Jeju: A Holiday Island Any Time of Year
With winter fast approaching, there is no reason to put domestic travel on the back burner. Beautiful in any season, the southernmost point of Korea, Jeju, is on most “to do” lists for whatever length of time one is in Korea. The island – most famous for the views of Halla Mountain and its abundant supply of oranges to the rest of the country – has more than its fair share of cultural traditions, places to see and delightful delicacies to eat.
Jeju’s geography is fantastically simple, with three main areas attracting numerous visitors any time of year. The airport, located in the northern region is within close proximity of Jeju City, accessible and convenient for any whirlwind weekend away. The southern coast of the island hosts Seogwipo, with its lush sandy coasts and luxurious five-star hotels lining the shores. Finally, head to the center of the island for the mountainous regions surrounding Halla, the famous sight-seeing spot that can be seen from any part of the island.
Jeju is a party island with celebrations and festivals at every corner. Starting off in Jeju City, visit the many colorful and traditional food stalls in Dongmun market. Displaying the beautiful colors of seasonal fruit and veg for the eyes or the stomach to consume, weave through the aisles of the covered market to warm up for a few minutes. Once ready to brave the outdoors, a mere five minute walk away is the spectacular grounds of Jeju Fortress, with a great wall and the grounds of Samseonghyeol to investigate. Many of the information points have English and Korean descriptions and the site is worth a wander, just to admire the traditional architecture if nothing else.
For those wanting to escape the city lights, Seogwipo lies in the south of the island, and caters for the five-star guest and their golfing weekends away. Numerous beaches are within a taxi ride, but at this time of year, the multitude of strangely themed museums is perhaps a better – and warmer – option. Ranging from the teddy bear museum, a specially-themed Hello Kitty museum, and the more adult-themed Loveland, there is a choice for any interest. Jeju is also home to Jeju United, with the local orange-kitted favorites playing K-league games, although the Tangerines will not return for any competitive sport fixtures until March 2016.
Whatever part of Jeju you are located in, signs for Mysterious Road will be seen everywhere. Also known as Dokkaebi Road, the road runs across the whole island to connect two of the major highways. A hilly road at the base of a mountain, it is the location of mysterious happenings and optical illusions. It is believed that objects and liquids roll up instead of down the hill which, which is thought by some to be trickery caused by the high altitude. To see is to believe.
The locals in Jeju are no strangers to a spot of nightlife and the younger generation in particular head to three main areas to let their hair down. The City Hall area is close to the University of Jeju and is coupled with a shopping street for every shopping, eating and drinking need. However, City Hall has very little English and is aimed more at the locals. Shinjeju’s Baozen Street and the coastal Topdong is more tourist friendly and has many menus in both English and Chinese. There are also more international eateries and the area boasts many drinking options.
For food, Jeju has a great deal of traditional fare on offer. A few blocks down from Dongmun, Guksu Geori – or Noodle Street – in Jeju City is a favorite for locals and visitors alike looking for a spot of traditional lunch. Various cold and hot pork broth noodle dishes are on offer with many lunch time sets including soup and a side of kimchi. Although many menus are written in only Hangeul, the eateries are prepared for non-Korean visitors with picture menus displayed brightly on most restaurant walls.
For a fishier encounter, take a gentle stroll back toward the Jeju City portal coast Topdong to choose from a number of eateries which open up for both lunch and dinner (but are perhaps better suited in the evening to provide the freshest catches of the day). Lining the streets, side by side, Sashimi Street enjoys a healthy competition between restaurants shouting their specials and waving their many set menus for customers to choose from. Being a local market however, none of the eateries dare price each other out with a meal starting at around KRW 30,000 per person, dependent on one’s taste and accompanying sense of culinary adventure.
If fish isn’t your thing, cross over the road to Black Pork Street for the best of Jeju’s black pork galbi. Open for lunch or dinner, this strip is particularly thriving at night, located near the main shopping street in the city center and marked by black pillars and signs welcoming visitors to the “Black Pork” area. The galbi restaurants display their Trip Advisor and Good Restaurant certificates proudly as all have similar quality meat and an experience that can only be found on Jeju. Less fatty than your average galbi, the black pork certainly does have the taste factor going for it.
Jeju may not be the first island destination to spring to mind this winter but it certainly does offer a different kind of Korean culture. The island embraces visitors from home or away and is a mere 45-minute plane ride to enjoy a climate ten degrees on average warmer than Seoul. Take a break from the palli-palli culture of the capital and head to Jeju for a weekend away that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
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