They call it the Hawaii of South Korea… Every year millions of people flock to Jeju Island for it’s beautiful beaches, volcanic landscapes, fresh seafood and luxurious resorts. We’ve cycled around it three times now and there were a handful of places we just had to visit every time – we loved them that much. Here are some places to visit on Jeju Island that we just can’t get enough of.
Jeju City is the main centre on Jeju and it’s located on the northern side of the island. It’s a good-sized city with a reasonable selection of cafes and restaurants, shopping, museums and parks as well as heavy traffic and tourist cheesiness. Taken on its own, there’s nothing particularly special about Jeju City, but it’s a great place to begin your Jeju adventure with good food and shopping. Our favourite place is the seawall at the northern end of town, west of the ferry terminal. On warm summer evenings holidaymakers flock there to walk their dogs, ride bikes, skate, go fishing or just to stroll and watch the twinkling lights of prawn boats out at sea. Our tradition is to begin and end our cycling trips on Jeju Island with a McDonalds dinner eaten on the stone steps near the seawall at sunset.
Hyopjae Beach and Geumneung Beach
Hyopjae and Geumneung are two stunning white-sand beaches right next to each other on the west coast of Jeju Island. They both have vast sweeping beaches of pristine white sand dotted and framed by chunks of deep black volcanic rock and are adorned with a lovely view of nearby Biyang Island, which is shaped like a Disneyland volcano. It’s only a short walk between the two beaches and the small parklike patch of trees in between is a free campground, which is truly a pleasure to camp in (when the weather isn’t too hot). There are a couple of convenience stores on the main road, as well as restaurants and accommodation. There’s nothing quite like camping on the beach and eating fried chicken for dinner! On the downside, it gets REALLY busy during the holiday season (late June & early August) – so if your idea of camping doesn’t include listening to loud pop music and setting off fireworks all night long, then you might want to avoid it at that time.
Sambang Mountain is an unusually shaped mountain perched on the south-western corner of Jeju. It looks like something dropped out of an ancient Chinese brush painting – picture a mountain from a Taoist heaven, covered in lush forest and jutting suddenly out of a flat plain, shrouded in mist and clouds. I’m afraid words, and even photos can’t do this mountain justice, you just have to see it – it’s spectacular. There’s a tranquil temple on the lower slopes facing the ocean and if you continue up from there you can get to a large cave with a Buddhist shrine inside. At the base of the shrine, water drips from the ceiling of the cave into a small pool from which you can drink. The water is known as “the tears of Sambangduk” and is supposed to keep you young and healthy if you drink it – let us know how that goes…
Hwasun is a charming little town on the southwestern corner of Jeju which is probably our favourite place on the whole of Jeju Island. It’s a rambling village thinly spread over the side of a hill, with lots of older style houses, orange plantations and vegetable gardens. At the top of the hill the main street has convenience stores, restaurants and a supermarket. Ten minutes walk down the hill you’ll find the beautiful yellow-sand beach, a stream-fed freshwater swimming pool, cafés and a hostel. We love Hwasun for it’s relaxed atmosphere, friendly people and the excellent view of Sambang Mountain that you have from almost anywhere in town. The worst thing about Hwasun is the dreadfully ugly power station that some short-sighted, aesthetically challenged pen-pusher had built right on the end of the beach – but despite this, we still love it.
To be continued in Part 2…