A few months ago, back when we were getting ready to go to Bali, I got a call from my sister-in-law. She asked for my full name told me it had to match my passport. Very confused, I asked her why. That’s how I found out we were going to Jeju.
My husband hadn’t mentioned it to me yet (he likes to spring things on me) so I waited for him to answer my messages before getting too excited. I’m always hearing about Jeju from my 6-year-old students and my friends, so I hoped it wasn’t a mistake.
He confirmed it a few hours later and told me the trip was in October, but he didn’t know when. All he knew was that it was a family trip (including his sisters and their husbands and kids). I didn’t think his mom would go, since she’s not much of a traveler (though she did visit me in Japan)
His sisters planned the whole trip, so we didn’t worry about anything. Well, I asked my husband ten times where we were staying and what time we needed to be at the airport and what we would need to pack, and each time he would answer, “I don’t know.” So I packed light (ahem too light for the end of October) and set our alarm, and the next day we were off to the tiny Cheongju airport. That’s when I found out his mom was going.
We were already freezing. The weather in Daejeon hadn’t been that bad until the day we left, at the end of October. I wore two long-sleeved shirts and a light jacket over those. Junkyu was wearing a t-shirt and a jacket. We thought the air was cold because it was so early in the morning, but when we arrived in Jeju, it was even worse.
Thankfully, it didn’t rain while we were there, but on the first day, it was incredibly windy. The sky was full of clouds and the wind chill was painful. My mother-in-law was appalled that we didn’t bring warmer clothes (in my defense, no one told me what to pack, and I checked the weather and expected it to be warmer than mainland Korea). She gave me one of her jackets, which I wore the entire trip (but hated because orange is my least favorite color).
The first thing we did was get two rental cars (the family took the van and we took a Kia Optima) and headed toward Ecoland. After our Bali trip, I was excited to find out plans as we went. It had been stressful being in charge, so it was nice having zero responsibility. I had no idea what Ecoland would be like, and Junkyu and I had fun for the most part (while we froze).
We ate at the little restaurant just past the gates (which was pricey and didn’t have the greatest food). Then, we got on the train. There are about five or six train stops in Ecoland, which is a cool concept. It was nice being transported everywhere. It saved our legs so that we were able to walk around each section without getting tired. But did I mention it was cold?
The first stop was at a lake where we walked over a footbridge and took pictures. Then we came out onto a field that had a lot of photo spots (perfect for Korean families). We started taking pictures next to the windmill and pirate ship, but Junkyu kept getting calls from work. My husband works on Saturdays if a doctor needs him, and his coworkers went crazy without him. I was a little annoyed that we traveled all the way to Jeju island just for him to be on his phone (at a theme park, no less).
Also, my husband was very cold. He couldn’t stand it anymore. While he was on the phone with his boss, the rest of the family went ahead of us to the kid’s section. We got on the train a little later and decided to skip that part. I looked on the map and found a cafe at the next section, so we rode the train (me, taking pictures, my husband, on the phone) until we got to the tea and lavender gardens.
We hopped off the train and found the cafe, where I pushed my popsicle of a husband into a chair. I ordered hot chocolate and herbal tea. I sipped on our drinks while he cleared up everything over the phone. Finally, he hung up and I was able to have some one-on-one time with him. Until his family arrived a few seconds later.
We walked around the gardens and took pictures, the wind getting the better of us. After Ecoland, we drove to a hillside that was covered in barley, with a great view of Mt. Halla, the volcano. The wind made this place an intense place to be, and it was beautiful from the top of the hill.
Then we went horseback riding. This, I did know about in advance, and I was excited about it. Back in America, my mom lives on 25 acres and we own horses and I’ve ridden practically my whole life. I hadn’t ridden a horse since last year, when we went to the sheep farms in Daegwallyeong. Riding horses in Korea is usually expensive, and for an experienced rider, it’s usually a silly experience (like being led around on a lead line).
The farm was pretty big, and there were sheep and goats as well as horses. On Jeju island, there is a native horse breed, the Jeju horse, and that’s what I got to ride. Jeju horses are a little on the short side, and they almost look like ponies. I put on a helmet and vest and walked over to the corral. One of the guys picked out a white horse for me, but once I was on, I had no idea where to go.
He told me not to touch the reins (which made me panic because it went against everything I’d ever learned in all my years of riding and taking lessons) but my horse wouldn’t really go anywhere. Eventually she moseyed over to a group of riders and one of the staff members told me to follow their group.
One staff member rode a horse and held the leads of two horses and their riders (kids). He started down the trail, and all of our horses followed. The trail was a loop through a field of other horses. It was pretty and serene, until the rider behind me started screaming. Her horse was stuffing his nose into my horse’s butt, and my horse put her ears back (which means: back off or I’ll kick you) and she was screaming, “Hey, wait!” to her friend who was in front of me.
I had no patience for this girl. I turned around and told her to, “Shhh,” because no one should scream around horses. Especially horses they don’t know, or around horses with their ears back. I mean, I’m sure those horses were bomb proof, seeing as they let anyone on them and didn’t even let us use our reins, but I was annoyed nonetheless. The girl’s horse sped up a little to pass me, and mine took her sweet time. Which was fine by me. Junkyu didn’t ride with me, so it was nice to get some peace and quiet. The walk around the trail was calming and I was glad I did it. (Though I am really annoyed that we were allowed to get on without hearing any sort of horse safety message. Korea really needs to get its act together in terms of education people about animals).
Then Junkyu made me ride in a go-cart with him around a tiny track. He had a lot of fun freaking me out with tight turns, but then my legs started to hurt by being cramped, and it was time to go anyway.
Next, we drove to a cliff by the sea, where it was also windy and cold with a nice view. Junkyu and I got out for about three minutes to snap some selfies, and then we got straight back into the car. I was starving by this point, and I am not fun to be around when I’m hungry. Those Snickers bar commercials? That’s me.
We drove for a while and Junkyu said, “We’re here!” and pointed to a restaurant. I was so ready to eat. He called his sisters to see where they were, and apparently we were at the right restaurant chain, but the wrong location. We still had two hours more to drive. I had to make Junkyu pull over at a mart to buy me some chips. Otherwise, I think he would have lost his arm.
The family arrived at the restaurant around the same time we did, and it was packed. The pork we ate is well-known and comes from the domesticated black pigs that live on Jeju island. It was delicious, but I was still hungry after the food was gone (which is saying something, because Koreans never seem to stop ordering food). Toward the end of the meal, I saw black things coming out of the pork and asked what it was. It was hair. My husband told me that meant it was ‘authentic’. I guess they wanted their customers to know it was really a black pig and not a regular one, but I had to stop eating after I saw that. Or rather, after I smelled it.
That night, we slept in a big condo, and it was fun watching TV and talking with everyone. I’m starting to feel more comfortable around my Korean relatives, and my Korean skills and confidence level have both improved a lot since I first came.
In the morning, we went to a little farm that had animals like sheep, pigs, puppies, and ostriches. They also had an orange orchard where we picked oranges. They also had a lot of decorations and statues to take pictures with.
After that, we went to Pyeoseon Jeju Folk Village where we walked around replica houses and took more pictures. One man was sitting at a booth where you have to pay to sit on a horse (just for pictures) and there was a mule next to him. I love mules so I went up to pet him, but the guy yelled at me in English and said “Don’t touch!” I guess he was warding off everyone, in case someone tried to hit him or something, but it seemed really rude to have a mule standing there and not explain to people what they are or how to properly pet one. (Again, Korea, teach people about animals, please.)
For the last sight of the day, we went to Jeongbang Waterfall. It was about 120 steps down to the falls, but Junkyu wanted to skip it. He was having flashbacks to our honeymoon in Bali, where I made him walk down (and then back up) 320+ steps to a beach. We finally convinced him to go down, and it wasn’t as bad as he thought.
The falls were really pretty but it was scary climbing on slippery wet rocks to get good pictures. We were tired by the time we got back up to the top, and then it was dinner time.
We went to a seafood restaurant and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. Thankfully, I was a little adventurous and decided to try abalone and mussels. Both tasted okay, and there was ramen, too, so I didn’t starve.
The next morning, we woke up before dawn and drove back to the rental car place and the airport. Jeju was fun for the two days we got to be there, and I hope we can go back (in a warmer season) to enjoy it some more!