Loaded with offbeat attractions, the South Korean island of Jeju offers a fun, fabulous family holiday. Christine Nayagam’s top picks from her first trip there will have you looking for bookings
Welcome to Nature’s paradise!’’ says Sanghee Hong, our Korean guide as we exit the small airport at Jeju Island, after an 8-hour flight from Delhi. Looking back, ‘Nature’ and ‘Paradise’ were indeed the defining elements of our trip here.
Located at the confluence of the Korea Strait, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea, Jeju has developed its own language and a fascinating culture. Some people even call it the ‘Hawaii of Korea’ for its exotic feel. And now that visa-free travel from Hong Kong has become possible, Indians are discovering its treasury of wonders. As the aircraft descends to land at Jeju, I glimpse emerald-green forests surrounded by vast stretches of a turquoise coastline and sandy beaches. With only 600,000 residents, Jeju is laid back and relaxing—ideal for a break as a couple, with family or with a group of friends. While the isle is packed with amazing sights and experiences, I’ve picked the most special ones for you :
Also known as Sunrise Peak, this volcanic formation is over 100,000 years old and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top, for the best view of the island. There are 99 sharp rocks that surround the crater and make it look like a gigantic crown. On the way down, closer to the cliff, don’t miss out on meeting the incredible Haenyeos, women divers who go up to 10m under the sea to gather shellfish for a living without the help of oxygen masks. Many of the women also perform shows for the tourists, and it is fascinating as well as a tad sad to watch the last generation of this dying profession.
Not far from the peak, you can also visit some of the lava tubes. The Manjanggul Cave, spanning over 8 km is one of the most recent and finest lava tubes. Its alleys are quite wide and you don’t feel claustrophobic, but the ground is not regular, so be careful while walking, so as not to get your foot twisted in a hole.
As I was returning to the parking area of Seongsan Ilchulbong, I noticed a Buddhist temple and could not resist a quick visit. No one was around, but it was open to all visitors. Inside, the smell of incense and the presence of golden Buddhas everywhere made me feel at peace. The largest Buddhist temple of Jeju is Yakchunsa Temple—try to visit it by night as it has a very mystic feel about it. Like the rest of South Korea, Jeju’s principal religion is indeed Buddhism and second is Christianity. Interestingly, many locals also believe in thousands of other gods and spirits and practice shamanism. Shamans, also called shimbang, live together in a village and their powers are inherited through family lineage.
Tangerine is Jeju’s national fruit and you can find gardens specially for tourists, where you can pick fruits to take back home. But picking fruits isn’t that easy. You’ll have to follow strict instructions and make sure you don’t harm the trees. A tip: when picking tangerines, choose only the medium-sized ones. The big ones don’t taste that good!
It’s the first teddy bear museum I ever visited. As we are taken through the museum, our guide explains that it has a connect with India, indeed the founder Joanne Oh, a teddy bear artist, was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and created his teddy bear avatar. It was the first of many other teddy bear celebrities in the museum. You’ll find the traditional teddy bear in all forms and colours and what’s interesting is that all of them are made of natural materials.
Optical art illusion museums exist in many other cities in the world, but the Jeju Alive Museum is certainly the biggest that I have ever visited. The entire building is inspired by the Greco-Roman style of architecture and visitors can participate actively by taking pictures while posing with the art in a variety of funny and unique ways. The museum also houses a restaurant and a kart racing ground. A good option if you are travelling with kids.
Jeju’s USP is clearly its natural beauty. There are thousands of trekking routes that will take you to incredible waterfalls, such as the Cheonjiyeon Falls and other natural sights in a pollution free environment. Do visit the Bijarim forest, well known for its large nutmeg trees, some of which are as old as 500 to 800 years. You can also take a walk on the numerous white sand beaches, where you might encounter wild horses roaming freely. It’s also interesting to note that many walking trails through Jeju’s forest are accessible to people on wheelchairs.
There are many shows in Jeju but we opted for The Painters Hero, combining music, dance and art. For 90 minutes, four charming artistes perform live, while drawing and painting in an innovative and quite surprising way, adding a touch of comedy. It is easy to enjoy the performance because there’s no language barrier; the artists mainly mime.
It’s time for some Vitamin Sea! It is my first time sailing on the Pacific Ocean. That day was windy so if you are prone to sea sickness, go on a boat ride when the sea is calm. But if you like adventure and thrills then you’ll enjoy sailing against the wind and braving the waves. Yacht prices vary—you can book a personal boat or go with a tourist group for an hour or half a day. For a luxury cruise, check out the Yacht Tour Shangri-La. On board, enjoy a drink and you can also do fishing and eat the fish you caught!
Did you know: Jeju is a famous honeymoon destination in Asia. Either you travel as a couple or with your friends, but without kids, take a tour of the Love Land, the only Asian open-air park entirely dedicated to erotism. The artistic installations are creative and will certainly make you smile. Visit at night when the lights are on. It’s open till 10 pm.
DANCE WITH K-POP DANCE WITH K-POP
K-pop or Korean pop music has become a rage around the world, so why deprive yourself of this while in Korea? At Jeju, the downtown offers numerous options. It’s impressive to see Koreans party all night, drinking Soju, a local drink, and beer. Almost all nightclubs present artistes’ performances, dance, music, DJs and singers. If you finish late, taxis are easily available and they neither cheat on the price nor bargain.
Missing home food?
Korea is paradise for people who relish Asian food, especially non-vegetarian options including barbecues. But if you miss Indian spices, you’ll find some Indian restaurants. We tried Bagdad Café, a restaurant owned by a Korean lady, Juryoung Hyun, who fell in love with India and decided to open an Indian restaurant. The chef is Indian and the food tastes just like home. Try the peanut butter masala curry with garlic naan: quite unique!
More here >> https://www.facebook.com/ bagdadcafejeju
You’ll find these mushroom-like statues almost everywhere in Jeju. Dol hareubang literally means ‘grandfather statues’ and they are considered to be gods bringing fertility and protection against bad spirits. The statues are carved from volcanic rocks, and locals usually place them at the entry of their house. We don’t really know about their origin, but with time Dol hareubang have become Jeju’s symbol. While visiting the villages, you can also see Bangsatap, a tower made of stones to protect against bad luck.
Don’t leave home without buying local beauty products and the famous Korean face masks. Koreans, women and men, spend a lot of time on their morning and evening beauty routines. A local brand with outlets in India too, is Innisfree. You can visit the Innisfree House & Museum, an eco-friendly building surrounded by a beautiful garden, where you can enjoy an organic meal and buy beauty products.
HOW TO REACH?
You can fly from many cities in India – via Hong Kong it’s visa-free. But if you fly through Seoul you’ll have to get a visa before your departure. On the island, you can rent a car or use the taxis and intercity buses—all of these are convenient.