The Jeju Rundown
The 50 million or so citizens of the Republic of Korea are fortunate to have the island of Jeju. The small Korea Strait province off the coast of the peninsula mainland is truly a rare marvel. New 7 Wonders of Nature contender, UNESCO World Heritage Site and holiday playland, the island teems with dramatic craters, lava sculptures, waterfalls and tube caves the likes of which do not exist anywhere else on the planet. Otherworldly natural landscapes and rare biodiversity then, collide head on with beach resorts and unseasonably warm weather to entire millions of domestic tourists from Seoul, Busan and Incheon - not to mention the likes of Dalian, Harbin, Shanghai, Tokyo and Osaka.
Jeju is a patent study in contrasts. On the one hand, to quote the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the island is rife with “outstanding aesthetic beauty”. The Geomunoreum Lava Tube System, to cite the most obvious example, is without peer or proximate equal within the Pacific Ring of Fire. The contrast, however, comes courtesy the obvious consequences of mainstream mass tourism, from casinos and amusement parks, to commercial developments and traffic.
In recent years too, work has been put in to reach beyond Korea, China and Japan to preach about Jeju to a global audience. You can witness the fruits of such efforts in the streets of Jeju City today, as more and more hotels and restaurants pop up and expand the breadth of the island capital. Where Jeju will forever stand apart, however, is in remarkable photogenic scenery, from Hallasan National Park to Sunrise Peak, Manjanggul lava cave to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall.
Jeju’s Top 10
10. Iho Beach is a perpetual hive of coastal activity.
5. Hallim Park is a popular oasis in Jeju City.
9. Yongduam Rock, or Dragon’s Head attracts scores of domestic tourists but is a bit of a mystery to outsiders. Still, it never hurts to see what all the fuss is about.
4. Folklore and Natural History Museum in Sinsan Park is a foremost ecomuseum with a wide variety of exhibits on the natural and cultural heritage of Jeju island.
8. Sunrise Peak is a major attraction with Korean honeymooners.
3. Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone is a most unusual and spectacular geological formation in Seongsan-ri.
7. Cheonjiyeon Waterfall may not be Iguazu or Victoria/Mosi-oa-Tunya but is a fine cascade nonetheless.
2. Geomunoreum Lava Tube System is the integral lincpin of Jeju Island’s UNESCO World Heritage inscription.
6. Sangumburi Crater is a hole left from a now defunct volcano and a national natural monument in South Korea.
1. Hallasan National Park is the unmistakable core attraction on the island.
- Independence Museum – Chronicles the residents’ struggles during the Japanese occupation in the 20th century.
- Residence of Kim Cheong-hi – Kim Cheong-hi lived here after exile to the island for involvement in 1840 political plot.
- Folk Village – Buildings are reconstructed and relocated from around the island to build an old-style village.
- Gwandeokjeong – Pavilion make by a Jeju minister to train soldiers and built martial spirit.
- Samseonghyeol Shrine – Legend says Jeju’s history begun here when three progenitors emerged from three holes.
Jeju Art & Culture
- Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival – Ceremony to pray for the heath and good harvest for the year on the 15th day of the first lunar month.
- Green Tea Museum – Miniature replicas of the green tea production process; exhibition halls display pictures and items of tea culture.
- Glass Castle – Over 250 glass models displayed throughout the exhibition hall from famous artist from Japan, France, Italy and more.
- Canola Flower Festival – Celebration of the early spring bloom of the canola blossom in April.
- Seongsan Sunrise Festival – On Seongsan Ilchubong at Seongsan Harbour, watch the New Year sunrise, a must-see attraction.
- Folk Art Complex – Shop and view the different art forms made by the island’s local artists in their workshops.
- Tap-dong Area – Centre boardwalk in the city of Jeju where diverse wares are sold, near restaurants and nightclubs.
- Chiseongno Shopping Precinct – New fashion stores and established boutiques to satisfy anyone’s taste.
- Jungang Underground Shopping Centre – Only underground shopping complex that offers plenty of shopping.
- Dongmun Traditional Market – Popular traditional market that locals purchase fresh ingredients at low prices.
Jeju Gay & Lesbian
- Lotto Sauna – Clean, public-bath-style faculty that means unclothed and no swimsuits.
- Angels Sin – Meet other foreigners and ask about other activities on the island; friendly staff.
- Shilla Jeju Hotel Casino – Only open to foreigners, equipped with blackjack, roulette and other games.
- Seong-eup Chilshimli Jumak – Traditional Korean restaurant known for barbecued black pig.
- Sehwali Haenyeoi Jip – Taste fresh abalone porridge (jeonbok jook) and other specialities made from fresh caught fish.
- Jusangjeoli – Columnar rocks formed 1,000 years that create a pathway to the sea.
- Love Land – An outdoor park focusing on sex through educational videos and sculptures.
- Yeomiji Botanic Garden – Large indoor garden with 2,000 rare plants, 1,700 species of trees and flowers, with open gardens in Korean, Japanese, Italian and French folk styles.
- Cheonjiyeon Waterfall – Most popular of the three waterfalls found on Jeju Island.
- Manjanggul Lava-Tube – Tunnel created by lava streams; only 1km of 7km is accessible for public walkthrough.
- Amid hills and mountains with great wind conditions, try paragliding.
- Rent a bike to ride the paths along the seashore of Jeju.
- Join international surfers who visit to windsurf.
- Travel the mountains and beaches on an ATV.
- Practice golf at facilities that host international tournaments.
Jeju Special Autonomous Province - the very official-ly name for Jeju proper - came to be in 1946. Prior to that the island was part of South Jeolla province on the peninsula mainland. As a small volcanic island, one topographical landmark dominates Jeju: Hallasan (Mount Halla or Halla Mountain). The volcano is 1,950 metres high and the de facto rooftop of South Korea. No other summit on the mainland tops it. Jeju Island is rather diminutive in total area and roughly corresponds to Warwickshire or Worcestershire. All told then, Jeju barely eclipses Greater London.
Until recently, Jeju Special Autonomous Province, a.k.a. Jeju Island, was in a bit of a municipal and administrative quagmire and erratically split between Jeju City and Seogwipo and North Jeju county and South Jeju county. To further complicate matters, the twin, contiguous areas were subsequently split into thirty-one neighbourhoods and various districts, towns and villages. Complex stuff for an island of barely over 1,800 km<sup>2</sup> and with less than 600,000 people.
After a 2005 referendum, however, the county designations were no more. For visitors and locals alike then, and for the purposes of tourism, Jeju Island pretty much consists of the capital Jeju City - home to 2 out of every 3 residents - and the small city of Seogwipo. For travellers on holiday, the principal areas of interest on the island clearly range from coastal resorts, the downtown and Sinjeju precincts of Jeju City and Hallasan National Park.
Jeju Eat & Drink
The Korean culinary landscape has a specific and singular expression in Jeju. Cuisine on the island, cut off as it is from the rest of the Korean peninsula, places explicit emphasis on cereal crops, fish, seafood, seaweed and native fruits. A rise in tourism, both domestic and international, has led to a parallel increase in the number of Japanese, Chinese, continental European and American-style restaurants.
El Paso (off Jungangno Sinsan Park) is most definitely not a kimchi/bulgogi kind of joint. The chef, however, did earn his stripes in Mexico City, which lends a definite air of autenticidad.
Jeil Hyangto Eumsik (Tapdongno Chiseongno Shopping Precinct) is a raw fish and seafood emporium.
Vetro Coffee (Jungjeongno Town Centre) is probably the best Western-style coffeeshop cum bakery on the island.
Jingogae (Town Centre) whips up fall-off-the-bone shortribs and other meaty dishes.
I Want Pizza (Samnyeong 1-ro South West Jeju-Si) is a reasonable take-out spot with a steady clientele.
Kkwong Memil Guksu (Seogwangno, South West Jeju-Si) is a hole-in-the-wall next to the central bus terminal that specialises in pheasant.
Daebokseong (Chiseongo Shopping Precinct) slices and dices fresh sashimi and regional seafood comfort fare.
Bagdad Café (Sinsan Park Area) is a curry shop run by a jovial Nepalese cook.
Chungmun Sikdang (Town Centre) is a perpetual go-to restaurant for simple, affordable traditional Korean dishes.
Bonjuk (Jungangno Chiseongno Shopping Precinct) may be part of a local chain but serves thoroughly addictive bowls of rice porridge.
Jeju is a major festival locale with a lively annual events calendar.
Daeboreum, or Great Full Moon festival, celebrates the first full moon of the lunar new year across Korea with special foods, rituals and traditions.
Jeju Fire Festival is part of Daeboreum and features massive bonfires that draw massive crowds in turn. The spectacle is truly primeval.
Jeju Leisure Sports Festival takes place throughout most of the month of June at Tapdong Square and Jeju Sports Complex.
Midnight Beach Festival, held from July to August, features a diverse lineup of traditional music and dance, with concerts all over the island.
Reed Flower Festival is a staple in autumn and the month of October. The foremost folk festival celebrates the bloom of the endemic reed flower at the base of Mount Halla.
Dodoo Oremul Seafood Festival celebrates the profuse bounty of the sea and the bedrock basis of traditional life on Jeju.
Tamra Cultural Festival is a kaleidoscope of traditional folklore, with myriad performances, parades, events and fireworks displays in and around Jeju City throughout the month of October.
Seongsan Ilchul Festival rings in every new year in Jeju at sunrise and is one of the most venerable and joyous annual events in South Korea.
When To Go
Jeju has a humid subtropical climate and is warmer than the rest of Korea. The island still has four distinct seasons, however, with cool winters and hot, humid summers. In terms of tourism, the main months are June, July, August and September, when temperatures run between 66°F (19°C) and 86°F (30°C).
The island receives ample rain throughout the year, with at least seven days of drizzle and 50 mm a month. Despite the mass popularity of Jeju in summer, the peak period for precipitation is from June to September. All in all, more rain falls on the island than anywhere else in Korea and the volcanic topography soaks up any accumulation like a massive sponge.
Conditions, naturally, change drastically as you ascend the slopes of Mount Halla, which has a distinct microclimate. Jeju, as a whole, experiences wild fluctuations in weather throughout a typical day, no matter what the season. The effect is much worse at the height of winter, however, when temperatures waver between 39°F (3°C) and 52°F (11°C).
What To Miss
Jeju is both a natural wonder full of singular biodiversity and a purpose-built pleasure resort with an amusement park-like ethos. While not quite Disneyland or Sentosa Island in Singapore, some aspects of the island do reek with the stench of telltale tourist traps. Many points of interest, in turn, quite patently have a crass modus operandi to simply lure holiday hordes from the mainland with the promise of tacky souvenirs and saccharine entertainment. As with many inherently splendorous areas of the world, Jeju, it seems, is not immune from rampant commercial development hoisted on the shoulders of manifest natural treasures.
Jeju has a costly side as well, most notably in the restaurant department. So notorious is the price of a basic fish dinner at Jeju City area restaurants, in fact, that many domestic tourists actually pack food from home. The practice is a borderline cliché and easy fodder for endless jokes with regular visitors.
The bottom line when it comes to Jeju is to know the score beforehand and understand, first and foremost, that the ultimate charms of the island reside in natural points of interest, not in resorts and casinos.
Jeju International Airport is no slouch in South Korea and ranks third in the country behind only Seoul-Gimpo and Incheon International. Although the vast majority of domestic and international visitors fly through the national capital, the only airport on the island serves a few destinations outside of South Korea, such as Shanghai-Pudong, Beijing-Capital, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka-Kansai, Dalian, Harbin, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Kaohsiung.
If you prefer boats to planes, Jeju is accessible via ferry from four points on the mainland: Incheon (13 hours), Busan (11 hours), Mokpo (5.5 hours), Wando (3 hours) and Nolyeogdo (2 hours). About 6% of travellers choose a ferry ride over a flight to get to the island.
On Jeju itself, both Jeju City and Seogwipo offer decent bus service to various points on the island. Taxis are relatively affordable for shorter trips in the city and in clement weather, bicycle hire is a popular tourist option for scenic tours of the coast. For those with the budget, a car and English guide/driver can be made available rather easily through your hotel. In order to get a sense of the island as a whole, many simply rent a car themselves and explore at their leisure. Safety, however, is a persistent problem, though drivers on Jeju are not quite as reckless and daredevil-ish as in Seoul or Busan.
One of the premier vacation destinations in the Republic of Korea, the Korea Strait island of Jeju is a marvel to discover. A New 7 Wonders of Nature candidate, Jeju's dramatic volcanic landscapes, waterfalls and lava tube caves comprise a vital UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brilliant natural beauty then, conspires with world class beach resorts and divine weather to lure millions here from Seoul, Busan, Dalian and Tokyo between May and October.
In recent years however, efforts have been made to appeal to tourists beyond Korea, China and Japan. As a result, the streets of Jeju City have become more and more diverse, as nearby resorts and casinos expand their collective reach to a global audience. Where Jeju really stands apart however, is in the island's spectacular scenery, from Mount Hallasan to Sunrise Peak, Manjanggul lava cave and Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, not to mention all the inherent wildlife and exotic flora that thrives as a result.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurant & Nightlife
Jeju has a temperate climate, with mild weather spread out over four seasons.
- Winter (December to February) 3-10°C
- Spring (March to May) 6-20°C
- Summer (June to September) 18-28°C
- Fall (October to November) 10-20°C
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