CONTRIBUTED BY CHRISTINE BRUNS
Despite all of the craziness involved with moving back to the states, my family managed to sneak in one last trip while in Korea, and we spent a relaxing week on Jeju Island. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Hawaii of Korea”, but since I’ve never been to Hawaii, I’ll just share a part of our adventure as best as I can and leave the comparing up to you.
There are a TON of things to do on Jeju; what you pick really comes down to where you stay and what kind of vacation you are looking for. We wanted to do a variety of things that were young kid friendly, and a number of activities were on the East coast of the island in Seongsan.
We stayed at the Jeju Lux Hotel for the week – a boutique hotel with unique rooms and very friendly service. If you look at the above map, our hotel was near where the blue and green roads intersect. Since we were not staying at one of the more touristy sections of the island, this was way more affordable and just what we needed to rest our head. They even had a laundry service, which made packing easier.
Our planned hiking day dawned super foggy, but sunny. We jumped in the car (Pro Tip: rent a car and GPS – it is soooooo easy to navigate Jeju) and headed ten minutes out to the major tourist attraction here – Seongsan Ilchubong, also known as Sunrise Peak. It is a tuff cone created by an underwater volcanic eruption about 5,000 years ago. It’s about 180 meters high and a pretty cool looking landmark on the east side of the island.
We bought our ticket and joined the trail of people climbing that morning – young and old all mixed together for a morning stroll. The path started out simply, with a stone walkway among the greenery. And then the stairs started (because, it’s Korea, after all)…it got quite steep at times, but was quite manageable overall. If you are not a hiking enthusiast (which our family is not) and do not want to try scaling Jeju’s Mt. Hallasan (which we did attempt…but did not finish), this is a great alternative.
We made it to the top, guzzled down our bottled water, and rested peacefully while viewing the crater. We then started down the stairs pictured above. At the bottom we paused to watch the famous Haenyeo, Jeju’s female divers (the Jeju Mermaids), as they dove into the water for abalone, octopus, and other poor unsuspecting sea creatures. There is a Haenyeo Museum and seaside restaurant nearby, for anyone who would like to learn more or dine on fresh seafood.
We stopped for ice cream and took a leisurely stroll around the surrounding neighborhood afterwards, climbing up short set of stairs to see the Dongwansa Temple at the base of Ilchulbong.
Since we stayed on this side of the island, we visited this neighborhood a number of times for our meals. There are variety of restaurants available – seafood, noodles, Lotte, fried chicken and beer, pizza, coffee shops – as well as souvenir and beauty supply stores.
While on Jeju, we also headed over to the the nearby aquarium – Hanwha Aqua Planet. Our little guy loves aquariums and sea creatures, so this was a must see for us. We were there just after opening, so we were able to see a number of feedings in the seal and penguin tanks.
The main tank is ginormous. They aquarium used to have two whale sharks (which my son would have LOVED!) but they released the remaining one after the other died. They did have a creepy looking statue, though. The highlight was the dolphin show, which started with one dolphin and the trainer, and ended with four dolphins leaping, flipping, and splashing the audience.
You can get to Jeju Island by plane or boat. There are numerous companies that offer guided tours to areas on the island; we opted to rent a car and explore on our own. You will need an international or USFK driver’s license, as well as your passport, to rent a car. We found our accommodations using agoda.com.