South Korea’s Jeju Island, or Jejudo, is popular with Korean and overseas tourists for its beautiful beaches and clean natural environment. It’s so popular the flight from Seoul to Jejudo is the busiest in the world, with 10 million passengers every year. The other alternative besides by plane is to go by ferry. The ferry is only slightly cheaper than the plane and takes much longer – but I think it’s an exciting part of the journey that makes it part of the holiday experience.
Traveling by plane, the world seems small and distances lose their meaning. Traveling by land or sea, there’s something satisfying about watching the landscape gradually change until finally arriving at your destination.
On almost every trip to Jeju Island I’ve gone by ferry, and for me it’s all part of the fun. We made a huge eBook about travelling in Jeju Island you can find here that details how to hire bicycles, routes for walking or cycling, using public transport, finding accommodation and having fun!
There are several different boats you can take to Jeju Island. My favourite is The Sea Star Cruise which leaves from Mokpo. The ferry experience is a little like being on an old-fashioned cruise ship. It’s decked out with a bakery, café, cafeteria, convenience stores, video game arcade and a karaoke room. There are also “love boat” style cabaret singers performing in the main hall. Sound cheesy? It’s all part of the fun.
But the best part of the trip by ferry is the scenery from on deck. It’s definitely the best place to be, with gorgeous islands and plenty of people watching opportunities. There is nothing like lounging on a picnic blanket on the top deck seeing the ever-changing vistas of forested peninsulas, rocky islands, passing ships or just the blue-green sea. It’s like watching the turning pages of a book. The trip always prompts daydreams of one day living on a remote island. In summer, make sure you bring a big hat with a drawstring for up on deck – it can get really sunny and windy.
Jeju Island Ferry Seating
We got a surprise on our first trip, when we came to our “seats” we found there were no chairs. The seating rooms are empty and have linoleum floor. There are lockers for baggage, a television on the wall and you share the room with about 15 other people. Luckily we’d brought sleeping mats to lie on because after a while the floor gets quite hard to sit on.
Once you get used to it, it’s quite nice sharing a room with other travelers. There’s a friendly, community feeling and if you have kids, many Koreans will share food or strike up a conversation.
We always go for the cheap tickets, the standard “Ilbanshil” because we spend most of the time up on deck. Other options include hiring private rooms but they are more expensive.
Jeju Island Ferry Terminals
You can book a Jeju Island-bound ferry from 5 places – Mokpo or Haenam (in the south-west) or Goheung, Wando and Jangheung (in the south-east). You can find a complete and current list of ferries, departure times and prices on the Korean Tourism Organisation’s website. The Incheon ferry has ceased operation following the Sewol Ferry accident and used to be an overnight trip. Busan ferries have also stopped operation to Jeju Island, being replaced by Goheung and Jangheung ferries.
We have always taken the Jeju Island ferry from Mokpo, because it’s easy to ride the high-speed KTX train down from Seoul, buy tickets and then catch the ferry the next morning. (I don’t think you can catch the KTX early enough from Seoul to catch the last Sea Star Cruise on the same day.) Prices for the Mokpo ferry Sea Star Cruise are W30,000 for adults and W14,950 for children. Bicycles are W3,000 each. (We usually take our bikes to Jeju – you can see our latest film about the journey here.) Boarding the ferry is about 20 minutes before departure.
And finally a warning on choosing ferries. If you’re catching the ferry from Mokpo, it might seem like a good idea to catch The Pink Dolphin, which takes only 3 hours – but you should probably avoid it. We took the Pink Dolphin a couple of times and both times Jarrod and Seb were sick because of rough waves bouncing the small boat around. The small deck outside was splattered with vomit, so not a nice place to relax and enjoy the view. If you have a strong stomach and the sea is calm you might be okay…. but then there’s also the price tag to consider – W50,000 per person.
Following the tragic accident of the Incheon to Jeju Island Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014, some may feel cautious when traveling on ferries in South Korea. Basic OH & S standards are sometimes lacking – passengers are often allowed to sit and even have picnics in front of emergency exits and ferries are sometimes overcrowded. Take the necessary precautions to find your nearest clear exit and find out where the life vests are. Hopefully new laws will lead to better safety standards on ferries to Jeju Island.
Booking the ferry to Jeju Island in advance is a lot trickier than buying plane tickets. It’s not a foreigner friendly process and even for Koreans it’s tricky. We tried it once, but after being passed around from one operator to another for 15 minutes, they finally hung up on us. But don’t worry, if you can’t manage to buy a ticket in advance, you’re probably okay, except during peak season (late July/ early August) or during the busy Chuseok holiday.
We usually go to the ferry terminal the night before to buy tickets and catch the ferry the next morning. Arrive at least 40 min before ferry departure and make sure to bring your passport (or alien registration card). If you have a bicycle or car you need to arrive at least 1-2 hours at the correct departure gate to load your bicycle or car.
If you want to try booking by phone, you can call (within Korea) 061-243-1927. If you can, get a Korean speaker to call for you or try the free tourism helpline 1330.
The Mokpo Ferry Terminal (목포항/Mok-po Hang)
It takes a lot more effort, but traveling to Jeju Island by ferry is a fun and unique experience. For even more essential tips on travelling in Jeju Island, check out our latest eBook Jeju Island – A Slow Travel Adventure Guide. Tell us in the comments, how was your experience on a Jeju Island ferry? Any other tips or questions? Leave a comment below or on Google+ or Facebook.
If you’re interested in seeing more of Jeju Island, take a look at our new film Jeju: A Bicycle Adventure in South Korea.
bring a hat
bring a cushion or mat
sit on the deck
catch the slow ferry
locate nearest exits and life-vests
travel if you get seasick easily
catch the ferry in winter – too windy and cold