S. Korea: The island of Jeju
A couple posts ago, I’d mentioned that my travel buddies and I had come to S. Korea with different motivations. JH’s undying enthusiasm for shopping was beginning to tire out both HZ and I, so we came up with a mutually-acceptable compromise: for the last three days of our trip, we would split up — HZ and I would go to Jeju for a change of scenery, while JH and RP would stay in Seoul to go around the city at a more relaxed pace.
So, in the early hours of January 1st, HZ and I stumbled from the hostel into a taxi that took us to Gimpo International Airport.
A bonus to this early morning flight was that I witnessed the first sunrise of 2014 from 30,000 feet in the air! Not many people can say the same, right? It sort of made up for the lack of fireworks the night before…
After getting off our (Busan Air) flight, we took a free shuttle to a nearby KT Kumho Rental branch to pick up our car. I really recommend reserving online before arriving in Jeju — the prices are significantly better, and you can choose a specific car to fit your style and budget. HZ was quite pleased with the car itself, while I was most happy about the English GPS and the free portable Wifi “egg” that we requested. If you have an International Driver’s Permit, driving is really the most efficient way to get around the island.
I had read online that the best way to get around with the GPS was by phone number — even scenic landscapes in Jeju have a number! In keeping with all that research, I’ll list out the names and phone numbers too.
Day 1 – East Jeju
Our first meal in Jeju was at a famous restaurant called Yuri-ne. They say they specialize in authentic Jeju cuisine, and true to form they had a lot of fish and seafood items in their (English!) menu. Whether or not they were truly authentic, the food there was really good (and a little bit spicy)!
It was here where I first tasted raw crab kimchi — the soft, almost jelly-like texture was a complete surprise! I don’t usually enjoy crab, but I fell head-over-heels for this…
YURI-NE (link) 427-1 Yeon-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-748-0890 - The restaurant is at the corner of an intersection - keep an eye out for a pair of stone tigers in front of their parking lot! ***
It was a very nice day, so after our stomachs were filled, we headed towards an outdoor museum called Mini Mini Land. This place is known for having large models of significant buildings from around the world, and I’ve always wanted to visit an outdoor museum. Though it was slightly old and a bit beaten down by the weather, the models were still a delight to look at!
Considering how I had seen many of these buildings in various textbooks over the years, it was a refreshing change to see them as 3D scale models (I was particularly excited by the Ishtar Gate). There was also a small building attached to Mini Mini Land, which featured several new media artworks.
My favourite was a light projection piece: over an off-white fictional landscape of famous monuments, various graphics and sounds were layered over it to take the viewer through all kinds of weather over one day (sunrise to late night).
It was a stunning mix of visual and technical coordination. I liked it so much I stayed to watch it loop through twice before HZ pulled me away. I really think it’s work like that that makes new media interesting to those who haven’t studied it.
JEJU MINI MINI LAND (link) 제주미니랜드 606 Bijarim-ro, Jochon-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-782-7720 - Entrance fee: 9,000 won - Parking fee: free ***
Continuing with our outdoor adventures, our next stop was the famous Sunrise Peak, or Seongsan Ilchulbong. It’s really a crater instead of a peak, strictly speaking, but it had a nice view regardless.
It’s advertised as one of the best places to catch a sunrise in Jeju, though it was still quite crowded during the middle of the day as well. Thankfully, the stairs to the top were solidly constructed and well-maintained — HZ and I made it from bottom to top in 20 minutes without needing to rest.
A quick note about women divers: in Japan, they are called ama, and in Jeju they are called haenyo. They are essentially the same — in both places, women dive off-shore (all year-round) without tanks or scuba gear to harvest shellfish up to 20 feet below the surface.
The history goes that hundreds of years ago, coastal men were often sent out to sea on fishing boats or to go to war. The women in those communities started to dive to feed their families and make a little bit of money on the side. In the Ise-Shima region (where I am close to), women dive for oysters and sell the pearls for profit. In Jeju, women dive for expensive shellfish like abalone and conch. Eventually, with this steady source of income, women became the “head” of the family and established a matriarchal hierarchy.
Unfortunately, because of the harsh working conditions (early mornings, constant dampness, freezing waters during the winter), the number of active women divers has drastically gone down in the last two generations as the haenyo sent their daughters to college instead. It is almost certain that by our children’s time (or our children’s children) this centuries-old trade will have completely died out. Now, in both Jeju and Japan, the older women divers sometimes hold public demonstrations for tourists to educate them about their work.
This restaurant, Ojo House of Women Divers, is solely supplied by the shellfish collected by women divers (and I suspect are staffed by them as well). The freshness of their food, along with the relatively generous portions of abalone porridge, are what they are known for.
If you are ever in the area, you should try this restaurant. A word of advice though: their porridge bowls are huge, so unless you’re super hungry it’s a better idea to split a bowl between two people.
OJO HOUSE OF WOMEN DIVERS 오조해녀의집 3 Ojo-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-784-0893 - Abalone porridge: 12,000 won ***
On the way back to the main island, we stopped by a stretch of road that had some very picturesque rapeseed flower fields. Unfortunately, you had to pay to enter the field to take pictures (crazy, right?), so we just took some photos a little bit further away for free!
SUNRISE PEAK / SEONGSAN ILCHULBONG (link) 성산일출봉 284-12 Ilchul-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-710-6655 - Entrance fee: 2,000 won - Parking fee: 1,000 won ***
Just as the sun was getting ready to set, we made our last stop of the day at the very cool Gimnyeong Maze Park. The link has more information about it, but it was entirely funded by an American professor who fell in love with the island of Jeju three decades ago (and who still teaches at Cheju National University).
It was created by a world-famous maze designer, Adrian Fisher, in the shape of Jeju and incorporates seven cultural motifs. You are given a pamphlet explaining the history of the maze when you enter, as well as a map (in case you get lost)….but where’s the fun in that, right?
All in all, without the map it took HZ about 10 minutes to get from start to finish. This is a small place, as far as tourist attractions go, but it’s an incredibly fun and interesting pit stop if you’re in the area and the weather is nice. Bonus: there are several friendly cats living near the ticket booth if you also want some animal therapy!
GIMNYEONG MAZE PARK (link) 미로공원 122 Manjanggul-gil, Gujwa-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-782-9266 - Entrance fee: 3,300 won - Parking fee: free ***
Day 2 – South Jeju
The island of Jeju is considered one entire province of South Korea, and in this province there are two “cities”: Jeju City in the north, and Seogwipo City in the south. Interestingly, quite a few of the island’s natural attractions are on the south side, and a few man-made ones were built near them too, so all tourists end up making the trek south at some point in their trip.
On our second day (the only full 24-hour day we would spend in Jeju), we decided to explore Seogwipo and its surrounding area. It took us a little under two hours of driving to get there from Jeju City.
First on our list was the supposedly picturesque Soesokkak Estuary. Getting there was a little difficult, because several rivers flowed into it — we had to follow it until the end of the road before we got to the main viewing platform.
I was disappointed by it, frankly — I really had to try hard to get a handful of pictures that I liked. The water wasn’t deeply coloured like in most Internet pictures unless you shot it from a far distance, and along the platforms there were too many trees blocking the view. All in all, it might be better to visit here in the spring or summer (or just skip this one altogether)…
SOESOKKAK ESTUARY (link) 쇠소깍휴게소 140 Soesokkang-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-732-9998 - Entrance fee: free - Parking fee: free ***
Our next stop was at the more visually-satisfying Jeongbang Falls. There are a couple of other famous waterfalls around Jeju, but this is the only one where the waterfall flows into the ocean…
JEONGBANG FALLS (link) 정방폭포 37 Chilsimni-ro 214 beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-733-1530 - Entrance fee: 2,000 won - Parking fee: free ***
Of course, one plate of sashimi isn’t really enough to fill two people, so we wandered into Seogwipo City itself to look for food. We ended up exploring a covered market street (shotengai in Japanese) and bought sandwiches and a bag of roasted chestnuts (my winter favourite).
Close to the market was a rather artsy cobbled street, and it was along there that we stumbled into Panong Café. In addition to a small café menu, this place’s main attraction are their recycled pony souvenirs.
To understand the meaning behind the ponies, let me explain about the Jeju Olle trails.
Way back in 2006, a local journalist Suh Myung-sook had burned-out professionally and decided to quit her job. She then hiked along the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain on a holiday to recharge herself. The story goes that she was so impressed by it that she was inspired to recreate something similar in Jeju.
Since her first hiking trail was made public in 2007, the Jeju Olle Trails have now expanded to 21 trails (at least 10km each) that go all around Jeju Island. Unlike the route in Spain, the focus of Jeju Olle is less spiritual and more geared towards appreciating the natural landscapes of Jeju, as well as the local culture and historical sites (the trails pass through small villages, tiny volcanic zones called oreums, beaches, farms, and forests).
These walking trails are a major tourist draw, and they promote ecological awareness and conservation issues. One of the issues they began tackling a few years ago was the amount of waste produced by the fashion industry — tons and tons of clothes are thrown out every season because they’re no longer “in style”.
With the help of local artists, they started an initiative to recycle the fabrics from these clothes into handmade keychain charms. These could then be sold to tourists as souvenirs, with the profits going towards maintaining the trails. The Ganse pony was chosen as both the mascot for the trails and for the keychains because they’re only found in Jeju, and they represent a slower-paced lifestyle.
I didn’t have the time to make one from scratch, so I bought a red one to bring back to Japan with me. It was really hard to choose, as each pony was completely different… If you are interested in getting or making one of these special keychains, you should definitely search for this café!
PANONG CAFÉ 바농 카페 19 Ijungseom-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-763-7703 - For more info about Jeju Olle: here, and here - For more info about the Ganse pony dolls: here, and here ***
We left the city center after that, and headed towards the Jusangjeolli Cliffs.
They look sort of familiar, right? That’s because they are formed by the same type of volcanic activity as the one that shaped the Giant’s Causeway in northern Ireland! Those beautiful hexagonal pillars are the signature feature of these cliffs.
Unfortunately, of all the tourist attractions we went to, this one was the most restricted: you could not get close to the cliffs themselves, and there were only three (very crowded) platforms that offered a good look at the pillars. While it certainly beats a plane ticket to Ireland, it didn’t feel like there was an equal amount of value for money…
JUSANGJEOLLI CLIFFS (link) 대포동지삿개 2767 Jungmun-dong, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-738-1521 - Entrance fee: 1,000 won - Parking fee: 2,000 won ***
The sun was already beginning to set when we left the cliffs and headed to our final destination for the day: Yongmeori Coast. HZ was already a bit tired and discouraged from the cliffs, so I really had to persuade him to make this one last stop.
As soon as we rounded the corner after the ticket entrance, his enthusiasm completely returned. We were there at low tide, so we had the pleasure of scrambling up and down the coastline without any restrictions.
You can probably tell from the number of pictures how much fun we had exploring this area. It was photogenic from almost every angle, and our timing and the weather were perfect. I really recommend this place, especially in the winter if you want to avoid the crowds.
YONGMEORI COAST (link) 용머리해안 181-1 Sagye-ri, Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-794-2940 - Entrance fee: 2,000 won - Parking fee: free ***
The best dinner we had in Jeju was the local specialty, black pig BBQ at the famous Heukdonga Jeju restaurant. They claim that they only serve meat from free range local black pigs. Though there are a few branches of this chain in Seoul, their flagship store is of course in Jeju. (I would assume the meat is better here too…)
Whether or not you eat at Heukdonga while you’re in Jeju doesn’t matter, so long as you try black pig BBQ at least once on the island. It was delicious, and really satisfying after a full day spent exploring… Make sure to bring enough money though!
HEUKDONGA JEJU (link) 흑돈가 2343 Nohyeong-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-747-0088 ***
Day 3 – West Jeju
To be honest, the western side of Jeju is the least developed (with regards to tourist attractions). We had over-exerted ourselves on the second day, and there were no longer any must-see locations left on our itinerary. This worked out well, considering we had to return the car in the afternoon and fly back to Seoul in the evening. So we decided to very leisurely drive around the west of Jeju…
We stopped by the O’Sulloc Tea Museum just for something to do. True to other reviews on the Internet, the “museum” portion of the complex was not that big compared to the “shopping” portion (it was the wrong season for us to tour the tea farms). We spent some time smelling the different tea samples the store offered, and browsing through their sister brand innisfree‘s beauty products. Everything was packaged in such appealing and lovely designs — had I needed to buy more souvenirs, I probably would’ve spent quite a bit of money there…
Instead, we decided to relax in their café and try some of their green tea-flavoured menu!
O'SULLOC TEA MUSEUM (link) 오설록티뮤지엄 425 Sinhwayeoksa-ro, Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-794-5312 - Entrance fee: free - Parking fee: free ***
I had previously read about a small local restaurant along the way that made an incredibly large burger — you had to share it, because it was too difficult to finish by yourself.
The restaurant is inside an interesting wooden lodge, but all the surfaces have since been covered by years and years of graffiti from other customers.
While the restaurant itself was charming, the burger was a huge disappointment taste-wise. I can appreciate that the vegetables are organic and locally-grown, but the burger patty tasted a little too funny, and it was hard for us to finish what we had ordered (even though HZ hates wasting food).
I won’t be posting the restaurant’s phone number, because I don’t really think it’s worth going to. If you read any other reviews about this place that say it’s delicious, you should definitely take their words with a grain of salt.
HWANGGEUMRYUNG BURGER (link) 황금륭버거 본점 ***
Our last tourist stop before we returned the car was the famous Hyeopjae Beach. It was definitely the wrong season to be at a beach, and there was construction going on near the parking lot. However, the view of Biyangdo Island across the water was still beautiful in the winter, and the water was just as blue as I was led to believe.
HYEOPJAE BEACH (link) 협재해변 2497-1 Hyeopjae-ri, Hallim-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea 064-728-3394 - Entrance fee: free - Parking fee: free ***
I’m incredibly glad I made it out to Jeju instead of only staying in Seoul. Of course, I’m most grateful I managed to convince HZ to come along with me!
While the food was not as great, the scenery and ocean air definitely made it all worthwhile. The best part: we avoided the crazy crowds that always head toward Jeju in the warmer months! The weather was temperate during the days we were there, and sometimes we didn’t even bother wearing our coats — such a dramatic change from the chill winds in Seoul.
If you ever find yourself in South Korea during the winter, I really hope you also spend some time in Jeju!
This marks the end of my 12-day winter trip to South Korea. After spending so much time in another city and country, it took a while for me to re-adjust back to Japan. I definitely missed the heated flooring in Korea — Japanese winters would be so much more bearable with heated floors…
But I digress.
Now that this mammoth series has ended, I’ll post about some smaller trips I made to Tokyo and Kyoto in February and April, respectively. Thanks for reading all the way through!