In the Yellow Sea south of the Korean Peninsular lies a volcanic island, famous for pure mineral water, horsemeat restaurants and free-diving grandmas. We’ve cycled the roughly 200 km circumference of Jeju Island three times now; exploring, camping, sampling the local nosh and making new friends each time. There are a handful of places we just had to visit again and again – we loved them that much. Here are some of great places to visit on Jeju Island that we just can’t get enough of. You can read the first installation here…
A lot of people love Seogwipo, the main city on the southern side of Jeju Island but we’re not fans of it at all. We’ve just had kind of an unpleasant time, every time we’ve gone there. The cheap hotels weren’t that cheap, and had tiny rooms with mold covered walls. The mid-range hotels were expensive and not much better. The expensive hotels had bigger rooms, cost a fortune and stank of stale cigarette smoke. We also find the coast all around that part of Jeju overly developed. The landscape is dominated by silly tourist attractions; large busy roads; hoards of Chinese tour groups; rude and dangerous drivers; and butt-ugly overpriced resorts.
However…there is one place in that neighbourhood that we really enjoyed – Jeongbang Waterfall on the eastern edge of Seogwipo city. It’s a huge cascade that plummets over the edge of a cliff and then freefalls to the bottom, crashing into a clear, icy cold pool at the edge of the sea. It’s touristy and it’s crowded but it’s so beautiful that when you see it, you don’t care. The smooth pebbles of the seashore are striking shades of tan, grey and black; and in summer dragonflies fill the air. It’s a lovely place to find a sun-warmed boulder to lie back on and watch the water and the clouds.
Pyoseon is an amiable village on the south East coast that feels like 20th century tourism overlooked it. There’s a large modern resort and restaurant complex just out of town which has drawn most of the visitors away from the village itself. There are a couple of convenience stores, restaurants, minbaks and small family owned hotels and that’s about it. Our favourite hotel is built right opposite the beach and you can rent a gorgeous but small room on the 3rd floor with a view of the beach for about $40 a night. Perfect!
Songsan Ilchulbong is an enormous and dramatically shaped volcanic steam vent on the west coast of Jeju Island. Picture a giant stone bowl that’s, well… big. Really big. It’s also a tropical shade of intense green – because it’s cloaked in jungle. The climb to the top is hard work – it’s steep and in the summer you’ll sweat like a pig; but the view at the top is worth it. You’ll stumble up the last few steps, wheezing and glistening with perspiration, look up and find yourself on the rim of a huge stone bowl filled with lush scrub. There’ll be a cool breeze blowing in from the sea and all around you – never-ending, blue ocean. If you turn to look behind you, you’ll see the exotic and almost alien grassy plains of Jeju-do dotted with neat triangular hills.
Unfortunately, you are only allowed to stay on a wooden platform – you can’t wander around inside the bowl. Obviously this is preserve the natural beauty of the place and for the safety of visitors but it means that you are usually penned in with about a hundred other visitors – most of whom are talking excitedly at the top of their lungs, smoking, spitting, taking selfies or listening to pop-music on their phones (have they not heard of ear-buds?). Even with all that racket, it’s a magical experience to stand on the mountain and watch the last light of day fade. On one occasion we managed to find a quiet corner to enjoy it and the sound of the cicadas and birdcalls echoing around that vast amphitheatre was unforgettable.
Udo is a tiny speck of an island off the East coast of Jeju, just near Songsan Ilchulbong. It’s mostly flat, green, largely undeveloped, and endowed with a bounty of lush green peanut fields. It’s small enough to walk around or across if you’re feeling energetic and the beaches are absolutely stunning with pure white sand and turquoise water. It basically feels like a mini Jeju without all the development and busy roads. We’ve only visited Udo twice, having skipped over it on our earlier trips. When we visited we ran into the remarkable Japanese Butoh dancer Masamichi Shibasaki – and made a short film about the experience.
On our first bike-trip around Jeju Island 5 years ago, Seb and I were hot, tired and dusty when we finally pedalled up to Gimnyeong Beach. We couldn’t believe our eyes – a sweep of sandy beach; crystalline waves; rolling fields criss-crossed with stone walls; and a regiment of monumental white windmills standing sentinel – we thought we’d found paradise. We spent the night in a minbak that was a well maintained fisherman’s cottage with a courtyard, painted blindingly white on the outside and with all the mod cons on the inside. We swam in the sea then showered and wandered into town and were charmed by the small town feel – there were lots of low stone cottages, vegetable gardens and small family restaurants. It was an oasis on the final hot and windy leg of our journey that helped us muster the strength to finish the journey.
On subsequent visits we’ve also discovered the charms of the campsite at the beach, the tiny Buddhist temple in an orange grove and the UNESCO listed Namjanggul lava tunnels, which are just a short bus or taxi ride inland. Like Hyopjae and Geumneung this is one of those places that gets ridiculously crowded during the peak holiday season but at all other times is really worth the trip.
If you enjoyed this, you might like to check out The Best Places to Visit on Jeju Island – Part 1.