▲ Haenyeo perform a live show at the foot of Seongsan Ilchulbong. Photo by Melanie Couchman
“Lots of wind, lots of rocks, lots of women.”
“No thieves, no beggars, no gates.”
The Korean tour guide started the trip by introducing the history of Jeju Island in Chinese to the eager passengers aboard the bus. We were only seven as the warm sring had not yet fully arrived: four from Shanghai; one from Seoul; and the two of us from the US.
The tour was conducted solely in Chinese, catering to the bulk of travelers who hail from the Middle Kingdom. Although this was an inconvenience for some, YEHA bus tours do provide English guides so check before you book.
This was a 9am Saturday morning tour from YEHA’s City Hall Guesthouse, so keep their eyes out for the small sign mid-block so you don't miss the stop. (We walked right past it without realizing and had to hurriedly turn back, just in time for the bus.)
During the 45-minute ride to the first stop at the Trick Art Museum, the female tour guide talked non-stop, covering an impressive range of topics.
As well as introducing the three tour routes YEHA offers — east coast, west coast, and an Udo Island tour — she also made some time for Korea’s history, geography and culture.
▲ The tour guide was very helpful and even took time aside to explain to the lone Korean speaker. Photo by Melanie Couchman
She had plenty of nutritious tidbits of trivia for us, from the geographic — Jeju is one of 3,000 islands in Korea and it is three times bigger than Seoul — to the economic — despite having the lowest average income in Korea, Jeju’s cost of living is even higher than in Seoul's.
We were also told the more well known jewels, such as the tastiest, sweetest citrus fruits being from Seogwipo, and the less well know. Did you know Tapdong is where to find the handsome, chiseled young men exercising in the warmer months? Her anecdotes and jokes kept our spirits high between spots, that’s for sure.
Arriving at the Trick-Art-Museum, she then patiently showed us how to get the best 3D effects from our pictures with the paintings.
In another nice touch, as the rest of us wandered around the museum, the guide befriended the one Korean on the tour (unable to understand the Chinese commentary on the bus) and relayed the entire conversation verbatim.
After an hour and we all piled back on to the bus for the short 10-minute drive to the unique Seongeup Folk Village. The Seongeup difference is that there are still folk in this folk village, residents living in traditional ways, using traditional kitchens in old-style chimneyless houses.
Children born and raised in the village receive full government scholarships to any university they are accepted at, no mean incentive considering tuition fee levels. It was nice to hear such bits of inside info from the YEHA guide, unavailable to those not on the tour.
Feeling hungry, we headed to a little restaurant nearby and chose from black pork and bibimbap for lunch. The Korean passenger and I agreed it was good for first-time visitors, but locals might want more.
Afterwards, we headed to Seongsan Ilchulbong for some fresh air and stunning views. The weather was great, but feeling the weight of our lunch, some of us were reluctant to climb all the way to the top, even though the 20-25 minute walk was fairly easy. In fact, some women ascended in high-heels!
The coolest thing about our visit here was that once we reached the top, we were treated to a live haenyeo women diver performance down at the water’s edge. We watched for about 30 minutes as the women sang and performed a synchronized display, before heading into the chilly waters in their wetsuits.
Our final stop on the east-coast tour was Manjanggul Cave, although we were thoroughly exhausted by this point, explaining the lack of enthusiasm from some quarters. Perhaps sensing this, the tour guide held her high energy as she explained plenty of interesting facts about the UNESCO-designated caves.
After a packed day we were taken back to Jeju City, and a very welcome rest!
Overall, the tour is cheap, convenient, and informative, perfect for visitors with limited time and wanting to tick off the maximum number of tour sites in a single day.
YEHA tour exclusive discount
Book Jeju’s premier English-speaking bus tour through The Jeju Weekly website for a 3,000 won discount.
1. West course (79,000 won): Hallim Park, Suwolbong (UNESCO Global Geopark site), lunch, Spirited Garden, Altteureu Airfield, Mt. Sanbangsan, Cheonjeyeon Falls or the Teddy Bear Museum
2. East course (79,000 won): Trick Art Museum, Seongeup Folk Village, lunch, haenyeo (women divers) show, Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak/UNESCO World Natural Heritage site), Jongdal-ri coastal road, Manjanggul cave (UNESCO World Natural Heritage site)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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