Triple-date on Korea’s Honeymoon Island

Warning: Some (and by some, I mean two) explicit images below.  You’ve been warned.  Drag an Excel spreadsheet over your internet browser window if you’re at work. 

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju Island, South Korea

The eastern side of Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ilchulbong) on Jeju Island

Jason’s parents were so sweet to treat all of us to 4 days at a beautiful tropical island just south of Korea’s mainland: Jeju Island.  Known by locals as ‘Honeymoon Island’, it’s a popular Korean vacation spot and (as noted by its nickname) a popular honeymoon destination.  In fact, Jason’s parents came here for their honeymoon in the 70s.

Cheonjiyeon Falls, Jeju Island, South Korea

The exact same waterfalls that Jason’s parents took a picture in front of during their honeymoon 30 years ago.

Initially, this had all the ingredients for an awkward weekend – even my brother commented on how it was going to be awkward going on a triple-date/long weekend/couples getaway with my in-laws.  But I’ve enjoyed travelling with Jason’s parents before and love spending time with Jeanne and Dave, so I had no doubt that it would be a grand ol’ time.

Horseback riding, Jeju Island, South Korea

You know it’s gonna be a good time when they dress you up like this for horseback riding!

As we were waiting in the airport for our flight to Jeju Island (by the way, it’s considered an international flight even though Jeju Island is considered to be part of Korea), my mother-in-law (MIL) asked whether we would like to go horseback riding, trekking through a national park, climb a volcano crater, and visit a circus.

Jeju Circus World, Jeju Island, South Korea

A Chinese circus troupe called Circus World. Surprisingly impressive feats. I guess we were expecting just some clowns and flowers that squirt water

“Wow!” I exclaimed, “That sounds like an awesome, action-packed long weekend!”

“No,” my MIL replied, “That’s just on the first day”

Jeju Island, South Korea

Eight activities a day?!

And then it hit me: we were going on an Asian holiday tour.  I had been on one before 5 years ago when I visited my dad’s family in China so I had an idea of what we were in for.  For those who have been lucky enough to have never been on an Asian tour, let me break it down for you.  People of some Asian races (i.e. Korean, Chinese, Japanese) love maximizing the value of their money.  They typically perceive something to be of higher value if they get more of it.  So when it comes to holiday tours, the more activities you can cram into the allotted time-frame, the better the value.

Ecoland, Jeju Island, South Korea

The four of us hamming it up on Jeju Island

So thus began our whirlwind ‘Honeymoon Island’ vacation.  For 4 days, we woke up every morning at 7:30am to a packed itinerary.  On average, we would have 7-8 activities scheduled per day.  I have to admit, it was pretty exhausting.  It probably didn’t help that we had all originally envisioned a long weekend of relaxing and lazing about on the beach.

The southern coast of Jeju Island, South Korea

Not-so-relaxing beach time on Jeju Island

But once we shrugged our shoulders and decided to go along for the ride, it wasn’t all bad.  The entire island is is 75% cheesy tourist traps and 25% beautiful natural wonders.  And amongst the 30 individual activities/sights/events we enjoyed/endured, there were quite a few gems.

We started off slowly and visited an impressive botanical garden called “Spirited Garden”.  The bonsai trees were beautiful and we enjoyed the leisurely stroll through the peaceful garden grounds.

Bonsai Tree in Spirited Garden, Jeju Island, South Korea

One of the many beautiful Bonsai Trees in the botanical garden

Spirited Garden, Jeju Island, South Korea

What do you do on Honeymoon Island? Take couples pictures!

We visited a beautiful little waterfall (Cheonjiyeon Falls) that Jason’s parents also visited over 30 years ago on their honeymoon.

Cheonjiyeon Falls, Jeju Island, South Korea

What do you do on Honeymoon Island? Take couples pictures!

We checked out the eerie underground Manjanggul lava tubes.  Flowing rivers of lava carved out these massive caves.

Manjanggul lava tubes, Jeju Island, South Korea

Inside the lava tubes. Funny story: Jason’s uncle hid behind a rock, jumped out, and scared the pants off this random couple, thinking it was me and Jason.

Then things got a little kooky at (what we dubbed) “Randomland”.  There was an indoor ice sculpture exhibit and a whole bunch of 3D scenes that you can take a picture with.  We had a great time taking cheesy pictures and cracking up at the ridiculousness.

Trick Art Museum (aka Randomland), Jeju Island, South Korea

Putting our acting skills to good use

Trick Art Museum (aka Randomland), Jeju Island, South Korea

Obviously, the acting abilities run in the family

Trick Art Museum (aka Randomland), Jeju Island, South Korea

I think I packed on a few pounds (and apparently, a few feet) after indulging in too much delicious Korean food.

After “Randomland”, things got even stranger.

When Jason and I first started our travels in June, my friend (who will remain unnamed) sent me a link (NSFW) and insisted we go there when we travelled to Korea.  It’s deceptively called Jeju Loveland.  It really should be called Jeju Sexland,  When my friend first told me about this place, I thought “Korea is pretty big – not sure if I’ll actually come across it”.  But when I found out that this outrageous theme park was actually on Jeju Island, I knew we had to add an extra activity onto the itinerary.

Jeanne was not so keen on the idea and who can blame her? It would be kinda weird going to a sex theme park with your parents.  Nonetheless,I somehow managed to get it onto the schedule.

Once we entered Jeju Loveland, this was the first thing we saw:

Jeju Loveland Jeju, South Korea

Welcome to Jeju Sexland Loveland!

Jeanne and Dave immediately bolted and disappeared into the park.  Soon after, Jason’s mom wandered off too.  So it was just Jason, my father-in-law (FIL), and I wandering through the very risque theme park.  The picture below is probably the only safe picture I can post here. If you want to see what else this park had to offer, you can click the link above. (Or here, if you don’t want to scroll up).  Seriously, this place was hilarious.

Jeju Loveland, Jeju, South Korea

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I’m not sure why such a racy theme park exists on Jeju Island.  Perhaps because it’s known as a honeymoon destination and the tourism board wants to get all the newlywed couples in the mood?

Even the island’s natural rock formations were in on it:

Jeju Island, South Korea

Phallic rock formations off the coast of Jeju

Speaking of natural rock formations, this one was one of the highlights of Jeju Island: Seongsan Ilchulbong (or Sunrise Peak).

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju, South Korea

In front of the volcanic tuff cone

Formed by volcanic activity, this tuff cone and crater are one of the few well-preserved specimens of its kind.  This site map gives you a sense of what it looks like from the air.

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And this is what it really looks like from the air (Picture courtesy of Jeju World Natural Heritage website)  Pretty impressive-looking, eh?

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju Island, South Korea

Aeriel view of Seongsan Ilchulbong.  Picture courtesy of Jeju World Natural Heritage website

It’s a short 20-minute climb to the top.  The views from the top weren’t too shabby either.

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju, South Korea

View from the top towards the northeast

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju, South Korea

View of Jeanne, Dave and I at the top

Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju, South Korea

View from the top towards the northwest

It was a great way to end our trip.  Okay, who am I kidding?  We ended our trip with a massive Korean feast (of course).  On the menu: Jeju Black Pig.  Don’t ask…it’s a Jeju Island specialty.

Black pig, Jeju, South Korea

Jeju Black pig BBQ. Loved the vents that sucked out all the BBQ smells. Don’t you hate it when you leave a Korean BBQ restaurant and smell like you’ve been marinating in kalbi sauce?

Yes, we complained about the cheesiness, the ridiculousness, and the jam-packed schedule – but in the end, we had a lot of good ol’ family fun (sex theme park and all).  Thanks, mom and dad, for treating all of us to a wonderful time!

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Seoul, Korea: Home is Where the Heart is

Front gates of Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace (Seoul, Korea)

Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace in Seoul, Korea

We are in Asia!!!

After 30-hours of flying, we finally arrived at our first stop of our travels in Asia: Seoul.  And yes, 30 hours of flying.  As my sister-in-law put it: “Can’t you fly around the world twice in 30 hours?!

Not only did we fly across the globe, but we crossed over from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, so perhaps that does count as flying around the world twice?

It’s been three months since we’ve seen a familiar face, so Jason and I were excited to travel with his parents, along with his sister (Jeanne) and her husband (Dave) for the next two weeks.

A huge platter of Topoki in Topoki Alley (Seoul, Korea)

Dave and Jeanne about to dive into a huge platter of Topoki (rice cake dish) in Topoki Alley

Jason’s aunt and uncle also happen to be in Korea and they were so sweet to pick us up at the airport.  It was a welcome change after 3 months of arriving in new places and having to figure out where to go and how to get there as soon as we arrived.

First meal in Korea with Jason's family

First meal in Korea with Jason’s aunt, uncle, sister and her husband.

We pretty much went straight to a Korean BBQ joint (I guess, they just call it BBQ there) close to the apartment we were staying at.  I’ll be writing a separate post about the food in Korea so I won’t go into too much detail now.  All you need to know is that we ate like we hadn’t eaten for the past 3 months.

Korean BBQ and banchan (little side dishes)

Korean BBQ and banchan (little side dishes)

Actually, after three months of South American food, it was as if we hadn’t really eaten in 3 months.  I know that comment may draw some negative responses but we really gave South American food a decent chance to win us over.  I’ll get into it more during my food post….I’m digressing.

Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon neighbourhood in Seoul

We even found a Canadian pub in our neighbourhood – Rocky Mountain Tavern! A little taste of home away from home

You know how they say, “Home is where the heart is?”  Well, for those two weeks, our hearts were in Korea.  And thanks to Dave’s persistence in tracking down a traditional Korean house (called a hanok), our hearts even got to stay in a pretty cool place in Seoul.

Traditional hanok in Seoul

Traditional hanok in Seoul

Inside the traditional hanok in Seoul

Inside the traditional hanok. There’s lot of room – 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms for just the 6 of us 🙂

We visited the popular neighbourhood of Insa-dong with Jeanne and Dave.  The main street of Insa-dong (called Insadong-gil) is a fascinating mixture of traditional and modern Korean culture.  I’ve read that 40% of Korea’s antique and art galleries are found here, along with the majority of traditional calligraphy and stationary shops.  Queen Elizabeth II even visited this street to peruse the traditional stationary items a few years back.

Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea

One of the calligraphy stores in Insa-dong

Mixed in with the traditional art shops are also some interesting food stalls and snack shops.

Dried seafood cart in Insa-dong, Seoul

A cart full of dried seafood – dried squid, fish, octopus. She roasts it to heat it up and you get a bag full of toasty dried seafood. So delicious! We had a lot of dried seafood in Korea – she served the best version.

Dragon's beard candy in Insa-dong, Seoul

Dragon’s beard candy – hand-pulled sugar mixture (1024 separate strands!). Originally created in China, but has spread to many other Asian countries. I first had this when I was 8 years old in Los Angeles. Still tastes just as good today 🙂

Funny-looking ice cream cone in Insa-dong

There was an ice cream shop that sold “funny-looking” ice cream cones. You can see it in this picture as he’s filling the cone. Dave and Jason shared the cone.  I have a picture of it, but you can use your own imagination.

We also spent an afternoon with Jason’s parents at the Gyeongbokgung Imperial Palace.  It’s the main and largest Imperial palace in Seoul, standing as a symbol of national sovereignty.

Inside the Gyeongbokgung palace front gates (Seoul, Korea)

Jason with his parents just inside the Gyeongbokgung palace front gates

Almost completely destroyed during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, work has been underway to restore it to its former glory since 1990.

The main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung palace (Seoul, Korea)

The main throne hall of Gyeongbokgung palace

Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung palace (Seoul, Korea)

Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung palace

There’s a beautiful garden and pond near the back of the palace grounds.  It was probably my favourite spot of the whole palace – so peaceful.  It actually reminded me a lot of the beautiful temples I saw in Kyoto, Japan a few years back.

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion on the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds

The beautiful pavilion on the palace grounds – a peaceful little oasis hidden near the back.

While the sights were pretty interesting in Seoul, the most unique experiences while in Seoul came from taking part in many of Jason’s family gatherings.

We met up with both his mom’s side and dad’s side of the family.  His dad’s side owns a large plot of land on the outskirts of Seoul.  It’s used for farming, food production, and as an occasional vacation home.

Jason's family land near Seoul, Korea

Jason’s family land near Seoul, Korea

There’s also a family burial plot where many important members (e.g. politicians, influential business leaders, etc) were laid to rest – dating back as far as the 1500s.  Once a year, the extended family gathers here to pay their respects.

Jason's family burial plot near Seoul, Korea

Jason’s family burial plot – dating back to 1500s

And of course, no family gathering is complete without a huge feast of Korean food.  (I guess, they just call it food there)

Korean seafood restaurant in Seoul, korea

A family feast to end the day. Leave your shoes at the door and have a seat on a cushion (if you’re lucky enough to score one). Little did we know, that we’d be having almost all our meals in Korea like this.

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I know I said that I’d write a separate post about food in Seoul. But food is so ingrained in Korean culture that it’s hard to write about Seoul and not add some reference to food 🙂 And yes, that’s a whole octupus in the saucepan.

The next day, we met with Jason’s mom’s side of the family.  We were lucky enough to visit during Chuseok (or the Harvest Moon Festival) celebration.  It’s basically the Korean Thanksgiving and one of the most important and festive holidays of the year.  During the Harvest Moon Festival, family comes together from far and wide to honour their ancestors and to share in a fantastic feast together.

Happy Chuseok!

Home-cooked Harvest Moon (or Chuseok) meal

Jason’s family went all out and made everything from scratch.  It’s not everyday you get a delicious, authentic home-cooked meal – especially when travelling for 6 months 😛

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Seoul, Korea)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Kimchi, Chapchae, dumplings, tempura)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Seoul, Korea)

Home-cooked meal for Chuseok (Banchan, rice cakes, kimchi radish)

After dinner, we all went out in search for some drinks (and more food…the eating never stops when you’re with family!)

Seoul, Korea

Sensory overload

Seoul, Korea

Did I ever mention that Jason gets his love of alcohol from his mom’s side of the family? 🙂

And of course, no family gathering is complete without some Karaoke!  Quintessential Korea = Dancing to Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style‘ during our Karaoke party in Korea.

Karaoke in Korea

Oppa Gangnam Style!

I love family.