▲ Author Matthew Collison recommends the A Day Away Awesome Olle tours for visitors wanting something more local. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Walking the famous Jeju Olle Trail system is often seen as an essential part of a visit to the island.
But gaining a deeper understanding of its geology and culture might not be so easy, particularly for an overseas visitor walking the trails without a guide.
A Day Away Awesome Jeju, a series of one-day tours launched by the Jeju Olle Foundation, has been launched to tackle this issue.
▲ Guide Paul Moon introduces a shamanic shrine. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Since September, three guided tours for the south, east and west of the island have been operating weekly with the aim of uncovering different aspects of Jeju’s culture for foreign visitors.
“This way you see not just an Olle or an oreum, but you experience the Jeju people’s way of living and way of thinking,” says English-speaking tour guide Paul Moon.
▲ Paul shares his knowledge about Jeju haenyeo. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Paul was our guide on a tour of the eastern leg, which takes in parts of Jeju Olle Trail 3 as well as bits of ‘old’ Jeju off the beaten track.
Our journey began at Hancheon-ri Hungry Bridge, and it was not long before Paul opened our eyes to things we might otherwise have missed.
A coastal sindang (shamanic shrine) and a changing room for haenyeo (woman divers) could easily have been overlooked were it not for our observant guide. Moments later we were lucky enough to spot the haenyeo at work in the water.
Soon we arrived at Pyoseon Haevichi Beach, empty at this time of year save for three riders galloping across the sandy expanse on horseback. It was an idyllic scene and one of many serendipitous sights easily lost in a rushed tour of the island.
▲ Yang Chung-im welcomed everyone with a home-cooked meal. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Indeed, a slower pace is key to unveiling many of the island’s secrets, suggested Paul.
“We need to slow down, like the Jeju ponies, walk very slowly, enjoy yourself and relax,” he told the tour.
From Haevichi, a short bus ride took us to Sinpung village for a delicious meal at a homestay run by resident Yang Chung Im.
Inside, she had adorned a table with traditional Jeju-style jeongsik, and much effort had clearly gone into the meal. Afterwards, Yang kindly told us she was glad to have had the opportunity to offer the experience for foreign travellers.
▲ The home-cooked, Jeju-style jeongsik the group was treated to for lunch. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Re-energized, our guide then led us to nearby Eomeong Abang Village to take part in another aspect of Jeju folklife – the art of thatched roof making.
We tried our hands at making ropes for a choga, the stone-walled village cottages, a process that involves tightly twisting straw using traditional wooden tools.
▲ Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Next, our tour led us on a winding route through the well-preserved local village of Sinpung-ri, where we prayed to the gods at a shrine, and then to Kim Young-Gap Gallery to view the eponymous photographer’s beautiful wind and volcanic-themed works.
Fittingly, the tour ended with a walk to the peak of the artist’s favourite small volcano, Yongnuni Oreum, for spectacular views of Jeju’s undulating landscape.
▲ Lighting a prayer for good luck at a village shrine. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Reflecting on the day on my bus journey home, I realised just how much I’d learnt about Jeju from this one trip.
As a newcomer to the island, I’m certain I would have missed many of the sights had I walked the Olle trail alone. In my opinion, the tour is well suited to a visitor with a day to spare and who is keen to discover some of the island’s heritage.
▲ Photo by The Jeju Weekly
It was a view shared by other people on the tour.
Kai Huang, of Jeju Olle Trail planning department, said: “This is for people that want to know the real Jeju. They don’t come here because they want to go shopping, they want to know how people eat and how people live.”
Soon Mee Suk Prisca, who runs a pension in Jeju, agreed: “I think this is one of the best ways to see the island.”
The tours target a specific type of tourist. It may not suit the tourist who prefers the ease of a coach tour nor the fiercely independent explorer.
But for the traveller whose needs lie somewhere in the middle of these extremes these tours are recommended.
▲ Paul shares his knowledge on Jeju with one of the walkers. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
A Day Away Awesome Jeju
East, West and South courses
Pick-up service for both Jeju City and Seogwipo City (check schedule for location)
*Friday tours are with an English-speaking guide
*Saturday and Sunday tours are with a Mandarin-speaking guide
64,000 won until December 31 / 80,000 won thereafter
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