12 Amazing Things to do in Remarkable Jeju

Tuesday, December 19, 2017
I've fallen in love with many islands over the years, but Jeju has swept me right off of my solid feet. I've been completely stunned by the island's unique nature and remarkable culture.
In the past, Jeju was called Tamra, which means; an island country on a far-away sea. Jeju had several other names in the past, one of the more interesting ones were; Yeongju. Legend has it a Taoist from China made the name up. The present day name of Jeju means town on the sea.

Seongsan Ilchulbong seen from Sepjo
The popularity of Jeju has been growing rapidly over the last five years. 16 million tourists visit a year, 15 million of which are Korean. The growing interest for Jeju has multiplied the price of land by more than ten. Chinese investors are expanding the opportunities by building new hotels, resorts and golf courses. A development which hopefully won't mess with the distinctive nature.

Me at Jusangjeollidae in Jeju, South Korea
Jeju is famous for many things, but according to the locals themselves the most common things in Jeju are women, wind and rocks. A trinity they call Samda. The contrary to Samda is Sammu; the least common things to see in Jeju; beggars, thieves and front gates. No beggars because the small society of Jeju will always help each other. No thieves because people are honest. And no front gates because people trust each other.

Windmill decorations near Seongsan Ilchulbong in Jeju, South Korea
The first person who ever told me about Jeju was a couchsurfer I hosted some years ago; Hangsu. Unfortunately he wasn't around during my visit, so instead the women, his two amazing sisters; Hyojung and Yeonjung took me around their home island. There was no closed front gates for me in Jeju and I can't help but to feel truly grateful and blessed to meet such good people in my life.

Yeonjung and me at Seongsan Ilchulbong summit in Jeju, South Korea
When I arrived in Jeju the snow was falling heavily, but the kind Hyojung quickly introduced me to some amazing people. An hour after setting foot on Jeju, I was already sleighing, having snowball fights and building snowmen. I knew already then, that my first encounter with Jeju would be something quite special. And it was. So here I've made a list of amazing things to do in Jeju:

1. Trek an Oreum

Trekking path going to Mt. Halla and Sara-Oreum (Sarabong Peak) in Jeju, South Korea
Oreo? Well, no. Oreum is a local Jeju-word meaning parasitic volcano. And there are more than three hundred of them in the island of Jeju! Generally the hiking possibilities of Jeju are endless, but in the middle of the island lies the highest peak of them all, not only on Jeju, but in all of South Korea; Mt. Halla.
I tried reaching the Mt. Halla peak through the Seongpanak Trail on the East side of the mountain, which is a good 4 hour hike one-way. Due to the harsh and changing weather conditions, the last part of the climb had been closed. Bummer. So instead I hiked back down to Sara Oreum or Sarabong Peak. The Sara Oreum is the highest crater lake in Jeju. And obviously, it's very much frozen during this time of year. The scenic winter wonderland was unbeatable however. Free admission.

2. Spot the Haenyeo (Women Divers)
Haenyeo Women Divers at Seopjikoji-ro in Jeju, South Korea
The Haenyeo are female divers who live on Jeju. They are famous for their independent spirit, iron will and determination. All of the Haenyeos are elderly women, some of them over 80! They freedive the ocean along the coastline of Jeju, harvesting seaweed, clams and oyster. The women will dive in almost any weather every day of the year. Unfortunately the profession is dying out as the younger generations of Jeju are not following in their ancestors footsteps. The women can be spotted all around the island, I'd recommend heading to Seopjikoji-ro, which provides a beautiful walk along the coastline and a unique view towards Seongsan Ilchulbong. Admission is free.
If you look closely in the picture you can spot a pair of fins as one of the divers is descending.

3. Climb Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak)
At the bottom of Saongsan Ilchulbong in Jeju, South Korea
Seongsan Ilchulbong is a tuff cone formed about five thousand years ago by an eruption in its shallow sea. The tuff cone was an island shortly after the eruption, but became smaller after thousands of years of wave erosion. The tuff cone eventually connected with the main island of Jeju.
Even though it has the nickname Sunrise Peak, going there in broad daylight is no sin. Absolutely remarkable landscape which can not be missed on a trip around Jeju.
Admission fee: 2.000 KRW.

4. Gaze Upon the Columnar Rocks at Jusangjeollidae
Jusangjeollidae Columnar Shaped Rock on Jeju, South Korea
Jusangjeollidae looks like something ripped right out of a Game of Thrones script. These rocky cliffs with columnar joints were formed by the cooling and solidification of lava flows from 140.000 to 250.000 years ago. Colmnar jointing arises from contraction of molten lava during cooling, which splits the rock into polygonal shapes. Columns typically have 5-6 sides. Did anybody say Iceland?
Admission fee: 2.000 KRW.

5. Learn About the Story of Yongduam (Dragon Head Rock)
Hyojung and me at Yongduam (Dragon Head Rock) in Jeju, South Korea
An oddly looking rock structure called Dragon Head Rock or simply The Dragon's Head is said to have been a real life dragon living beneath the sea. In its desire to reach heaven the dragon was turned into stone. As it was asending it grabbed the Sacred Jade of the Guardian of Mt. Halla. The Guardian struck the dragon with an arrow and the wounded dragon fell back into the ocean. Only its head rose up before it was turned to stone.
Free admission.

6. Visit a Lave Tube Cave
Manjanggul Lava Tube Cave in Jeju, South Korea
Jeju was basically created due to volcanic activity. Therefore you can visit several lava tube caves on the island. I went to Manjanggul Cave a 7,4 km long lava tube. It's one of the largest lava tubes in the world having a main passage with a width of up to 18 metres and a height of up to 23 metres. Numerous lava tubes are found worldwide, but Manjanggul is an outstanding example because of its well-preserved passage shapes in spite of its very old age. A variety of lava formations such as lava stalactites, stalagmites, flowlines, benches and rafts are present. The 7,6 metres high lava column is known to be the largest lava column in the world.
Admission fee: 2.000 KRW.

7. Take a Night Stroll in Love Land
Love Land museum on Jeju, South Korea
Love Land in Jeju is most beautiful after nightfall. The art museum and outdoor exhibition is dedicated to love and sex. There are many very artistic and bizarre sculptures around the park. For all you'd know, this could've been in Amsterdam.
Admission fee: 12.000 KRW.

8. Appreciate One of the Many Waterfalls
Jeongbang Falls in Jeju, South Korea
Jeju holds many waterfalls especially on the southern coast of the island. There are plenty to choose from. One of the more interesting is Jeongbang Falls. A freshwater fall which goes directly into the ocean. A one of a kind, as it's the only waterfall in Asia to do so. Even more interesting is an inscription next to the waterfall reading "Seobulgwacha" referring to Seobul passing by this place. Seobul was a servant of the Chinese Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (259 - 210 BC) who was ordered by the Emperor himself to find an elixir which would make the Emperor immortal. The town surrounding the waterfall is named Seogwipo meaning "Seobul Headed Back West". Clearly Seoubul didn't find any Elixir of Life and eventually he stole some of the Emperor's gold before disappearing forever.
Admission fee: 2.000 KRW.

9. Get Fresh Tangerines
Tangerine Farm in Jeju, South Korea
Jeju is all about tangerines. There's farms everywhere and harvesting season is in December. There are countless local products made from tangerines and local offspring to the tangerine; the hallabong. In many places you can buy freshly pressed juice, high quality chocolate with orange-taste, tangerine tea, hand cream and the list goes on. Delicious and inevitable on a trip to Jeju.

10. Walk to Saeseom Island
Tiger Island in the horisont seen from Saeseom Island in Jeju, South Korea
To access Saesom Island you'll have to walk across a pedestrian bridge called Saeyeongyo Bridge. The bridge is designed to look like "Tewu", Jeju's traditional log boats. On the island there's a beautiful walking path with views towards other islands.

11. Learn about Dol Hareubang
Dol Hareubang statue in Jeju, South Korea
One of the major trademarks of Jeju is their Dol Hareubang rock statues carved from volcanic rock. There are two different ones depending on which hand is higher than the other. If the right hand is on top the statues represents a scholar. If the left hand is on top it's a general. All the Dol Hareubangs are considered Gods offering protection and fertility and were originally placed to keep demons away. The statues are easily spotted throughout the entire island.

12. Eat Fish and Pork
Pork Noodles; a Jeju specialty, South Korea
Besides the endless tangerine products, Jeju is also famous for seafood and pork. I can recommend trying local sushi, but be aware, some of the Jeju sushi has bones, which you are supposed to chew and eat with the fish meat. Seafood ramen is also a locally invented dish. When it comes to pork, I really enjoyed pork soup and pork noodles. Pigs feet are also considered a delicacy. And since this is Korea after all everything goes well with some kimchi.
Well, that about rounds it up. See you again Jeju.. Hopefully sooner than later.

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