Koreans refer to it as the Hawaii of South Korea and while there are many differences between the islands, the sentiment is clear – Jeju Island is a very nice place. During my first twelve months of teaching English in Daegu, many of my students told me that their dream place to visit in the whole world was Jeju island. Despite this, I never went. I left South Korea after twelve months having never visited Jeju and thinking full well that I never would. Fast forward a couple of years and I met a lovely young lady – oh, how they change things – who was offered a job teaching English in Seogwipo, Jeju Island. Very unexpectedly I found myself returning to Korea. Daegu was a city of 2.5 million people and while I enjoyed my time there, I very much wished not to return because my life had taken a new path. Fortunately I had returned to somewhere completely new – a place I couldn’t have ever imagined existing in Korea.
Jeju island is, in very few words, everything I had once hoped to find in Korea. A small, volcanic island that I cycled around in a weekend, it boasts hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails, coast line, and the tallest peak in Korea. It was a far cry from the heavily built up city of Daegu that I had first lived in and still offered everything I needed – except cheese which we had to get sent in by air mail.
If you have a short break, please head on down to Jeju island, preferably away from Jeju city. While Jeju city can be a fun experience and offers lots of entertainment, it is a city of several hundred thousand people and not dissimilar to other Korea cities. If you’re coming to Jeju, you want to experience the new things that Jeju has to offer. Depending upon the time you have, here are a few recommendations of things that I enjoyed during my six months of living on Jeju Island that will definitely fill up a short break. While Jeju is beautiful in winter (especially with the snow on Hallasan), I spent many of the warmer months on the island and would recommend visiting during these sunny months of the year.
Rent a Moped and Ride
The whole island of Jeju is a great place to explore and many of the best places are not listed on the tourist maps. Get hold of a moped and ride the island, stopping to take the time and indulge in what you find along the way. On my final day of living on the island, a friend took me to a small farmer’s track, led me through some bushes, and took me to a small opening in rock cliffs. A cold river was flowing through it and we clambered through the small hole in the rock, swam through the chilly waters, and came out in a great, stone cavern with a roof made of trees. It was a very special place and something that I doubt very few people know about. Get your TESOL Certification with OnTESOL and Go to Korea!
Go Cliff Jumping
Jeju, on its southern coast, is built for cliff jumping. Try speaking to locals or expats who know the good jumping spots (because it can be dangerous if you jump in shallow water) and enjoy the thrill of flying through the air. I enjoyed the thrill of jumping and swimming multiple times a week during the summer months. Read: 3 Reasons to Teach English in South Korea with EPIK
Hike the Olle Trails
Inspired by the Pilgrim’s Trail in Spain, the Olle trails are a 200 km network of paths that cover the south coast of Jeju. They’ll take you through mountains, forests, beaches, and other hidden places that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter. As the Olle trail is broken into multiple different day hikes, you can pick and choose as many (or few) trails as you wish with the time that you have available.
Cycle the Coastline
I cycled around Jeju twice, taking two days on each journey, and both trips were highlights of my time on the island. The ride is around 200km and you can do it as slow or fast as you like, and I know of people who have taken anything between one and five days to do the ride. Do it at your own pace and enjoy seeing the fascinating volcanic coastline from every angle. As I rode, I would stop every few hours for a plunge in the sea.
Climb the Many Peaks
Hallasan is shield volcano (it hasn’t erupted for over 1,000 years) and at 1,950m, is the highest peak in all of South Korea. I first climbed it in winter and had great fun running through the snow, but it can be climbed in a day and offers great views of the whole island. There are multiple different trails of varying difficulty and duration, and each of them is enjoyable in their own right. Besides Hallasan, you will also find orums (smaller volcanic cones) all over the island that each offer a great exploration. If you see one, chances are there is a way to climb it. The ones without the paths are often the most fun.
Explore the Abandoned Buildings
I love abandoned buildings. Something about exploring a desolate creation that took great time and expense to build both creeps me out and excites me. On Jeju island I found an abandoned movie set hotel, an abandoned circus, an abandoned luxury resort, an abandoned hotel, and an abandoned school. No doubt there were other fantastic places to explore that I didn’t stumble across.
I regret that I didn’t get to visit Jeju during my first year of teaching in Korea, but happy that I came back. It’s a diverse place and I only began to scratch the surface. Whole books about Jeju have been written, but I’ll leave it at what I’ve told you – a few recommendations for a short break. You never know, you just might like it enough that you end up moving there. I met several people who did.