Honeymoon Island: Jeju Island
Jeju Island is Korea‘s honeymoon island. They compare it to Hawaii. It is fairly far south and lines up with ocean currents in such a way that the climate is quite temperate. There are palm trees and they grow citrus and pineapple.
We stayed at the Shilla Hotel, and we were given Korean-style rooms but with a western bed (traditionally Koreans sleep on mats on the floor). The Shilla is a wonderful hotel, every bit a five-star property. It has beautiful grounds and sits on a point of land overlooking the ocean. There is a beach at the bottom of a long flight of stairs; the beach is good for walking but is posted no swimming. The views from the walkway at the top of the cliff are spectacular. Dinner was shabu shabu, or hot pot, and was excellent.
We toured Jungmun Country Club by golf cart. This course wraps around the hotels and convention center of the Jungmun area and once hosted a PGA event. It is a public course with green fees as low $80 plus caddy and cart. The view from the ninth fairway (along the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean) was awesome. We then drove to Cheongjiyeon Waterfall scenic area for a short walk to a very nice waterfall (photo), followed by a lunch of barbecued pork (locally raised black pigs, very tasty!). We drove out to the eastern tip of the island to climb the sunrise crater (it is a volcanic island). It was a about a 600-foot climb (mostly stairs). The view from the top is spectacular.
We drove to a folk village. Jeju Island has traditionally been isolated; it is where the Korean’s exiled political prisoners. There is no industry except farming and tourism. The folk village at first glance looked like a living history museum. The houses are lava rock held together with mud and straw with thatched roofs. There are pigs in the sty in the corner, and they are collecting rain water in ceramic pits for drinking. The government actually subsidizes local residents to stay there to keep some of the old ways alive. It was quite eye opening. We finished the day with a drive up to one of the volcanic craters in the middle of the island. It had cleared up by then and the views around the island were breathtaking. It really brought back memories of the Big Island. There are all sorts of attractions set up for local tourists, i.e. horseback riding, ATVs, monuments of the world in miniature, etc.
I visited the Lotte Hotel and Hyatt Hotel. The Lotte is quite new, very large and has a distinctly Vegas-like feel to it. The rooms were large, looked pretty comfy. They even have a volcano show in the evening. The Hyatt was very cool. It would be my first choice on the island. It is older, having been built in 1985. It has the classic Hyatt floor to ceiling atrium with rooms around the outside. This produces a very light and airy feel. This hotel has by far the best setting of any of the big hotels down here. It is right on the ocean and the ocean view rooms are indeed full-on ocean view.
Hallasan is South Korea’s tallest peak. We hiked up a smaller peak to the side, it was about a 900-foot climb to a spectacular view. All the way up we were going through forest with the leaves changing to fall colors. Beautiful! Lunch was a full blown presentation of Jeju’s seafood. Fish, shell fish, octopus, oysters, sea urchin, mostly served raw… for those who like that sort of thing, it was spectacular!
In the afternoon, we toured the cliffs at Jusangeoli. This is a place where the lava hit the ocean and instantly set into some fantastic formations. Again, memories of the Big Island. We then went to the Jeju Peace Museum. This museum was built entirely by one man, Mr. Lee, who invested his personal fortune. It is centered around tunnels dug during World War II by the Japanese using forced Korean labor. Mr. Lee’s father was one of the conscript laborers. You can walk through about 300 meters of the tunnels. And there is an exhibit hall of war memorabilia, a movie presentation, and some truly horrific photos. The power of the place comes from realizing that one man has put so much of himself into this monument that is themed: “There are no winners in war.” It was deeply moving.
We finished Jeju Island with a very fast walk through Hallim Park, which includes a botanical garden, a very nice bonsai garden, and some lava tubes. The lava tubes are huge, it takes ten minutes to walk the length of one of them.