Jeju Island. Simply saying those two words to the average Korean invokes excitement. Jeju is Korea’s one stop family holiday and honeymoon dream destination. As the long weekend in honour of Buddha’s Birthday approached we raced out of school as soon as the bell rang to catch our flight. By 10pm that evening we had landed in Jeju City, ready to discover for ourselves what the cosmic attraction of the island.
Finding our guesthouse was as easy as pie. A tourist coach runs direct from the airport to Seogwipo where the majority of hotels, pensions and guesthouses run along the coastline. I can highly recommend the Tae Gong Inn and Guesthouse with no quarms. The kind owners treat their guests like royalty, acting as tour guides, cleaners and your mum and dad.
The next morning we woke up to rain hammering down on the window of our room.
Rain? In paradise?
Slightly unsettled by this unexpected precipitation, we prepared to brave the elements. By the time we had organised ourselves the rain had subsided, leaving a layer of fog over everything we wanted to see.
An afternoon of sunshine of Jungmun Beach did make up for the morning’s weather blip. Jungmun had everything a good beach should have; sun, sand and sea.
Walking up from the beach back to the bus stop we suddenly felt like outsiders surrounded by exclusivity. Hotels appeared and not just any hotels, expensive hotels with exclusive facilities and entertainment. This discovery would later explain why at 10pm everything elsewhere on the island had shut down. The resorts rule Jeju.
Seogwipo’s highlight was Lee Joong-seop Street dedicated to the Korean artist. The street has a European cafe culture feel to it with art work, cobbles and quirky boutiques and coffee shops. Yet later on at night, we struggled to find restaurants and a good spot for a beer. As a result we ate seafood by day and galbi by night and frequented the same bar every evening. We were left wondering if we had missed something.
Getting away from the resort atmosphere on Jeju using public transport is tricky. Hiring a taxi for the day was our solution to this dilemma. It was well worth it, we not only got to see a lot of the island in a day but we were also accompanied by the most popular man on Jeju. On average our taxi driver’s mobile phone rang every other minute and if he was not speaking on his phone, he was texting. Buying him lunch felt like an honour once we had experienced his celebrity status first hand.
Jeju Island is definitely, well worth a visit. It has a stunning coastline, a range of ridiculous museums and a tropical feel. So what is the drawback? The hype. I had been built up into a frenzy by my Korean friends about this unknown, magical place. My expectations were so high I lost my ability to appreciate my suroundings for a while. As the band Yeti once said,
Never lose your sense of wonder
Even if you lose all else.