Jeju: Korean Paradise

Our night on the “Cozy Island” ended up being not too horrible. It was one of the worst ferries we have ever been on, but the trip was do-able. We met an English teacher who was working in Busan, but was originally from Georgia and four Korean girls who were going to Jeju for a girl’s holiday. They didn’t speak fantastic English, but tried hard enough to teach us a Korean card game. The game was difficult, confusing and downright puzzling at times. After we played the game, we just chatted in basic English about their lives and university careers. We got about 7 hours sleep and when we woke up at 6 am, we had arrived on Jeju island.
The worst part of it, however, was the gusting wind and complete and utter downpour outside. We walked in the rain to the ferry terminal and were soaked to the bone so we agreed on the first cab that offered his services to us. He took us to the bus terminal and we got a bus to Seogwipo, Jeju’s second largest city, where we would be setting up base for the next five nights. We spent the majority of the 90 minute bus ride in a comatose, passed out sleep and when we got off the bus the rain was still pouring down so we caught another cab to the Jeju Hiking Inn. Of course, our room wasn’t ready at 8:00 am, but we idly killed time half sleeping and half staring at the communal computer screens before the owner felt so bad for us that he went upstairs and cleaned the room himself. We had a really nice room with our own bathtub, TV and A.C. and all for 18USD a night. It was a steal in Jeju. We were exhausted and slept until nearly one. Saddened by the fact that the rain hadn’t let up, we walked to the tourist information center, got some advice and headed for a coffee shop where we treated ourselves to gourmet coffees and desserts while we read out Korea guide, making an itinerary for the rest of our time in Jeju.

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We grabbed some bibimbap around the corner from where we were staying for dinner and called it an early night.
The next day, we woke up early and the sun was shining so we caught a bus to the ferry terminal and headed on a boat out to Udo island, a small 17 km wide island just 10 minutes from Jeju.

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We got on the first local bus we found, even though we weren’t sure where it was going. We eventually ended up at the beach we wanted after a little bus wandering, which was still pleasant because Udo is so green and beautiful.

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Haenyo Statue

Haenyo Statue

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Nearly the minute, we put our feet on the very crowded weekend sand, the sky turned a menacing black. We hung out for a 45 minutes but were pretty disappointed with the weather so we head back to the mainland.

Near the eastern town of Songsan-ri, a volcanic crater with vertical cliffs rises up from the shore. As the easternmost tip of Jeju Island, this area is the first to greet each day’s new sun, thus earning the name of Seongsan Ilchubong, “Sunrise Peak.” We climbed up to the top for an amazing view and a quick work out.

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Before we began the climb though, the really cool part was the traditional Korean dancing that was showcased in the amphitheatre. They even had some young girls whose outfits were like haenyos, which are Jeju-do legends.

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The haenyo, literally meaning “sea women”, are female divers in only Jeju. They are basically old woman who wake up every morning, out on a wet suit and catch fish by hand, despite the weather conditions. They do this all year, every day. The Haenyo numbers are dwindling though because many young girls value less traditional ideas and want to work on land, rather than in the rough sea everyday. The performances were beautiful and they called Ellie up on stage to give her a hand made persimmon dyed handkerchief made from hemp which is standard from the region.

(Take a look at the video at the end for more on the performance)

After the performances were over, they called Ellie and any other volunteers to dance with them for peace on stage. It was really pretty and the performances were such a nice cultural thing to see. The climb up the sunset peak took only 20-30 minutes and it was really gorgeous from the top. The clouds had cleared and you could see fairly far away and the beautiful Jeju coastline as well.

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The next day, we headed over to Jungmun, which is where all of the big resorts are. It was only 20 minutes bus ride away from Seogwipo. Jungmun is synonymous for Korean honey-mooners and many wear matching outfits. There is also a teddy-bear museum which seemed incredibly overpriced and cheesy, but the honey-mooners were eating it up.

We actually had to wait in line to take this photo. The others had the same pose, but imagine a young husband and wife wearing matching pink polo shirts

We actually had to wait in line to take this photo. The others had the same pose, but imagine a young husband and wife wearing matching pink polo shirts

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The beach was phenomenal though. One of the prettiest beaches ever with big surf and a beautiful cliff backdrop, one can really see how Jeju often gets called the “Hawaii of Korea.” We spent the whole day, playing in the huge waves and watching the Korean women who were made-up with full make-up and accessories get sucked under gigantic waves. It made us laugh.

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The best part of the day was watching Haenyo’s dive and bring back baskets of seaweed and sea critters which they would wash and serve to the waiting customers at beach front tables. It was nice to see such powerful women in Korean culture.

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Afterwards, we tried to find this place that serves veggie burgers in Namwon that are supposedly the size of a Frisbee. We got all the way to Namwon(which has very little to see) and were told by a woman at the 7-11, that the place we wanted was closed. We were annoyed that we had ridden an hour and paid 5 dollars each to take a pointless bus ride.
The next couple days that we had left the weather was either raining or we were too lazy to get back on the buses to go places that were over an hour each way by bus with little English signposting. Our initial plans had us going climbing Mt. Hallasan and hitting up the lava caves and going to Loveland, but as we are learning, the weather dictates a lot of what we do and our enthusiasm.
To be honest, I don’t think that Jeju turned out to be the paradise that we imagined. Jeju would be amazing if you had your own car because the attractions are all over the island and often the buses don’t travel the whole way. Also, to get to most of the places or other beaches we wanted to visit were a 2 hour bus ride each way from Seogwipo. That’s a lot of bus travel and the really big downer is that the buses don’t have much English signposting so there’s a lot of guessing involved which wouldn’t be so bad but you have to pay bus fare every single time you get on the bus even for a transfer so it adds up pretty quickly. We both agree that Jeju should begin to make a one-day unlimited bus ride pass so you could come and go as you please. This would be much more manageable and your mistakes wouldn’t cost you so much money.
Don’t get me wrong, Jeju is beautiful but it’s just not wonderful for backpackers who can’t splash out to rent their own set of wheels and rely on public transport.
On the last day, we saw a waterfall that falls directly into the ocean, which is said to be the only one of its kind in Asia. It was really beautiful and if you got too close, you could get quite wet. The ocean water where the waterfall fell was incredibly cold.

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Our last night in Korea before moving on to Japan, we were a little tired of hanging around the Hiking Inn and Seogwipo in general, but we decided to bid good-bye to our three-week long jaunt around S. Korea with our new favorite past-time, Karaoke. Enjoy some very embarrassing video and remember that we were drinking Soju (Korean vodka) so therefore we thought we sounded really good. So long, Korea and Hello, Japan!

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2 Responses to “Jeju: Korean Paradise”


  1. 1 gena September 28, 2009 at 11:53 am

    best video by far….love me some ellie dancing and some duets! xoxox

  2. 2 Kelly Kettle December 26, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone who genuinely
    understands what they’re talking about on the net. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular given that you certainly possess the gift.


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