3 Breathtaking Places You’ll Want to Visit On Jeju Island
Island, what island?
Living in Jeju City, I’m nestled between tall buildings. I walk most of the places I go, and normally don’t see the water. Sometimes, I forget that I’m on an island. I used to work near the coast and see the deep blue of the water every day. The upside is it only takes me about 15 minutes to walk to work, but the drawback is it’s easy to lose track of the ocean.
This summer, my friends Bokee and Jihee invited me and my husband to explore the island a bit. As public school teachers, they rarely get time off. So, when they invite me to do something, I try to be available. I know they’re carving out time from their immensely busy schedules. Jihee brought her nephew, Ji Hyeok. Bokee decided to drive, and we all piled into her sedan, with Ji perched in between my husband and me in the back seat. Bokee and Jihee planned to take my husband and I to three breathtaking places on Jeju Island, and we were anticipating the trip!
Hokey and not-so-hokey entertainment
Jeju Island has a myriad of museums and places with entrance fees. Some are cool, and some are kitschy and not worth it. (Sometimes hanging out with friends is better.) We decided to check out a green tea maze park, one of two on the island. Their mazes, constructed of green tea plants, had 3 levels of difficulty. I wasn’t good at finding my way and did some cheating. I walked through places that definitely were not designed to be walked through.
Ji, on the other hand, has an inordinate amount of energy and used lots of it finding his way through the maze successfully. He looked quite proud of himself. At the maze exit, there was a bell to ring to celebrate your victory. Ji rang it heartily. I felt like a cheater, so I rang the bell more tentatively.
After traversing two out of three mazes, we walked toward a small gift shop and cafe. The cafe overlooked a valley, and it was really beautiful. My husband and I spent a moment taking in the scenery before heading into the cafe.
Inside, we drank hot and iced green tea and tasted some dry green tea cookies. It was much easier to taste the complex but mild flavor of the hot tea, I found. But it was a hot, humid day, so the iced tea was refreshing. Bokee and Jihee were both anxious to leave because there was no coffee available. Bokee often mentions that she hopes to replace the blood in her body with pure caffeine before she dies. Hey, I can’t knock her after knowing what a typical Korean public school teacher’s schedule entails. They work hard.
Basalt cliffs and a dramatic sea
After a quick visit to Starbucks, we went to Jusangjeolli Cliff where there are tall, basalt formations that are impressively shaped. We watched big waves dash violently against the cliff. I’ve read that they can reach 65 feet high!
Hallasan, at the center of Jeju Island, is a volcanic mountain, believed by most to be dormant now. There are also many little volcanic hills here in Jeju, which are called Oreum in the local language. Because of this, Volcanic rock is omnipresent throughout Jeju Island. The cliffs at Junsanjeolli were formed by basaltic lava, and they are quite unique and unlike other volcanic rock on the island.
As I stood on the Junsanjeolli Cliff, I scrutinized the unique rock formations. The water was gray and angry looking that day, and I enjoyed the innate drama of the scene. Aside from the natural beauty, there were also throngs of people with selfie sticks getting photos of themselves, to prove that they had had a good time.
Big waves and rules
Our next stop was Jungmun, a beach that has very large waves near Seogwipo (a town on the southern, more tropical side of the island). Jungmun is a well-known place for surfers to practice. People strolled down the roadway, looking at the water, or sipping on fresh coconuts. Onlookers stood near the beach, but not on it. In typical Korean fashion, the beach was roped off because the waves were extremely high.
(Even when there are no waves, all public swimming areas here have cordoned-off square patches of water where people are allowed to be in the water. Many times, the water in those areas only reaches mid-thigh at most. People navigate the shallow water on gigantic flotations devices, shaped like swans and ducks. Others use snorkels and masks, but I am not sure what they hope to see. All I’ve seen in the cordoned off patches of available water is other people’s legs. There is simply no marine life willing to get entangled in the smoldering mass of humanity. If you do try to venture past the rope, a lifeguard will come to scream at you or blow his whistle until you’re back in the teeming throngs, and unable to swim, safe again.)
Anyway, back to the scene at hand. Surfers had walked past the blockades on Jungmun Beach, and we could watch them practice in wetsuits. Unfortunately, after we watched a woman ride a wave in, the surfers took a break so the show was over quickly.
Selfies, gifts, and promise of more adventures
Throughout the trip, my husband and I were forced to take hundreds of photos in different poses. Bokee officiated, first with her camera phone, then my husband’s, and finally mine. Batteries died and yet we obliged. We were happy we had a chance to see these three breathtaking places on Jeju Island and felt well taken care of.
After a simple noodle soup dinner, we headed back to the north side of the island, Jeju City. Jihee and Ji fell asleep in the car, and my husband and I quietly chatted with Bokee as she drove. We made plans to meet again and eat Samgyetang (chicken boiled with ginseng and jujubes) before my husband left the island. As he and I walked into my apartment building, we carried the heavy bag of mandarin oranges Bokee surreptitiously purchased for us on the trip. What a sweet day.
Which of these three places would you like to visit?
Another Jeju, Korea-related article: