7 best things to do in Jeju Island, South Korea’s island paradise
South Korea — as you would’ve learnt from variety shows and dramas by now — isn’t short of beautiful holiday destinations. At the very top of that list sits Seoul, where for a decade now has attracted millions of Kpop fans and foodies to its buzzing metropolitan city. Jeju Island (or more locally known as Jeju-do), however is proving itself to be just as alluring as destination.
Located just off the coast of its mainland, the volcanic island has garnered fans for its diversity. Its moderate climate means that it’s an easy, fuss-free destination all year round. Wildlife buffs will revel in the fact that they’re surrounded by UNESCO Heritage Sites and forest trails, while those who enjoy a dip or two can rest easy knowing that the ocean is never too far away.
The picturesque island is also home to plenty of unique dishes — thanks to its abundance in seafood and black pigs — so gourmands seeking authentic indigenous cuisines will find themselves spoilt for choice.
Here’s what should be on your bucket list the next time you visit Jeju Island.
Jeju Island is home to some pristine emerald waters and sandy beaches, but it also boasts the tallest peak in Korea. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, Hallasan Mountain sits an imposing 1,950m tall within its namesake national park at the center of the island, and makes for a good workout for anyone because of its easy climb.
Seven scenic trails mark the sprawling park with around 6,000 species of flora and fauna, so nature lovers will have a real field day within this vertical ecosystem. The real reward however, lies at its peak, where a stunning massive crater lake greets climbers.
Climb Hallasan Mountain
Better known as the “elderly mermaids of Jeju”, haenyeo (or sea women) have been an important part of the island’s cultural identity, more so because they’ve managed to place importance to women in an otherwise patriarchal society.
These elderly ladies make a living by free diving — without the use of oxygen tanks — daily into the sea to gather seaweed, abalone and other shellfish, and can remarkably hold their breath for up to two minutes underwater. Having made it to the UNESCO list of Korea’s intangible cultural heritage in 2016 means there’s always a crowd waiting to watch them in action at Sunrise Peak.
If enjoying a warm balmy afternoon by the sea with a cuppa is on your itinerary, Mônsant Cafe has one of the best views — both inside and out. If its floor-to-ceiling mirrored windows that reflect the pristine shore’s not enough for your photo-taking whims, the cafe’s industrial aesthetics within will do the trick too. Most tourists stop by for brunch, but cocktails such as its famous shakerato are best had in the evening with the sunset.
Situated over acres of sprawling viridescent fields, O’Sulloc’s tea plantations count on the island’s mineral-rich volcanic rock soil to flourish, and the result is one of the most fragrant nokcha (green tea) you’ll find. While its presence can be felt throughout the island — there are four upscale teahouses under O’Sulloc’s name — you’ll find that the best experience remains to be at the plantation, where you can stroll through the endless meandering tea fields.
When you’re done Instagramming this moment to death, head down to the cafe in the adjoining Tea Museum where you’ll get to savour drinks and food — all made from green tea, of course.
Wander through O’Sulloc's tea plantation
Essentially Jeju’s answer to Seoul’s Dongdaemun market, the two massive lines of food stalls that make up the Dongmun Night Market offers every Jeju delicacy you could possibly feast on during your stay there. Do as the locals do and hit up the raw fish restaurants, which are unsurprisingly popular, or hit up stalls selling snacks such as black pork skewers, abalone rice rolls and Udo-sourced nut ice cream. Even the unadventurous can look forward something — there’s plenty of standard Korean fare to go around too.
It’s easy to see why Jeongbang Falls made it to the top three of Jeju Island’s top three waterfalls. The natural wonder is the only fall in Korea where water falls directly into the sea, and at 23m high is a spectacular sight to see, especially with old pine trees that dramatically flank it.
An observatory awaits at the top of the same cliff to provide dazzling views of the sea, but those who prefer to stay low will appreciate a refreshing dip in the waters, especially in the summer.
The brainchild of Pritzker Architecture Prize recipient Tadao Ando — whose portfolio includes the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in Missouri and the Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester — the Bonte Museum is home to an impressive line-up of both traditional and modern artwork.
While Ando’s contemporary-meets-Japanese silhouettes are awe-inspiring in themselves, the real deal here lies within the four art galleries, one of which showcases Yayoi Kusama’s famous “infinity mirrored room” and “The Pumpkin”. Another features Ando’s meditation room and his original design sketches — a rare insight into the prolific architect’s design process and methodology.