Jeju Lava Tubes, Or Sign Karma

It’s fair to say that during my vacation to Jeju Island, there were times when I wasn’t in the best of moods.

Crowds of Chinese tourists blocking steep, steep stairs and acting like morons around precarious barriers that were the only things buffering everyone from the crashy waves below. Having to hike up South Korea’s highest peak, despite my ridiculous fear of heights. Being dragged around a flower garden and having my non-existent botanical knowledge put to the test.

OK, so I actually really loved the last one.

It was my first family vacation (I went with Gil Dong’s parents and sister) since I was 18 years old and, having become used to travelling independently, I’d forgotten a lot of what family travel entailed. Namely, that sometimes I would have to relent and do things that other people wanted to do. It wasn’t just my vacation.

On our second to last day, Gil Dong’s parents wanted to go to Sunrise Peak. The key word here is “peak”. Having driven past it the day before, I flat out refused to go and told Gil Dong that if they went, they could pick me up later because I was not doing anything related to heights again. We hadn’t done anything else I’d wanted to do – namely the Teddybear Museum and the beaches (the weather sucked) – and I wanted a say in something.

After much pouting, I finally got my own way and felt a little triumphant. It was like when I was younger and always convinced my mum and grandparents to go to Paignton Zoo for the sixth year in a row.

So where did I want to go? The Jeju lava tubes, which are located in some massive, massive caves.

Brought to you by volcanoes.

If you know me, you may be quite surprised that I’m actually really into caves, given my general apathy for nature and most things outdoorsy. When I was younger, I was a huge dinosaur geek and anything prehistoric and ancient, well, I’m really into that. So, caves? Well, they seem pretty prehistoric to me.

I don’t need any geologists spoiling my fun so if I’m wrong, just point and laugh at the computer screen, please.

After talking Gil Dong’s mother out of wanting to go on a boat cruise in the rain (and then on a submarine journey), we hopped in the car and headed to the Jeju lava tubes, which are called 만장굴 (manjanggul) in Korean.

I’m still not exactly sure what a lava tube is, but I can tell you that they involve lava and tube shaped things.

The Jeju lava tubes are a UNESCO world heritage site, and they stretch for over seven kilometres, and are apparently home to numerous creatures including a colony of bats, and the Jeju cave spider, which fortunately I didn’t encounter.

Yes, as well as having vertigo, I’m also a serious arachnophobe.


Hopping out of the car, we paid our entrance fee, which was 2000 won (roughly $2 per person) and made our way to the stairs leading deep, deep down below. I also laughed at the sign below. This would come back to bite me on the behind later.

I laughed out loud at the fourth one. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t.

It was pouring with rain so the descent into the caves was slow going but once inside, I found myself alternating between hyperactive rock hopping and puddle dodging, and just standing open-mouthed at the beauty of the lava tubes on the cave walls, wondering how long they must have taken to form, with Gil Dong’s mother snapping at us to hurry up.

We walked for one kilometre through the caves, taking photos along the way, and posed at the end for the obligatory photograph. The air was chilly and Gil Dong and his family were getting cold, but luckily my natural layering (read: immense body hair) kept me warm the whole time, despite occasionally having cold water assaulting the back of my neck courtesy of the stalactites above.

Inside Jeju lava tubes
In Korea, cave light is naturally purple, what are you talking about?

While posing at the end, it hit me.

My stomach made a churning noise, and my western digestive system seemed to remember that I’d consumed a lot of very spicy fish stew the night before. Rather than trying to live in harmony, my body decided to reject the multiculturalism brewing in my bowels and made a series of alarming sounds.

I wish I could have climbed up and out of here but alas, I’m not a marmoset. They climb, right?

It was over one kilometre to the exit along uneven rocks. I whispered to Gil Dong,

“Babe, I think I’m going to shit myself,”

before starting a demented march out of the caves. I wonder if the karma gods were playing a trick on me for laughing at the, “no toilets in the cave” sign before and I certainly regretted it – and then cursed the Jeju tourism authority for not having installed any kind of port-a-potty among the lava tubes.

This rock that looks like a giant cowpat was put there to test me.

You have no idea how much more difficult walking along hard, uneven surfaces is when you need the bathroom – every step was making my butt muscles jiggle and I started praying for there to be an automatic walkway. I’m just surprised that I didn’t unleash holy brown hell on the stones beneath me.

After a mad dash and sprinting up the steps photo bombing some very bemused looking American tourists, I found the toilets and, well, let’s just say that I left feeling several kilograms lighter than before and ceased using the words, “shit”, “crap” and “my pants” quite so much.

Keep the streaks on my wall and out of my pants.

So remember, the next time you’re marvelling at some natural beauty like the Jeju lava tubes and you see a sign and think to yourself, “well, DUH!” and chortle to yourself, you should check yourself because you never know what tricks your body and nature are going to play on you.

And NEVER laugh at a sign that has implications for your bowels. It’s there for a reason.

So there you have it, folks! Now I want to hear from you! Has your body ever caught you off guard at an inappropriate time while travelling? Do you enjoy exploring caves? Has a sign ever taken its revenge on you? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out on Facebook or Twitter.

2 Responses to Jeju Lava Tubes, Or Sign Karma

  1. Pingback: My Top 10 Bodily Discharge Moments From Around The World! - Waegook Tom

  2. Pingback: Don't Date Me Because I Travel. Seriously, You'll Be Disappointed. - Waegook Tom

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