In the Korean Strait, off the coast below the South Korean peninsula is Jeju, a small idyllic island province. For most people who are on the lookout for budget-friendly international travel destinations, South East Asia is a popular haven with Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Fijian archipelago in the Pacific topping the list. While they are undoubtedly beautiful destinations, Jeju is just as breathtaking.
Jeju is the biggest island in Korea, rich in natural beauty – formed following a near cataclysmic volcanic eruption in the Korean Strait about 2 million years ago. The island, alluring and peculiar at the same time, has volcanic topology, pristine beaches, enchanting deciduous forests and moderate seasons which, over time, have won the destination international attention. Jeju is populated by just 660,000.
The volcanic legacy of the island imparts a kind of eerie charm. A prominent and recurring feature in Jeju is that of dry rivulets strewn with igneous boulders signifying the intense volcanic activity the island was once witness to. Innumerable culverts arch across the rivulets. In the winter, the sight of autumn-gold leaves carelessly falling into the foreground of a smoky-grey stream of rocks is a glaring contrast.
Jeju is a two-hour long flight from Hong Kong. The cold weather can render the urban side of the 1800 sq. km. island with a certain dullness. But the panoramic beauty of the island in the remote areas is a visual treat even for those who have travelled to other parts of South-East Asia.
Teeming with holidaymakers, the annual number of foreign national tourists landing in Jeju stands at more than 3.6 million, nearly six times the island’s own population. People from 174 countries including Indians who travel directly to Jeju International Airport are granted visa-free entry and allowed to stay for a period of 30 days. Presently, tourism in the island is the largest contributor to Jeju’s economy.
Even though it has been years since Jeju has opened its gates to the world, it is still Chinese tourists who form the numbers at destinations on the island. Recently, Jeju Tourism Organisation (JTO) shifted focus to the Indian travel market which unsurprisingly has the least representation in terms of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA). “We are keen on understanding the Indian market, its trends and habits. We hope to see more Indian tourists visiting Jeju,” said Ian (Kangil) Rhee, General Manager, Jeju Tourism Organisation (JTO).
In the year 2017-18, only 2400 tourists from India arrived on the island. JTO officials are hoping to better that to 10,000 in the coming years. JTO was prompted to adopt a very aggressive stance while marketing the island in India and South East Asia following the standoff with China over the US installation of missile defence system Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) in the Korean Peninsula. The tourism sector of Korea took a blow following the issue as till then Chinese tourists made for a major share of FTAs.
Given the volcanic nature of the island, Jeju can turn out to be an exciting destination for tourists. A central feature of Jeju is Mt. Hallasan, the tallest mountain in South Korea and a dormant volcano, which rises 1950m above sea level. It is surrounded by 360 satellite volcanoes.
Jeju Island Geopark was confirmed as a Global Geoparks Network member on October 4, 2010. A geopark, according to the UNESCO®-assisted Global Geoparks Network (GGN) is ‘A territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value.’
Indian tourists travelling to China or Hong Kong can easily include Jeju in their itinerary with frequent air connectivity from Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Bangkok. “Working with Korea Tourism Organisation and Hong Kong Tourism Board, we will focus on creating a circuit that will boost arrival numbers to each region from India,” said Park Hong Bai, CEO, Jeju Tourism Organisation.
Ranked 17th in the world, Jeju is one of the most promising MICE destinations around the globe. With excellent MICE infrastructure, notably the Jeju Shinhwa World, a hotel complex with two big resorts – Landing Jeju Shinhwa World Hotels & Resorts and Marriott Jeju Shinhwa World Hotels & Resorts, Jeju is hopeful about attracting more MICE tourism from India.
However, according to JTO officials, MICE tourism from India has not yet made way to this Korean island province. At the outset, JTO is planning to tap the general tourism potential of Indian markets before exploring the possibilities of MICE from India in Jeju.
Jeju, a Step Closer to Nature
Something delightful to look forward to in Jeju, during the early winter season, is an opportunity to see the ubiquitous tangerine. Groves bearing ripe fruits adorn the roadsides on the island in no particular order, even the suburbs.
Several farms allow visitors to try their hand at plucking the fruit, which by the way, is very serious business. Those attempting it will be provided with a bag, a set of gloves and a pair of scissors.
Guides walk visitors through the process. But be prepared for some friendly taunting if you take a while to get the hang of it. “You will be fired by the employer if you are so slow at the job,” said one guide. Now here’s a tip, the most important one, while plucking tangerines: ‘The smaller, the better.’ Small ones with tiny, dark specks? Even better.
The tangerine looks no different from its citric cousin the orange. But one bite and you’ll have gorged on quite a few by the time you wrap up the picking. While it is great to keep some for later, plans to carry them overseas are best abandoned as once outside of Jeju, a sour taste kicks in, owing to a change in temperature.
Given that tangerines are a valuable export commodity for Jeju, picking the fruit is a major employable task. Here’s some trivia: As a sign of reconciliation with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), South Korea flew four planes full of tangerines (200 tonnes) to Pyongyang in return for pine mushrooms presented by North Korea.
Iconic Destinations in Jeju
Residents say that the central volcano Mt. Hallasan gives the island province a conical shape, resembling the hood of a cobra.
Seongsan Ilchulbong also known as Sunrise Peak, a dormant volcano that was last active about 1,00,000 years ago, today draws crowds as a trekking destination. The climb to the summit of Seongsan Ilchulbong, at 180m, will take no more than 30 minutes as neatly laid out steps of lower gradient on the first leg of the trek make way for steep and crude hedges carved out of the rock.
The billowing wind and autumn gold grasslands on the majestic Seongsan Ilchulbong will help trekkers overcome fatigue – something that is likely if one is not acclimatised to the cold weather prevalent through the island. Regardless of how hard the trek is, the view from atop Sunrise Peak is absolutely exhilarating.
Once there, visitors will be able to stand on a wooden deck supported by scaffolding and view the mouth of the volcano. The table-top surface of Seongsan Ilchulbong overlooks the intersection between the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan.
The people of this Korean island province mainly follow Buddhism and Christianity. There is space for certain other beliefs as well – the ‘Grandfather’ sculpture, Hareubang in Korean (Jeju dialect), associated with Jeju worldwide, is one such example. The islanders once believed that the statues of the elderly figures that are present all over the island would protect them from demons and ensure fertility.
Speaking of elderly folk, it is the freediving grandmothers or Haenyeo of Jeju who have attracted media attention in the past. Breadwinners who dive the depths of the ocean for a harvest of abalone, octopus or sea weed, these women, in their 60s, 70s and 80s hold their breath underwater for up to two minutes. They stay in the freezing water for close to four hours at a stretch, clad in rubber diving suits without donning oxygen masks. This has resulted in serious pulmonary disorders among the women.
The women divers are a dwindling number these days, their children opting for a college education and jobs in the cities, even preferring that the divers discontinue this traditional profession. In 2001, the Haenyeo was designated as ‘UNESCO® Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. Jeju has restaurants dedicated to serving seafood from the catch brought ashore by the Haenyeo women.
Activities in Jeju
There is plenty for adrenaline seekers including zip-lining, quad-biking, horse riding, shooting and golfing. Zip-lining, in the nipping cold of December, is a must-try for every individual. Though the chilly weather may dampen the spirit, the experience of zip-lining will make it worthwhile.
The yacht trip from Pacific Land, located at Jungmun Resort complex, is yet another must-do in Jeju. Combined with onboard luxury and fishing, the trip is bound to make one’s day. The water show by dolphins at Pacific Land is not to be missed.
Leave room for ‘The Painters: Hero’, a heady concoction of music, art and dance. The theatrics of the painters who bring stunning images to life are simply fantastic. Jeju Loveland, an outdoor sculpture park is another place of attraction that is themed on eroticism. Alive Museum which showcases great pieces of 3D art provides mind-bending photo ops. Kids are bound to enjoy the Johanne Bear Museum while the local teddy souvenir should also make them happy. With something for everyone, Jeju wins hands down as a unique destination.
A significant remnant of Jeju’s volcanic past is Manjanggul Caves – one of the finest lava tubes in the world and a relatively recent discovery (1946) considering the fact that they were formed 2 million years ago. Buried deep underground, the Manjanggul lava tubes are nearly 9km long, of which only 1 km is open to public. At certain points, the inside of the tubes is as wide as 23m and extends to a height of 30m. The cave complex was first found in 1946 by a group of school students who went out on a gardening expedition. They chanced upon the present day entrance of the lava tube. Soon enough, a teacher helped them unveil the majestic lava tube complex before the world. The student group and the teacher were later credited for the discovery of the lava tubes. At present, Manjanggul cave complex, a UNESCO® World Heritage Site, is highly regarded for its scientific value, mainly due to the absence of any erosion since its formation.
Flight Services to Jeju Island
Hong Kong – 4
Bangkok – 7
Kuala Lumpur – 4
Taipei – 5
Tokyo – 5
Visa-free entry for 174 nationalities;
Tourists travelling to Jeju by direct flights and ship from overseas can stay for 30 days without visa
Types of Accommodation
Tourist hotels – 126
Hotels for families – 61
Condos – 123
Hostels & small
hotels – 166
Tourism Business status in Jeju
343 general travel agencies; 42 recreational tourist attractions; 8 marine tourism attractions; 138 tourist restaurants; 25 general campsites; 20 amusement facilities
Mobile, Internet Connectivity
One of the major concerns that most Indian tourists have is mobile phone and internet connectivity. Indian telecoms do work in Jeju through proxies. However, depending on them is sure to drill a hole in your pocket.
One way to cut corners is to limit one’s use of phones to areas which offer free WiFi connectivity. Another option which is availed by international tourists to South Korea is renting a handset while in Korea (feature phone & smartphone options available). Feature phones are most commonly used. Rental is approx. $5-6 per day with free incoming calls. Calling to India costs approximately Rs. 7-8 per minute. Tourists can also rent WiFi Hotspot devices at the airport during a stay in South Korea and have access to unlimited 4G internet at nominal rates. Rent charges are approximately $6-8 per day. As a single WiFi hotspot device can connect to multiple devices, people travelling in groups can share a hotspot device.
When Cherry Blossom Takes Over Jeju
Organised as part of Jeju Tourism Festival, early spring, (March to April) is when the island province is awash with pink. Outdoing Japan, the cherry blossom or Sakura as it is known in Japan, first appears in Jeju before anywhere else in South Korea which makes the festival timely. This is a big draw for tourists. It is a heartwarming sight as the streets and public parks of Jeju are laced with the pink-hued flowers that last for a week or two. The cherry trees in Korea are, it is said, not the same species as those in Japan. The ‘King Cherry’ or Korean cherry tree, originated from Jeju Island, the first place where the cherry blossom makes it appearance as a result of the slightly warmer climate. The King Cherry blossom tree has large blooms that only last for a couple of days.
Indian dining in jeju
38 Seogkwangro 32-gil, Jeju-si
2F, 43 Singwang-ro, Jeju-si
191 Aewon-ro, Aewol-eup, Jeju-si
Yatri Indian Cusine
113 Chisipri-ro, Seogwipo-si