Jeju 제주도 is lovingly referred to as the Hawaii of Korea by many ex-pats. They are not wrong. This semi-tropical volcanic paradise is the ultimate getaway for many Koreans. An hour’s flight out of Seoul, Jeju island has some of Korea’s best surfing and diving spots. You can spend a week here without seeing half of what the island has to offer.
I knew I would love Jeju, but I underestimated how enchanting this island and its people are. Although Jeju is a part of Korea, it has its own culture and dialect, which could be its own language in its own right. It’s not just that laid-back island lifestyle that sets Jeju apart, but it’s a commitment to traditional customs and beliefs that you can find anywhere else in Korea.
Two of the most apparent of these customs are Dol Hareubangs 돌 하르방 (grandfather stones) and their belief that no one should have to beg. Dol Hareubangs 돌 하르방 are everywhere you go because they are considered the guardian spirits of the towns and villages. The belief in good hospitality and no person ever having a need to beg for help led to the people of Jeju creating a communication system as the gate of their homes. The entrance is silly two stone with three holes for wood beam. One beam lets people know you will be home soon, two means you’ll be back very late that day, and three means that people who live here are gone for a long time.
Jeju’s allure doesn’t stop with its laid-back atmosphere or culture. Let me begin my vacation to Jeju from the beginning after flying from Gwangju airport into Jeju I took an hour and a half bus to the city of Seogwipo 서귀포시 on the other side of the island. Although my hotel wasn’t much, the comedy of my check-in was golden. Due to COVID, I had to fill out a sheet with my home address and other information.
When I was asked where I was from, I said, “Muan 무안군.”
I got hit with “Muan?”
Me: 네 맞아요(Yes that’s right)
Him: Muan?…. turn to co-work Muan?
She:…….. long pause Jelloanam-do 전라남도???
Me: 네 (yes)
This scene is quite common for me as I live in an area known for onions and mudflats. Saying I’m from Muan provides me with endless comedic entertainment.
The following day I took off with a vage idea of things to do, wandering down the cobbled stone streets lined with artisans, cafes, and restaurants. The artist street towards the ocean. I could sense that Seogwipo 서귀포시 was the sleepier tourist town than Jeju city it has this balance between old and new; hip, and touristy while being surrounded by natural beauty that gives it the perfect vibe for a low key high fun vacation. I first wandered down the hill in which wives would wait for the ships to come in from their fresh catch awards the instagramable waterfalls in a spiritual place where the gods of Jeju are believed to sleep. I don’t want to turn you away from the beautifully manicured Cheonjiyeon falls 천지연폭포, but is it really worth the 2,000 won to wait in a (short) line for people to take their shots for Instagram. For me, I would say no if it was any other day when I had adventures planned. Today, a day where I was going to do what I felt like at the moment, Cheonjiyeon falls were a beautiful way to start my day.
I walked further down to the ocean from the falls and over a bridge to Saeseom Island 새섬. Seaseom has a small walking path around bring me to a pleasant and relaxing 10,000 steps before 11 am.
Sunburnt and tired, I headed back to my hotel for a nap and a change of shirt before I headed out to Jungman Saekdal Beach 중문 색달 해변 to float in the sea. On my way there, the Skys opened up and rained for a brief hard down pore that was over by the time I arrived at Jungman Saekdal Beach 중문 색달 해변.
I should have known by the number of resorts around the area that the beach would be packed. To packed in fact for me, so I walked toward Daepo Haean Jusangjeolli Cliff 주상절리대 that was created by volcanic activity. I walked there on the Olle hiking trail that circumference the island and walked through a peace park along the shore.
I was initially disappointed on arrival for needing to pay another 2,000 won for entry. However, for someone who has never seen a volcanic cliff formation, this place was extraordinary. Seeing how the waves of the ocean crash against the cliff, trying to imaging the sheer beauty at the moment that the hot lava hit the ocean, creating these octagonal and wave-like formations below.
From there, it was time to pick up a few groceries, including a sashimi platter from dinner from E-mart, and call it a night before my first-day training to be a scuba diver. Here Is Where I’ll end this blog and pick it up on the other side of my training, where I met up with friends and spent two more days exploring the seaside.
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