Get lost in Korea's island of plenty: Jeju Island

Hit the beaches, get hiking, try the famous Jeju oranges and more

Visiting Jeju, only an hour and a half from Beijing, is one of the easiest ways to set foot on Korean soil from China. It’s also one of the few places in the world where hardly anyone needs a visa, including Chinese nationals – and as a result, Chinese tour groups arrive by the bucket-load daily.

It’s an open-door policy that makes you wonder if you’re simply going to be spending a weekend elbowing people out the way. Well, the answer to this is both yes and no. Jeju City, where international flights land, is right at the northern tip of the island, and the biggest city on Jeju.

It’s also where many tourists head to shop, and it is home to several enormous duty-free department stores clearly targeted at Chinese shoppers who have come to stock up on Korean cosmetics and rice cookers.

If you want to avoid the tourist trail, though, hop on the airport bus out of Jeju city and head to the south side of the island. Also worth avoiding is the Jungmun Tourist Complex, close to the island’s other sizeable city, Seogwipo, a maze of huge, gaudy hotels with pillars, water features and long driveways.

Our hotel is a more modest affair, but an excellent bet if you’re looking for peace and quiet. The Famille Spa Resort is a family-run venue about ten minutes from the main tourist complex, surrounded by orange plantations with views over the stunning coastline and its own small pool. The rooms are set up for independent travellers, including facilities for cooking, and several of the rooms even have their own hot tubs.

One of the real upsides to our hotel – aside from its calm surroundings – is its staff, who are extremely friendly, greeting us with both arrival and leaving gifts, helping us decipher maps, and taking us to the bus stop in person so we can’t miss it (even though it’s right outside).

This is one of the reasons Jeju is such a delight – the locals are friendly, cheerful, and more than willing to assist you. After stopping in a café to ask directions, we had barely finished our sentence before the owner had shut up shop and hopped in her car to drive us to our destination (she refused to accept any money).

While historically a fishing island, Jeju is packed with a baffling range of museums that seem to have no immediate connection with it, including the Teddy Bear Museum, the Da Vinci Museum, the Baseball Museum, the Chocolate Museum, the World Eros Museum and the intriguing SOS Museum. And that’s before we mention the Goblin Park, Jeju Love Land, the Alive Museum, the Fantasy Forest, Character World and the Fun Theme Park.

Intriguing as many of these sound, we recommend skipping them all and spending time instead with the best of Jeju – its stunning natural scenery. Golden beaches, impressive waterfalls, and ragged, volcanic coastlines are all easy to find with local buses and taxis. The Jeongbang Waterfalls are well worth a visit (4,000SKW, about 20RMB) – go in the spirit of things and prepared to get thoroughly drenched.

We’d also suggest stopping by the small neighbouring Seobok Exhibition Hall (500SKW), which details how the Chinese explorer Xu Fu stopped by Jeju in 219BC on his voyage to Japan, sent by Emperor Qin Shihuang on the optimistic task of finding the secret of immortality. Accompanied by 3,000 children (for reasons not made clear), the intrepid explorer sailed around a then-empty Jeju, stopping to inscribe his name by the waterfalls.

Also worth a visit is the peak of Seongsan Iluchulbong, formed by a volcanic eruption. A 30-minute walk to the top and a mere 4,000SKW affords you incredible views across the island and an endless crystal sea.

It’s also possible to watch a demonstration of the incredible history of Jeju’s diving women the island’s traditional industry of women diving into the sea to hunt for fish.

If you're looking to hike, you can do so in the luscious green forests that surround dormant volcano Mt Hallasan. For an easy stroll head to the Seogwipo Natural Recreation Resort (2,000SKW entrance) and choose one of the various routes; the shortest is about an hour and takes you past the natural spring, where you can drink water that locals believe leads to long life.

Afterwards, collapse into an armchair at the Haette Tteul bar, which has undoubtedly the best views on the island, grab a local Cass beer (5,000SKW) and watch the sun set.

While you’re in this part of the island, stop by the art district around the Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market. A small outside market nestled under thatched roofs touts local crafts and designs, and rows of small boutiques are the perfect spot to source souvenirs and unique designs, in particular cute tributes to the aforementioned diving ladies.

Of course, no visit to Korea would be complete without indulging in a healthy amount of food. Make sure to try the famous Jeju oranges – hard to avoid given that everything has a distinct orange flavour – and the black pork barbecue, the island’s local delicacy.

We suggest Jungmun Shillawon Restaurant on Jungmundong food street, where the chunky slices of pork can be cooked for you at your table if your barbecuing skills are rusty. There’s no chance of you going hungry either, with set menus also including egg pancakes and salty grilled hairtail fish, together with a seafood soup, vegetables, rice and a large assortment of sides (50,000SKW for two).

And don’t even think about leaving the island until you’ve eaten your weight at a seafood dinner – this is a fishing island after all. Pick a restaurant filled with locals and you can’t go wrong; we tried the sashimi, braised mackerel and grilled bass at Jen Mon Jo Em in Seongsan, where an extremely hearty dinner (with beers) set us back 100,000SKW.

The island is clearly ramped up into tourism mode, and is dotted with signs that read ‘We love having you here’. But it’s a motif reinforced by the generosity of the islanders, which meant that we thoroughly returned the sentiment.

Essential Info

How to get there

Numerous airlines offer flights between Beijing and Jeju, including Air China, China Eastern, Korean Air, Juneyao Airlines and Dragonair. Return flights start from around 1,600RMB on

Where to stay

The Famille Spa Resort, 826-6, Ieodoro, Seogwipo, Jeju Island, 697-827 (0203 684 0327). Rooms with a hot tub from 1,074RMB per night; without from 726RMB (most rooms can hold up to four people) .

  • 4 out of 5 stars