Although we stayed in the north, on the second day of our Jeju trip, we chose to explore the eastern side of the island. If you don’t have your own mode of transport, like us, then Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal is the best starting point. The terminal connects different parts of the island with popular places of interest. However, it’s best to make a rough plan, as buses are few, and run at an hourly basis — making the wait a test of your patience. Unless, you’re staying in the east (we highly recommend it), it will be a fight against time to complete everything in a day. T-Money cards work across buses and are perfect to get around. Make sure you pronounce the name of the place, you want to go to, correctly, as most of the drivers don’t understand English, and need to know name of your destination — to charge your fare.
We chose this Natural Monument because it was the farthest point on the map (east) and it made sense to cover it first. The journey takes you through some curved, nausea inducing roads and looking out — might only be a momentary placebo. You might want to buckle up (as we were told sternly by the conductor) as the bus takes some pretty sharp turns.
By the time we reached Sangumburi Crater, it was swarming with tourist buses and cars. Strangely, most of them were local tourists and I did not see many foreigners, with the exception of few Chinese tourists. In the month of October, silver grass spread like wild fire across the plains of the crater, and sway in the morning breeze. On a sunny day, the skies provide a wonderful backdrop to those swaying blades of grass.
A short, easy climb takes you to the apex giving you a vantage view of the crater within. The circumference of the crater runs along a length of 2 km, and within a depth of 100 m — a diverse variety of plant life exists. The vegetation inside the crater is quite unlike anything else on the island. The Marr crater (ring shaped surrounded by low hills) was formed by a weak explosion that halted prematurely, before, volcanic activity could gain momentum. Local legends weave stories of fallen deities and it might be an alternate way of explaining that gaping hole.
Each side of the crater has a different view to offer. Rolling hills covered in a carpet of green grass, stones littered with grey ash, and silver grass vie for your attention. We spent a good amount of time at the top, and moved towards the west of the crater, before circling and ending back at the east.
It’s best not to venture too deep into the grass as signboards warned tourists of snakes. Few tourists cared, as they made rough pathways into the blades, to capture this spectacular backdrop.
Saryeoni Forest Path
We passed by the outer gates of Saryeoni Forest Path on our way to the crater. And, as much as we wanted to explore the fall painted forests, we didn’t stop here, as we didn’t know where the trail ends, and were dependent on the bus. We would have also missed the horse farms en route, if we had chosen to explore the forest route. So, we took the bus back and stopped just before the farms. We couldn’t take any pictures, in hindsight, it was something we sorely missed.
On either side of the road, horse farms spread across a vast expanse of green. The overwhelming smell of dung gives you a fair warning, much before, you actually reach the picket fences.
Observing horses can be a strange feeling. Many of them stared vacantly into space, all lined in the same direction — as if they were in a trance, probably, contemplating our existential issues. The ones done with heavy thinking — rested on the grass.
Observation bridges give you excellent views of the sea or mountain — depending upon — which side you’re looking from. A lot of these landscapes reminded us of Iceland and it’s not surprising given the common links of volcanoes, mountains, and water.
Halla Ecological Forest
We walked further down, retraced our path, along the route, our bus had taken in the morning, and reached Halla Ecological Forest. Sometimes, you have a feeling about certain things. We knew that Halla Ecological Forest might not be as exciting as the forest trails that we’d missed and turns out we were right.
If you’re travelling with family; it’s nice to wander, have a small picnic of sorts and look around. The walking paths are excellent and in fall or spring — this forest park will look stunning.
It was nearing lunchtime, and sadly, the eco forest didn’t have a cafeteria. So we had to eat some of the traditional Korean sweets we had carried along and wandered around the wetland (the highlight of the forest), walking in silence. Ducks swam in the turbid waters and added some sound to an otherwise eerily silent park.
We covered most of the important places, in less than an hour, and decided to hit the main road. At the bus stop, we met a Korean hiker, from Seoul, who helped us mark natural hubs (off the regular tourist grid) on the map, and gave us local tips on Jeju. We even exchanged numbers.
Bijarim Forest & Maze Park
We took a bus back to the intercity terminal (north) and had a bite to eat at a local 7-eleven. It was approaching 3 pm and if we had to explore the lava cave, we didn’t have a lot of time. So, we hopped on another bus at the intercity terminal toward Manjanggul Cave. You must bear in mind: most buses will stop 2 Km away from the cave entrance and entry to the cave stops after 5 pm. It was one of those walks, I thought I’d never make it through, and as we walked as fast as could we saw cars whizz by — much to my frustration. On the way, we saw a board pointing towards Bijarim Forest and another to Gimnyeong Maze Park. Kids screamed and sounding gongs chimed as loved ones tried to find one another in the park. We, on the other hand, had somewhere else to reach.
The cold, wet confines of a cave are not the best when you’re tired. Although, I’m not good with closed places, it was fascinating to explore this stretch of grey. This cave was accidentally discovered by a teacher and his students. Only a kilometre of Manjanggul Cave is open for viewing and the total length of the cave is believed to be 13 km.
The lava tunnel has stories written on its walls, grainy floor, and even pointed ceilings. Sign boards explain the science behind these formations and grotesque rock shapes. Or you could choose to let your imagination run wild instead.
The tunnel is well lit and most of the path has either boardwalks or stairs for walking. Water constantly drips from the ceiling and that’s the challenge while walking. It’s like trying not to step in a puddle whilst dodging a droplet of water.
We were of the last to come out of the cave. Fortunately, we found some buses outside the entrance. Our bus driver made us get down somewhere along the coast and we had to catch another bus, from there, to the terminal. The windmills, in the far distance, along the coast looked even better at night. And, though we were tempted to explore the coast, I decided it was time to call it a day. It was time to metamorphose into a cat.
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