Jeju Island (Jeju-do, 제주도) is a small volcanic island (1,900 sq km) in the southernmost part of South Korea. Due to its location, the island enjoys a warmer, subtropical climate and is therefore a desirable vacation and honeymoon destination for many Koreans. Despite attempts to market the island as “the Hawaii of Korea,” climatologically and geographically it bears little in similarity to the Hawaiian Islands in the U.S. Jeju seems to be largely unknown to the wider world population; according to an article I came across on the web, less than 1 million of the 8 million visitors that came to Jeju in 2011 were foreigners, most of them of Chinese or Japanese origins.
Unless you’re a resident of South Korea or a few select cities of China or Japan with direct flights to the island, getting to Jeju can involve a great deal of inconvenience. Domestic flights primarily operate from Gimpo (Seoul’s domestic airport) and most international flights arrive at Incheon (Seoul’s international airport), so connecting through Seoul almost always would involve an airport change as well. I had carefully planned out our itinerary to be as pain-free as possible, thereby we landed in Jeju after a 2.5 hour direct flight from Tokyo on Korean Air. That flight was priced at 670 USD per person (one way!), but fortunately I was able to use some Delta frequent flyer miles to avoid paying the ridiculous fare. The flight was full (I think it was a 747 with a middle section of seating) and Korean Air is surely getting a bang for their buck on that route. We were the only European looking people on that plane, and Miss Z. became an object of affection for a number of the passengers around us.We arrived around noon; Jeju greeted us with blue skies and warm weather. I kind of expected the island to be a bit rural and underdeveloped so the new, modern and fairly large airport took me by surprise. Immigration and customs were a breeze and it wasn’t long until we got to the main hall. Initially we had planned to rent a car to get around, which is why I didn’t care to book a hotel in a more distant part of the island, but with the sudden loss of my International Driving License our plans had to be re-worked significantly. As expected, the girls at the AVIS counter politely declined to honor our reservation (about 200USD for a three day rental, economy car) without the IDL. We also had a talk with a lady at the Airport Information Desk (right next to the car rental counters) regarding hiring a taxi for a full day in order to explore Jeju and were quoted 120,000KW per 8 hours for an English speaking driver (about 120USD). We got the phone numbers of three such drivers and I felt better that we at least had an option to see a bit of the island on the following day. We later took the airport limousine bus (#600, runs in 15-20 min intervals) which goes all the way to Seogwipo, the 2nd largest city there, passing through the Jungmun Resort Area, where our hotel was. The ride was comfortable, seating – clean, tickets were cheap (3,000KW per person) and we spent about 50 min on the bus before reaching our destination. The road, as far as I could feel it, was excellent and the scenery along the way – pleasant on the eyes; lots of green with the polished look of a tourist destination.
We had a good check-in, after Tokyo it was such a relief to communicate in English to people that actually understood us. We booked a taxi driver for tomorrow through the hotel at the same price that we were quoted at the airport, 120,000KW for 8 hours and then relaxed a bit in the room. It was late in the afternoon, when we headed out for a walk around the Jungmun resort area, which is pretty much the furthest we can go without a car. While there are sidewalks almost everywhere, it is not very common to see people walking around on foot, so we must have looked very much out of place judging by the number of taxis which honked at us trying to offer us a ride.Jungmun is not a town, or even a village, it is solely a congregation of quality hotels and a few attractions (admission fees here):
- Cheonjeyeon Waterfall (천제연폭포) – a three tier waterfall, located in a warm temperature forest park in the Jungmun area. For a while I mistook it for Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which in fact is a different waterfall around Seogwipo. We walked about 20 min from our hotel, the entrance was very easy to find, especially using the map we took from the Information desk at the airport. We were there about 1 hr before closing time with the baby and the cashier told us that the 20 min walk to the waterfall had stairs along the way and was not stroller-friendly. So we skipped. But you can check out this blog for pictures of Cheonjeyeon (…English version websites about Jeju are so hard to come by…)
- Yeomiji Botanical Garden (여미지식물관) – A big indoor botanic garden with halls of cacti, tropical fruits, flowers, water lilies, and much more. Yeomiji is home to a total of 2000 species of rare plants and 1700 species of flowers and trees. There are also open gardens in Japanese, Italian, French and Korean styles. It is located right next to the entrance to Cheonjeyeon Waterfall, and since we did not visit on our own, I am giving instead a link of someone who did.
- Jungmun Beach (중문해수욕장) is the resort’s only beach. The strip doesn’t stretch a long way, maybe half a km or so and judging by the pictures on the net, it can get pretty packed during any busy tourist season. When we got there, the day was almost over and there were only a few groups of people left. I was pleasantly surprised by the availability of beach facilities such as toilets, showers, and feet washers (to remove the sand).Jeju is Korea’s capital for unusual themeparks and niche commercial attractions. Jungmun is home to a few of these:
- Ripley Believe it or Not Museum – opened just recently (Dec 2010), constructed of eco-friendly and green materials with an exterior, reminiscent of a robot. There is a sculpture park, a secret garden and several themed galleries with various exhibits, ranging from amazing and non-traditional artwork to historical items and bizarre artifacts. Among these: the world’s biggest lock of Elvis Presley’s hair and a large piece of the Berlin Wall!
- Teddy Bear Museum – Before I came to Jeju, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind that a museum dedicated to toy bears of all sorts could ever come in existence and moreover, that there are enough people willing to visit, in order to sustain its existence. Well, apparently business is up and running full speed, as there are actually not one but two such museums welcoming visitors on Jeju. It seems an odd duopoly has developed on the island where there are two competing variants on one theme, respectively either in Jeju-si or Seogwipo-si, be it ‘love’ museums, tea museums, glass museums, folk village museums, and of course – teddy bear museums. Neither of us has a penchant for teddy bears, so we skipped this museum too. However, you can take a virtual walk around the beary exhibitions here
There are also a couple of restaurants in the vicinity of our hotel and a 7-11. The restaurants were empty at this time, we walked in to look at the menus, but while both had English versions, most of the meals’ names meant nothing to me. Its worth a mention though that restaurant prices in Jungmun (hotel restaurant included) are quite high in comparison to similar places in, say, Seoul or Western Europe.