When you’re in Seoul and talk to a few people about what other places to visit in Korea, it seems like everybody is talking about two places in particular: Busan, and Jeju Island. So of course I had to visit the Hawaii of Korea, as it is often refered to. Jeju Island (or Jejudo) is South Korea’s largest island and is Korean’s favorite domestic holiday spot. On top of that, it is also quite popular with tourists, especially Chinese ones. Jeju is located in the South-West of Korea.
Since it used to be quite difficult and dangerous to get to the island, Jeju was cut off from mainland Korea at least to some degree for much of its history, which led to the development of a unique dialect and culture. Of course, I’m far from an expert and can’t really tell you anything about the particularities of Jeju culture. I’m sure you can read up on that if you’re interested. I seem to recall the Korea file podcast doing a bunch of episodes on Jeju, as an example. However, even someone with as little knowledge of that topic as me can tell you that Jeju just feels different – still distinctly Korean, but with its own special vibe. A bit exotic, but still quite familiar. Of course you can also say that about other parts of Korea as well, to varying degrees – A Southern coastal city like Busan has a different atmosphere than Seoul, and so on. But anyway, all I mean to say is that Jeju certainly is a very unique place with a unique vibe to it, one that should be experienced if possible.
One of the first things you might notice are the countless large stone statues, called Dolhareubang. They are unique to Jeju and represent gods that are supposed to offer protection to the citizens. They vaguely reminded me of the famous Easter Island statues and pretty much are the inofficial mascots of Jeju. I have a little souvenir statue staring right at me on my desk just as I type this.
Jejudo is a subtropical island with the corresponding climate. It’s still quite cold in the winter, but overall a bit warmer than in the rest of Korea. You’ve got all the hallmarks of a tropical paradise – lovely beaches, volcanic rock formations, palm trees, beautiful nature, and all that. I’ve never been to Hawaii so I can’t really judge the ‘Korea’s Hawaii’ claim, but the comparison does appear to be more than just a convenient marketing slogan.
-> A few quick notes on transportation: You can get to Jejudo from Seoul quite easily and cheaply, especially if you take a flight from a cheap airline like Jeju Air during the week. Everybody seems to recommend getting a rental car if you can (i.e. if you have an international driver’s license). I could not, and I would echo that suggestion. After all, Jejudo is an island, so the public transit system is not comparable to places like Seoul. There are buses, and you can get around with them decently well (especially if you don’t mind getting up early), but this is certainly not always the most convenient way to travel. As an example, there’s an intercity bus stop called ‘Manjanggul Cave Entrance’ (or something like that. Sounds great, as I definitely wanted to visit those famous caves. However, when you exit the bus, you realize that you still have to walk for 2.5 kilometers down a road with no sidewalk to get to the entrance. Needless to say, this is less than ideal. On top of that, many bus stops do not have Western names, so it can get a bit confusing at times. It is however a pretty ‘authentic’ experience, as these buses appear to be mostly used by locals. If you do travel by bus, it would probably be a good idea to get a room near the intercity bus terminal and to be ready to get up at the break of dawn if you really want to get a lot of sightseeing done. I stayed in an airbnb directly across the terminal, so that was pretty ideal. If you want to find out more about transportation, check out these two links: Intercity bus routes & A hassle free guide.
Alright, enough preamble, let’s get going:
I stayed in Jeju City due to the proximity to both the airport and the aforementioned Bus Terminal as a starting point for all of my journeys. There is also some stuff to do in the city.
I really enjoyed visiting the Folklore & National History museum, which gives you some great insights into the history and culture of Jejudo. You can take a look at some reconstructed traditional houses, find out more about Jeju’s volcanic history, and the sea life sorrounding the island.
Samseonghyeol is a pretty interesting shrine that is well-known for having three holes in the ground in its center, which are surrounded by a lot of legends.
Sarabong Peak is also worth a visit. It’s a hill with a little park on top with a spectacular view of Jeju City and its port in particular. Watching the sunset in particular is a well-known tradition.
And of course, there’s also a bunch of exercise equipment on top of the hill. And *of course*, there always appears to be someone working out, whereas I am already completely winded from the way up. So yeah, Jeju may be unique in many ways, but you can still easily tell you’re in Korea. Oh Korea…
That’s it for my impressions of Jeju City. Check back in a while for my post(s) on the rest of my Jeju trip.