Jeju Island, South Korea
a tiny, talkative South Korean man befriends you on the
overnight ferry from Seoul to Jejudo, by all means speak
with him. Had I not been chatty with the kindly Mr. Noh,
we would've sat out the coming two-day storm in
a hotel. Instead, we were guests at this 70-year-old retiree's
tangerine plantation in Seogwipo.
Island, just off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula,
is famous for two things: its tangerines, and a picturesque
landscape that merits comparison to a certain group of
American islands. This vacation spot is, in fact, known
as "the Hawaii of South Korea," and is prized
by wealthy sunbathers and honeymooning newlyweds alike.
(Spot the latter wearing matching outfits!)
not the beaches that should put Jeju on your list. They're
notable when compared to the mainland's lush, mountainous
terrain. Ask a Greek to sunbathe on this sparse, rocky
coastline and you'll get the moussaka kicked out
of you. One visits Jeju for the hundreds of secondary
volcanic cones (oreum) that poke up from the ground like
nuts in a scoop of pistachio ice cream. You might never
know that these modest mountainettes hide prizes in their
summits. From ground level, they're charming little
hills. Climb one, though, and you're likely to find
luxurious green overgrowth hidden within their cratered
travelers gather in Jungmun in the Seogwipo region, where
they sit on the crowded beach or maybe jet-ski and windsurf,
maybe even scuba. They stay at the usual hotels at the
usual resort-center prices.
travelers strike out for the smaller towns and negotiate
with minbak owners. At these small family-run hotels,
double rooms start at $25 per night. Some even include
kitchen and living room facilities.
what we did. We took a bus from Mr. Noh's tangerine
plantation to Seongsan on the east coast. There, we woke
for the ritual pre-dawn climb up Ilchulbong, the spectacular
oreum that typifies Jeju's beauty. We joined dozens
of honeymooners for the vigorous 20-minute hike to this
extinct volcano's rim. The sunrise was so beautiful,
so inspiring, that the newlyweds were soon dashing back
down to their minbaks.
same day, we took the ferry to U-do, an even tinier island
off this tiny island's coast, where we rented bikes
and cruised the 10-mile coastline, stopping for a swim
at each of the three lovely beaches.
is also a smart departure point for two of Jeju's
more worthwhile tourist attractions: the Manjanggul caves
and the Jeju Island shrubbery maze. The former is the
largest lava tube in the world, and will appeal to even
the most casual spelunker. Bring a jacket and hiking shoes
for the frigid, slippery depths of this subterranean passage
carved out by molten lava. Just a few minutes down the
road is the European-style hedge maze, shaped to resemble
the island itself. Don't attempt to navigate its
twists and turns without the provided map.
by Ilchulbong's beauty, we decided to climb up Jeju's
centerpiece, Mt. Halla. Depending on the time of year,
up to four trails are available. At the summit of this
long-dead volcano is the stunning Lake Baengnokdam, whose
crystal-clear water is collected in the hollowed cone.
Unless you're spending two weeks here, the time
will come to make choices. Consider a day in Jejusi, a
city of 300,000 that's large enough to offer a taste
of South Korea's urban culture yet small enough
to navigate on foot or in an inexpensive taxi. Here, you'll
find the Samseonghyeol shrine, where the island's
founding demigods are said to have emerged. Despite being
little more than a hole in the ground, it's still
a worthwhile stop -- if only for the chance to pose with
one of four original hareubang, the local equivalent of
Easter Island's giant stone heads.
from volcanic rock 400 years ago and placed around the
island, some hareubang are imposing while others are whimsical.
The remaining 45 have been relocated to government facilities,
museums and spots of cultural importance. Thousands more
-- carved from the same volcanic rock, just not four centuries
ago -- are waiting to hitch a ride home in your luggage.
Jejusi is the point of departure for all flights and most
ferries back to the mainland, so this may be your last
chance to pick up a carton of tangerines at the terminal,
a standard purchase for 80% of all visitors. And why not?
It's the least you can do for my kindly friend Mr.
Noh, whose continued comfortable retirement depends on