The Beginning of Jeju Olle

In March, my friend Alena and I walked routes 1-20 of the Jeju Olle trails of South Korea. During our walk, I wrote period email updates for some friends and family…

(part 1 of 6, written Saturday, March 24th) 

part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Olly Olly Oxen Free!

Just kidding, that’s a terrible joke.
But I’m currently on Jeju Island in South Korea, walking the Olle Trail with my college friend and former China coworker, Alena!

Thursday, March 2

On Thursday I flew from Shanghai to Jeju, and met up with Alena at Ganse Lounge (ganse means slow or lazy in the Jeju dialect of Korean, which is how you are supposed to walk the trail. We are… sort of doing that) which is the official start of route 18.

Thursday we stayed in Jeju City and picked up some supplies (a water bottle for me, some granola bars and snacks for the walk.) Alena and I are traveling with very similar gear: we both have a 20L blue backpack which we each purchased separately from Decathlon stores in different cities in China; we both have the same puffy jacket from Uni Qlo, also purchased separately from separate cities in China; and we have the same little white case for our tiny first aid kits, origins unknown.

Friday, March 3

The true start of our adventure!

Friday morning we left at 8am and returned to Ganse Lounge to begin walking along Route 18. We managed to lose sight of the orange and blue ribbons/arrows that mark the trail within the first five minutes, in the middle of a largely empty market in Jeju City. Luckily, Route 18 just follows the coastline, and we have both a guidebook and passport books with maps of each route. The passport books are meant to be stamped at the beginning, middle, and end of each route, and include the major landmarks. Since we were lost, we just headed towards the first landmark, where we were able to pick up the trail again, and learned the value of having eagle eyes. (We’ve managed to lose ourselves a few times since then, but never for every long!)

Jeju is a really beautiful island. Blue seas, blue skies (or at least, we’ve been lucky enough to have them!), and very nice people who generally always greet us with a “Hello” (in Korean). In the middle of Route 18, when we were stopping to stamp our passport books, an old Korean man tried to tell us something about chicken. This is when Alena and I learned that hand gestures are not universal. Since he kept saying “chicken” (in English) we assumed he was talking about food, but the hand gestures he was making looked more like he was trying to stuff a pipe and smoke it.

We left a little baffled.

Later that day we stopped by a really small dumplings and kimbap stand (dumplings and korean-style sushi). We ordered kimbap and kimchi dumplings, but as generally happens in Korea – or maybe we looked extra pathetic – we were given a lot of extra side dishes: kimchi, pickled radish, soup, and a cold noodle thing. I freaking love Korean food.

That night, Alena and I made it to an adorable hostel owned by a Korean man who had lived in China for over 10 years. He helped us get a ride into Ham Deok beach, where we had dinner.

Let me tell you something about Korean fried chicken (henceforth known as KFC): KFC is the best fried chicken in possibly the entire world. I apologize to the American south, but KFC is not joking around. Alena and I ordered a seafood soup and a basket of chicken, stared at the incredible amount of food, and told ourselves we’d save the leftovers for breakfast.

Huge joke. There were no leftovers.

step count: 43,251 steps (thanks fitbit!)
casualties: my poor $4 water bottle, which managed to last a magnificent 3 hours. then it broke when dropped against a bathroom floor. RIP.

Saturday, March 4

On Saturday morning, we slept in a wee later than Friday, ate toast with a whole lotta peanut butter on it, and then headed out to begin Route 19. Route 19 took us back to Ham Deok beach, then up to a beautiful vista where we saw a both a man and a horse peeing off to the side of a trail (they were both very well hydrated creatures.)

The Jeju Olle trail basically circles the entire island, and it’s a mix of ocean views (lots of that), some forests/woodsy areas, a little bit of highway, and strolling through towns with the WEIRDEST and least matching architecture. It was great. Route 19 is known for having a variety of the sights that Olle is known for, including a windmill farm in the middle of the woods, where we also saw a bunch of goats, a town with a ton of cats, and a town with a ton of dogs.

However, in the wise words of Alena: “Wifi is more available than food on Route 19.”

By the time we got to the end of Route 19 (we planned to walk a little ways into Route 20, because like food, accommodations were a bit better and a bit cheaper about 6km into route 20) – we were incredibly hungry. On Google Maps, which for some inexplicable reason is incapable of giving directions by car, foot, or bike (but apparently it knows buses… 55% most of the time), we managed to find a couple of food options within 1km of Route 19’s end.

It was a long less-than-1km, and according to Alena’s wifi-less GPS/map app, we were just a little ways off from the food and/or convenience store with food options when I saw an “OPEN” sign.


I pressed my nose against the glass door – and lo and behold, it was a restaurant run by a man we will now call Five Star Chef Guy. Five Star Chef Guy barely spoke any English, but at the end of our meal we complimented him so much he told us he used to work in a five star hotel.

Why were we an endless fount of compliments? Easy.

We had no idea what to order, so FSCG recommended a seaweed rice which came with either spicy pork, soy sauce pork, or some other thing. We chose spicy pork. The traditional Korean side dishes came out (pickled vegetables and things).

Then a small nut salad with a chili sauce came out. Then a fried oyster salad with a chili sauce and some kind of marmalade or something (I honestly do not remember much beyond WHOA, yes, more please) came out. Then an octopus salad with another A++ dressing came out. Alena and I became very confused as to what we had actually ordered. We did not have time to process this confusion, because a soybean paste soup came out too, and we were far too busy eating.

Finally (and by finally, I mean about 8-10 minutes after we sat down?) one of the things we did order arrived – a cookie sheet topped with bean sprouts and pork on top of a gas stove. FSCG mixed it all up for us as it heated up and cooked on over the gas stove. Then he brought out the other thing we had actually ordered, the seaweed rice, which came in a hot stone bowl. After FSCG scooped out the rice and poured water into the hot stone bowl, it doubled as a really good seaweed rice soup.

before: the salad salad and the fried oyster salad – the relieved/ecstatic face of someone very excited to eat


after: me, unable to handle my contentment at the end our meal

Alena and I wondered if there was some kind of drug in the food, because we both felt very lightheaded and incredibly giggly and happy. After stumbling out of the magical land called a late lunch, we made it the next 7km to Woljeong beach, where we planned to find a guest house of some sort.

In the 7km, we were reminded of how artsy Jeju is: during our walk, we had come across countless murals of different things all over walls and water towers, and in the last 7km of the day, we also saw some really cool wire sculpture things.

one of the many, many murals on the walls of buildings all over Jeju.


A tribute to the women divers of Jeju island, who spend their the majority of their lives diving 15-20 and sometimes up to 70ft into the water for abalone and other seafood. Jeju women divers are a huge part of Jeju island’s culture, and the coastline is filled with tributes to their importance to Jeju. Alena and I have seen many, many women divers swimming, diving, carrying their catches in, warming themselves over fires, and getting driven home by their menfolk. 

Finally, at the end of the day, we dropped into literally the first guesthouse we saw and called it a day, since we were way too tired to go any further.

step count: 39,522 steps
casualties: my small fat hobbit feet, which are now home to a handful of water blisters. I am now also the owner of some safety pins and sanitizer, so we’ll see who wins tomorrow morning – my blisters, or my WebMD blister lancing techniques.

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A 60-year-old cat lady disguised as a 25-year-old digital nomad.

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