Not many people think of Asia when the word paradise is mentioned. However, Jeju Island is one of the world’s most beautiful destinations and a national treasure to South Korea. The whole island is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO Global Geopark, and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In 2011, it was also named as one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’ by a campaign which saw hundreds of millions of votes. The island is so stunning that many celebrities have chosen to make the island their home. One such celebrity is K-pop star Hyori Lee.
Natural beauty left in pristine conditions
With development strictly controlled as conserving the island’s natural environment is highly prioritised, the island is one of the most unpolluted places in Asia. The self-governing island also aims to be carbon-free by 2030. According to Business Korea 2017, half of all electric vehicles in the nation was registered in the Jeju province.
From a prehistoric landscape to a unique matriarchal society, Jeju Island’s remarkable culture, history, and scenery makes the island a must-visit holiday destination. There are also plenty of activities available on the island to keep you entertained during your visit.
Located south west of the Korean peninsula, Jeju Island is the largest island in Korea and a tourist hotspot with around 8.7 million people visiting the island per year. Jeju has a mild to subtropical climate with summer being hot and humid while winter is cool and dry. Temperatures in winter rarely fall below zero degrees celsius, making Jeju the perfect holiday destination all year round.
Landscape formed through volcanic eruptions
The island is made up of mainly basalt and lava as it was formed through volcanic eruptions around 2 million years ago. Lava tubes formed around 100,000 to 300,000 years ago, run underneath the island’s surface, forming deep caves stretching for over 13 kilometres, and is one of the finest lava tube cave system in the world.
In the centre lies the volcanic Mt Hallasan (click here to read about my hike), the highest mountain in South Korea at 1950 metres high. To the east of the island lies , also referred to as Sunrise Peak, which rose from under the sea as a result of an underwater volcanic eruption over 100,000 years ago.
Wide variety of things to do
Enjoy Museums? Then Jeju Island is the place for you as the island has an abundance of museums. Get close to K-pop stars at PLAY KPOP or laugh at some funny nude sculptures at Jeju LoveLand. Jeju Island is also host to many festivals including the cherry blossom festival in Spring.
If you’re looking for something adventurous, there are many recreational activities available to action junkies on the island. Horse riding, mountain climbing, and a wide-range of water sports is available on the island making it the perfect holiday getaway. Walking trails called olle are also a popular activity for those who choose to roam the island on foot.
Rich culture and history
Jeju Island has a rich culture distinct from mainland Korea due to the remote location of the island, and the conquering of the island by outsiders. With the invasion by Mongols in the 13th century, aspects of the Mongolian language can still be found in the Jeju Island dialect. Japan also occupied the island for 35 years starting in 1910.
What is unique about the island’s culture is the prevalence of a matriarchal family structure. The women on Jeju Island have a reputation for their strength and resilience and are renowned throughout the country. The island’s famous sea-women, known as haenyo, dive up to 20 metres without any proper scuba gear, to hunt for food. They spend up to five hours a day gathering seafood such as, abalone, clams, and octopus, even during horrendous weather. Fifty years ago, 21 percent of women on the island were divers and provided over half of the island’s fisheries revenue. Today there are only about 4500 sea-women left on the island, with most aged over sixty.
The sea-women were also actively involved in the Korean Independence Movement. According to Jeju Tourism Organization, the women divers from the island launched the 1930’s Women Divers Anti-Japanese Movement. With around 17,000 people participating in the protests, the event became Korea’s largest national movement led by women. It was also Jeju Island’s largest involvement in the movement against the Japanese occupation of Korea.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from first glance with all the happy grandpa statues and warm locals, but the inhabitants on Jeju Island have endured through many hardships. Following World War II, civil unrest erupted on the island. The 1948 April 3rd Incident is regarded as one of the worst events in the history of modern Korea. Over a period of seven years, tens of thousands of locals lost their lives with around 40,000 others fleeing the country and 130 villages being destroyed. Up until recently the South Korean government has suppressed information about the event. However, in 2006, the government apologised for its role in the atrocities. Despite its troubled past, South Korea is considered a safe country to visit with the crime rate on Jeju being the lowest in the whole country.
Special tourist zone with an independent visa policy
In 2006, the island was designated as a special autonomous province, labeling it as a special tourist zone, and providing the island with a level of self-government. The island has an independent visa policy. Ordinary passport holders from most countries, including Australia, are allowed to stay visa-free on Jeju Island for up to 30 days.
If you’re looking for a beautiful getaway at affordable prices, then Jeju Island should be at the top of your list. With the island growing as a tourist destination, taxi drivers are increasingly able to speak English. However, the vast majority of locals, including workers in the tourism and service industries, still only speak their native language. But, that’s all part of Jeju’s distinctive nature and charm.