My Paradise: Journey to South Korea’s Jeju Island

by Mary B. Grimes
Stripes Korea

South Korea’s Jeju Island is a coastal gem whose breathtaking sunsets are as rich in magnificence as the island’s ageless history. Sporting a landscape replete with waterfalls and sandy beaches, Jeju rests approximately 60 miles south of the Korean mainland, and has long been referred to by natives and foreigners alike as “paradise on Earth.” From Daegu International Airport, the fight to the semitropical island is roughly 45 minutes – just long enough for a short conversation with a crew member, or pleasant exchange between friends.

Arrival at Jeju International Airport is without fuss or muss, and the fairly hassle-free baggage pick up process expressly ushers the traveler toward his ultimate destination. Whether exploring the island for a day, a week or even longer, the experience is guaranteed to be unforgettable.

In the matter of transportation, bus and taxi-services are easily accessible, and car-rental establishments are in no short supply. Likewise, hotels from A to Z are located just minutes away from the airport. Practically towering above the rest, however, “Lotte City Hotel Jeju” stands like a beacon of persuasion for all who will come. Its modern design is matched only by its efficient service, delicious food, amazing view of both the southwest sea, and the mountains that dot the rugged landscape.

It’s that very landscape that makes Jeju a mecca for those businessmen and or ordinary travelers hoping to satisfy their curiosity about the island, or get in some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Whatever the reason, a visit to Jeju provides endless opportunities to explore Korea’s increasingly popular coastal paradise. Something every visitor can count on seeing are the numerous stone sculptures known as “Stone Grandfather,” or Dolhareubang. Unique to the island, Dolhareubang has played a major role in the protection and the peace sought by the people of Jeju in years past and present. Legend has it that these statues served as guardians posted outside the gates or village walls to protect residents against evil spirits.

Known for its abundance of rock, wind and women, Jeju was in recent years chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. It’s a proud fact that visitors to the island can find not only in textbooks or on the Internet, but on a massive wall display at Jeju International Airport, as well.

A result of volcanic eruption, the island – both city and countryside alike, is home to large coal-like porous stones that can be seen at every turn. Rumor has it that the length of all the rock fences on Jeju is tantamount to the length of the Great Wall of China. It seems almost hard to imagine.

Much less hard to imagine however, is the pride of paradise: the “hae-neyo,” or sea women. Unique to Jeju and known throughout the region – if not much of the world, they are women divers, seasoned in years who traverse the emerald green ocean waters with youthful speed and agility in search of abalone, seaweed, and other treasures native to the sea. Although their numbers are in decline, revelations of their contributions to Jeju’s history, continue to rise. Members of what could best be described as a matriarchal society, the women still today play an important role in supporting their families – just as they did decades ago as social activists, and as breadwinners in the absence of their seafaring men.

Clearly, not enough can be said of this island population of 605,524. At 1,848 square kilometers, (or 713 square miles) it is a stretch of natural beauty where things real and imagined seem to come to life. At every location, there is reason to pause and admire the wonders of Jeju. Whether hiking or bicycling across the oval-shaped volcanic island, it won’t take long before an encounter with such UNESCO World Heritage sites like Manjanggul Cave, Hallasan National Park, and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, will merely whet the appetite for a visit to places like Pyoseon Haebichi Beach, Jeongbang Falls, Yongduam Rock or Seopjikoji, whose open fields are accentuated by an abundance of rapeseed blossoms.

Finally, land, sea, and sky are in harmony on Jeju. Without question, it is a place of mystery, curiosity, and natural beauty. As such, it is not impossible to understand how and why at the end of the day, one would find so much joy and appreciation in catching a glimpse of a magnificent sunset from almost any vantage point. For the observer, it is a breathtaking sight to behold and one that is sure to leave many in awe. Even more astonishing however, is its seemingly effortless  ability to persuade frequent and infrequent travelers alike to commit to a return visit to Jeju Island – Korea’s coastal gem.

Jeju offers taste of its own

Korea Tourism Organization

The regional food of Jeju Island, which is located to the southwest of the Korean peninsula, is quite distinct compared to food from mainland Korea. Its established specialties are the result of time-honored culinary traditions, and the food is characterized by the spare use of seasonings to highlight the natural flavors of each dish’s ingredients. This feature makes the regional food of Jeju highly popular among tourists. Due to its environment, Jeju rarely produces rice. Instead, beans and other grains like barley are produced. Seafood is bountiful, and the livestock industry is also well developed. Locally, there are many dishes centered on pork, chicken, and fish. Seaweed is also a popular ingredient, which is usually seasoned with soy bean paste. Read on to find out how these ingredients have Jeju known for bringing out the best in natural flavors.

Jeju Island utilizes a variety of seafood caught it its clean coastal waters. Around Seongsanpo and Seopjikoji, there are many restaurants specializing in abalone dishes. Jeonbok-dolsotbap is rice topped with abalone and vegetables served in a sizzling hot stone pot. First, rice is fried with abalone innards inside the hot stone pot. When it is done, it is topped with thinly sliced abalone, sweet pumpkin, and jujube. To eat this dish, first scoop the rice out of the hot pot into a separate bowl. Then, pour hot water into the hot stone pot and cover it. By the time you finish your abalone and rice, the rice stuck on the bottom of the hot pot will turn into nurungji, a scorched rice soup. The price for this dish is around 15,000 won per person.

Galchi-jorim, or braised cutlassfish, is available in restaurants in the Seogwipo area of Jeju. It is made with fresh cutlassfish. In the past the dish was made with radish and soy sauce, but now it is seasoned with soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and gochujang sauce, so the dish is hot and spicy and red in color. The cutlassfish is prepared by being gutted and then cut into pieces that are 7 to 8 centimeters long. Rather thick radish slices are placed in the bottom of the pot. The cutlassfish slices are placed on top of the radishes and when the radish slices are cooked, minced garlic and ginger are added. The dish is braised for some time and the heat is turned off when the liquid begins to thin. The price varies by serving size but usually costs between 38,000 won and 50,000 won.

Jeju’s gogi-guksu is a major noodle dish of Jeju Island. This popular dish is prepared on festive days in villages in the Seogwipo region. The broth used for the noodle soup is made by boiling black pig bones and meat for a long time. The noodles are served in the broth along with some slices of pork meat. This noodle dish originated from the practice of disposing bones and left-over meat from a slaughtered pig by boiling them in water for a long time, the broth of which was eaten with noodles. Recently, some restaurants make the broth using the head of the pig as well. There are restaurants specializing in this dish around Dongmun Market and Samseonghyeol, and the dish is relatively cheap, ranging between 6,000 and 7,000 won.

There is a traditional dish called mom-guk in Jeju. Mom is Jeju dialect for gulfweed, which is rich in fat, calcium, and vitamins and grows in between rocks in the sea. The tender leaves are picked and used in local dishes. On Jeju Island, mom-guk is a dish frequently eaten for private occasions such as celebrations and condolences. On such occasions, it is customary for a host to slaughter a pig. The bones and intestines are used to make the broth, to which gulfweed is added and boiled. This soup is highly nutritious and can be had with finely chopped kimchi, red pepper flakes, or ground pepper. The price of the soup ranges between 5,000 and 7,000 won.

Heukdwaeji is a species of pig traditionally found on Jeju Island. Pigs found in other regions are related to a smaller species raised in the northern regions of China during the Goguryeo Kingdom. This variety of pig was spread to Jeju during the same period and would eventually become a domestic breed of the island. The black pig is covered with shiny, black hair all over the body. The face is small and the mouth long. The meat of black pig is considered more tender than other pork. The skin is rich in protein and has a rich taste. Black pig pork can be had in specialty restaurants in Jeju and usually costs around 15,000 won for a one-person serving.

Available throughout Jeju, haemul-jeongol is a delicious seafood hot pot with an invigorating and flavorful broth. To make the dish, a variety of seafood and vegetables are placed in a hot pot with the broth, and the dish is boiled on the spot. The various ingredients combine into a delightful mix of flavors. In some coastal regions of Jeju, the dish can contain abalone, octopus, sea cucumber, and sea squirt freshly caught by local female free divers.

Korea Tourism Organization wesbite

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Okinawa
Stripes Guam

Recommended Content