If you look on a map of Korea, you will find a small speck of an island to the southwest of the peninsula. This island is known as Jeju-do and it is commonly known as the “Hawaii of Korea.” After going to the island myself I can say that it is no small island as you would expect from the map. It takes around 6 hours to drive a car around the circumference of the island and upon arriving, I found out that the island is about three times larger than Seoul! Covered in mountains, volcanic craters, and beautiful beaches, there is no shortage of things to do in Jeju. Surprisingly, it was impossible to do everything on my to-do list in three days, but I managed to check off most of the top site-seeing destinations.
Before my planned return home this coming August, Jeju was the last place that I wanted to visit. Having a long weekend plus the fact that my mom was coming to visit me for the second time gave me a perfect opportunity to go.
May is probably the best time to visit Jeju. Although you can’t necessarily swim at the beaches, the weather is the perfect temperature and it is at the start of peak season so it’s much less crowded. I chose to stay in a small guesthouse in the southern part of the island called Seogwipo. This area is filled with the most luxurious hotels including the Grand Hyatt, but it’s also not too far away from a small and charming guesthouse called Tae Gong Gak Guesthouse. As oppose to spending $300-$400 per night at one of the high end hotels I only paid around $80 per night for my mom and me. The guesthouse is in walking distance from the two gorgeous waterfalls, Jeongbang and Cheonjiyeon and a short bus ride to Jungmun beach area, which includes famous rock formations that are the result of past volcanic activity on the island.
With three short days on the island we jam-packed our days with site-seeing. This was no relaxing weekend on the beach~ Sorry Mom! On the first day we got familiar with the southern part of the island. We started our day in Jeju with a traditional lunch of pork and fried fish along with some makgoli (rice wine).
After eating a nice meal upon arriving on the island we went for a short walk to the Jeongbang waterfall. The sun was strong that day and the temperature was close to 80 degrees so it was nice to feel the spray from the waterfall.
Then we set out to the central area of Seogwipo near the International convention center. We followed the coastline and walked for almost two hours through beautiful parks along the coast. While walking we were able to see the famous rock formations.
Eventually we made it to Jungmun beach, which is a popular beach along the southern coast.
We ended up having dinner at a seafood buffet. It wasn’t cheap, but after getting our fill of king crab, sushi, raw fish, along with many other varieties of food, I think we got our money’s worth.
On the second day we were up early and on a bus to the eastern part of the island to see Seongsong Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak). Of course we didn’t wake up before sunrise to go, which is supposed to be quite spectacular. We had beautiful weather to hike up to the top and see a great view of Jeju island, the coast, and the top of the crater.
After descending from the peak we ate some snacks and enjoyed a short speed boat ride around the other side of the crater. We were lucky enough to catch the “women of the sea” diving show. Jeju is famous for its old Korean women who dive into the ocean and hold their breath for up to ten minutes without any oxygen tanks. The tradition comes from the time when fishing was dependent on these women divers. To this day there are still divers who continue to practice this skill.
The second half of the day was spent at Udo, a small island about a ten minute ferry from the northeastern part of Jeju. This island is mostly famous for its coral sand beach. The white color of the beach makes for a nice contrast against the black volcanic rocks next to the teal blue water. Although uncomfortable to walk barefoot on, it is a beautiful beach. We ended up riding bikes around the island for a short time. You can ride a bike around the whole island within one hour. There is also the option of renting ATVs and motor bikes.
After getting to the hotel after a long day I was ready for bed, but when the guesthouse owner told us about the night view of the Cheonjiyeon waterfall we realized our day wasn’t over yet. The Cheonjiyeon waterfall is open until 10 at night. We arrived just in time to get a nice view of the waterfall all lit up. It was worth the 10 minute walk, but that 10 minute walk home seemed like a strenuous hike after our full day of walking.
The last day in Jeju was the hardest because we had to pick one or two more things to do before heading to the airport. We had a full day since the flight wasn’t until after nine at night, but there were so many choices of things to do it was so hard to choose! In the end we had to settle on doing what was most convenient. I really wanted to hike a bit around Hallasan (Korea’s highest mountain) or see one of the beautiful beaches on the west coast. Instead, since the best option was to leave our luggage at the airport while siteseeing, we decided to visit the Manjanggul Caves. They were fairly close to the airport. so after dropping our stuff off at the airport we took a bus to the cave entrance. At the bus stop we had to walk an unanticipated 20 minutes to get to the caves. By the time we got there we were hungry for lunch. We ate at a beautiful park outside the caves. The walk in and out of the caves took almost an hour. I was surprised at the temperature difference once inside the cave. Unprepared as we were wearing sandals that day, we were lucky enough to run into one of the workers who helped get us some fashionable rubber shoes to help us walk through the rocky and wet terrain of the cave.
On our way back to the airport we stopped at Samyang Black Sand Beach. This beach is interesting because the sand is very fine and soft and as the name suggests, black. One of the cool things about Jeju is that each beach is so different in terms of the sand. I’m sure in the summer these beaches are packed with people, but in May they are quite calm and peaceful.
Our last stop was at the Jeju traditional 5 day market. There are several of these around Jeju and they only happen every 5 days. Fortunately the market right next to the airport was open on our last day. We walked around to take in the feel of an authentic Korean market. Surrounded by people selling everything from oranges and kimchi to socks and shoes it can be a bit overwhelming. We snacked on some traditional treats and finally were able to sample the infamous Jeju orange. I ended up buying a whole crate of Hallabongs (orange and mandarin mix) to be shipped right to my apartment. I thought it would be cool to buy some real Jeju oranges to bring back to Seoul and share them with my co-workers and friends.
I was sad to leave the island, but happy to come back with memories of the island and spending time with my mom. Three days was not enough. If I ever have another opportunity, I won’t hesitate to go back to Jeju.