|▲ The otherworldly woodlands of Geomun Oreum. Photo by Daniel Kojetin
It’s tough to catch a bluebird day during the rainy season, but the rains seem to be spending more time up north this year. However, it seems as if the heat doesn’t enter the gotjawal forest around Geomun Oreum. They say that the forest breathes and the second you hear those words, you realize that there’s a cool breeze blowing across your shoulder.
The 5 k.m. Yongam Trail is only open for two weeks a year during the Trekking Festival due to preservation. The trail skirts around the side of Geomun Oreum and follows an old local road that winds through this compact forest. The locals used this outlet to get into the forest to make charcoal in cavern-like kilns, seen occasionally in this as well as other gotjawal forests.
As you look to the left and right, the trees twist and turn in every direction in their search for sunlight. They even seem to grow straight out of the rocks. Thick green moss covers the rocks on this trail that hasn’t seen any visitors.
As the heat of the summer gets to you and you’re ready for a break, all of a sudden you walk past an unnaturally cool breeze at the bottom of a ravine. The breeze is no accident. The forest is breathing, literally. It’s called a “punghyeol.”
Geomun Oreum is the birthplace of the most unique lava tube cave system in the world. The punghyeol are a unique feature of this geology. Although there is no cave entrance at the bottom of this ravine, the cool air from underground permeates through the forest and into the sky. It has the opposite effect in the winter, where warm air breathes through the earth and melts the snow.
The people of the village of Seonheul-ri are proud of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage designation and are very involved with Geomun Oreum according to Kim Sang Su, the Seonheul-ri village head. Their involvement has grown from the maintenance of just a simple bathroom to the new and impressive World Natural Heritage Center. The bright-eyed and amicable volunteers who guide regular trips throughout the year come straight from the village.
The 368 oreum scattered through the island are a unique geographical feature that make Jeju unique. You might wonder what makes one of them special enough to be designated as a World Natural Heritage site. When you walk past the entrance to Bengdwigul (cave) after passing by a punghyeol on the Yongam Trail, you know you are in an incomparable place.
The Yongam Trail is only open during the Trekking Festival (until July 21) so trekkers have to wait until next summer to experience the trail. However, the Taeguek Trail (10 k.m.) is open all year round, except on Tuesdays, and it is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Free guided tours (in Korean) are available but need to be reserved in advance. Only 300 people are allowed per day, so book a few days in advance to avoid disappointment.
By public transport
The Beonyeongro bus to Geomun Oreum via Bonggae runs from Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal at 10 and 50 minutes past the hour between 06:10 to 19:50. The last two buses depart at 21:05 and 21:30.
Geomun Oreum is at around the midway point between Pyoseon in Seogwipo City and Geonip-dong in Jeju City on Route 97, also known as the Beonyeongro.
Geomunoreum, San 102-1, Seonheul-ri, Jocheon-eup, Jeju-do
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