Jeju Island, South Korea travel guide

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Amidst the fields of flowers in full bloom, golden beaches and goblin parks (yes, really) of South Korea’s Jeju Island, Helen Roxburgh discovers great food, stunning nature and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet

Off the southern shores of Korea, just two hours and 45 minutes away, Jeju Island is the nearest strip of Korean soil to Hong Kong. Compared to its peninsula to the north, spring arrives early on Jeju and because of the land’s fertile volcanic soil, the season bursts into an amazing explosion of flowers. From now until June, the fields from sea level to the island’s highest peak, Mount Halla, are strewn with a beautiful palette of cherry blossoms, azaleas, canola flowers and camellias.

Though there are blooms enough to celebrate an entire spectrum of colours, the largest flower festival in Jeju surrounds the canola. Every year, the city of Seogwipo plays host to a special canola blossom walking festival beginning at Jeju Sculpture Park (1836, Iljuseo-ro, Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo-si). But there are petals aplenty around the island – areas such as Mount Sanbangsan, Seopjikoji and Seongsan Ilchulbong also boast fields of canola blossoms that are equally stunning to behold, even though there aren’t any extra designated activities. Another path well worth taking is the road to Jeongseok Aviation Pavilion in Gasi-ri, Pyoseon-myeon. Surrounded by canola, it’s been voted one of Korea’s 100 most beautiful roads.

The seasonal visual feast aside, Jeju is a delight to visit thanks to locals who are friendly, cheerful and more than willing to assist you. After stopping in a café to ask directions to one of the many other sights in town, we had barely finished our sentence before the owner shut up shop and hopped in her car to drive us directly to our destination (refusing to accept any money).



The sights

Although historically a fishing community, Jeju is packed with a baffling range of museums that seem to have no immediate connection to anything else on the island, including the Teddy Bear Museum, Da Vinci Museum, Baseball Museum, Chocolate Museum, the World Eros Museum and the intriguing sounding 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.

Beguiling 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 and ragged, volcanic coastlines are all easy to find via local buses and taxis. The Jeongbang Waterfalls are well worth a visit ($25) – go in the spirit of things and be prepared to get thoroughly drenched. We’d also suggest stopping by the small neighbouring Seobok Exhibition Hall ($3, 156-8 Chilsimni-ro, Seogwipo, +82 64 760 6304), which details how the Chinese explorer Xu Fu stopped by Jeju in 219BC on his voyage to Japan, sent by Emperor Qin Shihuang on an optimistic mission to find the secret of immortality. Accompanied (for  reasons not made clear) by 3,000 children, the intrepid explorer sailed around a then-empty Jeju, stopping to inscribe his name by the waterfalls.

Also well worth a visit is the peak of Seongsan Iluchulbong, formed by a volcanic eruption. A 30-minute walk to the top and a mere $25 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, who plunge beneath the waves to hunt for fish.

If you’re tired of HK trails and searching for somewhere new to hike, you can do so in the luscious green forests that surround the dormant volcano Mount Hallasan. For an easy stroll head to the Seogwipo Natural Recreation Resort ($13) and choose one of the numerous 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. Afterwards, collapse into an armchair at the Haette Tteul bar, which has undoubtedly the best views on the island. Grab a Cass beer ($32) and watch the sun set.

While you’re in this part of the island, take a pit stop by the art district around the Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market (22 Jungjeong-ro73beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea, +82 64-762-1949) This small outside space nestled under thatched roofs touts local crafts and designs. The rows of small boutiques are the perfect spot to source souvenirs and unique designs, in particular cute tributes to the aforementioned diving ladies.

Where to gorge
Of course, no visit to Korea would be complete without indulging in a healthy amount of food. Be 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 (107 Cheonjeyeon-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do Saekdal-dong +82 64 739 3395; jejushinlawon.com), where the chunky slices of pork can be cooked for you at your table. There’s plenty to choose from, with set menus also including egg pancakes and salty grilled hairtail fish, together with seafood soup, vegetables, rice and a large assortment of sides ($322 for two).

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. We opted for the sashimi, braised mackerel and grilled bass at Jen Mon Jo Em in Seongsan, where an extremely hearty dinner (with beers) set us back $644.
The island is clearly trawling for tourists and is dotted with signs that read ‘We love having you here’. Sounds cheesy, but it’s a motif reinforced by the altruistic generosity of the islanders making Jeju a destination we thoroughly love.

How to get there
Both Hong Kong Express and Dragonair fly directly to Jeju twice a week. You can secure a good deal if you time things right on HK Express (hkexpress.com), and pay about $2,893 inc taxes, if you’re lucky. Flying with Dragonair (dragonair.com) costs around $4,328 inc taxes.

Where to stay
For a stay that is the epitome of relaxation, look no further than The Shilla Jeju resort. Consisting of two Mediterranean-inspired buildings, the 429 rooms and 38 suites all offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The facilities are as unique as they are impressive and include an eight-acre landscaped Soombi Garden, a heated outdoor swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, luxury cabanas, and Jacuzzis. There’re few better ways to appreciate the spring. Room rates start at $2,196 inc tax. 75 Jungmungwangwang-ro, 72beon-gil, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea, +82 64 735 5114; shillahotels.com.

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