For budget, travel info, culture, see Itinerary Part 1.
For Seoul Itinerary Days 1-3, and Days 12-14, see Parts 2 & 8 respectively.
For Andong Itinerary Day 4, see Part 3.
For Gyeongju Itinerary Day 5, see Part 4.
For Busan itinerary Days 6-8, see Part 5.
For Jeju Island Days 9-10, see Part 6.
For Haeinsa at Gayasan National Park Day 11, see Part 7.
Jeju Itinerary Days 9 & 10
Domestic flight to Jeju (see “Getting Around Korea.”) There is no way you can tour Jeju on your own. The attractions are too far apart and the buses have no numbers. You have to stop every bus and ask the route. The best way to tour Jeju is to (1) join a day tour or (2) rent a car and drive.
I joined the Yeha Tour (T: +82-64-713-5505), which tours the West side of the island on one day and East side on the other. A day tour costs ₩79K (adult), ₩69K (3-18 years old) and free for under 3. So if you want both the West and East courses, multiply the fees by two. This price includes pick-up and drop-off, lunch and admission fees to attractions.
The West Course (M, W, F) includes Halim Park, Suwelbong Trekking, Spirited Garden, Althr Airfield, Mt. Sanbang, choice of Cheonjeyon Waterfall or Teddy Bear Museum. The East Course (T, Th, Sat) itinerary: Trick Art Museum, Seongeup Folk Village, Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak, Women Diver Show, and Manjang Cave.
If you’re driving on your own, my advice is
(a) SKIP THESE:
i. Suwelbong Trekking: although this is a UNESCO site, it is merely a walk along a beach. Wear good shoes. Slippery floor.
ii. Spirited Garden, a passable bonsai garden
iii. Alddreu Airfield: is where Japanese built concrete hangars to hide their kamikaze planes from being bombed during WWII. While the historical significance makes it worth going, there is no information found anywhere, no boards being put up. A pity Jeju didn’t preserve this wonderful piece of history.
iv. Cheonjeyon Waterfall: it is said that 7 nymphs from the Heavens descend and bathe here daily and if you dip yourself in the waterfall on 15th of 7th lunar month, all diseases will be cured. But the waterfall is closed off from tourists and there are too many tourists. Small waterfall too. Wear good shoes.
v. Teddy Bear Museum: I didn’t go personally but I heard from my fellow tour group that this is boring.
vi. Kids and cam-whores will love the Trick Art Museum where you can take photos with 3D classical paintings.
(b) Average Attractions:
i. Mt Sanbang: Another UNESCO site, also known as Sanbang-gulsa (grotto), it is a legend that the top of Hallasan Mountian blew off and this piece became Sanbang mountain. There is a Buddha statue at the grotto. But if you’ve seen one mountain with a cave with a Buddha in it, you’ve seen them all. Wear good shoes.
Seongeup Folk Village: The poles are the traditional facebook status. 3 poles represent “We won’t be home for a long time, don’t wait for us.” 2 poles mean “Parents are not home but kids are.” “1 pole refers to “We will be back shortly. Come in and wait inside for us.” 0 pole means “we are home.”
iii. Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak: UNESCO site. This is the toughest climb I had in Korea. And it wasn’t worth it. When I reached the peak, the clouds came and I couldn’t see 10m ahead. By 1pm, you should climb down the mountain and to the coast to catch the Women Diver Show. Again, I didn’t find it spectacular. It was a bit of a cheat to me. I witnessed the granny taking a octopus from the tank in the restaurant before the show, and during the show, when she dived into the sea and emerged, she held up the same octopus. I understand this was a performance and that she was very old (the average age of women divers are 66 because no one wants to do the hard job). But I can’t help feeling cheated.
In the past, Jeju’s women worked while men studied at home. Now female divers are a dying trade: dangerous and hard work. The average age of the divers is 66, with the oldest at 85.
Woman divers work throughout the year, including winter. They only wear a suit with stones attached. They can stay underwater for more than 10 minutes.
(c) MUST VISIT
Since Jeju is a volcanic island, there are many rocks with different shapes and they are named “bear,” “frog,” and “a mother carrying a child.” But this rock, standing erect at Halim Park, is begging for a name. Any sexggestions?
The magnificent Ssangyong-gul
i. Halim Park: is the effort of one man, Mr Song Bong-kyu, who planted all the trees, shrubs and flowers over the years. While his determination is admirable, the Ssangyong-gul, a cave within a cave, that looks like twin dragons, is amazingly fun to walk to through. It is also noted for its stalactites and stalagmites, not commonly found in lava caves.
Halim Park: The rocks actually looked quite cute in real life. In photo, they look like Ju-on.
Halim Park: Buddha knows UV is damaging to the skin and sits in an arbor.
ii. I probably have a thing for caves. Manjang Cave is the world’s large lava cave and is very impressive with the rock formations and stalactites. There is always something so mythical and awe-striking about caves. UNESCO site.
While the day-tour was great (friendly tourguide!), there were some places that the tour didn’t cover:
1. Mt Halla (Hallasan): UNESCO site, highest peak in South Korea, sitting in the middle of Jeju Island. Set an entire day to reach the submit, none of the trails are easy. Bring water and food and windbreaker. Take the Yeongsil Trail (7 hours up and down), the easiest and most scenic, or the Eorimok Trail, the most difficult but most beautiful.
2. Yeomiji Botanical Garden: Largest arboretum in Asia.
3. Hamdeok Beach.
4. Cheonjiyeon Waterfall: Its name means “where the sky (cheon) meets the land.”
5. Jusangjeoli Cliffs: Natural cliffs that look like hexagonal and cubic pillars, like they are handcarved.
6. Jeju Folk Village: My guidebook says this is more fun than the Seongeup Folk Village I visited because there are folk performances, traditional craft artisans, pony rides and photo-op of traditional wedding outfits.
8. Coffee Waterworld: coffee-themed water park with coffee museum, farm, roaster, herb sauna, Korean Sauna, outdoor spas, and massages. You can even soak yourself in coffee!
Of all the places I’ve visited in Korea, Gyeongju is my least favorite, followed by Jeju. The reason is the same: both places seem catered for tourists. When I go to a place, I’d like to know its culture, and not how it presents itself to tourists.
Where to Stay in Jeju
Mt Halla splits Jeju Island into the North called Jeju-si (near the airport) and South called Seogwipo. Jeju-si is more developed with casinos and nightlife but Seogwipo has newer hotels and is up-and-coming.
L-shaped room with the TV beside the bed
Since I toured with Yeha, I could get a 20% discount staying in Yeha Guesthouse. They have two branches, both in Jeju-si, one near Bus terminal and one near the city hall. I picked the city hall one, which was new. The room was spacious and clean. You have to ask for towels at the reception. 10-15 minutes walk to City Hall where the good food is The hostel is cheap and good!
What to Eat in Jeju
Black pig is also known as “shit pig” in Jeju. In the past, they didn’t have food to feed pigs. So people shat directly at the sty (where the tourguide is standing).
1. I had black pig at two places: the buffet restaurant at Spirited Garden and a bbq restaurant at Seongeup Folk Village. Both places were included in the Yeha tour and I thought, meh. So-so niah.
Buffet Lunch at Spirited Garden
BBQ black pig at Seongeup Folk Village restaurant
2. I had some mandarin orange products. Quite delicious but a tad sweet.
3. Cactus juice was yummy with all sorts of different tastes going on.
4. Bogun (19, Dongkwangro-6gil, Jeju-si, T: +82-64-753-9521, okdom-gui grilled tile fish and obunjak ttubaegi earshell and clam stew): highly recommended by the locals.
5. Since I was only there for a night, and I had so much spicy food and kimchi for the past 9 days that my faeces were bright orange, I thought I should eat something calming for my stomach. Had abalone porridge for ₩13k at Dawoojung (1012-2, Ido 2-dong, Jeju-si, T: +82-64-751-9966). Not bad.
Click to enlarge namecard:
To be continued…
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.