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Jeju-do, South Korea’s Gem

If you are living in or visiting South Korea for any length of time, the locals will tell you that you must visit Jejudo (“do” means island in Hangul) an island located off the southern tip of Korea in the Korea strait, part of the East China Sea.  It is completely covered in black, sharp-jagged lava rock. 

The stone walls surrounding the farms and fields are all made of it, otherwise there would be nowhere to grow crops.  The stone is dark and dangerous, just like the stormy waves that lap up onto the shore.  Jeju does enchant you, though, with its stories and its people and its landscape. With pleny of things to do in Jeju Island, you can’t go wrong.

Jeju-do South Korea

Jeju Island, the Hawaii of South Korea

Jeju-do South Korea

Jeju-do has plenty things to do, and its volcanic treasures were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.  The unique volcanic properties of the island make it a prime example of volcano science.  There are three properties to visit: the lava tubes, the tuff cone, and the highest peak in Korea.

You can climb the peak, find some fantastic vistas, but really if you want to see what the tuff cone looks like, it’s best to fly over it.  Jeju’s latest victory comes as being included on the new 7 Wonders List as a natural wonder.

Jeju-do South Korea

Jeju’s Natural Wonders

We visited the Manjanggul Cave, which is the most accessible part of the Geomunoreum lava tube system.  After parking and paying your fee, you walk down into the mouth of the cave.  The lave tube goeson and on.  We walked deep inside.  We were surprised how deep we were allowed to go without anyone else, how dark it was, and how hot and steamy it was.

In my past caving experiences, some good and of course some not so good, usually the cave is cool.  Not this one!  After gawking at the colors, the red cockroaches (who knew?!) and the immensity of the lave tube, we’d pretty much exhausted its entertainment value.

Jeju-do South Korea

Not surprisingly, Jeju-do is home to many fishermen.  Wherever we wandered along the coast, we witnessed the daily life of people by the sea.  Men mending nets, women collecting and drying seaweed on the road or cleaning, cutting up, and drying squid.   I always love watching people in the fishing industry, and it makes my mouth water.

Jeju-do South Korea
Jeju-do South Korea

While living in Korea, I really developed a taste for squid.  Prior to that my only experience was a chewy bar snack completely weighted down by too much breading, but the Koreans serve squid in all kinds of ways, and one of my favorites is just the strips of dried squid that they eat as a treat.  You can buy it anywhere, so if your passing through, pick up a bag.  It’s kind of sweet and salty at the same time.  I love it.

Jeju-do South Korea

Haenyo – The Famous Fisherwomen of Jeju Island

Jeju-do is famous for their fishing women.  More precisely the haenyo or “sea women.”  As far back as the 17th century, women have had to take care of the home and feed the children as their husbands would have to man the warships or just spend a lot of time at sea doing the industrial fishing.

A Jeju woman, starting about the age of 11, would train first in shallow water, then in deeper and deeper water as they became more proficient.  With the ever-increasing costs of shellfish such as abalone, the haenyo are making quite a living.

Jeju-do South Korea

They have very little gear, and you can see them bobbing in the water off of the coast or see their gear hanging to dry off of the roof.   There is a museum on the island dedicated to the haenyo which is extremely interesting.  We learned there that some of the haenyo were recruited to spy against the Japanese and were true heroes.  Below is a photo of the haenyo memorial.

Jeju-do South Korea

Driving around the island, there are these stocky stone men with conical hats all over the place.  We asked around who they were, and found out they are called “Dol hareubang” or “stone ancestors.”  They protect the island from invaders.

Jeju-do South Korea
Jeju-do South Korea

There is plenty to do on Jeju-do (check out the Top 8 Things to Do on Jeju Island). While we were there we visited some of the parks, temples, memorials, traditional thatched roofed houses, and even paid a visit to Loveland where displays and sculptures of a comical sexual nature made us giggle.

Jeju-do South Korea

 Practical Information for Jeju Island

Getting to Jeju-do is easy from within Korea. You can get flights from practically any airport. On our trip we flew out of Daegu on a short, inexpensive flight. Another alternative is to take a ferry out of Busan, Wando, or Mokpo.

Once there, it is easiest to get around by car. We rented a small car through Sixt for a decent rate with no hassles. For accommodations, I can’t really give any specific recommendations. The hotel we stayed in was forgettable (though I suppose that can be a good thing). I would just recommend finding a decent place with good reviews in Jeju-si for convenience and then explore the island on day trips.

Conclusion

Traveling in Asia, you get to visit many islands, but some are extra special. Jeju Island is one of those. There’s plenty to do, it’s gorgeous, and there’s lots of great history and culture to learn about. If you get the change, go!

Have you been to Jeju Island?

Jeju do South Korea

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Kristine Li

Saturday 27th of August 2016

I have been! But it was gloomy weather when I was in Jeju, so we didn't get to see the seawomen. Interesting post you have here!

Corinne Vail

Saturday 27th of August 2016

Kristine, The women divers are very cool, and they have such a long and impressive history!

Kate

Monday 20th of April 2015

Jeju Do looks like a great place to explore and a fascinating history. I love the photos of the sculptures. The coastline is very striking so its understandable why this is recognised by UNESCO. I'd love to visit South Korea one day. Thanks for sharing a great post

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 21st of April 2015

Kate, I hope you get there soon. All of Korea has so much to offer.

Megsy

Sunday 19th of April 2015

Jeju do looks really interesting. Thanks for sharing this to us. :)

Corinne Vail

Monday 20th of April 2015

Megsy, Jeju a great place! Hope you make it there someday.

Elena

Sunday 19th of April 2015

Wow, it does look like Hawaii! Many years ago, I watched a documentary about South Korean "sea women". It was so fascinating that their story got stack in my head, but, sadly, I forgot the name of the island. Thanks to your post, it came back now.

Corinne Vail

Monday 20th of April 2015

Elena, Isn't it interesting about the sea women. It's definitely one of my favorite things about Jeju!

Rose

Sunday 19th of April 2015

Looks amazing! I have a thing for islands and this looks really cool!

Corinne Vail

Sunday 19th of April 2015

Rose, It is a really cool place. You should go!