“Hawaii of Korea”? Does Jeju Island live up to its nickname?
I’ve noticed that Koreans like to make comparisons between their landmarks and other parts of the world.
Gamcheon Village, a colorful neighborhood in Busan, is often called “The Cinque Terre of Korea”. Having been to both, I can assure you that they are about as similar as a watermelon is to a grape. Sure, they are both round fruits, but the similarities end there.
Likewise, Jeju Island is referred to proudly as “The Hawaii of Korea”. While both are volcanic islands, the comparison between the two is a bit misleading.
Watermelons and grapes.
Jeju is gorgeous on its own accord, and doesn’t need a tagline to justify its beauty.
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Ferry Ride to Jeju
Our 3-day trip to Jeju was over a holiday weekend, so flights were hard to come by. In fact, we were only able to get a return flight and had to get there by ferry.
This was no cruise ship. I mean, when we saw the ferry in the harbor, Ben’s first words were, “I think it’s sagging in the middle.” Not something you want to hear minutes before you board a ship for the night.
The common areas seemed as though they were decorated in the mid-eighties and hadn’t been altered (or thoroughly cleaned) since.
But truthfully, it wasn’t all that bad. We each had our own (semi) comfortable bed, and fell asleep quickly to the purring of the ship’s engine.
The worst part (or most humorous part, depending on how you look at it) was when our sleep was interrupted with 70’s pop music blaring from rattling speakers above our bunks. The sun hadn’t yet risen, but for some reason the music continued to play for three excruciating hours until we made it to shore.
Use the official Korean Tourism website as a resource in booking the ferry. Also reach out to your Korean friends or co-teachers to help you book on the Korean version of the booking site.
Tips for taking the ferry to Jeju: Bring your own food and alcohol (if you want a really good time!) on board. There is only one little convenience store, and you’re pretty much limited to cup noodles and soju. Also, if you book the cheapest room option, you will be on the floor fighting for space with ajummas. It could be a memorable experience, but you likely won’t get much sleep.
This famed park of erotic statues was our first stop of the day. We all agreed that the 9,000 won admission was pretty steep, but we had a good time gawking at the ridiculous sculptures.
Our consensus: If you are in the area and looking for a way to kill a couple hours, it’s not a bad place to go. But don’t go out of your way to make it fit into your trip.
How to get there: Take a taxi from the airport or intercity bus terminal. It is only a 10-15 minute ride for about 6,000 won. You could also take the bus headed for Chuksanjinheungwon and hop off at Dokkabi Road. Bus takes about 20-25 minutes and is 1,200 won per person.
Admission: 9,000 won
Manjanggul Lava Tube
Formed from a volcanic eruption, this lava tunnel is a noted UNESCO World Heritage Site and is celebrated as one of the finest of its kind in the world. Lava tunnels run like veins through a large section of Jeju, but only 1 kilometer is open to the public.
Tip: Bring a light sweater because the temperatures tend to be chilly, even on a hot day. The lava tube is relatively well-lit and easy to navigate, so people of all abilities can explore.
How to get there: We traveled by taxi from Love Land to the Manjanggul Lava Tube. It took 45 minutes and cost 25,000 won (split 4 ways is not bad). You could also take Bus 701 heading east from the Jeju Intercity bus terminal. Then transfer to Bus 990 and get off at the lava tube parking lot. Total trip will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes by bus.
Admission: 2,000 won
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak
Known as “Sunrise Peak” the image of this bowl-like crater is often used as a symbol of Jeju. We booked a guesthouse near the peak, planning to make it there by sunrise. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not cooperating. Instead of hiking through rain in the dark, we opted to catch a few more hours of z’s and started the hike around 9 a.m.
It’s not so much a hike as it is 40 minutes of climbing stairs (not uncommon in Korea). The walk is punctuated with picturesque views of the sea and town below. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, the fog rolling in cloaked the basin in a mysterious beauty.
The view from the top was quite different than the famous ariel shot. We sat there for a while, perched on the edge of the lush crater, and tried to absorb our surroundings.
And then it came. A mist so heavy that we couldn’t see much in front of us. Thankfully we had already taken pictures, so we scurried back down the steps before the fog became too thick.
How to get here: From the main street in Seongsan, walk east uphill towards the peak. The entrance is at the base of the crater.
Admission: 2,000 won
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we saw a small, black sand beach that was begging to be explored. This beach is known for the ajumma free divers. Referred to as haenyeo (literally “sea women”) they make their living by collecting sea creatures without using a breathing apparatus.
Though this used to be a popular profession, the numbers are now dwindling, and the majority are over 50 years of age – some well into their seventies. Pretty badass if you ask me.
Tip: If you aren’t pressed for time, the divers have a “performance” each day at 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
This waterfall flows straight into the ocean and is a pretty spectacular sight. We hopped from rock to rock, and dodged selfie sticks to get up close and in the mist.
How to get there: Travel to Seogwipo by Bus 701 and get off at Dongmun Ro Teo Ri 동문로터리 (it is the stop right before the first roundabout). The bus from Seongsan to Seogwipo costs 3,300 won. Walk south until you hit the coast and then turn left. Follow the signs, you can’t miss it. From the bus stop, it is about 1 km walk.
Admission: 2,000 won
Tip: If you have time, stop by the nearby Cheonjiyeon Falls. It is about a 40 minute walk west of Jeongbang Falls along the Jeju Olle Trail. Admission is also 2,000 won.
Jungmun Lava Columns
Sure, lava is destructive, but it also makes some pretty rad formations. These hexagonal columns made when the hot lava cooled… okay, I really don’t know how exactly they formed, but they were insanely cool to see. And the water – that turquoise water – made me weak in the knees. I think this was my favorite thing we saw on Jeju. And I guess it helped that the weather was gorgeous while we were there.
How to get there: From Seogwipo, travel by Bus 110 west towards the city of Jungmun. The bus should travel through Jungmun and pass by the large Jeju International Convention Center. Get off right in front of the ICC and walk towards the coast. The entrance is next to the large parking lot south of the ICC.
Admission: 2,000 won
Natural Swimming Pool
I found a picture of this idyllic lagoon a few months prior to our trip and became adamant that we had to find it. This little cove is still somewhat hidden and is hard to find information online. Thankfully, the owners of our guesthouse seemed to know where it was and pointed us in the right direction.
When we arrived, there were hardly any people there. The water was pretty icy, but we jumped in anyway and were applauded by the small audience that had gathered.
We didn’t last long in the water, but one man told us in the a month’s time, it will be as warm as a bathtub. He also pointed to the rocks to show us how high the water gets at high tide, and told us it is a hot spot for cliff diving when the conditions are right.
If you’re lucky enough to make it here during one of the summer months, do a dive for me!
How to get there: It is about a 16 minute bus ride from Seogwipo’s main roundabout. Hop on Bus 615-2 or 615-1 and get off at 외돌개 (Oedolge) Rock bus stop. Head down the main path and stay to the left at the fork. Follow the path around a small peninsula (getting good glimpses at the Oedolgae cliff) and look for stairs heading down on your right. Those stairs will lead to the pool.
What we missed on our Jeju travels
Though we saw it from a distance, we didn’t have the chance to get up close and personal with this famous mountain. Being that it takes a whole day to hike to the summit, we couldn’t fit it into our short weekend on Jeju. We’ve heard great things, so add this hike to your list if you have the time.
Where to Stay on Jeju Island:
How to get there: From Seongsan town, you will need to take a taxi to the guesthouse. It should be between 5,000 – 6,000 won. It is conveniently located right on Route 1 of the Jeju Olle Trail.
Check out some other great places to stay near Seongsan here.
I would say this is without a doubt the best guesthouse I’ve experienced in Korea. With sweeping ocean views, a gigantic balcony, comfortable beds, and an included breakfast of homemade bread and jam, I have no complaints.
Getting to Doldam can be a bit tricky without a car, but the small town in which it’s located is worth the journey. The tiny village is made up of garlic fields and on a breezy day, you’ll catch a whiff of the fragrant produce.
How to get there: Catch Bus 120 from the main rotary in Seogwipo. Get off at the last stop 대평리 (the bus will turn around and prepare to travel back to Seogwipo). From the bus stop, walk north just a bit and turn left at the pizza shop. Follow this narrow road, past many garlic fields, for about half a kilometer. The guesthouse will be on your right.
Browse through affordable hotels that are steps away from the beach in Jungmun.
Getting around on this Jeju Itinerary
Jeju is an eclectic mix of Korea and the West. The juxtaposition of typical Korean neighborhoods next to 6-lane highways is different than anything you’ll find on the mainland.
Many visitors prefer to rent cars while visiting Jeju, and I don’t blame them. While the bus system isn’t all that hard to figure out, the timing is what can get tricky. There are many routes that only run once every hour, so it can be a hassle to navigate when you only have a few days to explore.
That being said, it is totally possible to get around Jeju island using only public transportation. We made it work just fine. Since there were four of us traveling together, we found that much of the time, it was faster and not much more expensive to take taxis between destinations.
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