When I first told my husband that I was going on a five-day assignment to Jeju, South Korea, his initial reaction was a surprised, “Huh? Five days? There’s stuff to do for so many days on that island?”
When I arrived in Jeju, I realised that there is just so much to see and do on what used to be known to the locals as “honeymoon” island. It is now an increasingly popular holiday travel destination, not just for Koreans but also international tourists.
In fact, it would take more than five days to check out everything!
Jeju is a paradise for those who enjoy the great outdoors. There are many magnificent parks, natural beaches and cliffs, as well as mountain peaks.
A visit to Seongsan Sunrise Peak, located on the eastern end of Jeju, is a must. Known to locals as Seongsan Ilchulbong, it is said to have risen from the sea in a volcanic eruption more than 100,000 years ago. There is a huge crater at the top surrounded by 99 rocks, making it look like a giant crown.
The north and southeast are surrounded by cliffs, while in the northwest, lies a grassy hill that connects to Seongsan Village. The ridge is an ideal place for a walk, horseback riding, and also watching the sunrise.
If you’re visiting during New Year’s Eve, you should probably check out the Sunrise Peak Festival. In spring, the area is a sea of yellow with canola flowers. We took an hour to climb up the stairs to the peak, just for the view, but you can actually enjoy the scenery from the foot of the mountains too.
For those who wish to do a bit of trekking, Hallasan (Halla Mountain), located in the Unesco World Heritage Hallasan National Park, is the highest peak in Jeju. It is 1,950m tall, and also known to the locals as Yeongjusan, which means “mountain high enough to pull the universe”. There are several trails, ranging from moderate to intermediate in terms of difficulty, with a distance of 3km (for a two-hour round-trip hike) to 9.6km (five-hour one-way hike).
Although there wasn’t enough time for us to hike up Hallasan, we did get to see it from 1100 Go-gi Highland, a protected wetland forest with hiking paths. The area was like a winter wonderland as it had been snowing the past few days and the volcanic rocks and bushes were covered in a sheet of white.
If you love to shop, Dongmun Traditional Market is the place to go to find almost anything – literally. You can find ready-to-eat street food to fresh produce like seafood, fruits and kimchi, souvenirs like Dol Hareubang (Stone Grandfather statues carved from volcanic rock) figurines, fridge magnets and keychains, and hallabong chocolates. You can also get your hands on the Hanbok or traditional Korean dress at the market.
For those who love makeup and skincare products, you might want to check out Innisfree Jeju House, where you can not only buy stuff but also learn how to make soap. The soap making kit comes in three “flavours” – green tea, tangerine and volcanic.
Menagerie of museums
O’Sulloc Tea Museum is located next to a tea plantation. It was opened 16 years ago and has a tea gallery, lounge area, and cafe. If you visit in spring, you get to pluck and brew tea at the Green Tea Festival.
A museum that will draw squeals of delight would be Teseum, the Teddy Bear Safari. This is because cute teddy bears of all sizes, types and designs are available for you to cuddle and take photos with. They also come in different costumes!
The museum is designed with a safari concept and there are plush toys of wildlife animals, marine life, birds, flowers and more. Although you can’t bring any of the displays home with you, there is a shop where you can purchase smaller versions as souvenirs.
Play Kpop is a digital museum where you can enjoy a surreal Live Holo(gram) Concert, and even become part of it. One of the media members got to play the part of G-Dragon’s girlfriend on stage! Even though it was just a hologram of him, it was very realistic and had all the “fans” screaming.
There are also other exhibition stations where you can scan your admission ticket to interact with Kpop stars, from dancing or taking photos with them, to trying on their clothing and makeup styles, to going on tour with them.
One of the must-see performances in Jeju is the Painters Hero which features four talented artists who don’t speak, yet are able to entertain the audience with their unique show. It combines art, magic, music, dance, mime and comedy. If you’re lucky, you could even be part of the innovative performance and win special items.
Theme parks and lovely flowers
At Eco World Theme Park, you can take a 1800s replica steam powered Baldwin train through the Gotjawal forest to see its flora and fauna.
There are also train stations where you can alight to explore the surroundings, including Eco Bridge, Eco Windmill, Picnic Garden, Kid’s Town, Eco Road, Bare Foot on Scoria, Floating Cafe, as well as topiary and landscaping artworks.
Jeju Shinwa World, which has been launched in stages since September 2017, offers a resort theme park, water park, destination spa, shopping centre, entertainment centre, and casino. There are also cute concept cafes where you can enjoy some unique desserts and beverages.
The camellia flower blooms during winter, and at Camellia Hill, there are 6,000 trees bearing 500 different species of the flower. The area was blooming in light and dark pink, as well as white, when we visited, and offers many photo opportunities. There are also other types of trees, plants, and flowers at the arboretum.
During winter, you can pick tangerines at Jeju-E-In Tangerine Farm.If you visit during winter, it’s the right season for tangerine picking. At Jeju-E-In Tangerine Farm, you can pick tangerines to eat on the spot or bring back home. Each guest is provided with a basket and clippers for their harvesting efforts. You’re allowed to take away up to 1kg of the fruit. There is also a cafe where you can enjoy citrus tea, juices, and desserts made from tangerines.
The island offers many other sights and experiences which we did not have the opportunity to check out this time, including the Haenyeo female divers; Manjanggul, a cave-like lava tube; waterfalls like Jeongbang and Cheonjiyeon; museums such as the Chocolate Museum, World Automobile Museum, Jeju Glass Castle, Alive Museum, Hello Kitty Island; and not for the faint-hearted or minors, the Museum of Sex and Health; as well as Loveland outdoor sculpture park.
All these might warrant future visits to the popular holiday destination.