Jeju Island Guide
While the rest of South Korea was busy modernizing, suffering from summer and winter temperature extremes and generally working its way up in the world, beautiful sub-tropical Jeju Island is a place that’s happily stood good and still. A volcanic peak famous amongst businessman for its golfing facilities, for us foreigners it’s the quirks you’ll fall in love with. In Jeju, local women still fish by diving for shellfish at the bottom of the sea in nothing but wetsuits. The beaches are crowded in summer, but the cultural attractions inland include plenty of random spots, such as a folk museum (helpfully labelled ‘fork museum’ on the maps) and a teddy museum. At the heart of it all, you’ll find the towering 1,950 metre peak that is Hallasan, a volcanic epic with a beautifully blue pool hidden in the crater.
There’s a reason why nowhere else – tropical spots abroad included – gets even close to Jeju when it comes to attracting Koreanhoneymooners. Warm currents mean the temperature is relatively mild even in winter, unlike Seoul’s frequent -20C dips, and come summer the island is everything you’d want from a summer holiday, hosting anything from donkey rides to waterfalls and enviable sunsets. If you drop by in February, a huge fireworks festival livens up the cold drafts of winter, and can be followed by locally grown green tea and a visit to the oddly located Museum of African Art.
Jeju has only three towns of any note, and each is a worthy and comfortable spot to explore the island from. You’ll probably want to escape the towns during the day, lounging on the beaches or exploring the stunning array of natural attractions, but come evening things can get extremely lively. Out of town life is dramatically different from the majority of the hilly Korean peninsula, featuring striking caves and flowery valleys, with houses few and far between and dirt tracks taking you across hills and into the island’s core. If you prefer your tourist attractions a little on the tacky side, Loveland, an explicit park that’s strictly for adults only (well, actually it’s not, but it should be) features the kind of things you’ll want to keep out of your holiday slide show. In other words, it’s seriously entertaining to the less prude-ish amongst us, and possibly heart-attack inducing to the more reserved.
In between all the relaxing and exploring of nature, delve into Jeju’s wide selection of popular seafood dishes as well as the local speciality, pork from wild pigs. Being a holiday resort, for many Jeju allows visitors to see Korean culture at it’s most friendly. Whip out your snorkel and your Ali G swimsuit and hit the sands, or simply watch those old fisherwomen diving down metres to grab dinner from the rocks. It’s quaint, gorgeous yet undeniably Korean.