Joy in Jeju: Manjanggul

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I woke up the next morning ready to go out and have my first adventure on the island. Jeju offers many varieties of things to see and do, and it is as if every part of the island has something on the map. You can choose from kitschy museums like the "Trick Art Museum" or the "Chocolate Museum", but I steered more towards the natural wonders of the island, since I feel this is what made Jeju a unique place to visit. One of these special natural artifacts are lava caves, especially the Manjanggul site.

I will get into the details later, but know that I was very excited for this as I have never been inside a lava-tube cave.

We started the journey crossing the bridge over into the next town to catch the bus.

We quickly learned that the buses on Jeju run a bit slower than their Seoul counterparts. Also, the bus schedule at the stop's shelter was a bit hard to figure out. There were numbers and a stop list, but when buses passed us by they lacked the matching number. Instead there were signs on the bus in Korean, and so I just read that to figure it out.

I didn't mind waiting for the bus, since it gave me time to rest and think about life and all that stuff. As we sat there a taxi drove up and asked us where we were going, and offered to give us a ride for 6,000 won. We declined, even though it was already an hour since we were there. The bus finally arrived and we were taken up to the Northeastern corner of the island where we found ourselves in front of the street entrance to the cave park.

We had some company, one Korean tourist and two gals from Malaysia. There was a bus that would take us up the road to the park, but they seemed to think it would be a short walk and so we followed them. The walk took about 35 minutes and many people in their rental cars passed us, but I actually enjoyed this part of the day.

I enjoyed it because we walked past farmland and a forest, and since living in Seoul I can't recall the last time I did that in Korea. On the walk we went past the Maze park.

Finally, we made it to the Manjanggul cave park, had a bite to eat and then headed towards the cave entrance.
Before I take you down into the cave let me tell you a little information and history about the site.

Scientific Background:
  • Formed around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago due to lava flowing and forming tunnels. Keep in mind that this volcanic structure was formed underwater.
  • It's unique because it has a high ceiling, which is rare amongst lava tubes. 
  • Inside you can see different geological formations unique to lava tube caves. Such as as a lava raft, flow lines and stalactites.
  • The length of the cave is 8km long or about 5 miles, but they only allow you to walk 1km of it's passage. 
Historical Background:
  • Actually I have no information on the historical background of this lave tube cave. But I am very curious to know how the ancient people of Jeju island regarded this place. Did they think it as sacred or an auspicious place? I had a lot of questions like these at the site, but found very little information. 
As you can see the Manjanggul already sounds like an interesting place to visit, and definitely one worth putting on a check-list of places to go on the island. Did it live up to these expectations of fun and mystery? Let's see!

Exploring the Cave:
First of all remember that this is a tourist attraction and that you aren't going to be exploring this cave by yourself, but instead with hundreds of other curious folks. With that said you begin your descent into the cave making your way down some stone stairs making sure not to bump elbows with other people stopping in the middle to take photos. 

As you get lower and lower into the cave the air instantly turns cooler, which is said to be at 11 - 21 C or about 50 - 60 F. But given that the outside temperature was hot and humid this contrast definitely hits you and is quite refreshing. 

Immediately, you also realize that taking photos are going to be a challenge and it took me a while to figure out the best setting for it.

Once your fully inside the cave you really do become awe-struck. It is dark all around you except for lights along the path, and sounds are echoing and deep. As you meander, cold drops fall from the ceiling and don't mind splattering on your head or camera. 

Underneath you the path is not flat and smooth and on occasion you find yourself avoiding puddles of cold water. The people around you have their head up high looking at the ceiling and remarking on  its massive scale. 

Traveling through the cave you pass certain areas that are specially lit up to show certain features such as formations in the ceiling or flow lines along the wall.

I have to say I was very impressed with this cave and found myself enjoying taking photos and admiring the geology and structure. Indeed, this was a natural wonder that you knew formed a long time ago and in that regards it felt special to be walking through it.

I started to play around with long exposures on my camera...

The one above has me "floating" through it.

However, the longer I mingled through the cave stopping to take photos and experiment with the light the more I began to feel colder. The temperature dropped more as you got deeper into the cave, and my shirt and skirt didn't provide much cover.

Maybe the cold was getting to me as I found myself having fun taking long-exposure pictures of the lights.

But then the end of the cave approaches and you know it's time to go back.

The end of the tube is greeted by a fanciful lit up lava column, where everyone crams around to get their picture taken in front of it.
The journey back to exit the cave was swift as we were both too cold. Once out of the cave the warmth and humidity outside had us sweating, but certainly the chill of the cave felt good on my body. 

If you are going to Jeju I would highly recommend visiting the Manjanggul site, even though it is full of tourists. You still get to have your own unique experience and also can tell people you walked through a lava-tube, which I think is quite special. If you go bring along something with long sleeves just in case the coolness gets to you.


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