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For sun chasers, Jeju can be paradise. Vantage viewing points can be found on top of peaks or oreums (parasitic volcanoes), along the long coastline, Jeju Olle Trails, and even on top of lighthouses. Most of these points don’t require an entry fee and can be reached by Jeju Golden Bus City Tour or regular city buses. You might want to check the timing during the winter months. It’s just a matter of being there, at the right moment, and having the will to wait.
Sarabong Peak (Sara Oreum), in Sarabong Park, is one of the top 10 sunset viewing points in Jeju. Not having done adequate research on the north, I hadn’t heard of this viewing point. In a strange twist of sorts, since I was having some trouble finding Jeju National Museum or the nearby Buddhist Temple (there are multiple temples in the vicinity); I had a tough choice to make. Instead, I decided to try exploring the trail that lead to the top.
The trail (from the main road below) leads you to a crossroads of sorts. Two paths (in opposite directions) lead towards elevated paths — each corresponding to a different peak. The third path leads towards the Museum (and a Buddhist temple) and the fourth back to the main road. It’s best to follow sign boards or you might miss the correct peak.
As I walked excitedly to the top, I was surprised by the dense growth of trees growing in the wild and a diverse variety of birds — stirring the park — with a cacophony of beautiful sounds. Sarabong Park is a hotspot for locals and is probably their favourite exercise park. I could see elderly folk warming up at the exercise equipment — before their ascent. The path, to the top, is quite gentle and curves at the right spots. After spending the whole day exploring the other sights of the north, I was running low on energy. As elderly locals walked effortless, I panted, and tried hard to keep up with them. Being the only foreigner/tourist in this quiet, green paradise did attract a lot many questioning stares. I tried to focus on the trees, birds, and views ahead.
On the top, the views of the city, below, and the sea are stunning. Wooden benches, exercise equipment, and restrooms are located at strategic points. I was an hour early (sunset in October is around 5:40 pm). So, I waited patiently, and tried to soak in the beauty around me.
Eventually, I climbed the Pavilion, and admired the spectacular view of the sky and the tiny island city below. I struggled to get shots of the sky — as I saw it. After a while, I decided to take in the beauty rather than capture it. A friendly ajumma walked up and smiled at me. A Jeju local, she was here with her Chinese study group. And because she was learning Chinese, she said her English was rusty. So, every time she spoke Chinese, instead of English, I got a friendly whack (quite strong) on my arm.
With the sun showing no signs of setting, I walked back to base. Somewhere, near my starting point, I did get to see that fiery ball of red bid goodbye.
On the day we reached Jeju, we decided to have a look around and chanced upon Halla Arboretum. As we walked from the main street, from the bus stop, towards the Arboretum, we were surprised to see our surroundings change drastically. On the road, we saw a spider weave a web from a loose wire cable above. Further on, tangerines grew in abundance on trees, and tree growth on either side grew thicker. Construction marred the natural beauty of the place, but I guess, that’s a price you pay for tourism.
Once you approach the entrance gate, you finally begin to see how beautiful the dense growth of green is. Tour buses made a beeline for the parking lot. We tried to hurry before tourists swarmed in. The arboretum was established to study and preserve the trees of the island and spreads across a sprawling expanse of land. We chose to follow the trail, without actually knowing where it leads.
En route, we passed trees filled with noisy magpies, a small lake covered with green, and hidden behind a bench — a deer. I guess, some of the best secrets are discovered accidentally.
Two paths lead towards the top. One, a gently curved road, and the other — a steep set of steps covered with brown cloth. As we climbed up, I realised how long it had been since I hiked. I could feel my heart pound — in my chest — as I gasped for air. If I couldn’t climb this small peak, there was no way I would have been able to climb Mt. Hallasan. All around us, trees grew in carefree abandon and were nothing like the trees we’d seen in Seoul. And that made up for my disappointment.
I huffed and finally reached the top and the view made the effort worth it. And then, we waited. The sun slowly descended, filled the sky with red, and the city below — in darkness. No matter how many times I see this spectacle, it always feels as if it’s the first time. In silence, we witnessed the earth complete another rotation around itself. A young man smiled and said, “It’s over”. But, we stood for some more time, and tried to take in all in.
We slowly walked down the stairs to the base. Lights turned on and leaves glistened in the yellow light — creating a field of gold. Tunnels, with creepers, eerily shone, and silence filled the air. The chants of a nearby Buddhist Temple were carried in the wind.
As we made it to the parking lot, we were greeted by some friendly cats, and almost considered a coffee at Angel-in-us Coffee house.
Tapdong Coastal Trail
I’ve always enjoyed walks along the coast. It’s great for thinking, ruminating, and even clearing your mind. Tapdong’s long coastline gives a good exercise to your feet and can pit them against the speed of your thoughts. As I walked parallel to the sea and the city behind me, slowly faded; I began to truly appreciate my solitude.
Waves splashed across the rocky face and provided a steady background score. Planes, at regular intervals, seemed to disappear into nowhere. And, restaurant owners called out — in hope — that I would be interested in a meal of fish.
And when I looked back, I saw the sun hide behind the maze of towering buildings. From here, I was cut away from the city, and my only companions were the elements. A couple momentarily broke my solitude with the whirr of their scooter. And then, back to the dull sounds in the background.
I walked further and further away, trying to reach as many endpoints as I could, challenging my feet to see how far I could push them. As the sun set and daylight faded, I knew I had to eventually get back.
Yongduam Coastal Route
We walked along the Yongduam Coastal Route at noon. I’m not sure how sunset looks here, but from what I saw, I think it will be pretty stunning. The clear view of the sea, the sky above, and the jagged shape of the Dragon Head Rock should also prove to be an ideal setting for a setting sun.
Sanjideungdae Lighthouse overlooks the sea and the port of Jeju. It lies close to Sarabong Park, and it would be a tough call to make between these two vantage viewing points. I reached around 3 pm here and the view looked beautiful.
You can climb the stairs, leading to the top, of the lighthouse, and enjoy a panoramic view of the sea. For those, who’d prefer to expend lesser energy on their trip, this makes a good sunset viewing point.