i just got back from an amazing trip to Jeju-do in South Korea and really want to share the best parts of it with you. Don’t really want to bore you guys with too much information about each attraction because you can find details on them easily with a quick google search. But here’s my short two cents worth of what i particularly enjoyed so it might help you decide what you’d rather visit and what to skip when planning your vacation.
Best known for it’s stunning scenery and natural monuments, Jeju is a volcanic island just an hour’s flight from Seoul and is the perfect place for you if you love being around nature or are looking for a slower pace than the bustling cities like Seoul.
So without further ado, here are some of my top picks when it comes to places to visit and delicacies to try in Jeju!
- Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (Sunrise Peak)
The pictures really speak for themselves. Around 100,000 years ago, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak rose from under the sea in a volcanic eruption which its summit shaped like a punchbowl is approximately 182m from sea level. The view here is spectacular from wherever you stand — whether at the base of the mountain, near the top over looking the expanse of green and blue or just standing by the shore soaking up that salty sea breeze and watching the waves crash on the cliffs. Absolutely gorgeous!
2. Haenyeo (‘Sea Women’)
One of the most amazing parts of the island for me were the women divers or Haenyeo. I was lucky enough to get to meet a friendly group of these strong and beautiful women who’d just got back from a dive. These divers harvest food by hand from the ocean floor. They use no breathing equipment and stay submerged for more than two minutes at a time in freezing cold waters. To top it all off, they have an average age of 60! Isn’t that incredible? The oldest diver we met was 82 years old and says she loves being in the water because its easier on the joints in old age. These women really are an inspiring embodiment of strength in body and spirit. While you can definitely learn a lot about them at the Haenyeo Museum, I highly-recommend going to watch their diving performances and meeting them personally to feel the full beauty and gravity of their lives and culture.
3. Folk Village Visit
For the full Jeju experience, definitely go for one of these visits into a traditional Jeju home for a full immersion into the island’s history and culture. For example, many of the traditional villagers never had any locks or gates because no one ever stole anything or committed a crime on the island in the past! The women were hard workers, doing everything from collecting heavy jars of water, to farming, to caring for the kids and doing the chores. Because of the strong winds and uneven ground, the women strap these water jars to their backs instead of on their heads for balance. Jeju women used to determine if rainwater was safe for drinking by tossing a frog into the jar overnight. If the frog was alive in the morning it was safe for drinking, if not they would discard the water. There is such genius to how people lived their lives then.. They even showed us how black pigs used to save people on the island from infectious diseases by consuming their excrement in outdoor latrines! I was so thankful for the warmth an hospitality of this delightful couple.
4. Dong Mun Traditional Market
Dong Mun Traditional Market is definitely a place I would recommend any visitor just to see what kind of fresh seafood gets caught off of the island’s shores everyday. In terms of delicacies, there are all sorts of popular seafood including abalones, conches, octopus, squid, clams, sea cucumbers… the list goes on. It’s even more fascinating watching the stall owners de-gutting squids and customers eating these shellfish sliced on the spot, wriggling and still alive! Mom and I couldn’t resist getting a bag of abalones to try. Generally, you can get 10-11 abalones for about 20,000Won or roughly SGD$26. A real steal if you ask me. After that, why not take a relaxing stroll by Iho Beach just about a 10-minute walk away? It was a lovely way to enjoy the sea view while soaking up the final rays of the sun.
5. Manjanggul Cave
This cave is a national monument with a lava tunnel that has a variety of natural structures inside including 70cm lava stalagmites and the lava tube tunnels. Only 1 kilometer of the 13422 meter of Manjanggul Cave is open for visitors. And it can get quite chilly in the cave with temperatures in the range of 11-21℃ so bring a sweater and wear the right shoes when you visit. If you had never experienced walking in a lava tunnel, this is your chance because it is one of the best lava tunnels in the world! Personally, while there is not much by way of animals or plants to look at, the structures are fascinating and I found the long hike in the silent cool tunnel oddly therapeutic. Worth visiting if you’re the sort who enjoys long solitary walks.
6. Cheonjeyeon Falls
Cheonjeyeon Falls (Pond of the Emperor of Heaven) are subdivided into 3-tier waterfall. The warm-tempered subtropical falls consist of several flora and fauna. Another must-see attraction of the Cheonjeyeon Falls is the cave on the eastern side, which is where the ceiling of the waterfalls begin. The Cheonjeyeon Valley is a cave where cold water splashes out from the ceiling to create a magnificent waterfall. The walk is invigorating and the views along the way well worth the hike. Don’t expect anything dramatic in terms of size and scale though. The Korean ideal of beauty in nature is when there is a harmony of elements. This is truly a beautiful place where water, rock, wind and sunlight converge.
7. Sanbangsan Mountain (Mt Sanbang)
A result of violent volcanic activity some 700,000 to 800,000 years ago, its name ‘sanbang’ – literally meaning ‘a cave inside a mountain’ actually does contain a cave located about 150m above sea level and has a truly spectacular view out over the ocean. Due to its close location to the sea and its high elevation, the peak is often ringed with clouds. Just look at that breathtaking view. We found it near impossible to leave!
Luckily, lured by the prospect of some delicious tangerine ice-cream at the foot of the mountain, we eventually left for our next destination. Which brings me to yet another attraction you shouldn’t miss —
8. Nanta Performance
I won’t give too much away, except that we had ourselves in stitches laughing for most of the show. It’s been performed on Broadway and has travelled to more than 59 countries to resounding success. Think flying knives, food flying on and off stage, acrobatics/dance with kitchen utensils, ‘live’ cooking and lots of comedy and entertainment. It definitely was a huge highlight of our trip. Nanta runs almost everyday at 5pm and 8pm. Go with the VIP seats and have fun on stage with the actors!
And finally, before we go, how can I not mention the food and some Jeju Delicacies..
The abalone is absolutely delicious, but so is their black pig. Something the islanders are proud of and what you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Korea. These can be served as part of a BBQ plate with spicy gochujang (spicy sauce) or even sliced and delivering flavour to some comforting, savoury noodles. I also particularly enjoyed a very satisfying and wholesome chicken hotpot chockfull of nutritious goodness and my favourite rice cakes.
It can be pretty challenging to eat out when you travel alone because everything comes in sizeable portions and are priced similarly because every meal comes with 5-6 side dishes for sharing. But the food is generally quite healthy, produce and seafood are really fresh and just thinking about my bibimbap and seafood hotpot makes me ache right now as I’m typing this.
I really hope this short write-up has been helpful for you. Other places that are worth checking out but I didn’t have the time to would be the O’Sulloc Tea Museum and Mt Halla hikes that are especially beautiful in spring. If you’re headed to Jeju anytime soon, have a wonderful time as I did and if not, maybe someday soon? (: