As part of my bike packing trips in South Korea, I present my Jeju Island story. To read about my Korea East Coast Trail adventure check Cycling S. Korea.
After my friend went home I decided to head to Jeju, Korea’s popular holiday (and only tropical) island…also another blue line bike path that goes 230 km around the beautiful island. Islands for me always mean exercise lol so that was my plan…I would do it solo in 3 days (quickly extended to 4 lol)…some do it in 1 day, others longer. With an extra day to spare and some energy I even hiked Mt. Hallasan, South Korea´s highest peak. More about that at the end of this blog post.
On Day 1 I started off late, 3 pm…lol even though I was out the door at 8 am…I had trouble finding a bike rental shop…turns out I had even walked by one but it wasn’t where it said it was….so I had to return…Now nearly noon…crap…I ate lunch (very cool Arabic restaurant – I even went twice). I finally found the bike shop but no one was around, doors unlocked, bikes everywhere, quite a dump actually. I waited about 1 hour before calling because I understood they were out of office (left a sign) then called…finally 30 minutes later they picked me up to drive me literally around the corner to their warehouse for a bike. They had tons of bikes, decent quality too. After some translating fun I got a bike…cheaper as I was in off season! With all the bikes there at some point they must have tons of riders…but I saw maybe 3 on my trip and all near the city. I did feel it was a decent time to ride, it was hot but cloudy most days there and the monsoons had not quite arrived (monsoons are late June for 2 weeks or so they say).
Finally I was off riding but only managed 3 solid hours. I rode the island counterclockwise with the ride out of town being far from entertaining as it went along the coast then the main highway which included farming areas. I stayed at a cycling hostel this first night, super cool hosts. I was the only one there ha ha so they invited me to join for dinner and then breakfast was included in the cost. I had the whole female dorm to myself!
I set off early the next morning taking the route along the coast. My second day had tons of stops because there were many waterfalls, short hiking routes, temples and sheer beauty everywhere. Making so many stops didn’t allow me to bike as far as I’d planned and I am glad I didn’t skip the tourist stops because all were worth it…although nearly each had a cost (30-40) so it was also the most expensive day on the island each entry adding up. I ended the day near and the last few kms dealt with an issue with my chain (couldn’t use all gears and it slipped off plenty)…manageable but needing a fix (I would figure it out the next day). When I arrived it took me forever to find the place I booked on booking an hour before lol but finally found it and dropped off my bike and stuff to get food before the town closed shop. I knew by the evening that my 3 planned days biking would now be 4 due to my many worthy touristy stops.
The following day was when I saw the Haenyo women doing their thing, I had seen some but on their bikes returning home not actually in the water fishing. These women are very unique as they do free diving, going some 10 meters below the water, to catch fish….they tend to be older, in their 60-80s and can be found all over Jeju Island. A traditional island culture and a one of a kind. I passed plenty of towns with what looked like a Haenyo club ha ha the wetsuits, masks and baskets all in one spot and the women found in groups in the water in the morning and early evening searching for their daily catch :). Cool to see the tradition alive on the island and interesting to know the majority are older and all are women! (Lung power!)
I passed most of the 3rd day riding along the nice beaches of the island where most go to party and chill and checking out the very hip coffee shops near them…it is here where I started enjoying this part of the local culture because on the island many coffee shops also baked a good carrot cake too…not just coffee (which I very, very rarely drink…). By the way the chain I fixed at the next city and first beach of the day, turns out a screw was loose and popping the chain off on the 2 gear of 3 (reason I could only use highest gears – slowest ones – and couldn’t get to the lowest ones – fastest ones) Despite the slowish start in the morning with the high gears I made it quite far this day but stopped some 18 miles from Jeju City because why spend the night in Jeju City when you could outside of the city…mind you It would have been smart to stay at one of the beach towns…oops. Well I actually didn’t because I thought if I arrived by 10/11 am I could avoid an additional day’s charge therefore being closer was better…when I did make it the next day I didn’t arrive on time but I didn’t get charged for another day either so all good. 😀
That last bit back into Jeju city was quite hilly, the hilliest part of the trip around the island….but also totally manageable hills. Weather in general on my ride (end of June) was cloudy with an occasionally sunny day, tiny moments of rain and one really hot and humid day!
I still had one more day on Jeju…so I trading in biking for hiking and did the climb up to Mt. Hallasen, South Korea’s tallest mountain at 1957m. Not very high but the route up is quite intense…lots of stairs and rocks. I did Seongpanak route up and took Gwaneusma route down, this route was by far the prettier and most enjoyable route (views, but also more river beauty and lava tubes). Difficulty wise they were likely the same it seemed…ha ha endless stairs. I got luck with weather and at the top was able to see the lake and for the first time on the island I saw the peak from down below too. The hike is about 8-9 hours round-trip, about 10 km up and another down…I managed to do it in 5 hours! To get there you can take a bus from Jeju…to the Seongpanak side it is more frequent (bus 281 from Jeju City) but the Gwaneusma side isn’t frequent nor direct (Bus 475 then either 365, 281, 181, 426). More Hallasan Info In addition I stopped by the museum…the sex museum, lol, some photos included below.
Useful information for those wishing to do cycling in Korea:
Download Naver App, it is Korea’s most useful map application
In Seoul you can take bikes on the first and last Subway cars anytime except rush hour. In Busan, you could get away with it, I did, but I was told sometimes they approach you (tip, just speak English)
Camping on Jeju is an option, although it might be at campsites, there are many options.plus it is very safe! Camping
Rental in Jeju: Two options – 용두암하이킹 located around the corner from a school (again you might need to wander a block to find the warehouse) Address and the other 제주도자전거대여 보물섬하이킹 which I didn’t try as it is farther out but is recommended (higher price). Address
Rental in Seoul: Bike Nara – Giant (Hapjeong Station exit 5) Directions
Rental in Busan: Giant (from Namcheon Station walk toward the beach also nearby is Specialized and I believe they do rentals too) or other option is 칼리버바이크 near Gaegeum-Yeog Station Address. Look up Mike Bike if you need a mechanic or tips, he is American and knows his shit! (If he is still around)
You can join the Facebook pages Korea Cycling Network for more information and updates. Great community if you want to ride or just need tips/information.
Not to miss: Jeongbang Waterfall, Cheonjeyeon waterfalls (one without water is amazing), Hangars of Altteureu Airfield (history, crazy, sad), walk an Olle trail (I did one in Seogwipo – this one is popular so expect tons of people), having oranges (sooo delicious!), Gujwa-eup area and beaches (great Hipster feel, pretty along coast, do get a coffee and carrot cake here) – the rest you decide based on your interests, there are plenty of options. These were my personal favorites from my stops, I did tons more.