Jeju Island – Korea's Island Paradise
Korea’s largest and most beautiful island. While I have not been to Jeju Island in the past two years, I have been there before; once for a vacation, and once for work. Both times I was in awe of Jeju’s intrinsic beauty. The island, like much of Korea’s other regions is home to its own dialect, so for someone who has learned to speak Korean in Seoul (ME), it’s awfully difficult to understand speech from people who have a dialect. I suppose it would be something similar to someone who studied and learned to speak standard English American English as a second language being dropped in a cockney speaking district of London, or sent to rural New Zealand, or the American South. (Yee Haw!) Fear not though, unlike Busan, the people in Jeju aren’t so in envy of Seoul overly proud of their cultural distinctiveness that they won’t revert to Standard Korean to accommodate people who don’t understand them (which I assume includes native Koreans). Jeju is indeed an ideal location for a vacation! In fact’ it’s the most popular destination for Koreans to go on a honeymoon!
How do I get there? I went to Jeju for the first time in 2005. The hour long flight from Kimpo International Airport in Seoul (the airport used mostly for domestic flights) was shorter than the bus/subway ride to the airport itself. That may change in the near future when the Airport Railroad (formerly known as IREX) is completed. At the moment, the best way to get to Kimpo Airport is by subway or by airport shuttle bus. The airfare to Jeju isn’t at all very expensive. I’ve also heard you can take a ferry to Jeju, but that obviously takes longer and you’d have to travel to Incheon, Busan, or Mokpo first.
How can I get around in Jeju?
Well, this is really up to you, and it really depends on if you have a car or not. I strongly recommend having a car. If you don’t have a Korean drivers’ license, you can easily obtain an international license from whichever agency handles this in your home country (AAA in the US.) You can reserve to rent a car in advance, but that might require that you speak Korean. If you don’t, it shouldn’t be too hard to rent a car at the airport. There is also a bus system on the island, but I’ve heard it doesn’t stop exactly where everyone wants to go all the time. I can only imagine the havoc during the 2002 World Cup, when all the matches were in Seogwipo Stadium (on the southern side of the island), and the airport and most of the hotels were on the northern side of the island. Granted, I wasn’t present during the world cup, so I can’t know for sure, but I’ve seen many stadiums far from subways and the havoc that they create on traffic. Once after a football game in the US, it took me and my family 2 hours to get on a bus that was only driving 3 miles away to where our car was parked. Then it took us an hour to find the car itself, to say nothing of the time it took to drive home. I think even though the game ended at 9:00PM, we actually got home around 1:30 AM. Wow, this article is starting to be more about traffic regulations and urban planning than getting away to paradise. I’m sorry!
What can I see in Jeju? Well duh, the beach! And lots of it! Jeju’s weather is significantly better than Seoul’s. If you’re lucky to have a day of nice weather in Seoul, multiply the feeling you get by 100, and that’s the feeling you’ll get from great weather in Jeju. There’s something about the beautiful sea and fresh air that makes everything seem so nice and good. I say this as I peer out the window and see another wave of yellow sand attacking me. Man, I’d love to be there kicking back on the beach right now. In addition to that, there are many other things to see, such as waterfalls, forests, museums, and Korea’s 2nd largest mountain, Halla-san. Also take note of the Easter Island-esque stone statues that are native only to Jeju.
What can I do there? There are many festivals there; it seems like you could conceivably go at any time of the year and it would be festival season there. From the fire festival (purposeful burning of grass to eliminate insects, their eggs, and larvae), to the orange festival, you’ll be sure to find something you’re interested in. Here is a small list of some of the festivals. In addition, Jeju is relatively sparsely populated and its main industry is tourism, so there is no shortage of golf courses there. In fact, the time that I went there for work, I didn’t see any of the island, just the golf course.
What can I eat there?
Jeju’s most famous product is the mandarin orange. In fact, there is an urban legend about how Jeju got it’s English name related to the mandarin orange. Jeju was known in English as Quelpart island. Some people to this day swear that the name comes from the Korean word for Mandarin Orange (gyul) and garden (bat)… put it together and you get “Gyulbat”. The first foreigner that came to the island landed and pointed towards the island asking “What do you call that?” The Koreans living there saw that the foreigner was pointing at a mandarin orange grove and told him that the place was called a gyulbat. The foreigner then assumed this was the name for the whole island, and in his own funny nonstandard Romanization rendered it as Quelpart on western maps. The truth of the matter is that Quelpart was the name of the ship that brought the first European explorers to the island. But enough history, go eat some tiny oranges!
You can also eat lots of other kinds of seafood, as naturally fishing is an important industry on the island. You can probably find anything imaginable cooked in any way imaginable (or not at all). The Seoul Searcher loves this, but if seafood isn’t your thing, then don’t worry, Jeju is also famous for the black pig. This black pig tastes just like any other pork to me, but that’s because the Seoul Searcher prefers to devour sea animals. I’ve been told that the pig is especially delicious because there are certain differences that it has with normal colored pigs. Apparently they don’t smell as porky and are more nutritious. I recommend that you make sure to cook it completely though, especially if you haven’t been living in Korea for a long time (your immune system might encounter something new otherwise.)
All in all I’d have to say Jeju is a very nice place to visit. It’s atmosphere is totally different from the rest of Korea. The buildings all look very different. The people are very kind and warmhearted. (That’s not to say that Seoulians aren’t kind and warmhearted, but everything is at a much slower place in Jeju, so it’s much easier to see their kindness.) For more information about visiting jeju please visit Jeju’s official webpage.