Archive for the ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ Category

The Volcanic Island of Jeju (Part 3)

South Korea > Jeju

August 2013

Okay, before we leave Seongsan Ilchulbong for good, a Leap of Approval!

We are soon on our way to the 3rd and final location inscribed by the UNESCO World Heritage Site — the lava caves of Manjanggul.

It’s officially called ‘lava tube’ here, but the terms ‘cave’ and ‘tube’ are synonymous. Caves are really big tubes, after all.

Let me try to explain. Several hundreds of thousands of years ago, lava flowed out of the huge magma chambers underneath present-day Jeju Island — some entered caves to flow like thick liquid in a pipe. The Manjanggul lava cave or tube is the remnant of such a cave.

Manjanggul cave is many kilometers long, but only a 1-km stretch is open to the public. So the idea is to walk 1km to the end, make a U-turn and return to the entrance — a total of 2km.

Entrance is a hole in the ground (see diagram above) and we gingerly descend two sets of staircases into a dark and, surprisingly, cool and less-humid environment. It’s like being thrust into a dungeon with climate control in place. It is a truly pleasant surprise as the surface has been hot and humid.

Imagine if you will, red hot lava flowing through this way, possibly up to 1,200°C. Truly terrifying.

As it flowed, it left marks on the walls of the cave. The floor is obviously left-over stagnant lava which had solidified into some igneous rock, most likely basalt in this case — very hard stuff. Walking can be treacherous, so if you plan to visit, please wear appropriate footwear.

On the sides I notice these somewhat parallel lines.

Here it is very prominent.

It turns out these are lava flow-lines. At various times, the lava flowed at a certain height and this was marked on the wall. The many lines indicate the levels fluctuated, and this case continually receding lava levels.

And the floor … lava rock everywhere. Can get slippery and there are sharp edges too, so wear proper shoes. Thongs or slippers a no-no.

When extremely hot lava flowed through a cave, there’s a whole lot of interesting geology to explore, such as these little ‘stalactites’.

The hot temperature of the lava sometimes caused the roof and sides of the cave to melt, and the molten goo dripped down, to form these rock stalactites.

Of course the stalactites could form lava stalagmites on the cave floor … just like in limestone caves, except that here they are sharp hard rocks.

This is a huge passage with the usual markings on the walls … just imagine the amount of red lava which flowed through it. This high-ceiling feature is called the ‘cupola’.

Very spectacular indeed … some say this is the best lava cave in the world which is open to the public. I’m suitably impressed, and I’m not an easy person to impress.

In some sections, there are rockfalls, obviously from after the lava had stopped flowing. Otherwise they would have been swept away by the lava river.

Again the rough lava rock walkway which is sometimes hard on the ankle. So please be very careful if you come here.

Solidified lava from hundreds of thousands of years ago. Amazing stuff!

Here’s more rockfall, and a safe boardwalk for us to amble past has been built.

Now this is a real tube! See the lava markings on the sides.

Funny that the lava rock floor looks like a makeshift cement road.

This is Turtle Rock, which has become an icon of Manjanggul Lava Cave. It was actually a lava raft — a blob of lava from another tube above this one, which had dropped onto the flowing lava here and floated, whence the term ‘raft’. In the Turtle Rock’s case, it settled down at this spot as the lava flow slowed down, but some minor lava slow still caused the flowline marks on its sides.

These are not lava flowlines, but lava shelves. There were formed when hot lava met less hot walls, and solidified. Depending on their shapes, they can be called lava balconies or lava benches. Great geology!

More lava shelves along the way.

These are not elephant dungs, but lava which dropped here from another tube above.  They are called lava toes.

Another stretch of the cave with very nicely-done metal boardwalk.

Hmmm … a mixture of lava flowlines and lava shelves? The vertical lines are actually lava flowstones — molten bits of the walls and ceiling which drips down the sides.

Now I can see the end of the passage — we are 1km from the entrance, and after 30min of very interesting stroll in the darkness of the cool and damp cave.

What a way to end the show — a 7.6m lava column said to be the biggest in the world!

Time to make a U-turn and return to the cave entrance, but I love these lighted World Heritage Site logos lining the handrails of the boardwalk. Very nice touch indeed!

Another blob of lava which dropped from a tube above this one. These fallen lavas really look like piles of dung.

The stroll back to the entrance is like a rerun of an excellent NatGeo documentary.

Looks like exposed roof — maybe the rockfall happened when lava was still flowing, thus no debris is in sight.

Back to the surface and the heat and humidity hit us hard — but a very educational 2km walk done in an hour. Thoroughly recommended even if you hate geology or geography, or school.

Time to recharge some missing key ions. In this heat and humidity, rejuvenate yourself with this stuff — normal mineral water just doesn’t cut it.

Some 20min later we are back in Jeju City.

And yes, the ubiquitous black lava rock at the beaches. We know what it had been up to!



The Volcanic Island of Jeju (Part 2)

South Korea > Jeju

August 2013

Our next destination, the Seongsam Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak, is location #2 in the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription for Jeju Island.

It’s located at the far eastern tip of the island, near the town of Seongsan.

Looks somewhat formidable at the entrance, it’s not going to be a trivial climb especially in this weather.

It’s late summer, but the heat and humidity are still significant, so we go to the plaza area to grab some isotonic drink and stock up the chocolates. Quite a bit of breast-beating display here but I don’t blame them.

The plaques are well-displayed, and I need my model here, for the UNESCO World Heritage Site logo, the most prestigious of them all.

Time to ascend — it’s hot and sticky but the ever-present breeze is god-send.

The path is well-constructed and we are indeed in a park. Even your baby can go for a climb.

There’s a fork, where descenders would turn right for another attraction just beyond the grassy knoll. We will go there later.

Some way up and we find a nicely done rest area. There’s another one up the hill, so overall it gives us a feeling of a stroll in the park.

A bit of geology, most welcomed.

The steps are even and wide here, but they get narrower and steeper as we near the top.

A glance back at the town of Seongsan, with the unique volcanic rocks described above framing the view.

Looking at the lagoon towards the south.

The tourist centre, with the plaza, is at the bottom, and a huge car park for visitors.

As we get higher, the view gets better. Interesting chain of hills in the distance.

Another geology lesson. ‘Five thousand years’ is not a long period, there were already advanced civilisations in Anatolia, for instance. Hardly a blink in geological term. But the whole thing rose from the ocean floor more than a hundred thousand years ago, also hardly a blink really.

Our uphill stroll looks to be nearing the end, some 20min after leaving the entrance below. Quite a pleasant climb — the breeze helps a lot.

Stepping over the rocky ledge and … WOW!

There are already spectators here, soaking in the splendid view and enjoying the gentle sea breeze.

An attempt at a panorama, which is not too shabby. You can see the crater shape of this majestic hilltop. It’s about 90m down to the  middle of this huge bowl.

I also take separate pics … the left …

… the middle …

… and the right.

How does a tree end up here?

Another two more! Note the jagged rocks at the crater rim, there are 99 of them, or so they claim.

Awesome graphics, though the explanation needs polishing up.

And here it is, the summit of Seongsan Ilchulbong, all 180m of it.

The view from up here is to die for! Worth every step of the climb, no kidding.

What a landscape,  sculpted by volcanic activities over hundreds of thousands of years. You know how puny and weak you are when you see something like this before you.

Far away, wind turbines work tirelessly. This wind farm must be the one we saw from Seongeup Folk Village earlier today.

We spend some time up here, watching people as well.

Every traveler should perfect the art of people-watching. It’s a good time-waster.

Well, one final education while people-watching. Again I think the text is rather techie for most people.

Great view of the bowl shape of the top of the hill-top. I’m somewhat impressed.

Time to get down after 20min up here. We have another destination to visit.

Just a bit more than 10min to get down, half the time taken to climb. I look back at the hill in all its black volcanic glory.

Ahead, people move like ants along the fixed pathways — there seem to be something interesting to the right …

It’s a cove, but why are there people down there? By the way this spot looks vaguely familiar. Where have I seen it?

Intense activities as boats come and go.

Then I spot the huge signpost on the roof — ” … Women Divers”. Now it clicks — this is the place where the traditional women divers of Jeju work! I have seen it on telly.

The ‘Mermaids of Jeju’ risk their lives doing deep dives to catch seafood to earn a living, while their menfolk sit idle somewhere. CNN does a good story on them — please CLICK HERE to read.

From the side, the Seongsam Ilchulbong looks fierce, especially with it’s black volcanic cliffs.

Good visit, not before I snap this grand UNESCO World Heritage Site hoo-haa, they are justifiably proud of the prestigious accolade!

Minutes later we are on the road again, heading for our third and final destination — the Manjanggul Lava Caves or Tubes.



The Volcanic Island of Jeju (Part 1)

South Korea > Jeju

August 2013

Jeju is an oft-quoted island, said to be of exceptional natural and cultural splendour, that virtually all Koreans are proud of it — so much so that the Seoul-Jeju air route is said to be the busiest in the world!

However what attracted us to Jeju is its UNESCO World Heritage Site listing and also its induction into the New Seven Wonders of Nature … but what really prompted us to visit Jeju was, while waiting to ascend the famed Table Mountain of Cape Town in a cable car a few months ago, we saw a poster of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, which showed, in addition to the Table Mountain: Amazon Rainforest, Iguazu Falls, Ha Long Bay, Puerto Princesa Underground River, Komodo Island … and Jeju Island! So now we have been to three of them: Ha Long Bay (2006), Table Mountain (2013), Jeju Island (2013). 

So where is this Jeju Island? For one thing it’s volcanic in origin, which gives it a rather unique but interesting geology.  We can imagine it as the peak of a huge extinct volcano which rose from the floor of the East China Sea millions of years ago. In the middle of the island, looking like a festering boil, are the peak and crater of Mt Halla, the highest mountain in South Korea at 1950m. In fact the whole island is covered with fertile black soil and hard lava rocks, and that’s why Jeju is one interesting spot.

The best way to move around Jeju is by car — either self-drive rental or a chauffeured one. We chose the latter, so that I can keep snapping pics.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site listing covers three locations: Mt Halla, Seongsam Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak and Manjanggul Lava Caves. Mt Halla entails a 4-hour hike to the top, so the next best thing is to visit this ancient crater within the Mt Halla complex. It’s called the Sangumburi Crater, and it’s just 17km northeast of the peak of Mt Halla.

Sangumburi is an ancient crater of an extinct volcano which last erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago. The problem with the displays here is the lack of geological information of the site, which is a big pity because that’s the most interesting bit.

Before the walk up the crater rim, serve yourself this pleasant spring water first.

The path up the crater rim is well laid and on a fine such as today’s, the view is breathtaking. As usual the peak of Mt Halla is hidden by the omnipresent clouds.

As we reach the rim, we can see a depression to the right, which is the crater proper.

And as always there’s a legend attached to something this grand.

A bit long-winded, but as legends go, this one is pretty much run-of-the-mill.

The deer statue, associated with the legend above, for  the hunters, though deer here is now totally protected.

The crater is surrounded by forested hills such as this one.

The crater is 130m deep while its circumference is slightly more than 2km. It is richly inhabited by local flora and fauna, some rarely found elsewhere, thus making this site a valuable living laboratory for scientists.

Peak ‘A’ below is Mt Halla, some 17km away, not so inspiring as far as mountains go. Fertile countryside this, thanks to the volcano ashes.

We stroll on the beautiful path along the rim, which incidentally is about 440m above sea level. Anything to the left is strictly protected.

Back at the entrance area, I find huge lava remnants on display.

These huge lava balls were ejected during a volcanic eruption, I’ve seen much smaller ones flying out of the active Anak Krakatau a couple of years ago. Very spectacular.

Strolling back to the main gate, it has been a wonderful morning walk. Thoroughly recommended for Jeju visitors.

I glance at this huge Jeju map, an island of plain shape but of extraordinary features — 70km left-right, 40km up-down, packed with 580,000 people, tourists extra. We are at the green patch just to the top-right of Mt Halla, which sits in the middle of the map. Our next stop is a folk village down the mountain, on the way to the coast.

After a quick drive through pastures, we arrive at Seongeup Folk Village, an open-air sort of display of  traditional houses of Jeju. Of course there’s a village wall and we just have to climb it.

Good respite from the weather for the guards on duty here.

Lots of lava rocks being used for construction — they are black and very hard. The wind turbines at the back sort of spoil the ambience, but what the heck.

I’m pretty sure there used to be an awesome moat here in the good old days.

The traditional houses of Jeju, design originating from many hundreds of years ago. No entrance fee, but some of the houses sell traditional stuff. You can go in, take a look, but no compulsion to buy anything.

They made full use of the lava rocks. Stacked them together, then sealed them with some sort of mortar or cement, to withstand the cold, wet and windy weather of Jeju.

And how could you miss this — the famous black pigs of Jeju, only found here.

Stinks like hell, but they say the meat is nutritious — of course I have no way of checking this out. Cute critters though.

Jeju is synonymous with these ‘grandfather’ figures, made from lava rocks. Only two types — one with right hand above the left (a learned grandfather), another with reverse positions (a simple grandfather). Note their mushroom-like ‘phallic’ hats — they are considered gods, placed at entrances for fertility and protection, and to ward off evil spirits. Heard this before, right?

In which case I better show this grandfather photo taken at Sangumburi just now. 🙂

Back in Seoungeup, this white fellow has become my walkabout friend. Again note the lava rocks used for the house.

The thatched roof, made of wild weeds, is very interesting indeed …

… especially the way the edges are knotted. I wonder if the black rope is a modern addition to the technology. Anyway it’s designed to withstand Jeju’s wet and windy climate.

Fertile soil is everywhere, thanks to the legacy of the volcanic ashes of yore.

We soon reach the open sea, and straight ahead across the East China Sea, just 230km away, the Japanese island of Kyushu. And of course the never-ending lava rocks. They go right into the sea, so the eruptions of Mt Halla ages ago must have been very violent.

A photogenic spot ideal for photography, as I keep admiring these volcanic rocks.

In the distance, our second query beckons — the Seongsam Ilchulbung Sunrise Peak, the second item in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.




Delightful Da Nang in Central Vietnam

Vietnam > Da Nang

October, 2012


Third largest city in Vietnam, Da Nang is surprisingly modern, vibrant, scenic and lively, despite its Vietnam War trauma. The former border between North and South is just north of Da Nang.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Ha Noi are opposites in characters and ambiences, but Da Nang is sort of in the middle (even by road, Da Nang is virtually midway between HCMC and Ha Noi). It is shaping up to become a resort city, with beautiful beaches, scenic rivers, rural ambience, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites around it.

Indeed a very pleasant place to be at, my favourite Vietnamese city no doubt.

Please view this slideshow of our October trip to Da Nang, in HD 720p preferably. Thanks!



Using Da Nang as a base, one can do site trips to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely:

> The Imperial City of Hue (please click HERE).

> Old Hoi An and My Son Temple Ruins (please click HERE).


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