchulbong, Sunrise Peak. This formation rose from the sea in a volcanic eruption more than 100,00 years ago. There is a large crater on top of the peak which is covered in beautiful green grass. The short hike up the peak proved quite the challenge in the intense heat of the day, but the sights were certainly worth it.

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The entrance to Seongsan Ilchulbong.

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A black sand beach next to the peak, where some of Jeju’s famous haenyo (“sea women”) depart to go diving for seafood.

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Lamp Rock, a formation of great significance in Jeju’s history. In olden days, villagers are thought to have prayed and performed ancestral rites here. A folk story tells of a famous general who was building a fortress nearby to protect his country and was said to have jumped around the rock to train his body and mind. The footprint on the middle of the rock is said to be his.

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Another unique rock formation.

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Overlooking Seongsan town.

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Seongsan town below.

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The beautiful grass-covered crater at the peak.

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Back down we go! This was a very popular site, so we had to go single file for much of the climb and the descent.

After hiking up the peak I took a walk along a black sand beach nearby, which provided more views of the unique volcanic formation.

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The view of Seongsan Ilchulbong from a nearby beach.

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Unique “black” sand.

The next stop in my journey was on the south side of the island in a town called Seogwipo. The magnificent Jeongbang Falls is the only waterfall in Asia that flows directly into the sea. The falls were quite the tourist attraction, providing a cool escape from the heat of the day. Some visitors swam in the pool at the base of the falls, while others simply stood nearby and enjoyed the cool mist.

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The magnificent Jeongbang Falls.

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A crowd gathering to enjoy the cool air and damp mists of the falls.

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The surrounding beach itself was quite a remarkable sight.

Another waterfall would be my final stop for the day. Not far from Jeongbang are the less dramatic but no less beautiful Cheonjiyeon Falls. These falls feed a river that winds its way through a beautifully landscape park and provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxing evening. I had been traveling non-stop the whole day and was very tired, so I really appreciated the tranquil beauty of Cheonjiyeon.

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A neat wooden structure I stopped at on the walk to Cheonjiyeon Falls.

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I loved this weird image of a ruined building with the painting of a paradisiacal waterfall on the side.

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Scenery on the walk to Cheonjiyeon Falls.

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A copy of a Dolhareubang, famous statues of old men that have become Jeju’s international symbol. The name means “stone grandfather” and they were considered to be gods offering protection and fertility. They were placed outside of gates to protect against demons traveling between realities. Copies like this one are used as decoration all over Jeju.

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The name Cheonjiyeon literally means “sky connected with land.”

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This sculpture commemorates a legend of a jealous man who was going to harm a beautiful woman who had married someone else. The man was about to put his plan into action as she passed by Cheonjiyeon Falls when a dragon suddenly appeared from the falls and snatched him away into the sky, leaving behind a golden pearl. The woman took the pearl home, where it brought good fortune to her family for many generations.

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My first full day in Jeju was finished and it was time for a good night’s sleep at a guesthouse in Seogwipo. The next day would bring many more remarkable sights.

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