Jeju Island is the top destination for Korean travelers. We are always interested in traveling as locals do, so naturally, we had to check it out for ourselves.
Tom, Kai, and I recently moved to Japan. Our goal during our tenure in Japan is to travel around Asia as much as possible. Since Korea is a quick 2-hour flight away, we decided to pop on over for a visit. Seoul was naturally one of our destinations. To find out about our food adventures in Seoul, check out this post on food markets (insert link). To see a completely different side of Korea that isn’t like the fast-paced capital, we decided to add on a visit to Jeju Island during our Korean discovery.
Jeju Island is THE resort and tropical getaway for Koreans. It’s so popular that the air route between Seoul and Jeju Island is the busiest in the world. When we were at Seoul’s Gimpo airport, there were flights leaving for Jeju literally every 5-10 minutes. The planes were huge (think plane styles such as 747s and 757s big) and there were tons of people to fill the planes. Tom and I scratched our heads and wondered what the draw is to travel to Jeju Island. We will fill you all in on our findings!
Jeju Island is an incredibly easy and inexpensive flight from Seoul. Within an hour, we were transported from the bustling South Korean capital to the island destination. We could see how Jeju Island is a draw for Koreans seeking respite from city life.
In doing research on Korea, the one thing other than food (naturally!) that piqued our interest are the Haenyeo Divers. Freediving in Jeju Island dates back to 430 A.D. However, island women took on this trade in the 18th century. Most of the Haenyeo, are older women with 98% older than 50 and many are in their 70s and 80s! We had to see them for ourselves before this fascinating way of life no longer exists.
During our time on Jeju Island, we saw the importance of the Haenyeo to its’ residents. There is a multitude of murals and artwork depicting the women divers and their contribution to the fishing industry. We drove an hour from Jeju City to Hado-ri Village to literally dive with the Haenyeo. However, the 2-hour dive experience ran into Kai’s naptime, so we had to forgo our excursion (I’m sure all of you parents can relate!) Before we left, we did get to see the women divers at work. It’s incredible to see how the Haenyeo Divers are incredibly full of spirit and determination to keep this way of life alive. We highly recommend you check this out!
Pork from Jeju Island’s native black pig is supposedly more flavorful and succulent than standard pork. We tried and wholeheartedly recommend Donsadon Away from the tourist hub, this local’s Korean BBQ restaurant features black pork. We ordered both the fatty cut (Tom’s favorite) as well as the lean (Lora and Kai’s preference). At most KBBQ places in the states, we grill our own food. However, our server took the reins and slowly cooked the pork over the low flame for us. We sipped on soju and dined on some delicious tofu soup while we patiently waited. The meal was incredibly tasty and satisfying. The pork is super moist and flavorful. We’re not sure if it’s much different than regular, high-quality pork, but the black pork really good. A must try in Jeju!
JEJU ISLAND’S NATURAL BEAUTY
Jeju Island features stunningly blue waters and beautiful beaches. We visited in October and although the daytime temperatures reached 70 degrees, it was a bit chilly to dive in. Even if you don’t swim, be sure to travel along the coast for some spectacular views.
Traveling with a baby that still requires 2 naps a day can be challenging when visiting an island as vast as Jeju. Although the island has a multitude of places to visit, the one place we reached and recommend seeing is Seongsan Ilchulbong It is a dormant volcano close to where the Haenyeo divers take to the sea. If you chose to hike to the top, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view!
Jeju Island doesn’t have a great market scene. However, close to Jeju City is Dongmun Market. This is Jeju’s version of how we envision a traditional Asian market. It is sectioned into different specialty areas: fruits, produce, meat, seafood, snacks, and souvenirs/clothes. Walk around and get an idea of what is produced on the island. We enjoyed some noodles soup and bibimbap from a food stand.
Jeju City’s downtown core features a lively pedestrian walkway. Start off here and then continue to wander around the surrounding side streets. The concentration of restaurants, coffee shops, and storefronts is incredible. We dined at several restaurants in the area. One night we had a meal of beef and offal selections. On another occasion, we dined on pig trotter. This is a fun place to people watch!
Jeju Island is a quick island getaway from mainland Korea. It is easy to navigate and baby/kid friendly. Since the island is quite large, we recommend renting a car or hiring a driver for the day. A few days visit is plenty of time to sightsee. Be sure to try the black pork and seafood (abalone is a specialty)!