Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Jeju's UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Walking Above- and Below- Ground

I checked off Seongsan Ilchulbong and Halla Mountain from my "UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Visit" list when I visited Jeju for the first time in the spring of 2018. Geomun Oreum and Manjanggul Cave would have to be accomplished on the next visit. Luckily, that opportunity came the following year.


Directions by bus: From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 211 or 221 to 거문오름입구 Geomun Oreum bus stop (40 minutes).

Jeju Island has 160 lava tube systems, one of which is Geomun Oreum. What's so special about Geomun Oreum? Geomun Oreum has the largest lava tube system in the island.

Geomun Oreum is open to the public for hiking on the oreum, not in the lava tubes (except a section of Manjanggul Lava Tube, which I will get into more detail later). But you can't hike on Geomun Oreum any time, any day, because hikes are scheduled and the number of hikers per day is limited to 450. In short, advance reservation is required.

Geomun Oreum Hiking
Wednesday to Monday 9AM to 1PM
Admission fee: 2,000 won

There are three trails around Geomun Oreum to choose from:

  • Summit Course — 1.8 km / 1 hour 
  • Crater Course — 5.5 km / 2.5 hours
  • Full Course — 10 km / 3.5 hours

I signed my friend and I up for the crater course. No wonder we were the only foreign guests—the guided tour was in Korean! We made many stops, some historical (such as WWII Japanese military tunnels, and old charcoal kiln sites used from the 1900s to the 1970s), some natural (like a lava collapse trench, and a vertical lava tube). I had no clue what the guide was on about at most of them, but I am sure it was something significant. A few areas we stopped at, thankfully, had signboards with an English translation.

It was a very easy 2.5-kilometer hike: there were no steep climbs and the hiking trail was mostly on a boardwalk. I would probably have appreciated the hike more if they had an English-speaking guide or at least, an English audio guide, or even a brochure.

The highest point (456m) on Geomun Oreum

The ceiling of a lava tube collapsed and formed this "lava collapse trench" or "lava gorge"

The hiking trail was mostly on a boardwalk

Charcoal kiln site (if not for the signboard, I wouldn't have know it was what it was)

Pretty gnarly trees

9AM to 6PM
Admission fee: 3,000 won

The meeting point for the Geomun Oreum hike is at the Geomun Oreum Information Desk, which is just across the Jeju World Natural Heritage Center. For those who don't want to hike around Geomun Oreum, the Jeju World Natural Heritage Center offers an indoor museum, with an exhibit hall and a 4D theater, where one can learn about Jeju Island and its Natural Heritage sites.

While waiting for our Geomun Oreum hike, my friend and I explored Jeju World Natural Heritage Center. The museum staff enthusiastically took us (almost dragged us in his enthusiasm!) to the 4D theater since we were just in time for a show, and though the 20-minute story was entirely in Korean, we did enjoy it!

The Heritage Center is a good place to visit if you want to get a glimpse of Jeju's natural heritage sites but have no time to see (or hike, like Mount Halla or Seongsan Ilchulbong) the real thing. 

Door on the left is for the Jeju World Natural Heritage Center,
door on the right is for the Geomun Oreum Information Desk

Displays of Jeju wildlife, and projected on the background is Mount Halla's crater

A replica of what you can find in Manjanggul Lava Tube

A diorama of the inside of a lava tube

Manjanggul Lava Tube
9AM to 6PM (Closed 1st Wednesday of every month)
Admission fee: 2,000 won

Directions by bus: From Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal, take bus 201 to 김녕리 Gimnyeong-ri bus stop (55 minutes) then transfer to bus 711-1 or 711-2 to 만장굴입구 Manjanggul bus stop (10 minutes).

Geomun Oreum has a lava tube system stretching 36 kilometers and includes one of the largest lava tubes in the world: Manjanggul Lava Tube. Manjanggul Lava Tube is about 7.4 kilometers long but only 1 kilometer is open to the public.

Manjanggul Lava Tube has three entrances; the second entrance is the only one that's open to the public. The walk through the lava tube is damp, with puddles here and there (be sure to wear waterproof shoes!). The area is lit and one can see interesting formations caused by lava flow from thousands of years ago, such as lava flowlines, lava stalactites, lava stalagmites, etc. The farther you venture into the tube, the colder it gets. And the reward as you reach the end of the 1-kilometer walk is a large lava column!

The entrance to Manjanggul Lava Tube that's open to the public

Lava column

Jeju and Busan, April 2019
Jeju Accommodation: Jeju R Hotel & Guesthouse
Traveling Around Jeju by Bus Plus KakaoMap (2019)
Eats from Jeju City Restaurants I Can't Read the Names Of
Jeju City Lights: Iho Tewoo Beach and Jeju Light Art Festa
Jeju's UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Walking Above- and Below-Ground (you're here!)

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