Bicycle tour of Jeju’s northeast coast
Off the 1132 highway, a winding coastal road makes for memorable bicycle tour
Story and photo by Marcus Kaulback
Being an English teacher at a hagwon, you don’t get too many holidays. So, when you find yourself being given a full four days off from cultivating future Ban Ki-Moons, you make the most of it. For our summer holiday, my best friend and I thought the choice was never in question: Jeju-do, but with a twist. We were going to spend our days on bicycles and our nights in a tent.
For the bookend nights of our trip, we stayed with our friend, a Miss Anj Schroeder, formerly of Regina, Saskatchewan, now of Shin Jeju. This paid off immediately, as the first morning she showed us a smashing shop from which to rent our cycles. Located in Shin Jeju next to the Hi-Mart at the Nohyeong Rotary, Bike Mart was a perfect place to get our “hogs” from. The selection was minimal but completely adequate for us inexperienced bikers, and the transaction, through our broken Korean and the vendor’s broken English, went swimmingly. To sweeten this already-honeyed business affair, the shop was located on the same road that leads right out of the city and on the 1132, the mammoth road that was to be our trail for the next 72 hours.
Leaving the city behind
We hit the ground rolling and pedaled our way out of the heat of the city and into the heat of the countryside. The buildings of Jeju-si slowly gave way to open fields dotted with greenhouses, and we knew we were on the right track to our first day’s destination: Hamdeok Beach. The ride was quick, easy and uneventful; however, we soon found out that the 1132 is always like this, minus the quick and easy.
We had been told that Hamdeok is perhaps the prettiest beach on the northeast side of the island, and we were not disappointed. Even with the masses of families, friends, and lovers scattered all over the beach, Hamdeok’s enchantment and serenity were obvious. We found a suitable nook away from the beach to set up our tent and laid down to sleep with the sound of fireworks popping in the distance.
The second day
Day two began bright and early with a private swim at Hamdeok’s secondary beach. Refreshed and revved up, we mounted our cycles and readied ourselves for the meat and potatoes of the trip: Gimnyeong Beach, the Manjang Lava Tube Cave, and Seongsan, the easternmost point of the island.
The beach at Gimnyeong was even more breathtaking than at Hamdeok. The absolute absence of people created the illusion that it was our very own private Caribbean getaway. If you haven’t already been there, skip work today and go.
A short way from Gimnyeong, off the monotonous 1132, we found the Manjang Cave. The slippery steps of the entrance lead away from the surface into an ethereal world, made all the more alien by the massive drop in temperature. If you’re looking for an experience completely out of the ordinary, this is it. Leaving the sanctuary of the caves was perhaps the worst part of the entire trip as it signaled a return to the August heat and the dreaded highway. By the time we made it to Seongsan, that town built in the shadow of Sunrise Peak, or Seongsan Ilchulbong, we nearly fell down dead.
Climbing at sunrise
A 4:00 A.M. alarm roused us out of our sleep the next morning, and we dressed in the dark for a hike up the 182-metre high Sunrise Peak. The sweat produced on the way up was blasted away by the life-giving winds at the summit. Within minutes, however, we were drenched again, this time by a cold sweat brought on by the magnificent feeling of being above the rising sun. It was a view as marvelous as any on Jeju.
After being blessed with a few more hours of sleep in the tent, we once again mounted our steeds and headed back to Jeju-si. The trip had been all we imagined, and we were sad to have to return to the mainland. The only thing we were glad to say goodbye to was the lifeless 1132. To anyone looking to do a trip like this, do yourself a massive favour and stick to the quiet, winding coastal roads.
Additional information on Bike Mart: Phone 010-3232-4101 or 064-712-0951.
Proprietor’s name: Park Byeong-Seong.