13 July 2010

Traveling to Jeju?

So many people are coming to visit us or thinking about visiting this year on Jeju, that I thought it might be a good idea to make a little guide with advice about coming out here.

Generally
Jeju (제주도) is a volcanic island, centered around the huge Mount Halla (한라산). It has two major cities - the big Jeju City (제주시) (home to most people here) on the northern shore and Seogwipo (서귀포) on the southern shore. It was once an independent kingdom called "Tamna," and a lot of that spirit remains in the people - especially as evidenced in the distinctive Jeju dialect and the province's special "self-governing" status. The Tamna kingdom fought the Mongols and the larger mainland kingdoms briefly before being crushed, and they have museums dedicated to their resistance. Jeju was also host to the 3-4 Uprising in 1948, a local rebellion that began against the U.S.-backed regime installed after World War 2 (a museum dedicated to it is worth a brief visit if you're nearby).

Jeju is sub-tropical, with snow and ice in the winter but incredible heat and humidity in the summer. The end of spring and beginning of summer is the "typhoon season," where it tends to rain a lot - but can still be beautiful. Even in the middle of the rainy season, there will be stretches of bright sunny days. One thing tends to be true: if it's rainy, it will be rainy for some days. If it's sunny, it will stay sunny for a while.


Transportation
Getting to the island is pretty easy. Flights leave from the major cities frequently, and are fast and easy. You might save a bit of money taking a ferry, but it takes a lot longer by boat.  It might be worth it to spend the extra on a plane to make your traveling time two hours instead of two days. You don't generally need to book ahead, except at major holidays like Chuseok or during the peak traveling season (August). Even then you will probably be able to find something.

On the island, you can rely on public transportation. As in so many other places, the bus system is great and taxis are pretty cheap. The buses stop at 9:30, but a taxi from anywhere on the island to anywhere else will seldom exceed 30,000 won. If you're going any serious distance, it may pay to try to agree on a price beforehand.

One nice thing to do is to take the bus around the perimeter of the island, on the 1132 road. You can go to as many beaches as you want and grab buses inland when you want to see something on the way.

If you want to rent a scooter here, you'll need a Korean driver's license or an international driver's license. Arrange for a scooter ahead of time. I've never done it, but I imagine it could be pretty fun. Be careful - Jeju can be very windy.

Don't rent a car.


Hotels
As in most places in Korea, there's three ways to stay: hotel, motel, or roughing it.

Real hotels, like the Hyatt or Lotte Hotel, are expensive. Seriously expensive. The worst room in the Hyatt is 240,000 per night. Except as an extraordinary treat, it's probably not worth it. It's a lot wiser to just visit one of the megahotels when you're down in the resort area near Jungmun beach.

It's probably a little wiser to stay at a love motel instead. If you've been in Korea a while, you're probably familiar with these cheap motels. Originally intended for trysts, now they're often just clean and decent places to stay without spending a fortune. You also have the option of staying in the slightly cheaper "pension" style motels, which are much the same but perhaps with fewer amenities, or in the cheapest option of minbak (민박): essentially just a bare room with blankets and pillows (sometimes with a kitchenette or the like). Love motels tend to be in the cities, while pensions and minbaks are everywhere.  You will almost certainly not need to book ahead of time.

The most frugal option is to camp out on the beach. Last year, it's what we did when we visited - just going around the rim from beach to beach, camping. I highly recommend it.


Activities
There's a lot you can do.
  • Beaches - Jeju has some of the most beautiful beaches in Korea, all of them with a different character. There are a lot of them, but the main ones are: Iho (이호해수욕장) is closest to Jeju City, and so while it's popular and convenient, it also tends to be a little dirty. Jungmun (중문해수욕장) is near Seogwipo City and is by far the most popular beach and a major attraction; it's big and gorgeous and can have enormous waves. Samyang (삼양해수욕장) is east of Jeju City, and has greyish sand euphemistically called "black sand;" it's is supposed to have healing properties, but the best property is just that Samyang's not as popular as the others. Gimnyeong (김녕해수욕장) is further east, and has sailing classes that are fun; you can spend 40k for a weekend of sailing classes without further obligation, and it's supposed to be a lot of fun. These are just a few of the beaches; there are a dozen others all along the edge of the island and few of them will disappoint.
  • Outdoor stuff - You can ride horses, ATVs, or go-karts. A lot of these sorts of activities are located inland south-east of Jeju City. On the water, you can go windsurfing, bodysurfing, or regular surfing. You are well-advised to go to Jungmun beach in the south for water-sports.
  • Camping - Almost anywhere you go along the water's edge, you can find camping. As elsewhere in Korea, there are few restrictions. Some places have a set camping area, but in most places you can just set up your tent wherever you like (even on the beach itself, excepting Jungmun and Iho!) You can also build a campfire, although please be safe and don't burn down my island. There are almost never any fees to camp.
  • Hiking - Jeju has dozens of "olles" (올레, pronounced "o-lays") or hiking trails. The ones along the southern coast are local favorites, like #7. They are enormously popular with native tourists, as well.  Along the way, check out some of the wonderful waterfalls in the south, like Cheonjiyeon (천지연폭포).  If you want a good challenge, you can even hike one of the paths of Mt. Halla!
  • Sites - You can check out Samsunghyeol (삼성혈), the hallowed site where the legendary Jeju people sprang from magical caves; the depressing but worthwhile Jeju Uprising museum; the enormous Manjunggul cave system (만장굴) that extends for a full kilometer in a watery lava tube (go on a dark rainy day, since sunshine is wasted when you're spleunking); Hallim Park (한림공원) (huge and beautiful gardens with terrifying ostriches that will glare menacingly); the Spirited Garden (생각하는정원), a large collection of bonsai trees well-worth the visit; and so on. Probably the favorite thing to see is Jeju Loveland (제주러브랜드), a sex-themed sculpture park that hovers somewhere between goofy and creepy.
  • Casinos - There are a dozen casinos on Jeju.  It's illegal for natives to go there, so they're filled with Chinese and Japanese tourists and a handful of other nationalities.  The general idea is that you get free drinks while you gamble, but be careful about minimum hands - some of the casinos insist on a 50,000 minimum bet.  I recommend the Oriental in Jeju City the most.
  • Seongsan Ilchubong - This is so amazing it gets its own bullet point.  See, it's right there to the left?  Yeah, this caldera is called Seongsan Ilchubong (성산 일출봉) or Sunrise Peak.  It's my favorite thing on the island, and an absolute must.  It's on the far east, jutting out from the coast.
There's a whole lot more, of course.  You can take a ferry to Udo Island and have a picnic, go to one of the innumerable museums (like the Teddy Bear Museum), or check out the O'Sulloc Tea Plantation.  But the above are my favorite things.


Restaurants
The mandatory place to eat is Bagdad Cafe. This amazing Indian restaurant is near the City Hall area of Jeju City (where most of the best restaurants are) and it is almost a sin to come to Jeju and not go to it.

Right nearby is Zapata's, a Mexican place that's pretty good.  If you are located in a place with few or no Mexican restaurants, the chance to grab a decent burrito isn't something you want to pass up.


Also, be sure to check out a haenyo restaurant.  Haenyo are a special group of elderly female divers on Jeju; they dive among the rocks and coral and pull up seafood and seaweed by hand, which is served in special restaurants.  If you go to Seongsan Ilchubong, right at its foot is a wonderful haenyo place where you can eat an abalone pulled from the sea floor by hand an hour ago.


If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. And if you come to visit, I hope you have a great time!

2 comments:

  1. hi there, may i know where is the go-kart place in Jeju? Ae we are travelling F&E in korea, we thought of renting a car in Jeju. Why was it not recommended?

    Thanks in advance!

    ReplyDelete
  2. There are numerous go-kart places on Jeju. I can't recommend a specific one, but this one seems to be thought-of highly: http://jejulife.net/2008/03/19/go-karting-on-jeju/

    You can rent a car on Jeju, but it just seems like a waste of money because public transportation is so excellent.

    ReplyDelete