South Korea has always fascinated me. This stemmed from my early obsession with K-pop during university, as well as having a South Korean best friend. I’ve been exposed to a ridiculous amount of South Korean culture through their epic TV shows, music videos and movies that I find myself often craving for a South Korean adventure of my own.
Now, if you have ever watched any Korean entertainment, you’d probably know that Jeju Island is considered the “Hawaii of Korea”. It’s where many of the affluent Seoul folks take a break from their long working hours and nights of soju shots, to chill by the sea and have even more soju shots.
A couple of months ago, I embarked on an impromptu road trip to Jeju Island to reunite with my best friend. I had planned absolutely nothing – all I did was book my flight ticket and left all the planning to the local. I arrived in Jeju Island with zero expectations of our itinerary. And in the next couple of days, I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY. To say this place is underrated is in itself an understatement. I dipped my toes in emerald coasts, trekked melancholic lush forests and sipped beer to stunning sunsets. The entire week that I was there, the majority of tourists I came across were mostly locals. While I wouldn’t say this place is “untouched”, Jeju definitely hasn’t been globalized or gentrified. Basic signages such as bathroom or road signs are often only in Korean, and don’t even get me started on restaurant and food names.
So I was extremely glad to be traveling with local, as she made sure we didn’t fall into any tourist traps. I’d want the same for you guys traveling there, so here’s quick guide to Jeju Island with a local, based on my trip. Feel free to refer to it when you’re creating your own Jeju itinerary!
Golden Tulip Jeju Hamdeok Hotel
We booked Golden Tulip because all the hostels we wanted to stay in were booked out that summer. It is a very new property (they only opened their doors in August 2015), with modern furnishings and architecture. Its location is simply spectacular – it’s right by the pristine Hamdeok beach and walking distance to many restaurants, cafes and mini-markets. We would often walk out of the hotel late at night to enjoy a drink by the beach across from us. Its surroundings are tranquil and peaceful, ideal for a relaxing getaway. The location is unbeatable. It’s a super affordable option if you’re sharing your room!
Location: 1252-9 Hamdok-ri, Jochon-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: Any of the sea-view room
Price: From $98/night inclusive of breakfast. Book Golden Tulip Jeju Hamdeok Hotel on Booking.com
According to my friend, staying at Hostels would be a pretty fun option for single travelers or group travelers, as Jeju hostels sometimes organize BBQs and other communal activities for their guests. Here are 2 hostels we originally really wanted to stay at but were full: MIDO Hostel | Maro Hostel.
Try them out and let me know how it goes!
We stumbled upon this picturesque little cafe due to its proximity to our hotel. Perched right by Hamdeok beach, the view here is excellent. Sip on an ice-cold Americano like the locals while basking in the sun on the cafe’s terrace. They also have pretty delicious sandwich sets if you’re feeling like a quick breakfast by the sea.
Location: 519-10, Johamhaean-ro, Jocheon-eup, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: Ice Americano
I’m always looking for hidden gems, and Lowa Cafe by Woljeongri Beach was definitely one. Woljeongri Beach in the eastern part of Jeju, and is quite unknown to most visitors due to its small size and location. It’s also not tourist books and maps! However, it’s a charming and artsy little enclaves with a row of quirky rooftop cafes. This cafe serves everything from juices to coffees to Korean alcohol. Sit on the rooftop for the ultimate Instagrammable experience!
Location: Woljeongri Beach, Jeju Island, South Korea
I recommend: A Cass beer
용출횟집 Yong Chul Seafood Restaurant
Jeju Island is famed for its seafood, and this restaurant is wildly popular with the locals for just that. The entire menu is in Korean, and none of the staff speak English. They were all in awe of me being a foreigner eating in the restaurant, and smiled curiously at me the entire time. Order their epic Raw Fish platter if you like sashimi, otherwise they also do ‘cooked fish’ (hint: non-locals who visit usually ask for fried seafood, so you can also request for that if you’re uncomfortable with raw fish). It was a massive selection of all kinds of fresh seafood that I’ve never seen nor tried before. Eat them raw, wrapped in a leaf, with some rice and red sauce paste. Oh, and of course, finish off with a soju!
Location: 505 Yongdamsam-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: The seafood platter – I’m not sure how to say it in Korean, but it’s what everyone orders, so you can just point to what the next table is having 😉
Dombedon Black Pork Restaurant – Michelin Star! (돔베돈)
We had dinner at this restaurant as it came highly recommended online for being a Michelin-starred restaurant. When we got there, there was already a queue snaking along the road. So, tip – definitely come as early as you can if you don’t want to wait. Reservations are also highly recommended if you plan to go there for dinner. My friend and I ordered the black pork set for 2 and it was A LOT of food for the price. The locally-bred pork was absolutely delicious, and the side dishes were also top-notch. At the end, the staff takes your leftover rice and meat and cooks up fried rice right in front of you. It was truly delicious. The service was characteristically quick and efficient, even though the whole restaurant is hectic. Note that because it’s a BBQ restaurant, the entire place is full of smoke. So you’ll walk out of there smelling like dinner the entire night!
Location: 25, Gwandeok-ro 15-gil, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: The Black Pork set
This place is uber famous for their seafood stew. We came 5 minutes too late and they were closed, so we didn’t get to try it! However, we were really looking forward to this meal after lots of research, so I’ve decided to include it here as a tip for you.
Location: 158-4 Seongsan-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: The seafood stew
Geumbok Restaurant at Olle Market
This tiny family-run restaurant is tucked in the middle of Jeju Olle Market. I don’t have the Korean hangul name for it, but you can ask about for the vegetarian restaurant. There are only 2 items on the menu, order the Bibimbap & Barley meal. It was seriously the most delicious vegetarian spread I’ve ever had! I also loved how the entire place was full of old Korean ladies who knew each other, and older Korean men who were taking their lunch break from their market duties. The cook and waitress are a mother and daughter couple, making the entire experience feel like dining in at a local family’s home!
Location: 22 Jungjeong-ro73beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I recommend: The Bibimbap & Barley meal
A trip to South Korea won’t be authentic without the requisite FRIED CHICKEN DELIVERY! The Koreans know how to make damn good fried chicken. If you’re feeling peckish in the middle of the night, no problem, just call up BBQ Chicken delivery like we did. Get the ‘Golden Olive Chicken’ and ‘Hot Hot Drums’ – they come with a side of pickled radishes. Forget about that diet, you’re on holiday!
Location: 40, Sammu-Ro, Jeju, Jeju-do, South Korea
Phone number: TBC
PLACES TO SEE, THINGS TO DO
There is an incredible abundance of activities and attractions in Jeju. The ones I’m listing out here have been handpicked by my friend, the local, and given the stamp of approval by me! Don’t try to do and squeeze in as many things as you can. Instead, enjoy the beauty that Jeju has to offer while exploring some of its main highlights. The below are listed in the order of importance:
Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (성산일출봉)
No trip to Jeju is complete without a hike up to the Sunrise Peak a.k.a Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산일출봉), which also happens to be a World UNESCO Heritage site. Be prepared to climb a lot and travel light. It takes a little effort climbing up hundreds of stairs up the peak but the fascinating view of Jeju from the top is worth it. Enjoy the view along the way. I suggest getting there really early to witness the famed Jeju sunrise!
Location: 104 Seongsan-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo, Jeju-do, South Korea
Hallasan Mountain (한라산국립공원)
There are many different trails to trek here, but we did the Eorimok trail because it seemed the shortest. In total it was a pretty tiring 2 hour climb up and a 2 hour climb down. Be prepared to wear climbing shoes due to many uneven rock surfaces, and a huge bottle of water to keep you hydrated. It was a heartwarming experience for me when all the Korean people who walked past me would encourage me to press on and keep going. We trekked leisurely on a beautiful summer day, but conditions during winter might be different, so do check on what you need for safety reasons!
Location: 2070-61 1100(Cheonbaek)-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Famous for its crystal clear and shallow waters, this beach is especially popular with local families in the summer. The ocean here is a deep dark blue, and the part that meets the beach is a light bright crystal blue. In contrast, you will also find interesting black volcanic rocks around the area. In summer, you can order food and the vendors or restaurants will bring them to your umbrella.
Fried chicken is a must for Koreans on the beach. If you’re here, grab a coffee at Delmoondo cafe or a snack at the convenience store nearby, and spend a couple of hours relaxing here! You won’t regret it.
Location: Hamdeok-ri, Jocheon-eup, Jeju, Jeju-do, South Korea
Seogwipo Olle Market (서귀포매일올레시장)
3 words – Dol Hareubang Cakes! As a main symbol of Jeju Island, Dol Hareubang statues, literally meaning “Old Grandfather”, can be found everywhere on the island. In Olle Market, a stall selling Dol Hareubang Cakes have shot to stardom since the kids from the internationally popular TV show ‘Return of Superman‘ were seen eating these cute snacks in one of the episodes. Apart from the novelty snacks, the Olle Market represents a very typical Korean market, selling everything from seafood to clothes & shoes. Great place to buy fresh food, snacks and to see how the locals really live. Oh, and try the Hallabong Juice! Hallabong is a type of citrus fruit found in Jeju, and it has a really unique refreshing taste. Also, grab a Hoddeok on your way out. Hoddeoks are Korean thin peanut pancakes (see above), which are really addictive. All in all, be prepared to spend hours here munching and shopping away!
Location: 22 Jungjeong-ro73beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
O’ssuloc Tea Museum & innisfree Jeju House
I am completely, 100% in love with this place. Being both a massive fan of green tea and innisfree, I literally couldn’t wait to spend my day here. And boy, it did not disappoint! This place is a super interesting combination of a green tea plantation, green tea museum, green tea cafe and and innisfree center. The cafe serves excellent green tea latte, matcha rolls and green tea ice cream. You MUST, bear the long queue, and TRY them. I’m drooling just thinking about them. Everything there is beautiful, the compound is a modern glass structure built in the middle of rows and rows of green tea plantation. There are benches everywhere, so you can spend hours relaxing here while enjoying your lunch (p.s. try the Sesame Rice Balls at the innisfree house!). You can also sign-up for a tea-making course, which you have to reserve online beforehand. At the back, the innisfree stores carry a large number of organic facial products, including some limited edition products only available in Jeju Island. The green tea shop is full of beautifully packaged green tea gifts which would make for gorgeous presents to bring home. Yes, there are loads and loads of tourists here, but the compound is still big enough for you to be able to enjoy the lush green surroundings without elbowing everyone.
Location: 15, Sinhwayeoksa-ro, Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do
Manjanggul Cave (만장굴)
Manjanggul Cave was a thoroughly interesting experience. The structure itself is awe inspiring and feels like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Anyone who can appreciate nature, especially geology, will love this. There are only about 5 countries in the world where you can go walk in a lava tube, and this cave in South Korea is one of them. A round trip to the end of the cave and back took us around 1.5 hours. I recommend you wear proper shoes as it can be very slippery.
Location: 3341-3, Gimnyeong-ri, Gujwa-eup, Jeju, Jeju-do, South Korea
Seopjikoji is located at the end of the eastern shore of Jeju Island. “Seopji” is the old name for the area, and “Koji” is Jeju dialect meaning a sudden bump on land. This hill was the filming site of many classic Korean movies and TV dramas. Walk through the trail through Seopjikoji all the way up to the lighthouse and the glass house by Tadao Ando. A great place to enjoy the Jeju landscape from high above! It can be cold and windy in the evenings, so be sure to take a jacket!
Location: 107, Seopjikoji-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Jusangjeolli Cliff (주상절리(대포동지삿개)
There are very few places in the world which offer this so-called “columnar basalt formation”, and even fewer in such a scenic location. This is the best spot to view these gorgeous formations along the stretch of coast and nothing beats watching the surging ocean smash against the rocks. A true wonder of nature. This place is quite out of the way though, it’s a couple of hours drive up from central Jeju.
Location: 2663, Jungmun-dong, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Tamna Culture Festival
We were superbly lucky that the annual Jeju Tamna Culture Festival was on when we were there. If you are flexible with your dates, try going during the Tamna Culture Festival – which has become the most representative festival of Jeju Island. There are various performances throughout the week, as well as a variety of cultural activities. Vendors also sell their goods in individual booths. It’s a great way to experience and understand more about Jeju’s traditions. Oh, they also often get famous k-pop singers/bands to perform during the festivals, so watch out for the lineup!
P.S. I strongly suggest that you rent a car and drive! With GPS & Google Maps giving you directions in English, getting around Jeju would be so much faster and easier than trying to figure out which public transportation to take. You can book a car prior to arrival online, and then pick it up at Jeju Airport when you land. For a list of car rental companies located at Jeju Airport, click here.
I hope that was a brief and useful guide to Jeju Island. If you need to know anything else, ask me in the comments box below and I’ll try to help you out! Also, check out this official Jeju Island Guide by Korea’s Ministry of Tourism.
In the meantime, annyeong!