We took a flight from Seoul to Jeju with Jeju Air, the train and ferry options were a bit long winded so we took to the air instead. The Jeju Air cabin crew were very helpful, and as the flight was only around 45 minutes, there is little to report about the journey. Except that some bright spark at Jeju Air has decided that the air cabin crew give all the children on their flights an inflated bendy balloon. While the plane is in the air! Of course the children love this, and who can blame them. However, if you are a nervous flyer, have a hangover or suffer from 'globophobia' the constant screeching and popping of balloons will drive you crazy. It’s just not fair, I wanted one to play with.
Jeju is a fascinating island. It is the premier honeymoon destination for Koreans, and has a vast array of natural UNESCO listed sights, beaches and wildlife. There has also been an explosion of tourist theme parks, museums and other entertainments to amuse the Korean and international tourists that flock here every year.
Jeju is Korea's only ‘Special Self Governing Province’, a fact of which they seem proud as it is mentioned on all government literature here. It is inhabited by over half a million people who are joined annually by over six million visitors, although thankfully not at the same time.
We will get to the sights in a later blog but other things Jeju is famous for are Gamgyul a type of orange more the size and texture of a tangerine. The Black pigs, with black hair whose meat is chewy and is said not to have the same taste as pork – we will report on that later!
It is also pretty unique for Korea in that it has matriarchal family structure which is the result of another famous Jeju tradition of haenyeo (sea women) who over centuries have dived the rough waters of the island in search of food. You also cannot go very far on the island without seeing the ubiquitous dol hareubang (stone grandfather) carved from volcanic basalt which adorn houses, bridges, museums and of course all government tourist literature.
Getting Around Jeju
As our flashpacking credo goes, we always try and get around a place on public transport, but after a day of trying to get to a couple of places on our first afternoon we gave it up as a bad job. It is impossible, unless you want to get lost (none of the maps or bus signs are in English) or spend a lot of time in between sites waiting for the next bus to arrive (they are frequent within the main two cities, but not the ones across or around the island)
Plan B consisted therefore of three options
- Use a tour bus to some of the sights you may want to see and be hauled around others you may not for a cost of about 79,000 KRW per day(US $68)
- Hire a private taxi for 120-180,000 KRW, you get to choose your own itinerary, but unless you pay the top price it is unlikely they will speak very much English to add to your cultural visits
- Hire your own car and do your own itinerary which is what we did in the end and it worked out remarkably good value. We covered 250 kilometres, visited all the places on our list and discovered a few more along the way. The total cost? KRW 113,000 for two days car hire, fuel, English sat nav and free wifi, much better value than either of the other options. We used KT Kumho car hire company, use the English site become a member and you get great discounts on your rental.
Jeju Food and How to Eat a Korean barbecue
While we were here we sampled our first real Korean barbecue. One of the things you must try while you are in Jeju is the local Black Pig. Worry not the meat you eat is not black, but the pork comes from a black furred pig whose meat has been a delicacy around these parts for quite some time.
We did not have a clue what to do but thankfully the wonderful restaurant owner guided us through the grilling and eating process showing us how we cook the meat (large cuts first) which you then, after sealing on the barbecue for a few minutes, chop up with the scissors provided into small chopstick managable sized slivers. Then cook until they are just turning crispy, then add some of the fresh garlic pieces, mushrroms and potato slivers to the hotplate to cook while the meat finishes off.
You take your cooked piece of meat and pop it in one of the small lettuce leaves provided, only after dipping it in the sauces (a peppery fish paste flavoured one or the red sauce). You meanwhile have been marinating some onions in a soy and vinegar sauce which you add to your lettuce and meat and then wrap it up into a small mouth sized ball and pop it in and delight at the flavours and textures going off inside your mouth.
Alongside your meal you will also be served a selection of vegetable side dishes (known as kimchi) which you eat alongside your tasty meaty treats to provide yourself with the true Korean dining experience.
You wash all of this down while sipping some Korean potato wine known as soju. We had these barbecues a couple of times while we were here as it is a very pleasant dining experience and we felt it only right to try it out with different meats on offer which include pork steaks, belly pork and marinated beef.
Our Wonderful Jeju Hotel
We could not leave our Jeju blog without telling you about the great family run, immaculate, well serviced and friendly hotel which is the Goodstay Nulsong Parktel. We found it through the go Korea site and while not the cheapest available in Jeju offered us all the facilities we like to have. It is located in the new part of Jeju city and easy to get to. Get the 500 bus from the airport to Halla Hospital - but make sure the bus is heading in the right direction or you will end up on the other side of town like we did. Cross the main road at the zebra crossing 100 metres from the bus stop and go down the road with the large western cafe on the corner and the hotel is down the first street on your right.
They speak good English and will help you with anything you need and will give you a free lift to the airport when your stay with them is over. Oh and they even have washy bum toilets in the rooms which I like.
You could very easily spend longer than the three days we did on Jeju Island and immerse yourself in more of the trails, hikes, museums (both cultural and tacky) for a week or more.
You can see why it is one of the busiest tourist destinations in South Korea. It is in danger of over populating itself with themed museums and attractions, but I guess that is the price to pay for the tourism success it has and continues to enjoy. However, you can like we did choose to ignore most of these and spend most of your time enjoying the traditions, food and culture of this spectacular southernmost little island of South Korea.