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YEHA bus tours: The west reviewedThe wit and wisdom of a tour guide can make or break a bus tour
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승인 2014.05.20  17:28:07
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▲ A map of the YEHA bus tours of Jeju Island as taken from The Jeju Weekly's Jeju Travel supplement. Design: Ko Ayoung

*Click the YEHA banner in the top right of this page for an exclusive booking discount*

“Jeju is all about the nature,” says our tour guide Zin as we set off at on a tour of Jeju’s west coast with YEHA Guesthouse. It is 8:45 a.m. but Zin - taking his name (but not spelling) from his favorite tipple - is already imparting the wisdom accrued over four years on the route.

The tour is fast-paced and wide-ranging. Starting at Hallim Park it then takes in the Gosan-Suwolbong Geotrail before stopping for lunch at the Spirited Garden. Further south it stops by the Altteureu airfield and Mt. Sanbangsan before offering a choice of Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls or the Teddy Bear Museum in Jungmun.

On cold, rainy or very hot days, Suwolbong is skipped for the O’Sulloc Green Tea museum, and despite the glorious weather, we should be on our guard: “Jeju people say the weather is like a woman: Moody and unpredictable,” warns Zin.

With 40 people of 10 different nationalities, Zin has a demanding audience on his hands and possibly prepared all his best material, but I like to imagine he is spitting it fresh.

Around 10 a.m., Hallim Park is our first stop. We are given an hour or so to explore and Zin leads us to the caves and tells us to be back at the bus in an hour. The caves are dark and murky and the dripping reminds that these are living, metamorphosing formations.

A local legend tells of a boy who escapes the clutches of a she-fox in the cave, which you also do with plenty more time to explore the bird cages, flower gardens, traditional villages and more that Hallim Park offers.

After a quick 30-minute drive, the tour then hits Gosan further west and the Global Geopark site at Suwolbong Peak. The walk is brief, but I get talking to some Americans: “We only have a couple of days so this is perfect,” says 80-year-old Joy as she bounds on ahead. She likes what she sees on the 20-minute stroll: “How much is real estate around here?” she asks.

Back on the bus, Zin endears himself to the group with his top tip to avoid culture shock: “Even if it doesn’t look good for eating, eat it,” he urges.

It was well-timed advice as the next stop is lunch at the Spirited Garden, a beautiful bonsai garden with carp-filled ponds. Few people need to follow his advice, however, as the buffet-style restaurant has plenty of options for those with dietary requirements.

It is over lunch that I get a taste for the international flavor of the group itself, being joined by a couple of French Canadians and three Singaporeans. They are all only on Jeju for a couple of days and the tour fitted their tight schedule.

▲ Zin shares his wisdom with tour-goers on the YEHA tour of the west. Photo by Darren Southcott

“This is my first time in Korea so I wanted to see as much as possible. The bus suits us well as we can see the best bits in a short time,” says Mr. Lee of Singapore. “The food is a bit spicy, though,” interjects his wife. We then rise for a leisurely stroll in the stunning grounds, reflectiing on Jeju’s own Singapore-esque international pretensions.

Another shortish drive later and we near Altteureu airfield, Daejeong. The journey was scenic rather than expedient, allowing for wistful gazing on to green pastures and bosom-like oreum. Zin reminds us of the rich history of the area as we reach the Japanese-era site.

“Mainlanders, Mongols, and Japanese have all invaded Jeju over the years - and taken the women. It is no wonder the people are sometimes a bit wary of outsiders,” he opines.

Mt. Sanbangsan comes at the perfect time as we seek refreshment and penance. The sweaty climb to the temple and Sanbang Cave provides both in the form of miraculous curative water and a blessed shrine. We imbibe at both.

As we return to the bus I reflect on how tough a tour guide’s life must be. Zin needs to be on the ball for a good two to three hours of driving and for that he must be full of local wit, wisdom and well-timed quips. As the engine revs up, it is clear his best are gender-related.

“Korean women think paying over 3,000 won for dinner is expensive, yet they happily pay 7,000 won for a coffee! I don’t understand. Men and women, they are different,” he concludes.

With this acute social commentary we steam on toward Jungmun and the choice of the Teddy Bear Museum or Cheonjeyeon Falls. Asians, says Zin, prefer the teddies while Europeans opt for the falls. I feel violated, but he is bang on the money as we split along ethnic and cultural lines. Perhaps the power of suggestion is at play.

As we reach the falls, the rumblings are not restricted to the cascading river, as some among the crowd clearly expected Victoria or Niagara. Zin had, however, struck preemptively on the bus: “Sometimes I am embarrassed to call these waterfalls, but they have their own unique beauty.” He is right, they are enchanting and elegant, if crowded and touristy.

It is now all over and we begin the hour journey back to Jeju City and our goodbyes. Friends have been made, jokes cracked, stuff learned and legs tired. As the hotel dropoffs begin, the most-common salutation is: “See you tomorrow for the east tour!”

Bus tours are all about what suits your circumstance, but it seems YEHA are doing something right if they keep coming back for more.

*Click the YEHA banner in the top right of this page for an exclusive booking discount*

1. Hallim Park

2. Suweolbong
- UNESCO Global Geopark site
- Trek: 20 minutes

3. Lunch
- Korean-style buffet

4. Spirited Garden

5. Via Altteureu airfield

6. Mt. Sanbangsan
- Temple and cave
- Trek: 45 minutes

7. Cheonjeyeon Falls
- Trek: 30 minutes

Services included

Pickup and dropoff, lunch,
admission fees, vehicles, English-speaking tour guides

Pick up and drop offs

Pick-up: 8:30 a.m. Drop-off: 6 p.m.

Dropoff at a number of hotels and locations in Jeju City, Seogwipo City and Jungmun. Please note that for the Udo course there are no Seogwipo or Jungmun pick-ups or drop-offs.

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