Friday, May 18, 2012

Korea Trip 2012 ~ Jeju

Korea Trip 2012

I had never thought of visiting Korea after hearing from friends about the language barrier.
However, my virgin trip to Korea was made possible by my lovely friends, CC, LKM and MT.
They are experienced travellers to Korea, since this is the 3rd free-and-easy trip for CC and MT.
Which means that I did not have to worry about the itinerary at all!
I thank CC, LKM and MT for inviting me to this trip and planning everything.
I would also like to express my thanks to Nikon Singapore for sponsoring a Nikon J1 camera, which is responsible for capturing more than half of the photos here.
Throughout this post, I will include some of my opinions on the use of the Nikon J1 as a travel companion.

The plane has landed in Seoul, Korea.
This is the first time for this quartet to be embark on an overseas trip.
Three girls and one guy, will I survive this trip?

We checked in into a "love" hotel near Gimpo Airport, for just one night, since we will be flying to Jeju the next day.
I must say if it wasn't for the free-of-charge rubber and free-to-watch "videos" on TV, this hotel does look pretty decent.
I had the Nikon J1 set to Auto-ISO at maximum 3200, that saves me the hassle of messing around with ISO settings. I was rather confident after reviewing the high ISO pictures. I was quite pleased with this shot of the hotel room which I shot handheld at wide angle. The J1 can really handle indoor shots quite well, despite the lack of a fast lens.

Early next day, we hopped on a flight at Gimpo Airport for Jeju.
Thanks to LKM for arranging our domestic flights.
We flew by Air Busan, which is rather decent for a budget domestic airline.

On arrival at Jeju, we were greeted by our enthusiastic taxi driver, Mr Kim.
We had booked Mr Kim for a day, at a rate of 130,000 KRW for 8 hours.
We loaded our luggage into the limited trunk space of the sedan cab.
Cabs in Korea are powered by LPG, with an LPG tank stored in the boot, taking up half the space of your usual sedan. Luckily, MT anticipated this and stored her luggage in Gimpo airport's paid locker.

Mr Kim could speak an average level of English, hence communication was still not much of an issue.
We showed him a list of sights drawn up by MT and he readily mapped out the route.
I have absolutely no clue what to expect and awaits an adventure!

Lovers will put locks with their names or neoprints here.
I am not sure if this place was part of plan, or Mr Kim probably thought it was a nice place.
In good day light, with WB settings set at Auto, the Nikon J1 delivers photos with excellent sharpness and clarity. In the hands of a point-and-shoot user, getting a decent shot was no sweat!

One of the places that we planned to visit is the Yongduam Rock or Dragon Head Rock.
Squids/Cuttlefish hung out to dry like laundry.
I can read Chinese
I was still wondering what the round 'barrels' were, on closer zoom, they are actually floodlights.
I believe this is the "Dragon Head"?
Look mum, no tail!
Ladies that peddle fresh shellfish hauled from the waters of Jeju, by the famous Ahjumma divers (lady divers).
One just can't help pose for some style shots.
Shot on the Nikon J1 standard zoom kit lens. J1 is capable of delivering quality images that I can achieve on my D90. I am quite impressed by it.
With the Smart Photo function, I never had to to miss a good shot any more.
It did not take a pair of expert hands to capture a good and sharp shot on the J1.
One Ahjumma done with her daily dive; leaving her wet suit out to dry.
A truck that sells the iconic fruit of Jeju, 감귤 or Gamgyul and 한라봉 or Hallabong, which are essentially citrus fruits or oranges.

The next stop was Dongmun Market, where locals get their fresh produce and catch.
Dongmun market is also an attraction for tourists, as some stalls were seen peddling Jeju souvenirs.
The pig head is definitely not a souvenir from Jeju.
Neither is this the iconic black pig of Jeju.
I would be easily misled into thinking that those were ginseng, but there is no way ginseng would be sold like this.
I cannot help but stop and admire the shiny "stainless steel-like armour" of this fish.
I understand from a Korean friend that these fishes are served as an iconic dish of Jeju.
I have absolutely no idea what this is?
Care to interpret?
One thing to do at any fresh market in Korea is to visit the kimchi stalls.
Look at the kimchi and variety of banchan available.
Don't be shy to ask the friendly Ahjumma to give you some samples before you decide to buy.
As this is just the first day of our trip, we did not want to lug all the kimchi around, which needed refrigeration.
That's a lot of spicy crab!
We have Chilli Crab in Singapore, they have their own chilli crab in Korea!
These local oranges are not cheap, but they look really beautiful and temptingly juicy!
Souvenir cute versions of Jeju's Stone Grandfathers.
I really loved how the colours pop out from the pictures out of the Nikon J1.
Taking a shot with disturbing the usual business is made easy with the J1, since the J1 utilizes an electronic shutter, which means the digital shutter sound can be turned off.
I would usually do that with my Panasonic Lumix LX-5 point-and-shoot, which is more discreet than my Nikon D90 and Olympus PEN E-P1.
Nikon J1 really scored the points here!

At an underground shopping mall in the city, I came across a Nature Republic shop.
Guess who is the celebrity model for Nature Republic?
Yes, Jang Guen Suk!!!!!

Traditional buildings bear a resemblance to that of traditional Chinese style.

Along the country roads of Jeju, it is not hard to spot free range cattle farms.
We happened to stop by one, while we were on our way to the "Mysterious Road".
Along the "Mysterious Road", there is this stretch where vehicles at neutral gear will roll uphill and gain decent speed.
Horses too? I got a feeling that they are bred for meat.
There is no way these horses are for racing!

We really had lots of fun at Gimnyeong Maze Park. The four of us split into two groups and took up a challenge to get to the exit. The losers buy ice cream for the winners.
On average, most people will take around 20-30 mins to get through this small maze, but me and LKM got to the exit within 10 mins, while CC and MT took around 30 mins to get there.
How did we do it?
The entrance and the exit are at the same place!
On second attempt, we never found the way out even with the route mapped out!

Manjanggul Cave gave us a chance to go under Jeju and see the the volcanic lava formations.
It was rather warm outside, but upon descending into the cave, the temperature fell to a chilly 15 degree celsius.
We were told that this temperature remains throughout any time and season.
There was no way to access all the way to the sea, so we stopped at this stalacmite formation.

Mr Kim brought us to lunch at this restaurant which seemed to be a tourist hotspot.
There were pictures of local celebrities, tourists and even famous foreign politicians.
By the time we got there, it was past lunch time, so we got the "special treatment" from the boss.
The girls giggled as the boss fed me and made us take a picture.
Stir-fried spicy black pig meat.
This green bean noodle dish seems to be a local specialty as well.
Leaving behind out initials behind!
Across Korea, all restaurants will have such a vending machine which dispenses a cup of coffee.
In Jeju, the coffee is free flow for dine-in customers, while in Seoul, it usually costs 100 KRW.

Trick Art Museum is a must visit in Jeju.
Inside this museum, you can have lots of fun with the camera while interacting with the wall paintings.
Most of the indoor shots here would have been shot by the Nikon J1, but was shot by Nikon D90.
The reason is that the Nikon J1 ran out of juice. If I have to find flaw with the J1, it will have to be battery life. Then again, one can easily carry a spare.
How about attempting to move the picture frame?
A 1-hand stand!
Mirror image?
Look who is bigger now!
Food on the platter!
There is so much fun you can have at the Trick Art Museum, so make sure you check this out, should you visit Jeju.

At Seopjikoki, where the the show "All In" was filmed.
If you visit here in the right season, you will be greeted by fields of Canola flowers.
Walking towards to "All In" house.
The "All In" house was originally built as a set for the 2003 Korean drama, but is now open to tourist.
Have you watched that series before?
We loved the green and little violet flowers here, that LKM could not resist a photo shoot.

Dinner on our first night at Jeju was a kimchi jjigae and stir-fried spicy octopus.

We got up really early to catch the sunrise at the Seongsan Illchulbong or Sunrising Peak.
Sunrise was early at 5:30 A.M., but still we were greeted by a bright sky before the sun could be seen.
A restaurant stood by the coast.
It serves the freshest catch from some of the lady divers.
Our morning snacks!
A stray cat spotted on one of the rock on the cliff.
Look at how clear the water is!
I was so tempted to take a sip out of it!
Finally, the sun rose!
I must say it did not wow me too much.
If you happen to be in Jeju at the right season, you will be able to embrace the beauty of its flora.
I still manage to see some wild flowers.
Although the telephoto zoom lens of the Nikon J1 was not really intended to be a macro lens, you can still take decent close-ups with it.
We just had to check out if the Ahjumma serves something that we wanted.
Fresh abalone porridge is a must-have in Jeju.
There is not better to have them than at the shores.
LKM and myself decided to take up the challenge of trying out fresh abalone and sea cucumber.
I wasn't expecting both to be rather tough to chew, 
After breakfast, it was time to pose for photos by the lovely coast.
The three ladies are mad to go barefoot into the chilly cold water!

One nice feature of the Nikon 1 cameras is the capability to capture slow motion videos at above 400fps.
Though the resolution is nothing impressive, but the it can be really fun!
Check this out!
I threw this video into the Short Movie Maker that came with the Nikon 1, I managed to add music to it, but seems like I lost some frames.
Another slow motion video clip shot with Nikon 1.

The owner of our first accommodation kept two dogs.
I decided to call the brown one, Ah Wang!
It seemed to be attracted to LKM.

Dwen Jang Jigae and Kimchi Jjigae for part one of our lunch on Day 2.
This was only our 2nd kimchi jjigae, and MT was already complaining of overdose! Pfff!

These column-like formations are the result of sluggish volcanic lava formations.

Why was I not surprised that part of the reason of our visit to Jeju, was to visit the filming sites of Korean drama "Secret Garden".
In the Seaes Hotel & Resort, you can find the "Kiss Bench", where Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won discovered that they had exchanged identity and Ha Ji Won attempted to revert the process with a kiss.
If this was a hired service, I would definitely try it, despite being vertigo!
I shot this using the longest end of the telephoto kit lens on the Nikon J1.
The way the breakwater is constructed is indeed interesting.
Our second part of our lunch on Day 2.
We finally managed to order a haemul pajeon or seafood pancake.
Were we hungry or what?
We ordered a bibimbap.
and a beef stew, which was not too impressive.

The fatigue made what seemed like a short distance seemed like a long walk to Cheonjeyeon Falls.
We were eventually greeted by three water falls at Cheonjeyeon.
Do you believe that the water falls originated from here?
I love the clear blue color of the water.

In Jeju, there are so many museums of all sorts. They can even make an Eros/Sex museum, which I would love to visit, but my three ladies companions would rip my head off!
They have western influence here as well.
This is the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" building, which I first thought was a theme park.

We planned to visit the Teddy Bear Museum. I would normally not visit such museums, but I did learn something here! I did not know that Teddy Bears were created because of Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The Beatles.
The Thinker.
Unfortunately, I did not bring my polarizer, I had to deal with the reflections.
Here is Mona Lisa.

Meet Louis Vuitton Bear!
If you cannot tell who stands in the middle, you ought to be shot!
Diorama of a traditional Korean wedding procession.
Can you tell from the outfits, which is this Korean Drama based on?
Princess Hours!
Black bears fight back.
If you like the bears you see in the museum, there is a shop that sells some of the replicas.
Teddy Bears go outdoor!
Hey pal, are you in the wrong place?

By sundown, we finally made it to Lotte Hotel.
The reason we were there was for the "volcanic" show, but the main reason was for this, the Windmills.
These windmills are actually bars. Behind these windmills are the resort part of Lotte Hotel, where you get to stay in the "wild" such as a lovely treehouse.
This is where "Secret Garden" was filmed as well. This was the scene where Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) got invited by her oppa Oska (Yoon Sang Hyun) to Jeju, and Joo Won (Hyun Bin) crashes the fan meet. Then Oska saw Tae-Sun (Lee Jong-Suk) performing across the lake.

Our supper was spicy stir-fried chicken served on a big pan. 
The odd-looking fish is adored by locals as a soup dish to help clear hangovers.
Unfortunately, we were not too excited attempt this.

We visited the local market to have a glimpse of what the locals buy.
Ahjumma picks the finest oranges for us.
Bags of vegetables.
High-speed internet?
Pork trotters, anyone?
Or if you like what the locals love, pig cheeks.
You can have half a pig's face.
Paul! Is that you?
Another monstrous looking fish with its insides turned out!

It was Gimbap for breakfast.
I insisted on trying out this mung bean cold noodle, which turns out to be really nice!

Jeongbang Waterfalls may be just another water fall, but I really loved it here!
It was really bright, I opened up the aperture and hope to get a silky waterfall, but did not really work too well.
It would be nice if the Nikon J1 had a built-in ND filter, like those in Canon Powershot G series.
I attempted to shoot a video here on the Nikon J1.
I love the way this video came out in 400fps.
Here is the waterfall in its Full HD glory shot on Nikon J1.

If you do visit O'sulloc Tea Museum, you must try out the green tea latte at their nice cafeteria.
While enjoying your green tea beverage and cakes, you can do a little shopping too.
There are plenty of tea available and green tea skincare products.
 We were greeted by school girls on excursion.
 The green tea fields make perfect photo shoots.
I shot this using the Nikon J1 with the telephoto kit lens.
 As I had previously commented, the Nikon J1 telephoto lens takes quite decent close-ups.
 Another shot made with the Nikon J1 telephoto lens.
Don't you just love how the J1 delivers the punchy colours?
  Let's plank!

 A bird's eye view of the green tea fields of O'Sulloc Green Tea Museum.

 By the third day, we had already tried the popular Korean dishes.
But still the ladies were keen to try out the fried fish.

We managed to ask the concierge at our accomodation for some recommendations to visit on our last evening in Jeju.
Thankfully, he spoke fluent English and he recommended us to take a walk along the coast.
I attempted to just bring out the Nikon J1 without a tripod.
I would normally not do that with other compact cameras, but I believe the Nikon J1 is capable of deliver nice handheld shots with its clean images even at high ISO.
I was right! If you are planning to get a compact mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, you have to choose Nikon 1! Impressive performance in low-light, spectacular performance in the day!
 The lonely man who waits for his fish in the misty evening.
The Three Stooges!
 It was slightly drizzling which made the whole scene looked foggy.
If I am not wrong, this used to be a bunker for defending the shores. 
 Notice the colored lights on the shore?

The next day, we flew to our next destination, Seoul, on a cute airline.

Do keep a look out for the next post where I will share photos from Seoul!
UPDATED: Korea Trip 2012 ~ Seoul
Once again, special thanks to Nikon Singapore for sponsoring the Nikon J1.

Photos shot using Nikon D90 with Tamron 18-270mm VC 
and Nikon J1 with 10-30mm and 30-300mm.
©William Tan 2012

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