I love a lot of things, like coffee, new shoes, blankets and hot cocoa, comfortable rides on public transportation; but there’s not much I love more than the sound, sight and smell of water meeting land. That said, it’s no surprise that I adored Jeju Island.
Even though it was November/December, Jeju has just enough of a warm climate to sustain fruit and farming for most of the year. Coming from the bland dead of winter, the green fields and mandarin orange trees were a sight for sore eyes. The island also was borne of a volcano, so the majority of rocks are porous and black and fascinating. Some of the beaches are a normal white and since it’s the end of fall, some areas of the island also sport the browns and yellows of retiring plants.
So when the blues of the ocean, the green and orange and the black and the occasional white or brown or yellow come together, it’s like walking into Toys-R-Us for my eyeballs. I did my very best to capture some of the beauty on camera, but there was nothing like seeing it in person. Here are my best shots.
Which picture is your favorite? Have you ever been to an island similar to Jeju?
I really loved seeing all the scenery on Jeju Island, but I’ll go ahead and admit that it was the weird food that won my heart. Being a Korean island, there are plenty of shops that serve the same old, same old; samgyeopsal, kimbap and noodles are all easy enough to find. But if you’re on Jeju Island, don’t do it. Find the specialties. They are awesome. I know they’re awesome, because I ate (some of) them.
Black Pig Barbeque (흑돼지)
Apparently, in old times, this used to be a shit-eating pig. I kid you not, people would poop in holes and the pigs would be underneath, eating it. GROSS. Anyways they don’t do that anymore, they feed the black pigs real food, so you should feel perfectly fine about sitting down for an order of this, since it tastes like (meat) heaven. (Waegook Tom agrees, he wrote an entire blog post about this deliciousness.) It also comes with a special Jeju-only dip called Myeolchiekjeot (멸치액젓) which tastes like liquid anchovies, and you’re supposed to drop hot pepper and garlic in the sauce while it cooks on the grill. I’ll chalk that one up to an acquired taste, because I was not a fan. Eek.
Green Tea Ice Cream (녹차아이스크림)
Fittingly, this was consumed during a brief stop at the Tea Museum. I wish I’d gotten the “Twister” though, green tea and vanilla frozen yogurt together, because those first couple bites were like licking green tea powder. Once I got used to it however it was great. I mean, it’s ice cream, how could I not be happy?
Grilled Octopus (문어구이)
If you’ve never nommed on octopus before, then you should probably give it a shot for the experience. The stuff you get on Jeju, though, is all particularly fresh from those famous female divers pulling up seafood all day.
Abalone and Rice Porridge (전복죽)
Ear shells or abalones are one of Korea’s, particularly Jeju’s most prized health foods, but they’re pricy as a result. A popular way to eat them without blowing the budget is getting this porridge, which is what Koreans call a “boring food”. The best way to eat it is by putting pieces of kimchi on your spoon with it to add some flavor. I thought it was perfectly fine without kimchi, myself.
The Best Cup of Coffee I’ve Ever Had In My Entire Life Ever (조르바 커퓌)
Coffee with a spiced twist; it included cloves, cinnamon, other unidentified powders, and star anise, a thing I’d never heard of until they told me the name and I googled it (you’re welcome). I can’t get over how awesome this cup of coffee was, it was like a winter day’s dream, and it was a winter day, so it was a freaking dream, people! On the other side was a honey mandarin latte, which apparently was also quite heavenly. Details for this coffee shop can be found here, partway down the page. The baristas speak English, but their menu does not.
Spicy Noodles with Raw Fish (회국수)
When you’re on an island, you should probably eat some raw fish. Alright, so just fish in general, but I’m a big Hwae/sashimi fan, so I’d advocate for that. This was mixed in a variation of the spicy pepper paste you can find everywhere and included noodles and lettuce, which tasted pretty awesome together. Which was weird: noodles + lettuce?! But yes. Noodles and lettuce.
Sea Urchin Egg Noodle Soup (성게국수)
No, I don’t mean egg noodles, I mean sea urchin eggs in the noodles. Their flavor wasn’t particularly anything, but the soup as a whole was warm and made me happy and full. Plus, now you can officially call me a baby killer and it won’t even be a lie. Honorable mentions include a shrimp as large as my face, a cheese muffin that didn’t taste horrible or even remotely like cheese, and a breakfast the super-nice hostel lady made for me with cheese straight from Norway and mandarin orange jam. This was a horrible post to write in between meal times. See you later, guys, I need a snack.
Have you ever been to Jeju Island? Could you eat sea urchin eggs? Did reading about sea urchin eggs make you more or less hungry?
Originally I wanted to visit Jeju Island over September, during the five-day “weekend” of Chuseok. Back in June, I checked for flight tickets and was slapped with reality when there were literally no tickets to be purchased. Not a single seat on a single plane. Sold out.
Koreans are serious about their Jeju Island trips, apparently. So, a random weekend later in the year, it was. The weekend straddling November and December was chosen, tickets were successfully found and purchased and off the Jeju I went! Getting to the airport took some time, seeing as I live in a very rural area, but once on the plane, the trip was short. The actual days themselves were also short, and suddenly the ambitious sightseeing plans proved to be not only ambitious, but undoable. There is just too much on Jeju Island for a weekend trip, I’d need to stay a week to see everything I wanted to see.
So this post will be a list: what I saw and what I put on next trip’s itinerary, because yes, I’ve already planned my next trip. If you’re planning to visit Jeju, hopefully this will help you to see the places that I wish I could have seen and skip the ones that were hyped up. Links go to information, pictures and the addresses of the locations. (Photo posts, stories and food are all still to come. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about them!)
This beach is apparently quite famous and is dotted with weird naked statues, white sand and black rocks. It’s likely better in the summertime (it is a beach), but it was pretty enough in winter to be worth the visit.
The Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art Grounds and Area (제주현대미술관) Meh
While I didn’t go into the museum, I did walk around the grounds and look at statues and some strange houses. Apparently only artists live in the neighborhood behind it and they spend all of their time making… well… art.
The actual museum part was closed for cleaning/updates, so I missed out on the cool exhibitions of pottery. I did, however, sit down and eat some yummy green tea ice cream, try freshly brewed mandarin green tea and walk to the roof to see a not-that-impressive view.
I couldn’t walk too far on this trail, time was short, but what I saw was pretty and interesting. Japanese military dug bunkers into the mountain to prepare for war back in the day, the view of the ocean and nearby island were gorgeous, and I spotted some wild goats.
“Daepo Columnar Joint” aka Interesting Volcano Rock Cliffs (대포주상절리) Meh
Honestly, this would have gotten a thumbs up if there weren’t so many damn people on the same tiny platform, staring at the same rocks. Try to avoid the crowds (early morning, weekdays) and you’ll be able to appreciate the strange beauty of these cliffs.
The waterfall isn’t so spectacular, it’s just a small waterfall, but nearby there were famous female divers, Haenyeo (해녀), pulling the day’s catch of octopus out of the water. It was worth it just to see them hauling giant heavy nets over their shoulders. (However, if you have any kind of physical handicap, climbing over the giant shoreline rocks for a good view will be a trial, so this wouldn’t be worth it for you.)
I fell in love with this little island off of an island. Renting a scooter and zipping around the perimeter was the highlight of my trip. The scenery was breathtaking, the homes rural, yet there were several cafes and one of them served giant, delicious-looking burgers (and coffee of course). Super beautiful, super relaxing, super worth your time to see and yes, there is definitely a Cow Island photoessay in the future.
Many people say this is an overrated place to go, but I really enjoyed it. Perhaps because I’m more fascinated by/obsessed with volcanoes than most people. If you want to learn about the science behind the lava tube and its formation, then this will be fun for you. The “big reveal” at the end? Meh.
To Be a Whale Cafe (고래가 될 카페) Thumbs up
Apparently this cafe is very famous among Koreans and if you want any evidence that hipster, pretentious Korean culture does indeed exist, then this is the place to see it. They also make incredible drinks: I had a Joeulba Coffee (조르바 커퓌), or black coffee with cloves, cinnamon and other crazy spices, and it rocked my world. So hard.
I KNOW, I know. I didn’t go to the most famous UNESCO Heritage site in all of Jeju Island. Hit me over the head a couple of times, I know I’ve already done it myself. Seeing the sunrise from the top of this peak is on my list of things to do next time along with getting to bed early enough that it’s possible, next time.
Seeing as this was a weekend trip, a five-hour mountain hike didn’t fit very well into my plans. But it’s something I want to do next time I’m in Jeju, since Mt. Halla is also an extinct volcano and I’ve already mentioned how much I love volcanoes, right?
I really adore long, beautiful walks and Jeju Island might be the perfect place to do that, though sadly it didn’t fit into the schedule this time. Most of the Olle trails are beautiful, and they all hug the coastline, but I’d love to do this one that crosses part of a beach, has a cool view of some windmills and generally just looks spectacular.
Technically I was here, but it was too dark to see anything, including the fact that the sand was black. But the area looked clean and pretty, so I want to give it another shot. Apparently ajummas also like to bury themselves in the sand for the therapeutic effects, and that’s a sight I don’t want to miss twice.
Technically I was here as well, but it was also at the end of a day and I couldn’t see a thing. The sand here is also black, I was able to make that out at least (so cool!), but what I most want to do is take one of the clear kayaks into the ravine and weird crazy blue-green water.
I fell so in love with U-Do that I want to do an overnight, instead of just a morning trip, next time. My pictures of hermit crabs got messed up and I wasn’t hungry when I went to the cafe with giant burgers, so those situations must be rectified.
Have you ever been to Jeju Island? What did you see and what did you miss? Am I an idiot for missing sunrise mountain like an idiot, I’m an idiot?