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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dive Right In - The Water's Fine

Seojeonbang Falls
Oedolgae pool

Aug. 29 (Jeju Weekly) Jeju Island is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches for swimming. From Hyeopjae and adjoining Geumneung Beaches in the west to Pyoseon or Shinyang Beaches in the east, you’ll find stretches of sand of every color possible on the shoreline of the island. What better way to cool off from the scorching summer temperatures than wading in the shallows or diving into the depths? In addition to the beaches, there are also valley streams and waterfalls to soak the summer days away.

These are some of my favorite Jeju swimming spots, some well-known, others less so.

Hamdeok Seowubong Beach
Hamdeok Beach is one of the best-known and most popular on the island. It is actually two adjoining beaches separated by a sand spit. The main, western beach seems a favorite with Korean visitors while the smaller, eastern cove is more popular with foreign residents and has a comfortable camping area. Adjacent to the smaller beach is Seowubong – the peak that is now part of the tourist spot’s extended name. A perfect way to start a day on Jeju is to climb to the summit and enjoy the views, then descend and cool off with a dip in the clear blue water.

Samyang Black Sand Beach
Samyang is a particular favorite for Koreans who go there to be buried in the hot, black sand, which they believe has therapeutic properties. My alternative therapy is to first walk nearby Wondangbong and enjoy the extensive views it offers before heading to the beach. There are three temples on the hill, one of which – Wondangsa – is home to the Bultapsa Five-Story Stone Pagoda.

Samyang Beach also offers consistently good sunsets for those wanting to make their Facebook friends envious.

Donnaeko Resort
The Donnaeko Trail is the newest path to the top of Mt. Halla for many hikers, having reopened last year after a 15-year hiatus to allow the regeneration of foliage. For those who think a seven-hour round trip to the top is too much to contemplate in this heat, the Donnaeko Resort is a cooler option. Just a short way off the 1131 or 5.16 Road, Donnaeko has clean, ice-cold water cascading down falls and tumbling over rocks just a short walk into dense evergreen forest.

The small pond just below the Wonang Pokpo Waterfall is usually crowded with visitors but if you take the time to scamper over rocks, either up or downstream, you should be rewarded with the discovery of an area of relative solitude. Or perhaps you’ll instead trip over a group of locals male-bonding over beer and makgeolli who would be happy to share with a passing stranger!

Soesokkak
The Soesokkak estuary is a deep-water pool where fresh water from the Hyo-donchon stream flows into the ocean. Lined with lava cliffs and fragrant pine forests, visitors can rent clear-bottomed canoes or ride a large tewoo raft across the still waters. The village feels like a true resort town, rather than the Korean version, with coffee shops that sell reasonably tasteful souvenirs and have a relaxed seaside ambience.

The only surprise I found on the hot day that I visited was that although many people were wading in the shallows in both the estuary and the beach, I was the only one swimming. Don’t let that stop you though as the pool is perfect for a sheltered dip.

Sojeonbang and Jeonbang Waterfalls
Sojeonbang Waterfall does not have a pool in which you can immerse yourself, unlike its more impressive neighbor, Jeongbang Waterfall, but is popular with locals for the water massage you can get while standing beneath its natural shower. Or head a little further west to Jeongbang for a cooling dip and more postcard-perfect picture opportunities.

Oedolgae pool
I’m slightly reluctant to share this spot with readers as it is one of my all-time favorites, yet remains relatively unknown. Oedolgae itself is both a well-known film location and a popular stop for tourists to the island. The solitary rock pillar is an impressive site, particularly with its backdrop of islands just off the coast. However, immediately east of the tour “must-see” is a large, lesser-known pool enclosed on three sides by cliff and rocks with a man-made concrete fourth wall.

The water here is deep and clear and some brave souls dive in from the cliff above. A shallower adjacent pool is perfect for children, making this the perfect spot for family outings. From the water and surrounding rocks, you have a great view of the bridge to Saeseom further east. The pools can be reached by descending a path and steps that begin east of the Oedolgae parking spot and opposite where the tour buses park.

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