Jeju (Cheju) is, perhaps, the most popular tourist destination in South Korea. With cheap flights connecting all major cities, in the mainland, to Jeju; it makes for an excellent weekend getaway. Exploring the whole island itself, will take longer than a week and yet, it might not be possible to cover everything. Jeju is one of “The New 7 Wonders of Nature“ and has an enviable wealth of natural diversity in the form of lengthy coastlines, quaint fishing villages, oreums, lush forests, arboretums, and Korea’s pride, Mt. Hallasan. It also has a fair share of museums, amusement parks, recreational areas, shopping markets, and casinos. Take your pick!
For simplicity, the island can be divided into 5 zones (corresponding to the geographical orientation) namely: north, south, east, west, and centre. We started our 10 day trip in the north, travelled to the east, back to the north again, and ended the trip in the south combining it with the central region (Mt. Hallasan). The best way to get around would be to rent a car, scooter, or if you’re adventerous — a bicycle. Local bus connectivity is a test of your patience and is pretty scarce after 7 pm. Tour buses run with a similar frequency, but have an added advantage of connecting tourist places of interest with popular hotels. If you have a T-Money Card (Seoul), it will be valid across public modes of transport in Jeju. Cabs may turn out to be expensive and it’s probably best to avoid them for longer distances. Although,walking is the least popular mode of transport for many, it’s the simplest and most enjoyable way to get around.
We spent about 4 days in the north, clubbing it with Basil’s work trip, and explored the popular areas in quick succession depending on the available time. However, it’s possible to cover most of the north in a day — if you’re pressed for time.
Breakfast at Tapdong
Tapdong’s top draw is its scenic coastline. It’s a great way to kickstart your morning with a walk along the rocky shore. Although, it might get a bit noisy with planes landing at regular intervals. The street parallel to the coastline is famous for its cafes, shopping markets, casinos, and high-end hotels. A Factory Cafe, opposite Arario Museum, has a fine collection of art books, a seating area with free WI-FI, and is perfect for a light meal.
Like most of its counterparts in Seoul, Arario Museum doesn’t allow photography of its exhibits. Showcasing contemporary artworks by artists, across the globe (Andy Warhol, Subodh Gupta), Arario might be a bit disappointing if you’re not into contemporary/abstract art. The cold, grey brick stones didn’t do much for me. Some of the exhibit areas were dimly lit and it was creepy to be alone in a room, with little light, and the overpowering smell of cement. Since I couldn’t get any pictures inside the museum, I tried to take abstract pictures of the building instead. The irony was not lost on me.
Yongduam Coastal Road
Tapdong is about 15 minutes away from Yongduam Rock on foot. The Golden Bus City Tour has a pickup at Ramada Hotel (Tapdong) — if you want to skip the walk. The coastline, connecting these two popular tourist spots, is lined with fish restaurants (the most popular local meal in Jeju) and cafes. Yongyeon Pond, a quiet cove, painted bluish green, by the confluence of fresh and sea water — lies just before Yongduam Rock. If you’re not in a hurry, you could try kayaking here. We explored a bit of the bridge and walked towards the fabled “Dragon Head Rock“.
Tourists were having a field day with the camera and blue seas — in the background. We did manage to get a couple of good shots without getting photobombed. The jagged coastline and rock shapes are result of erosion by the sea and wind over the years. However, local legends prefer to narrate interesting stories about fallen dragons and mystical deities, to explain the origin of these strange rock formations.
Lunch at D-Stone Pub
Leading away from Yongduam Rock towards the coastline trail, at the far end, lies D-Stone Pub. If you’re lucky to get a seat by the window, you’d be privy to some of the best views of the sea.
The choices of food match the location of this restaurant/cafe. Many guests (suited business men and young couples) chose to reserve tables by the window — to enjoy a cup of coffee or desert. We were hungry and indulged in King Prawn pasta and burgers instead.
Haenyeo Women Divers
If you’re lucky, you might spot Haenyeo Women Divers in the wide expanse of blue. These women have quite an extraordinary ability to hold their breath underwater for 2 or 3 minutes. And, it’s fascinating, because they don’t need specific gear earning them the name of Mermaids of Jeju. Many of them sell their catch (abalones, shellfish, seaweed) along the rocky bed of the sea.
Jeju Museum of Art
Jeju Museum of Art is situated in the midst of nature — away from the chaos of the main city. The modern building is surrounded by art exhibits, a clear pond, and trees. Noisy ravens crackled in the background and soft sounds of music (from the neighbouring Love Land) trickled in. On the day of my visit, I wasn’t charged an entrance fee. However, only two of the exhibitions halls were open for visitors and photography wasn’t allowed inside. Exhibition hall 1 showcased the paintings of Chang Lee Suok highlighting stories of the hardships of the past. The Haenyeo Women Divers are a prominent feature of his work.
Jeju Love Land
Keeping up with the island’s underlying theme of bizarre museums and amusement parks, Jeju Love Land is known for its erotic take on love. The exhibits are the creations of art graduates from Seoul’s prestigious Hongik University.
Since, Jeju happens to be a popular honeymoon destination for newly weds and young couples, this museum fits in quite well. However, Love Land has its fair share of elderly tourist groups, happy to pose with the exhibits, or flaunt the unfazed look. I was asked to double as photographer on multiple occasions. And I found people watching, more interesting, than the exhibits themselves. Ajummas laughed at a nude male exhibit, an elderly man walked and posed beneath a large exhibit of a woman’s legs (when he thought no one was looking), and couples had a field day with the interactive devices. In the background, the Beatles and Beejees tried to croon some real love into the air. Personally, I was disappointed. Having visited the Khajuraho Temples in India and the Sex Museum in Amsterdam; I thought Jeju Love Land was a rather tame version of what it claimed to be.
On a cold day, it’s perfect to have a quick snack of steaming hot dumplings. The stall, run by an elderly lady, outside Jeju Love Land offers a good selection of Korean meals.
Jeju’s shopping markets are known to be open till late evening and some through the night. These streets are great to stroll around and soak in the atmosphere — even if you don’t want to shop. Chilsung-Ro, near Tapdong, has some of the popular brands and a couple of good eating options. Most places were shut by 8 pm, so you’d want to visit earlier.
The underground shopping centre (also serves as an underpass) is perfect to get good deals on clothes or shoes. Since we hadn’t had our meal yet, we decided to grab a bite to eat at one of the local burger joints. And there’s some pretty stiff competition out here. Exit 11 leads you to Jeju Gwandeokjeong Pavilion.
Jeju Gwandeokjeong Pavilion
We reached Gwandeokjeong Pavilion around 9 pm. The doors to Jeju Mokgwana (the former government office) were shut. On a full moon night, we weren’t disappointed, and were happy to even see Dol Hareubang.
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