Visiting Jeju, only an hour and a half from Beijing, is one
of the easiest ways to set foot on Korean soil from China. It’s also one of the
few places in the world where hardly anyone needs a visa, including Chinese
nationals – and as a result, Chinese tour groups arrive by the bucket-load
It’s an open-door policy that makes you wonder if you’re simply going to be
spending a weekend elbowing people out the way. Well, the answer to this is both
yes and no. Jeju City, where international flights land, is right at the
northern tip of the island, and the biggest city on Jeju.
It’s also where many
tourists head to shop, and it is home to several enormous duty-free department stores clearly targeted at Chinese shoppers who have come to stock up on Korean cosmetics and rice cookers.
If you want to avoid the tourist trail, though, hop on the airport bus out of Jeju city and head to the south side of the island. Also worth avoiding is the Jungmun Tourist Complex, close to the island’s other sizeable city, Seogwipo, a maze of huge, gaudy hotels with pillars, water features and long driveways.
Our hotel is a more modest affair, but an excellent bet if you’re looking for peace and quiet. The Famille Spa Resort is a family-run venue about ten minutes from the main tourist complex, surrounded by orange plantations with views over the stunning coastline and its own small pool. The rooms are set up for independent travellers, including facilities for cooking, and several of the rooms even have their own hot tubs.
One of the real upsides to our hotel – aside from its calm surroundings – is its staff, who are extremely
friendly, greeting us with both arrival and leaving gifts, helping us decipher
maps, and taking us to the bus stop in person so we can’t miss it (even though
it’s right outside).
This is one of the reasons Jeju is such a delight – the locals
are friendly, cheerful, and more than willing to assist you. After stopping in
a café to ask directions, we had barely finished our sentence before the owner
had shut up shop and hopped in her car to drive us to our destination (she refused
to accept any money).
While historically a fishing island, Jeju is packed with
a baffling range of museums that seem to have no immediate connection with it,
including the Teddy Bear Museum, the Da Vinci Museum, the Baseball Museum, the
Chocolate Museum, the World Eros Museum and the intriguing SOS Museum. And
that’s before we mention the Goblin Park, Jeju Love Land, the Alive Museum, the
Fantasy Forest, Character World and the Fun Theme Park.
Intriguing as many of
these sound, we recommend skipping them all and spending time instead with the
best of Jeju – its stunning natural scenery. Golden beaches, impressive
waterfalls, and ragged, volcanic coastlines are all easy to find with local
buses and taxis. The Jeongbang Waterfalls are well worth a visit (4,000SKW,
about 20RMB) – go in the spirit of things and prepared to get thoroughly
We’d also suggest stopping by the small neighbouring Seobok
Exhibition Hall (500SKW), which details how the Chinese explorer Xu Fu stopped by
Jeju in 219BC on his voyage to Japan, sent by Emperor Qin Shihuang on the
optimistic task of finding the secret of immortality. Accompanied by 3,000
children (for reasons not made clear), the intrepid explorer sailed around a
then-empty Jeju, stopping to inscribe his name by the waterfalls.
Also worth a visit is the peak of Seongsan Iluchulbong, formed by a volcanic
eruption. A 30-minute walk to the top and a mere 4,000SKW affords you incredible
views across the island and an endless crystal sea.
It’s also possible to watch
a demonstration of the incredible history of Jeju’s diving women — the island’s traditional
industry of women diving into the sea to hunt for fish.
If you're looking to hike, you can do so in the luscious green forests that
surround dormant volcano Mt Hallasan. For an easy stroll head to the Seogwipo
Natural Recreation Resort (2,000SKW entrance) and choose one of the various
routes; the shortest is about an hour and takes you past the natural spring,
where you can drink water that locals believe leads to long life.
collapse into an armchair at the Haette Tteul bar, which has undoubtedly the
best views on the island, grab a local Cass beer (5,000SKW) and watch the sun
While you’re in this part of the island, stop by the art district around the
Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market. A small outside market nestled under thatched roofs
touts local crafts and designs, and rows of small boutiques are the perfect spot
to source souvenirs and unique designs, in particular cute tributes to the
aforementioned diving ladies.
Of course, no visit to Korea would be complete without
indulging in a healthy amount of food. Make sure to try the famous Jeju oranges
– hard to avoid given that everything has a distinct orange flavour – and the black
pork barbecue, the island’s local delicacy.
We suggest Jungmun Shillawon
Restaurant on Jungmundong food street, where the chunky slices of pork can be
cooked for you at your table if your barbecuing skills are rusty. There’s no
chance of you going hungry either, with set menus also including egg pancakes
and salty grilled hairtail fish, together with a seafood soup, vegetables, rice
and a large assortment of sides (50,000SKW for two).
And don’t even think about
leaving the island until you’ve eaten your weight at a seafood dinner – this is
a fishing island after all. Pick a restaurant filled with locals and you can’t
go wrong; we tried the sashimi, braised mackerel and grilled bass at Jen Mon Jo
Em in Seongsan, where an extremely hearty dinner (with beers) set us back
The island is clearly ramped up into tourism mode, and is dotted with
signs that read ‘We love having you here’. But it’s a motif reinforced by the
generosity of the islanders, which meant that we thoroughly returned the
How to get there
Numerous airlines offer flights between Beijing and
Jeju, including Air China, China Eastern, Korean Air, Juneyao Airlines and
Dragonair. Return flights start from around 1,600RMB on Ctrip.com.
The Famille Spa Resort, 826-6, Ieodoro, Seogwipo, Jeju Island, 697-827 (0203
684 0327). Rooms with a hot tub from 1,074RMB per night; without from 726RMB
(most rooms can hold up to four people) .