Jeju Island is my second favorite spot in Korea next to Seoul. Known as the Korean Hawaii, Jeju attracts an interesting mix of drop-dead gorgeous island beauty, a laidback vibe different from mainland Korea, a more seaside flavor and lots of Korean honeymooners. Jeju City is the most cosmopolitan you’ll get when it comes to restaurants and stores and frankly, I didn’t spend much time here, other than to catch the bus. I wanted to see the more exotic side of Korea, the one you might see on Korean dramas of a private getaway… not a climbing city.
Where to Stay on Jeju Island
While you can stay near the airport or on the northern side of Jeju Island, such as Jeju City, the two most popular base camps for tourists are south of the island in Seogwipo and Jungmun. The southern part of the island seems to hold the best attractions.
Seogwipo (Map of Seogwipo City) falls second as one of the tourist destinations, but has less variety. Here’s a map of places to stay in Seogwipo City. Seogwipo is at the south eastern base of Jeju and the last stop on the Jeju Airport Shuttle bus. There is a bus station in the city and that connects you to a lot of places you’ll want to see. I stayed at Jeju Hiking Inn (wasn’t keen on it but it’s located near the airport shuttle bus drop). Restaurants will be mostly Korean and much seafood.
Jungmun (map of hotels in Jungmun Area) is the resort area and it’s worthwhile to see the backlots of some of these posh hotels. The Lotte Hotel and Shilla Jeju are the most popular and best known by Koreans. My mom and I stayed at the Hyatt Regency, for a little western/international standard (and the rates were good). Not only are some hotels shooting locations of K-dramas, but they also offer a unique look at luxury Korea. Many hotels line the cliff overlooking the ocean.
You can fly out of Daegu, Busan and Seoul or take the Busan ferry.
Visit the Tourist Information Center
Jeju International Airport has an information desk where you can pick up free maps and tourist brochures. Get a map and ask for bus numbers to get around to where you need to go. The map will also help you spot sightseeing areas you’ve not considered.
Visit the Olle desk for Olle walking trails maps.
It’s next to the Information desk after you leave the baggage claim area. Having a map of the various trails up front will save you much angst figuring out online. Most local buses will announce trail stops but you need to pay attention.
Take the Airport Shuttle Bus to Jungmun Resort or Seogwipo
There is an airport shuttle bus that will drop you at various locations in Jeju City, Jungmun and lastly, Seogwipo. I think it’s 5,000Won. The bus is a coach bus with AC and comfortable seats.
Trip Planning: How long should you stay?
I’d say three or four days at the least. A week is good as it provides more coverage of the island and its activities. Then it depends on what you’d like to see.
Jeju has a lot of zany and unusual museums and theme parks. For those more active, you can golf, hike to the top of Mount Halla (it will take a day) or walk Olle Trails ( 2 or 3 a day depending on ambition).
Udo Island can be visited in a day trip or you can spend a night there if you miss the ferry. Lastly, if you’re there to visit the beach or take a leisurely drive around the island, the week+ duration is more for you.
How to book flights when they’re “sold out” for Chuseok?
1) call Korean Airlines (one of the main airlines carriers for that route) direct
2) Ask for Business Class seats. (* it’s a 30,000W upgrade difference)
3) Book point-to-point travel vs round trip (you have more control over cities you fly out of & can mix the economy seating with business class.
With Korean Air you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance and still receive a partial to full refund. The penalty is under $20 (maybe even less)
Food on Jeju Island
Unless you’re staying in the little urban dwelling of Jeju City, the island offers a lot of seafood and the standard Korean platter. This isn’t a problem if you know what you want to order your sushi or plate in Korean; you’ll be hard-pressed to find English menus!
For back-end survival, typical cheap eats like bibimbap or kimbap (recognize and learn how to order from one here) are generally loved by foreigners. If you’re a very picky eater or have dietary concerns, you can do what I did and bring your own stash of instant oatmeal, power bars, dried fruits and nuts!
Another option: shop at local stores or larger multi-chain western-like stores such as Homeplus and Emart, where you can get groceries or see your menu in plasticized casings.
Getting Around Jeju Island
City Bus, bike, taxi, scooter and car rentals. These are the options. I chose to use the bus transportation with the occasional taxi. However, if you know what you want to see, have little time and want to take point-to-point trips, definitely rent a car.
Scooters Read Solo Jeju: Riding a Scooter around Udo Island
The bus routes are fairly simple to spot on the map but you’ll still need occasional help with knowing which number to catch or where the bus stops are from your hotel. The bus is efficient, cheap and will give you a nice ride around the island. For Olle Trails, there’s English translation announcements, which let you know when to get off. Usually, there will be some type of English announcement made either by a computer generated announcement or on the electrical banner inside. If ever in doubt, sit close to the front of the bus near the bus driver and let him know where you’re going. He’ll be sure to let you know where your stop is if he knows you’re a tourist.
What to do and see on Jeju Island
Hike Mt. Halla
Dragon Head Rock (Yongduam)
Ride a Motorbike on Udo Island
Teddy Bear Museum
Jeju Ollie Trails
Jungmun Resort area
Jeju Gimnyeong Maze Park
Visit the *many* kitsch museums Jeju has
Jeju Publications- Jeju Life