The next stop on our tour was the Columnar Joints (Rock Fractures) at Jungman Daepo Coast. These columnar rock formations were caused by lava flow from the hundreds of volcanoes on the island. Interestingly when the lava cooled in the sea water it created these five sided columns. It was a very interesting sight. We then went on to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where we had a traditional Korean lunch – a spicy beef with a side of sticky rice. After we ate, we went to Yeomiji Botanical Gardens which had many beautiful flowers. Different areas of the Gardens showed various types of plant life: desert, jungle, aquatic, flowers and tropical fruits. We were next taken to an Cheonjeyeon Falls. This is a series of three waterfalls along a manmade canal created to help water 250,000 acres of rice paddies. The waterfalls were not that impressive(due to lack of water) but the walk was pleasant and along the way you had the opportunity to walk over a very unique pedestrian bridge (Seonimgyo Bridge). We made one last stop on our way back to the cruise ship to see Mysterious Road. This was a stretch of road that mysteriously seemed to allow your vehicle to roll uphill. Apparently it is just an optical allusion but it seems to be pretty popular place to visit. Our driver stopped the vehicle and we coasted for about 100 yards going upward instead of going downhill (unusual natural wonder). Jeju Island was interesting but felt we didn’t see much of the beauty of this island given the timeframe we visited – just prior to Springtime when everything would be in bloom.
During our trip to Jeju Island we did learn more about the history of South Korea and the Island. We were told about the women who were the primary bread winners in the family. This seems to go back to when the women divers went down to very deep depths to get valuable seafood (albacore) to sell. The men did not have the capability to dive to depths of 70-80 feet and many of the women died on some of these deep dives. The women were forced to dive in the winter time with snow on the ground and into freezing water. Many of the men were taken away by the Japanese when they took over the region in the 1930’s. Any man that showed political resentment to the Japanese takeover was imprisoned on mainland Korea and many were eventually killed. Some of these men returned to the island when the US helped Korea restore its independence from Japan but most of the men never returned and were assumed dead. To this day the island has many more women than men because of this. Many of the women were forced to become pleasure slaves for the Japanese during this time. There is no love lost between South Korea and Japan because of what happened during this time in history but even today they are extremely close allies because of the tensions between North Korea, China and Russia.
Out next port stop was Incheon where we were going to see Seoul. Unfortunately extremely thick fog and China dust closed down the Incheon port delaying our arrival in the port by almost 4 hours. We were taking a full day excursion that was supposed to start at the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) where we would be able to step into North Korea briefly. Unfortunately, the late arrival prevented us from going to the DMZ because they closed it down to tourists at 3 PM. We instead spent a full day in Seoul and had the opportunity to visit the Changdeokgung Palace. The palace, built 600 years ago, is very large and two thirds of the area is devoted to the Gardens. We did not see the Gardens but it would not have been a very impressive sight since the weather was still too cold for the plants to start blooming. We did learn about the Korean Red Pine which is one of the most durable trees in the world. It was used to build the palaces and many of the better homes in Korea. Unfortunately, when the Japanese invaded Korea they chopped down the many forests of these trees to send the wood back to Japan for their use. Around the palace we were able to see many Korean men, women and children dressed in formal attire as they visited this site. We learned a lot about the kings and how they took power but we won’t go through all of that detail right now. The palace was large and impressive but not overly beautiful. The roofs and architecture made it appear very exotic compared to what we would normally see in the US. From the palace we went to Bukchon Hanok Village which is an area of Seoul that has maintained the original style of Korean homes for the last 300 years. The homes are very small (200-400 sq. ft.) and are packed side to side along some windy, hilly streets. These are actual residences where people currently live. When the homes need to be renovated the Seoul government helps pay the home owners for the renovations to maintain the historical appearance of the area. Although the homes are small they are still extremely expensive at more than one million dollars. Housing in general in Seoul is very expensive as we have been told in each of our Asian stops so far. To own a house requires several hundred thousand dollars just to buy the least expensive house far away from the city center. Most people have to rent and even that is very expensive. The monthly rental cost is dependent on how much security deposit you put down. It is not uncommon to put down a security deposit of $500,000 so that your monthly rent is only several hundred dollars a month. You get the security deposit back after your 2 year contract is over.
Our last stop was Insadong Street where we were dropped off for two hours of shopping and to have dinner on our own. This was a very nice area and had many interesting shops and restaurants. We first ate a few Korean pancakes with a very hot and fruity tea. We then tried out some chicken that was sort of like Sesame Honey Chicken. We ended up our snacking festival with a Korean donut (Hodduk) that was freshly made and had something sweet in the center that we could never quite identify. The shopping and eating was enjoyable and we used up our full two hours before heading back to the bus for our ride back to the ship.
We have been delayed departing Incheon (Seoul), South Korea due to heavy fog. This has caused a one day later arrival into Beijing, China where we will have 2 full days of excursions and an overnight stay instead of a 3 visit.
Sharon & Greg