Getting Around Jeju Folklore & Natural History Museum (Tour Course 4)
Travelling in Jeju can be tricky if you haven’t figured out the right transportation. Unlike Seoul (or other big cities) which has a dense subway network and timely buses; Jeju’s more laid-back and endorses ‘slow-travel’ (천천히). Time can literally stand still when you’re waiting at a bus-stop — in the middle of nowhere. Most travellers prefer car rentals or taxis to explore the island. Local buses connect different parts of the island, but the erratic frequency can be a test of your patience. Jeju tourism’s Golden Bus (City Tour Bus) is a viable option to explore the sights of Jeju-si. Although, it’s best to have your route planned before you set out and the goldenbus guidebook can be a good starting point.
We reached Jeju early in the morning and I had a couple of hours before check-in. We left our bags at the front desk and Basil dropped me at Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum. Cherry Blossoms or beotkkot (벚꽃) start blooming a week earlier in Jeju. Most of the trees were pregnant with buds in the last week of March. Timing is everything in cherry blossom viewing. I was early by a few days and I managed to catch only a couple of fully bloomed trees. It was the first day of my solo day trip and I decided to follow Route 4 from the Jeju City Tour Guidebook (pic above). I wasn’t sure how much I would cover, but I decided to take it easy and enjoy the experience instead.
Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum (제주도민속자연사박물관)
The entrance was practically deserted when I reached the ticket counter. I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee (there’s free entry on certain days of the month) and I started with the exhibits outside the main gate. Jeju is an island that was formed by intense volcanic activity and almost every tourist site will have a collection from its turbulent geological past. I was particularly amazed by the exhibit of the ‘lava tree mold’.
First Views of Cherry Blossoms
A large tour group was buzzing inside. A cherry blossom tree was the main attraction and had started a photo frenzy. I tried to avoid the group and found another tranquil location. The dry streambed had cherry blossoms spilling all over it. I’ve never seen a sight like this before and I wished the flowers were in full bloom.
Stonework & Rock Exhibition
I didn’t spend much time at the outdoor exhibition. I wanted to avoid the noise and I decided to come back on my way out.
Main Exhibition Hall
The main exhibition area was deserted. Most tourists had skipped this bit and preferred blossom viewing instead. The staff at the front desk were very helpful. I tried practicing my Korean and it helped me win smiles. Sadly, there weren’t any English brochures or audioguides.
Natural History Hall
A short audio-visual presentation gives an introduction to the local folklore of Jeju. According to local legend: the founding fathers (demigods) of the island emerged from the three holes at Samseonghyeol. I had either forgotten about this or hadn’t read about it on my earlier trip in 2016. Another audio-visual presentation gives a geological introduction to the formation of Jeju. The rest of the hall has exhibits of volcanic rocks.
I’ve seen a wide variety of birds in Jeju (and the mainland), but have never been good with names. Birding enthusiasts will find this hall particularly interesting.
Folklore Exhibition Hall
The Folklore Exhibition Hall has exhibits of ancient ceremonial practices, structures of traditional Korean houses, and life-size replicas of ancient boats. I skipped the exhibition on the first floor and explored the outdoor exhibition.
Outdoor Folk Village
Exhibits of thatched houses and stone sculptures dominated the outdoor exhibition area. An entrance leads to the underground Marine Exhibition Hall. I skipped it and walked back to the Stonework & Rock Exhibition (outdoor). It was empty this time and I could get some shots of the main fountain.
Exercise equipment was strategically located at the periphery of the stream. It was such a wonderful place for locals to come and get their daily dose of exercise under the shade of cherry blossoms.
Daegaksa (대 각 사)
I was tempted to explore Shinsan Park, but I also had to visit Samseonghyeol. I wandered around and spotted Daegaksa Temple. The temple doors were closed in the morning.
Samseonghyeol (제주 삼성혈)
It’s hard to miss the colourful main gate of Samseonghyeol. During my visit, repairs were underway, and the ticket booth was shifted inside. The girl at the counter spoke English and helped me with the directions to Jeonnong-ro Cherry Blossom Street (my next stop).
Jeju is quite popular for field trips for Korean school kids. The shrine were buzzing with excited high school kids. I walked away from the noisy banter and explored the woods. I couldn’t escape fast enough and some curious kids asked me where I had come from. Unlike Seoul, in Jeju, locals (or visiting Korean tourists) don’t shy from small talk.
This memorial altar was constructed in 1698 by King Sukjong. The main shrine inside (Samseongjeon) has the three ancestral tablets of the founding brothers of the Tamna.
Sungbodong & Jeonsacheong
I had hoped the students would leave before I reached these sites. But the cherry blossom tree had captured their fantasy. Most of the kids were clicking selfies and enjoying the shade.
Jeonsacheong was built for religious ceremonies by King Sunjo. Sungbodang (next to Jeonsacheong) was a dormitory built for housing visiting scholars.
Samseonghyeol (The Three Holes)
According to local legend, 3 demigods emerged from these 3 holes and gave birth to the Tamna Dynasty. Samseonghyeol loosely translates as 3 clans’ holes.
Jeonnong-ro Cherry Blossom Street (전농로)
Jeju KAL Hotel is the landmark to Jeonnong-ro. It’s a 10 minute straight walk from Samseonghyeol. I checked boards at the main crossing and followed the directions to get to the cherry blossom street.
I was early and the trees hadn’t blossomed yet. The road still looked quite spectacular and I could imagine how beautiful it would look in full bloom on the weekend. Jeonnong-ro Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the main spring festivals in Jeju.
There are quite a few eating options along the main street. I walked back to Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum and entered the restaurant on the opposite side of the road. It’s one of the restaurants recommended by the local tourism site. I didn’t feel like eating meat and opted for myeulchi guksu (멸치국). It’s a noodle soup in anchovy broth. The local ajummas were happy that I could speak basic Korean and pampered me. They were shocked when I politely refused kimchi. They gave me a bowl of water to wash the spice from the kimchi and eat it with my soup. I could get used to this kind of hospitality.
Shinsan Park (신산공원)
I had missed the Jeju Tour Bus and had to wait for an hour. So I popped into Shinsan Park to while away time. Shinsan Park was inaugurated to commemorate the arrival of the Olympic Torch in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
There are multiple trails within the park. On a lazy afternoon, most locals were either enjoying the shade or walking along the winding paths.
Cherry Blossom Route
Soon enough, I came across some cherry blossoms. Bees buzzed around the flowers and it was quite a sight.
Landmarks & Sites
I was sleep deprived and found a bench at the outdoor gym. There are other buildings and sculptures in the park. I decided to skip them and take in the moment instead. The Natural History Museum shares its premises with this park.
Cherry Blossom Love
I didn’t want to miss the tour bus again (I wasn’t sure about the local bus) and after admiring the cherry blossoms, I walked back to the bus stop. I purchased a single entry ticket to the next stop and decided to do a day tour on the next day.