Hiking Up Jeju’s Island Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) – A UNESCO World Heritage Site8 September, 2014
No trip to Jeju island is complete without a hike up to the Sunrise Peak or as the Koreans call it – Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산일출봉). Some of you might be thinking “huh climb mountain ah!” – yes that’s what I felt too, I hate hiking trails, mountain climbing trips etc. Hiking up the Taktsang Monastery (or Tiger’s Nest) in Paro, Bhutan almost “killed” me despite having a horse to lug me up that trail!
Hiking up Seongsan Ilchulbong was surprisingly quite manageable though – theoretically, it takes 20 minutes to walk up the Sunrise Peak trail – which is possible if you do it without resting. We took about 40 minutes to walk up which is not that bad – considering that we rested at a few stops along the trail. The trail is well marked and well maintained – there are proper steps along the trail so you won’t be negotiating muddy, rocky paths.
There are two hiking trails to reach the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong as shown in the map below. Take the white path uphill and the orange path downhill – just follow the crowd and signages along the trail. If you are driving to Seongsan Ilchulbong, the Korean GPS coordinates (by phone number) to input is 7830959 or 7107923 – For more info, see: http://www.passportchop.com/asia/south-korea/jeju-self-drive-holiday-itinerary-4d3n
The Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak adult and children entrance fee is 2000 Korean won and 1000 Korean won respectively.
Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak Opening hours: From 1 hour before sunrise until 20:00 (winter) and 21:00 (summer). Closed during inclement weather.
So what’s the big deal with Seongsan Ilchulbong. The picture below shows what it looks like from the top. This Seongsan Ilchulbong crater was formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions about 5,000 years ago. This volcanic cone is 600-meters wide and 90 meters tall. Its crater is lined with 99 rocky spires that resemble a crown. It was also recently named in 2011 as one of the seven wonders of nature in the world. This perhaps explains why you will find busloads of tourists around the carpark waiting to go up Seongsan Ilchulbong.
“Seongsan Ilchulbong from the air” by Korea.net
At various forums e.g. Tripadvisor, the common advice was to bring along jackets or pullovers as it gets colder and windy as you walk uphill. I guess this advice is applicable if you intend to catch the sunrise at Sunrise Peak (in the early wee hours of 4-5am) or during winter periods. We visited Seongsan Ilchulbong in May (late spring) at around 11am – the jackets were more of a hindrance as it was quite hot and it didn’t help that we sweated a lot on the climb up Seongsan Ilchulbong. I recommend that you still check the weather forecast for the day – if it is a windy or rainy day, jackets might help.
We took the obligatory photo with a marker saying what’s behind us is Seongsan Ilchulbong and how it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The first part of the hike up Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) is the easiest and least steep. I strongly recommend wearing covered sports shoes for the Seongsan Ilchulbong hike as there are slightly rocky/bumpy pathways as can be seen in the picture below.
The rest of the path uphill to Seongsan Ilchulbong comprises steps of varying steepness as shown in the picture below.
The final stretch of the hike up the Sunrise Peak gets very steep – there wasn’t a lot of railings along the trail so bring along walking sticks (those extendable ones) if you need to. Bring along filled water bottles to hydrate yourself during the tiring climb up the Seongsan Ilchulbong – there was only one shop selling water and snacks along the trail. Unlike other popular attractions around the world, here there weren’t any touts along the hike selling you trinkets, snacks and water – making this climb up the Sunrise Peak quite a pleasant one.
There are benches and pavilions along the hiking trail up to Seongsan Ilchulbong for hikers to rest. Toilets are also available along the way should you need to use it. However we strongly recommend using the toilets at the bottom of the Seongsan Ilchulbong as the toilets may get quite crowded with limited cubicles.
While the main goal of this hike is to reach the top i.e. the Sunrise Peak, do remember to look back at the scenery behind you. At different vintage points along the trail, the view differs. In our opinion, the best view was when we were three-quarters uphill to Seongsan Ilchulbong at one of the many rest-stop pavilions along the trail. From there, you are able to view the beautiful Jeju island from afar as shown in the next few photos.
This is one of the moments where I would really appreciate Transitions Signature lenses so I can check out the beautiful landscape of Jeju Island from this Seongsan Ilchulbong vantage point – wearing just clear lens glasses didn’t help as at this altitude at around 12 noon, the sunlight was quite glaring. My sunglasses were not the prescription type so my view of Jeju Island then was not perfect – I can only appreciate the “wow” of the amazing landscape view by reviewing the photos below.
After about 40 minutes of walking and stopping to catch a breath, we finally reached the top of the peak!! Of course, we had to pose with the signage saying that we were at the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) as proof of our achievement for the day!
As the name suggests, Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) is the best place to see the morning sunrise over the sea. This explains the platform seats built on one end of the crater of Seongsan Ilchulbong. Seongsan Ilchulbong is about an hour to one and a half hour drive from Jeju city or Seogwipo city. So to be in time to catch the sunrise, you will need to wake up as early as 3am to make the drive here and then hike up the Seongsan Ilchulbong trail!
As we were too lazy to wake up before sunrise, we did not witness this magnificent sunrise view at Seongsan Ilchulbong. Nonetheless, we could only imagine how our reaction would be like while watching the sun rising over Seongsan Ilchulbong. J
The downhill walk was a much easier task – there are wooden stairs meandering its way down Seongsan Ilchulbong.
If time permits, you could also catch the Jeju Woman Diver (Haenyo) in action on your way down from Seongsan Ilchulbong. The Seongsan Ilchulbong Jeju Woman Divers (Haenyo) perform at two timings – 1.30pm and 3pm. There is a separate trail that leads down to where the action is – you will basically the woman divers disappear into the sea (diving) and coming up with some fresh catch e.g. abalone, octopus or crabs. They will then try to sell you their catch – I didn’t see how they do it there but I wouldn’t be surprised if they prepare fresh sashimi from their catch down there like what we saw at the Jeongbang waterfall in Seogwipo, Jeju.
Here, my dad is having lots of fun at this Seongsan Ilchulbong trail – especially since he is wearing his Transitions lenses – the bright sunlight glare didn’t bother him at all. Seeing him being very comfortable with his Transitions lenses is one of the reason I have gotten for myself a pair of spectacles with Transitions Signature lenses.
Especially for such uphill hikes – carrying both spectacles and sunglasses out was quite a hassle. With Transitions Signature lenses, I will just have to wear my spectacles and I am good to go! Since Transitions had tested their Transitions Signature lenses in more than 200 different real-life conditions in 1000+ scenarios representing various temperatures, weather conditions and geographies, I am quite certain that my Transition Signature lenses will work well be it on top of Seongsan Ilchulbong or having fun playing with optical illusions indoors at Jeju Alive Museum. Find out more about Transitions Signature on their website: http://www.transitions.com/en-sg/products/transitions-signature