Penalized by the proximity of its self-isolating northern neighbor, South Korea is the haven for any traveler. It offers contagious hospitality and the benefits of a highly industrialized and technologically advanced country, while living and respecting the old traditions of Asia. Among its mountainous landscape (over 70% of the country), dotted coastline with beautiful islands and ancestral culture, South Korea, especially Jeju Island deserves a stop on your Asia travel itinerary.
South Korea comprises almost 3,000 islands, mostly small and uninhabited, but perfect for pleasant boat trips. One of these paradise destinations is home to the highest point of the country. This would be the Hallasan mount located in the Jeju island.
Jeju is the largest island and smallest province of the country, located south of the Korean Peninsula. It is also the perfect eco-friendly holiday spot with beautiful beaches, lush countryside and seaside hotels.
The reason for this predilection? The climate is slightly milder than the rest of the peninsula. The natural volcanic attractions, the culture a little different from the peninsular Korean and the fascination that islands generally arouse in people are a few of the highlights.
So, here are the top 10 things you must know before visiting this paradise in Asia.
1. How to get there?
Jeju is the favorite domestic holiday destination in the country and one of the top destinations for honeymooners and nature lovers in Asia! Koreans love it and flights leaving from Seoul are very cheap, so it is worth a visit if you have time.
The route between Jeju and Seoul, both in South Korea, has the largest passenger flow in the world. Each year, air travel from Jeju to Seoul takes more than 6.5 million passengers. The route can have more than one hundred flights in a single day, only in one direction.
On the other hand, if you are already in Korea, it might be best to leave from Busan to Jeju. It is quicker as well as cheaper.
Another option to consider is to go by ferry to Jeju. The main advantage of this route is the scenery from the deck, which can be considered the start of your holidays.
The whole process can be simple. It is possible to buy your ticket the night before, except during peak season. Just make sure to arrive at least 40 minutes before the ferry departs and to not forget to take your passport with you.
2. How to move around the Island?
It is important to keep in mind that everything is very far on Jeju Island! Public transportation does not lead to all places of interest. Renting a car or bicycle to get around Jeju Island can increase the freedom, flexibility and security of your trip schedules.
With that in mind, the best way to see the island is to rent a car. It is relatively easy to drive, and the general opinion is that drivers and tours are not too reliable. They are not dishonest, but sometimes, they just want to get their work done quickly and end up making your trip less fun. Jeju’s best-known rent-a-car is LOTTE.
Make sure to book your car in advance since they could run out of cars. From the airport to the rent-a-car there is a shuttle bus. To catch it, exit door 5, turn right and follow the pedestrian path.
It is necessary to remember that in case the car rental is the chosen option, it is mandatory to present an international driver’s license.
And, extra attention when driving, there are bumps everywhere and from time to time you may encounter a deer or two! If you want to learn what transportation options you have in Jeju, check out this website.
3. When to go?
The peak season is the summer, between July and August. But visitors are greeted warmly throughout the year! Do not expect to go to Jeju and find a tropical climate! Okay, it is a bit warmer than the Korean peninsula, it is full of beaches, but it is not that purely tropical climate.
Overall, the best weather months on Jeju Island are May, June, August, September and October.
On average, the hottest months are July and August and January is the coldest month of the year. The wettest months are June, July and August, the latter being the most suitable month for swimming.
The ideal time to stay is 3 days if you do not go up to Hallasan mount, 4 if you decide to do so. Of course, this can vary depending on your interests.
Summer months may be the peak season for Jeju, but the best time to visit Jeju is during the spring season. From mid-March to end-April will be the perfect time to catch the blooming flowers like cherry blossoms, yellow canolas, forsythias, azaleas, magnolias, and lilacs.
4. Where to stay?
Jeju has 2 main cities: Seogwipo (to the south) and Jeju-si (to the north), separated by Mount Halla, a volcano in the center of the island, whose crater is a lake.
So, choose wisely where to stay, depending on your plans. When choosing the hotel, make sure the pool does not work only in summer (June-August).
For instance, if your idea is to scuba dive at Monseom and Seopsom islands, it is best to stay in Seogwipo. This bucolic city, with a lot of fishing culture, little traffic of cars has many houses. Which can be an architectural rarity in peninsular Korea, where we have the feeling that everyone lives in apartments.
From there you will be able to visit the Ilchulbong crater on the seafront with a stunning view of the Sea of Japan and admire two waterfalls. One of them inside a well-visited tourist park, and the other pouring its main waterfall directly into the sea.
Jeju-si, the capital of Jeju Island, is the main point of arrival. And for such reason, it is a bit more crowded than Seogwipo.
There, you will have the opportunity to unveil the magic of the Mysterious Road and the Samseonghyel holes. In Jeju-si, make sure to visit the Folk and Natural History Museum (open daily from 08:30 to 18h) and learn more about the special community of Jeju.
5. Make use of the Korea Travel Hotline
First, arrange or get a map in English at the information desk, at the airport.
The most interesting recommendation regarding your vacation plan to Jeju Island is the 1330 Korea Travel Hotline (+8221330). This free service helps any traveler who seeks information regarding attractions, transportation, schedules, fees and other useful information.
You simply call the number, which answers in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese and ask for the information you are looking for.
6. Korean souvenirs
To purchase authentic items from Jeju Island, visit the island’s popular art complex where artisans display and sell their work. To purchase more traditional items and walk through historic buildings, visit the popular Jeju neighborhood.
Other than that, there are not many souvenir shops around the island, so the airport might be a good option to get some special little token to remind you of your holidays in Jeju forever.
Whenever you see the souvenirs that you like, just get them. Usually, you can find the souvenirs at most major tourist attractions.
Check out these 8 types of souvenirs as suggested by Korea.net.
7. Tasty experience in Jeju
In addition to tourism, the main industries in Jeju are fishing and agriculture. Fresh fish, squid, octopus and several other seafoods can be easily bought in markets and even on the beach. Jeju’s tropical climate and high rainfall are perfect for planting pineapples and mandarins.
The island is also famous for its shitake mushrooms and the honey of the local flowers has a very special flavor.
Try to eat at least once in a convenience store, warm up your little Tupperware in the microwave, or put water in your mouth and eat right there. It is all part of living the local culture.
While we are talking about food, it is also recommended to try the traditional grilled black pork, samgyeopsal, in order to have the full Jeju experience.
This black pig is only found on this island, thus, the special cultural exchange of trying this famous Korean barbecue with the equally famous Korean bacon. Remember to keep in mind that the tipping culture in South Korea is inexistent.
8. Staying connected
Have you ever heard of the pocket wi-fi? It functions as a portable router that captures the 4G signal and distributes it to the devices you connect.
Through Pocket Wifi Korea it is possible to rent one with an extra battery and hire the service before arriving in South Korea. At Seoul or Incheon airport, for example, you can pick up the device.
When leaving the country, simply return it in the same place of withdrawal. With internet you can use Google maps, Skype, consult prices and routes, among many other utilities.
9. Can you survive with only English?
Almost nobody speaks English and even those who do have an almost incomprehensible pronunciation, except in the big resorts. In the fitness center/pools, forget it. The way to communicate is by gestures.
And although it has good roads and many buses leading to the sights, Jeju was designed as a tourist spot for Koreans and nothing more.
There are few English language signs and everything you will have to do depend on taxi or luck. The tip is to do a lot of research before leaving the hotel, take a map with you, GPS and pay close attention!
10. Finalizing your itinerary
Once you have selected the places you want to visit and fit into the days you have, you can assemble a list with all the information including directions from one location to another. Make a printed version of it and always carry it with you.
If in the middle of the trip some plan goes wrong, rest assured that this is extremely normal. You can replace plans, change places. Right there everything can change by several factors, it can rain, attractions might be closed for some reason. Calm down and remember that everything works out in the end.
Do not forget to leave free hours because you can always come up with a last-minute plan or you end up seeing an interesting place that catches your curiosity.
So, you can simply fill in these spaces. And, if you do not have something to do at some point, just go for a walk down the street, get to know places around your hotel or hostel. There are always amazing hidden places that are not mentioned on the internet, but you will only discover exploring!