Trekking the Taal Volcano [Tagatay, Philippines] – Get QiRanger Out There! #8


In this episode of Get QiRanger Out There! Jo and I head to Cavite, the Philippines. Specifically, the city of Tagatay. Why? Well, this prominent city is a very popular tourist destination – a result of its higher altitude, cooler climate, coffee, and iconic views of the Taal Volcano. This star attraction was the reason we traveled the hour south of Manila (55km/34mi).

Taal Volcano Tagatay Philippines

The Taal volcano has had over 30 eruptions through the years with increasing seismic activity since 1991 and considered one of 16 Decade Volcanoes in the world. Its caldera is near the middle of Taal Lake, one of the most picturesque locations in the Philippines. Some might think trekking this area, is dangerous, but with constant monitoring, it’s safe.

Taal Volcano Tagatay Philippines

After arriving in Tagatay, you’ll fist need to secure passage on a boat to cross Taal Lake to reach the trailhead. When you arrive near the lake area, there are scores of people ready to help you. There’s little worry about picking which one, since the boat prices are regulated. The fixed price for round-trip passage on a boat is 1500PP. It’s an easy ride and takes about 20 minutes.

Taal Volcano Tagatay Philippines

When you arrive on shore, leave your boat behind (don’t worry, it will be there when you get back). Head over to the Tourism Center to pay the fees: Environmental Fee (50pp PAX), Guide (500pp), and Landing Fee (paid upon departure: 50pp). At this point you also have the option of getting horses to make the ascent to the view area. This will run you an additional 450pp PAX.

The hike up is fairly easy, but dusty. Many opt to forgo the walk and ride the horses, which I think is a shame, since the walk it quite beautiful and you get a chance to see some of the sulfur vents. It takes less than an hour for most. Once at the top, you have an amazing view of the caldera lake. The sari-sari stores at the top that have several snacks, water, and of course, San Miguel.

There are additional trails on the island (like one that goes down to the lake), but it is at least twice as long as the more frequented trail.

So how much did this all run us?

Car and Driver: 700pp
Road Tolls: 350pp
Boat: 1500pp
Environmental Fees: 100pp
Guide: 500pp
Landing Fee: 50pp
Total: 3200pp or 71.03USD.

Not bad for a single, private excursion. Also, if you’re looking to make your time memorable, the main Starbucks sits on the ridge overlooking the Taal Lake and has some breathtaking views.

The Awesome Jeju Olle Trail Adventure – Get QiRanger Out There #6



Because of the high gain mic, engine, and typhoon, there’s a lot of audio popping in this video.

While in Jeju, Jo and I hiked Jeju Olle trail number 6. The views along the Jeju Olle Trail were amazing and the experience made a lasting impression on us. The following day, we embarked on a grand adventure – try to circle the island and hit all the Jeju Olle Cornerstones.

We failed.

jeju olle route

We did, however, manage to hit all the cornerstones from 6 through 11. It was an all day experience that really highlighted why the Jeju Olle trail is amazing.

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Our favorite place along the way was Yakcheonsa (also Yakchunsa). This temple is amazing. It’s the second largest temple compound in Korea and was something totally unexpected we found along the way.

yakchunsa jeju olle

I think what we really enjoyed about the journey was that it really made us think. The original plan was to hit the cornerstones and the midway markers. As I mention in the video, there are several places that didn’t register on the car’s GPS. This meant we had get creative to find the locations. What we usually did was type in a place near the marker and then follow the Jeju Olle Trail markers to where we needed to go. It worked out well, but we did get turned around a few times. All in all, it was an impressive day.

The Jeju Olle Trail – Steve Miller’s EYE #5 [Canon EOS C100]



The Jeju Olle Trail, Olle Gil, or simply the Jeju Olle (PDF map) is an amazing network of trails that completely encircle Jeju Island. The more than twenty legs have an average of 16km each, with a total distance covered of about 422km. The routes, while mostly coastal, do venture away from the beaches into small villages and towns, including one spur leg into Jeju International Airport.

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

This week on EYE, I’ve elected to hike trail 6, starting at the Seosekkak (쇠소깍) estuary and terminating at Oedolgae Rock (외돌개). The journey is about 15km and can be comfortably traversed in 5 hours.

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

Jeju is often known for its beauty, but on our hike a powerful typhoon was approaching, but that didn’t deter us from setting out on our journey. We weren’t alone in that regard as well, since many made their way to the beaches under the gray skies.

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

The way one makes their way along the Jeju Olle Trail is simple, look for the brightly tied blue and orange ribbons tied to trees or posts. There are also arrows painted and placed along the way. Blue arrows point in the forward (clockwise) direction, while the orange point in the reverse. Probably the most iconic trail markers (and symbol of the Jeju Olle Trail) are the gansae (간새) or “lazybone mules.” Simple head off in the direction they point.

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

I chose route six for a few reasons. First, it was predominantly along the sea, providing some stunning views. It also was rated as one of the easier trails, which I wanted to show, to hopefully inspire those at all fitness levels and abilities to step out and enjoy this networked system. Finally, I knew that towards the end, I’d be presented with one of my favorite views on Jeju – but more about that later.

It wasn’t long before we starting seeing some amazing sculptures and strange creatures. However, the crashing surf into the volcanic shoreline is what really captivated me, even under the dismal skies. It really made me jealous when we came across houses and restaurants. The views they must have on clear days must be fantastic!

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

Despite the wind and drizzle, we pushed on in the wind, smiles on our faces the entire way. Along the path we also saw a number of intricate webs, spun by large spiders. With the advancing winds, they seemed to dance, suspended mid-air. The blooming flowers were just as captivating.

Throughout our hike along the trail, nature graced us with periods of sunshine, which made the shoreline views even more spectacular. Even though they weren’t nearly long enough, the golden rays of light livened up the experience.

One of the more surprising things we came across on our Jeju Olle Trail was an archery range. It’s said that one must be calm when shooting, and I can’t think of a better place to relax.

The trail wound through several resort areas, some even included a waterfall. These were easily accessible by car, so it was common for us to see a few more people along the trail taking in the sights.

After being surrounded by nature for several kilometers, the trail ultimately took us into Seogwipo. It was a stark change to the environment we had been traveling in, but welcomed as well. It allowed us to see some of the artwork and nature parks residents use on a regular basis and gave insight to life in this southern town.

Jeju Olle Canon EOS C100 Steve Miller QiRanger

We then approached the part of the trail I had been looking forward to the most. An overlook of Cheonjiyeon falls. This was the most strenuous portion of the hike, requiring us to navigate up several switchbacks, which even proved tough for small cars.

All in all, it was a great experience, and something I’d want to do again. The beauty of the island really shines through when traversing these trails.

The Jeju Olle Office has done an amazing job of providing exceptional information to visitors. Their website is available in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. In addition, offices can be found along trail 6 and 18, should one like to get more information about the network of trails. While walking, there were times when we weren’t exactly sure where we needed to go, everyone who worked or lived near the trail was familiar with the route and easily pointed us in the correct direction.

If you’re looking to hike the Jeju Olle Trail, be sure to do your research before you set out. Pick the trail suited for your fitness level. I found the trail ratings fairly accurate, but even easy trails are long. Plan accordingly for the weather, but it isn’t necessary to carry a lot of food or water when walking. There are plenty of toilets, convenience stores, and restaurants along the way. The start, end, and “mid-point” of each trail have a special stamp. Be sure to bring a piece paper to collect them (or buy the Jeju Olle Trail Passport books to place multiple stamps inside).

One final note: this was an amazing experience. So much so, that I would love to return to Jeju to hike the 21 main trails and 5 spur trails. The countryside, even in these gloomy conditions was amazing and I’d love to see every bit the island has to offer.

Note: This video was filmed with the Canon EOS C100 provided by Canon Korea. To learn more about this Digital Cinema Camera, click here.

 

 

Hiking Jeju’s Hallasan National Park – Steve Miller’s EYE #4



Smack dab in the middle of Jeju-do is Hallasan National Park. It’s a massive 153 square kilometer park, taking up about 8% of the island’s total landmass. This massive volcano that formed the island rises to just shy of 2,000m. The park is known for some of the best mountain hiking in Korea. The visitor center is the perfect place to start your day, as they have great information about the trails open year round. The strenuous trails to the summit can take up to 5 hours to reach the top. But not everyone has that kind of time when visiting Jeju, so we opted to hike the Eoseungsaengak Trail. Only 1.3km, it takes visitors through an amazing forest canopy and is suitable for all fitness levels.

jeju hallasan canon eos c100

When we started up the trail, I was surprised to see how well-developed it was. Usually Korean trails are nothing more than paths cut into the mountain, well-worn by countless hikers. However, given how easy this trail was rated, it made sense to install steps and other features for those not in peak physical condition. It made the trail feel welcoming and was probably the reason I lingered along the way.

jeju hallasan canon eos c100

Park officials tell you it takes about 30 minutes to reach the top. I’m here to tell you it takes far longer than that, if you’re like me and love nature. Living in the urban jungle of Seoul, I was captivated by being completed surrounded by trees. It seemed every few steps there was something special to see. Plants, dancing in the strong winds cast whimsical shadows on the ground, while insects traversed the steps looking for their next meal.

It seemed that around every turn there was something new I needed to stop and see, some tiny details I wanted to examine, and I think that’s what I enjoyed most about this trail. While it’s certainly possible to enjoy the sights when hiking a long, strenuous trail, relaxing on this easy climb made it easier to do so.

jeju hallasan canon eos c100

Unfortunately, the climb to the finally came to a close. We broke free of the canopy and arrived at the top of the Eoseungsaengak. The 1,169m oreum, or volcanic cone, provided great views of Hallasan in the distance and the visitor center and parking lot below. While not able to visit the crater’s center, we could see where the eruption took place so long ago. Peering off the northern face of Eoseungsaengak you can see the Jeju city slowly encroaching on the park’s boundaries.

Hiking any of the trails in Hallasan National Park is well worth one’s time and is something I’d recommend. Getting around Jeju is best by car, but those preferring to travel by bus can easily make to the park as well.

For directions and an pictures:

jeju hallasan canon eos c100jeju hallasan canon eos c100

For complete park information visit http://www.hallasan.go.kr/english/

Exploring Gyeongju’s Namsan

Summer is here and one of my favorite things to do when the sun is shining is to get out and hit the trails. This month on The Korea Blog, we’re exploring Gyeongju – the museum without walls. For this second installment, I have a special treat. While we filming the original second video for the series (which will be seen next week), we stumbled into Gyeong-ae Lee. She’s a volunteer for Gyeongju Tourism and offered to take us to Namsan. It wasn’t something we were planning on, but hearing her talk about the beauty of the mountain, we knew we couldn’t resist.


Namsan

Gyeong-ae drove us to the eastern side of the mountain. From what she told us, most people go hiking on the western side, so this would be a little more secluded. It was also her favorite area to hike, so maybe she was a little less than objective.

Steve Miller qiranger gyeongju namsan

Our starting point was just off the main road near the Hwaranggyo. Jo and I walked down the main road until we reached the Borisa. This small temple was beautifully decorated after Buddha’s birthday and we were the only ones there besides the lone monk sweeping the steps. I ventured inside a small shrine and instantly found myself more at ease. The reason she took us to this location could be found just behind the main temple compound.

Carved Buddhas

The main draw of Borisa is a massive boulder about three minutes past the temple. The surface of the stone has been etched to form a relief of a seated Buddha on a lotus. On either side of the Buddha are bells. The rest of the rock face is equally ornate, making it a truly special experience. Following the staircase behind the boulder, you’ll find another Buddha.

steve miller qiranger gyeongju namsan

The second Buddha doesn’t have a placard, but Gyeong-ae told us many in Gyeongju seek out this particular statue. The eroded Buddha has one hand position in typical fashion, but the other rests over the abdomen. It’s said praying to this Buddha helps with fertility, easy delivery, and increases the chances of having a son.

Once we left this area, it was time to set out exploring the mountain. Jo and I didn’t really plan on going hiking, so we had no extra water and were only wearing sandals. Not exactly the most advisable way to hit the trails, but we took our time and managed to have a great experience. Scattered throughout the entire mountain were numerous burial mounds. Most were unkempt, with the foliage reclaiming them. However, on occasion, we did see a few neatly trimmed with fresh flowers poised in front.

On our trek, we also managed to stumble upon the Namsanseong wall. This mountain fortress occupies the northern region of the mountain. Unlike the Seoul Fortress wall, or even Hwaseong, the Namsanseong wall is not nearly as well preserved and in places, completely covered by brush. If one didn’t know where to look, it would have been easily missed. These portions are fairly fragile and easily crumble.

The ultimate destination of our hike was the Sanseojang. A small shrine used for some rituals at the base of the north side of the mountain. Usually the area is not open to visitors (we were greeted by a half dozen barking dogs), but we asked the caretakers if we could look around the shrine and they agreed. It was a lovely spot to end our hike before catching a cab and going back into town.

You can read more about the hikes available on Gyeongju’s Namsan by clicking over to my article on The Korea Blog. The entire video was shot with the GoPro Hero2 and Edutige ETM-001.

Hiking Mount Tapyas

Sometimes when shooting video, things get cut. Today’s vlog video is just that. While in Coron, Jo and I opted to hike up to the top of Mount Tapyas. It’s a large hill not too far away from our hotel with a giant cross affixed on the top.


mount tapyas coron steve miller qiranger gopro quikpod
The hotel told us to take a tricycle to the base for 20 pesos. That was a mistake, since the trail head was only 2 blocks away. Okay, three. In any case, it was within walking distance. They also told us it was a 1000 steps to the top. Granted the 700+ were a lot, but a few hundred short of what they claimed.



The video was supposed to be part of the forthcoming Island Hopping video I shot during our trip to Coron, but with this section coming in at 2 minutes and not really feeling the same vibe, I cut the entire segment. Rather than leave the footage on the hard drive, I pieced together a quick little vlog. The entire video was shot with the GoPro, Edutige ETM-001, and QuikPod.

The guys following us were great. This was their second run of the day. The trail down the back side of Mt. Tapyas took them towards the local hot spring. Then they had another 30-40 minute bike ride back to the trail head and did it all over again. I saw them later in the day making a third run. They were hard core!

Younjuam: Seoul’s Mountain Temple

Recently, Jo and I ventured out from our home on a beautiful Sunday morning to tackle a close-by temple, one that stands unique among others in Korea: Younjuam. Rather than resting in a city center or on a mountain, Younjuam’s claim to fame is its unique location near the summit of Gwanaksan. In Korea, it is very rare to have a religious center so close to the peak of a mountain, making this excursion truly special.

There are two routes to the temple: 1) start from Seoul University and take the long way; or 2) ride Line 4 to Gwacheon Station and stretch your legs once outside exit 7. This is the route we took. The Korean Tourism Information Line also recommends this way, since the total distance to the temple is just under 5km from the station and 3.6 from the trail head. Those hiking should bring a liter of water to stay properly hydrated. The trail is rocky and well traveled. Two watering stations and several restrooms are present on the way up to the temple, so there is no need to carry a lot of gear. Total hiking time will take a fit person under an hour, while those in moderate shape can easily make the climb in 90-100 minutes.

Hikers ascend Gwanaksan. Photo by Johanne Miller.

The temple itself dates back to 677, right in the Goryeo Dynasty. It was first given the name Gwanaksa, or Gwanak Mountain Temple, but the facilities were later renamed under the Joseon era as Younjuam. The temple’s primary role was to allow monks to study Buddhist scriptures in the seclusion offered by the mountains. During the Joseon Dynasty, the temple erected a one story stone pagoda. It is said that this monument was erected by Grand Prince Hyoryeong, brother to King Sejong. Hyoryeong retreated to the temple and became a monk after his brother ascended the throne.

Younjuam Temple. Photo by Johanne Miller.

Peace and Beauty at Younjuam. Photo by Johanne Miller.

There is such a thing as a free lunch! Photo by Johanne Miller.

If one times the hike right, you will arrive at the temple just in time for the free lunch. On our trek there, they served up a wonderful ramyun dish. But coming all this way to see the temple isn’t enough. Saunter on and up the staircase another 500m and you’ll find yourself at Younjudae, the peak. From here one can not only see Gwacheon, but also Seoul and the amazing Han river that winds through it.

The famous cliffs of Younjuam overlooking Seoul. Photo by Johanne Miller

This trek is one of our favorites in Korea and now on my list for visitors who travel to Seoul. The temple is amazing and the views are well worth the climb. Couple that with some of the best tasting ice cream snacks along the way and the great feeling of accomplishment one gains from reaching the summit, and you’ve got the makings of an awesome day out for all ages.


If you’ve traveled in Korea or elsewhere, what religious site has moved you the most?

As always, Jo accompanies me on these excursions and takes so many wonderful pictures. This trip was no exception. All the above photographs were taken by her. Please enjoy the complete set below.

Hiking Fitness

Now that fall has arrived in Korea, the time is prime to set out and enjoy Korea’s wondrous mountains. However, if you’ve never gone hiking in Korea, there are a few things you should be aware of first before setting off on the trails.

First, most hiking courses are fairly short. This means that an average hike is roughly 10km or shorter and will take the average person less than half a day to complete. If you’re looking for longer hikes, they are available, but you’re going to need to look to the major mountain ranges on the peninsula to find them.

Second, the trails are quite different from what you might be used to. In the United States, where space is plentiful, trails stretch on and on. In Korea, most trails lead to the summit on a somewhat direct route. This means the trails tend to be quite rocky and steep. Preparation is key and the best way to get ready for these inclines is to work the stairs.

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By running or walking up and down the stairs, you work the same muscle groups you will when on the trails. Simply going out for walks or runs may prevent you from getting tired, but unless you train in the same way you’ll be climbing, the outing will leave you huffing and puffing.

Because Korea is densely populated, be prepared for crowded trails. Of all the things in Korea that took time getting used to was the fact that there are so many people in so little space. If hiking in seclusion is important to you, hit the trail at sunrise, for shortly thereafter, it will be packed.

Finally, know that in Korea, hiking is a sport. People go all out and get the best gear possible. While I like to hike at a nice pace to soak up nature, most others sprint the trail to get up and down as fast as possible. Therefore, when resting or taking pictures, make sure you’re off the trail and allow those continuing on the space to do so.

I hope these little tips for hiking in Korea have been helpful. Do you have any tips to share when you head outdoors? Please let me know!

Yosemite Valley’s Day Hikes


Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite parks in the United States. The high mountains, the smell of the pines, and the roaring waterfalls excite my senses and energize my body. While I’ve stayed all over the park, I really enjoy the hikes and atmosphere of the Valley, so on Jo’s first full day  in the park, I decided to take her on a number of hikes offering some great views to some great valley sights.

The first hike was to the foot bridge over the Merced River. Hopping on the bus from Camp Curry, we got off at Stop 16 (Happy Isles) and made our way to the John Muir trail head. The hike to the foot bridge is 1.6 miles round trip and offers some steep inclines. Thankfully, it’s paved and shaded in many areas- making it an easy hike. Once you get to the foot bridge, you’re treated with an amazing view of Vernal Falls. Just across the bridge are toilets and water fountains if you need them.

Hike number two required us to hop in the minivan and drive out to the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot. Jo and I lucked out and got some front row parking. 1000 feet later, we were basking in the showering mist of the falls. Of all the hikes we went on this day – this was by far the easiest.

From this point we got in the van again and started making our way up Glacier Point Road. This is an amazing drive, that was made even more incredible by a recent lightning strike. The smoldering fire sent smoke and pine into the air, giving the curves ahead a cool look and feel. Eventually we made it to the Taft Point Trail Head, that also doubles as the trail head for the Sentinel Dome Trail. Each trail is 1.1 miles out to their destinations, as we were going to do both.

The hike to Taft Point is pretty flat and then drops a few hundred feet. Once out of the clearings, the trail takes hikers to the fissures. These cracks in the granite allow one to look several hundred feet below. Another couple of hundred of meters later and you’re standing on a railing overlooking the valley floor directly in front of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan.

Retracing your steps will take you back to the parking lot and the trail to Sentinel Dome. It’s another 1.1 miles out to the top of this granite dome and well worth the hike. The last quarter-mile is on paved roads and pretty much straight up. But don’t worry, as long as you have good knees, you’ll be able to make it. From up on top, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of Half Dome.



The total distance for these hikes is over 6 miles. If you’re keen to seen an amazing sunset, drive out to Glacier Point and watch it here. From that parking lot, it’s a quarter-mile to the point – bringing the total walked distance to just under 7 miles for the day.

Korean Pancakes

Growing up in the United States, one of my fondest memories was our weekend breakfasts. Every Sunday morning my mother would make either pancakes or waffles. I’d then, in turn, smother them with butter and drown them in syrup. It was the stuff I lived for. Since coming to Korea, I really haven’t had that same experience, but that doesn’t mean that Korea is without its own pancake.

The pajeon (파전) is often referred to as the Korean pancake, and in many ways it’s a good analogy. Both are made with eggs and flour, but that’s where the similarities end. Pajeons are also made with rice flour and stuffed with all sorts of goodies. (Pa) is the Korean word for green onion, the main stuffing in this treat. Rather than use white or yellow onions, the stuffing of choice happens to be green onions. From there, the chef can be creative when adding other ingredients, including octopus, squid, and even kimchi.

It’s easy to find street vendors in most town making this treat, but the best place to eat pajeons is when you’re coming off a mountain. Most restaurants and stands located close to popular mountain trails will have them as part of their standard menu. Since pajeons are about 30cm in diameter, they’re made to be shared and can run anywhere between W8,000 to W15,000 per pajeon.



This past weekend (when I was coming off Seoraksan), pajeon had never tasted so good. After hiking for 10 hours and eating just a few granola bars and kimbaps, I was ready for something a little more hearty. As the group approached the Bisandae area, we strolled into the restaurant and ordered several pajeons (both the traditional and the ones made out of potato). A group of six easily devoured four complete pajeons in an hour.

This really has got to be my favorite treat when finish off my hike in Korea. It just doesn’t seem like a complete experience until I sit down with my pajeon. What I’d like to know, is what kinds of food do you like to take with you on outdoor trips and excursions. Please drop a comment below!