Cycling around Jeju has been on the top of my things-to-do list since I moved here in July 2013. I’ve always wanted to cycle and camp around the island because it’s a very exciting and achievable activity considering the island’s geography, climate, and infrastructure.
This past Chuseok holiday (Korean Autumn Harvest Festival), which ran from September 26th-30th, six friends and I spent three days cycling and two nights camping around Jeju.
Jeju Island is only 73 km from east to west and 31 km from north to south, and the circumference is roughly 200 km. As for cycling around the island, it depends on which route you take, and whether you cycle any of the islands (add up to 80 km for those), but in general we are talking +/- 200 km.
Our route was just over 200 km. Here is a quick Google map I made and the basic logistics from the ride:
Day 1: From Shin Jeju to Jungmun Resort (camp on Jungmun Beach) – about 88 km.
Day 2: From Jungmun Resort to Seongsan Ilchulbong (stops in Seogwipo and Pyoseon, camp on beach across from Seongsan) – about 75 km
Day 3: From Seongsan Ilchulbong to Jeju City (stops at Woljeong and Hamdeok Beach) – about 52 km
I’ll give a brief rundown of my equipment as well:
- I was riding a used Specialized Allez Sport 58″ frame road bike. I don’t know much about bikes, but I know this bike is a beast. It cruises on the road and never feels like it’s dragging you down, even on inclines.
- I clipped on a small camera bag on the front of the bike which included my Canon 6D body with two lenses; Canon 24-105L f/4 and Canon prime 50m f/1.4.
- I attached a small first aid kid to my camera bag in the front.
- A Cannondale seat bag kept my Energizer bike lights, bike tools, sunscreen, tire repair kit, Leatherman multi-tool, a headlamp, and almonds (for a quick snack).
- Obviously, bike helmet and water bottle are essential, and biking gloves are, well, handy.
- I don’t have a bike back rack so I had to carry a backpack (it gave my back and shoulders a lot of pain on day 3), which I did manage to keep lightweight. A change of clothes (including long underwear and a light sweater), a sleeping bag, a raingear top, a towel, mosquito spray, a small gorillapod tripod, small toiletries, etc. It wasn’t heavy but I would definitely recommend using a back rack and/or panniers if you can.
- A tent! I was lucky enough that my fellow cyclist Ben kindly carried our tent on his bike’s back rack. I certainly would have needed a back rack if I had to carry my own tent.
Now before I get into the specifics (by that I mean many photos with captions) of my journey, I’ll share some practical websites with more information which you can use in case you are considering cycling around Jeju:
- From Jeju Weekly, two articles – On yer bike! A guide to cycling tours includes info about bike rentals and four biking courses, and…
- Cycling Jeju Island: Tips and recommendations, which speaks for itself (written by: Nikola Medimorec; his original article is Bicycle Paths on Jeju-do)
- From the Visit Korea website, this article recommends a 5-day, 6-night cycle course and details its top three bicycle trails on Jeju: Coastal Biking on Jeju Island
- My friends Jamie and Leah (a lovely, fun, traveling couple), who used to live on Jeju and who both run informative travel blogs (Great Big Scary World and The Vegetarian Traveller, respectively), both wrote posts about Cycling around Jeju (GBSW); Cycling the East and West Coast of Jeju (TVT).
- If you’re looking for a detailed list of suggested equipment to take and how to pack, here is a good post from the Adventure Cycling Association: What to Take and How to Pack
- *Bonus* During my research for this post, I discovered there is a short documentary about cycling around Jeju. It’s called Jeju: A Bicycle Adventure in South Korea and I’m definitely adding it to my growing list of things to watch. It’s a 24-minute travel documentary about one family’s cycling journey on Jeju Island.
Hopefully you can get some good information from the above links. Read on to get some specifics from the journey.
Day 1 Cycle – Shin Jeju to Jungmun Resort
Nice introduction and all, but here is where I’ll admit that I’ve fibbed a bit. Only five members of our cycling crew completed the whole cycle; two of us did about 70%. One was me.
Because Chuseok is a Korean holiday and all (a bit similar to American Thanksgiving), I had to spend some time with my wife’s Korean family who lives in Seogwipo. Therefore, I missed the first day of cycling along the (some say most) beautiful coastal roads on the west side of the island.
As you can see from the map above, while my friends were in the midst of a mostly pleasant 70 km trek from Jeju to Jungmun (blue line), I was driving my wife and baby along the winding and scenic 1131 mountain road from Jeju to Seogwipo (green line). They started at about 9 am, whereas I started driving at 3 pm and cycling at about 4:30 pm (red line).
To say the least, they were tired when I met up with them at the 7/11 near the Lotte Hotel in Jungmun Resort. I wasn’t. I greeted my fellow cyclists and kindly accepted an unearned beer.
Throughout the trip, I used the S Health app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to track most of my routes and give me detailed stats from each workout. It’s a very nifty little tool on a great phone.
Soon after my arrival, more friends who did not cycle arrived smelling good and looking stylish. They opted to skip out on the cycling bit of our cycling and camping trip and just do the camping. Fair play to them. They never looked to be in physical agony, yet us cyclists always felt like we earned our food and beers, and we had a special bond because of our shared pain.
Once we were ready to go, we locked our bikes up, bought water, snacks, and beer, and headed down to the far west end of Jungmun Beach to set up camp.
We walked along a path just to the left of the entrance to the Hyatt hotel to get down to the western most end of Jungmun Beach. Because there was an unanticipated beautiful sunset, it was then that I started focusing on photography. I’ll let the photos highlight the rest of the evening now.
*I’d like to note here that while I was cycling around Jeju there were countless times when I wanted to stop to capture a scene or a person, but I just couldn’t be bothered stopping my momentum, getting out my camera, contemplating an image, slowing down my other cycling friends, etc. It just wasn’t plausible while cycling.
I regret it now, and the lack of photos I have while actually on the road suggest that regret (this is a photography site after all); however, I intend to make this cycle a yearly adventure. Next year I will take it slower and focus more on capturing more of Jeju’s essence while on the road.
I went swimming shortly after taking this last photo (the water is lovely in September), and then helped get our tent set up. Darkness crept up on us quickly, but since it was the night before the super moon, it remained quite light throughout the night.
Night 1 Camp – Jungmun Beach
Camping on a beach in Jeju is an amazing experience. I don’t think there are many other places in the world with such awesome beaches where you can set up multiple tents, make a huge fire, go swimming whenever, be as loud as you want, and not be disturbed at all throughout the night or in the morning.
Our first night camp on Jungmun beach didn’t disappoint. The only problem we faced was deciding about where and what to eat. We finally decided to check the east end of the beach and see what restaurants were there. It worked out perfectly in the end; there was a 30,000 won ($26) buffet for the starving cyclists and an a la carte menu for the others ($8-$12 meals).
Because I’m more a photographer than writer, I’ll skip the specifics of the night and just let you check out the gallery of the shots I took during and after dinner, at our campfire on the beach, and in the morning when everyone was waking up.
Click on any photo to open the lightbox gallery.
As you can see from the photos, we had a good time. Most of the cyclists went to bed around 11 or 12, but some of the others stayed up until 3 am playing Contact, which is an excellent campfire word game.
When everybody was up by about 8:30 am, we extinguished and buried the fire, packed up our stuff, cleaned up our mess, and headed back to 7/11 to eat breakfast and get our bikes. Cycling around Jeju day 2 was commencing…
Day 2 Morning Cycle – Jungmun to Seogwipo
The plan for Day 2 was to get to Seogwipo sometime before noon so that I could meet up with my wife’s family and have a nice Chuseok lunch. Everything went to plan until the end of that lunch. More on that later.
Once we eventually got from the beach to our bikes, we had a bountiful breakfast at 7/11 consisting of bananas, hardboiled eggs, trail mix, coffee and sports drinks. Everyone humorously took their turn in the bathroom and then we were off to Seogwipo.
We took the scenic route through the small towns between Seogwipo and Jungmun. The most notable town along this route is Gangjeong Village, which is unfortunately home to the highly controversial and soon-to-be opened US Naval Base. An excerpt from the Jeju Naval Base Wikipedia:
“By 2011, construction had been halted seven times by protesters concerned about the base’s environmental impact and who see it as a US-driven project aimed at China, rather than enhancing South Korean defense. In July 2012, the South Korean Supreme Court upheld the base’s construction. It is expected to host up to 20 military vessels and occasional civilian cruise ships when it is completed in 2015.”
Visit Save Jeju Now (slogan – “No War Base on the Island of Peace”) to read more about the events and stories about Gangjeong.
I don’t want to delve too much into my personal opinions about the topic (especially since I am an American), but I am a person who would always take the side of peace and protecting our environment over war, greed, and the destruction of our planet. To me, this seems to be another sad story about the US military industrial complex, and the outcome will not be a positive one in the end. There’s always hope though, and the persistence and dedication of the protestors and villagers over the years has been remarkable.
(Another article from the World Post with more details: Pave Paradise, Put Up a Naval Base: South Korean Activists’ Extraordinary Struggle to Save Jeju Island)
Back to topic, not far from Gangjeong is Oedolgae, an amazing little stretch of coastline near Seogwipo full of massive jutting volcanic rocks and crashing waves. The other cyclists stopped there while I headed off to lunch.
At one point after we completed a really steep incline near Oedolgae, I had time to get my camera out and take a few shots. Here they are in all their glory.
Okay, I’m going to end Part 1 there. Stay tuned for a more photography related post in Part 2 of Cycling around Jeju…