When I first started teaching in South Korea in December 2013, one of the first things I did was booked a trip to Jeju Island. The reason I wanted to explore this island was that throughout my research prior to moving here, I kept stumbling upon photographs and was, quite frankly, mesmerised.
As I mentioned in a previous post that detailed my experience, Jeju Island is a volcanic island located in the southwest part of the Korean peninsula and is sometimes referred to as the “Hawaii of Korea.” The island was formed by Hallasan lava overflow several million years ago. Now a dormant volcano, it is one of Korea’s most popular local and tourist destinations.
Here are my top five reasons Jeju Island is one of my favorite destinations in Korea:
Seeing as the last time I’d visited the island was a beautiful winter wonderland, I was beyond excited to wander the island with James during the warmer months. We took a night bus to the ferry terminal and were on our way! As soon as we arrived to the island, we immediately headed toward Udo Island.
Udo Island is an absolute gem of a location. Literally translated in Chinese as “Cow Island,” the scenery of U-do is a combination of rocky coasts, alluring beaches and lush mountain trails. We originally wanted to bicycle around the island, but since we were visiting during Buddha’s Birthday weekend, the only bikes that weren’t already rented were tandem, which hardly seems enjoyable. Luckily we were able to purchase a bus ticket for the entire day, which was a fantastic way to explore the city as we only had a few hours to hit all the spots.
Some of the lovely spots we were able to see were Jiducheongsa, a panoramic view of Udo seen from the Udobong, the island’s highest peak, Jeonpomangdo, a mountain the shape of a lying cow seen from the east of the island of Jeju and Seobinbaeksa, a white sand and coral beach.
2. Fresh Air
Once we were finished exploring Udo, we boarded the ferry and back toward main island Jeju. Keeping on trend with the busy day, we took a bus toward Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju’s most famous volcanic mountain. Also called “Sunrise Peak,” this view is really beautiful and would be an excellent place to film the next Hunger Games.
Once we hiked to the top of the crater, I was pleasantly surprised to breathe in fresh air – a rare occurrence in Korea. From that point on, I felt so happy to be able to breathe in beautiful, fresh air again. I often forget how precious fresh air is! If you’re reading this and it’s not a smog cloud outside your window, go outside and breathe in that beauty! If you’re reading this from Korea, I feel your pain, chingu.
3. Peanut Ice Cream
If you know me well, you know that I cherish ice cream over most things on this planet. I simply love it and will eat it at any time of day. One of the main crops in the area happen to be peanuts, which I also love. Korea is excellent with creating the goofiest snacks and treats on the face of the planet, and sometimes these creations are absolutely perfect. In this case, Korea nailed it, as I was able to enjoy a delicious cup of homemade peanut ice cream.
4. The sea-nery (OMG SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
Living and working in Korea has allowed me to explore this beautiful country from north, south, east to west. I’m continuously satisfied with the amount of beauty that sits outside the urban jungles and truly thankful that I’m able to look outside at mountains at any given moment. However, since I live in Seoul, a bit of a landlocked part of the country, I am not able to regularly enjoy ocean views which is a damn shame.
One of my favorite locations we visited on this trip was Sanbangsa Temple. Each year around the Buddha’s Birthday, Korea’s temples are decorated beautifully and traditionally with colorful lanterns. It is truly a special time in this country, and I love being able to look around and see the vibrant colors, which brighten the grey cityscapes up a bit. Korea has some of the most gorgeous temple locations, and this one certainly did not disappoint.
5. The dol hareubang statues
One of the quirks of Korean culture is the obsession with penises. Whether it’s an entire park dedicated to penises, the strange and wacky erotic park Love Land or these peculiar penis statues scattered throughout Jeju Island, it’s a true wonder to me.
Over the years, these little penis statues have become the symbol of Jeju Island and are available in nearly every shop on the island. Historically, they are known for bringing protection against evil spirits and enemies, which is why they’re often placed outside of homes and buildings.
I’m not sure if this tradition is continued to this day, but back in the day, women who visited Jeju Island used to touch these statues if they wanted to conceive a baby boy. These days, the souvenir replicas are alleged to bring good fortune and luck to infertile women, which sounds like an awesomely smart bull-shit infused marketing ploy. Whatever their real purpose is, I think they’re goofy and I support their popularity.
James and I also visited the super raunchy and hilarious Love Land, and you can find some of his photos here. All in all, there is plenty more to love about Jeju Island. Some of my favorite moments of the weekend not mentioned in the post above include:
– jumping off a cliff into a natural pool
– visiting the Cheonjiyeon and Jeongbang waterfalls
– being the winning teammate in a game of “Survivor” flip cup (A spin on the traditional game in which teammates vote off teammates, leaving the last contestant, aka me, to do all of the rounds by themselves. I’d like to thank college in America for this opportunity.)
– Watching the sunrise on the beach across from our pension
I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful island! I’ll conclude with a few more of my favorite pictures from the trip.
“People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature. […] The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water.”
― Akira Kurosawa