Jeju Island: A World Apart

A volcanic island with stunning beaches, Jeju is a nature lover's paradise
Jeju Island
Jeju IslandLauren Seo/Unsplash

The island of Jeju, an hour's flight from Seoul, attracts hordes of Korean holidaymakers, particularly honeymooners and schoolchildren on field trips, for its enticing combination of volcanic mountains and beach.

Indian travellers might enjoy an excursion to Jeju while on a holiday in South Korea particularly as a change from the intensity of Seoul. Jeju, which was made a special autonomous area by the Korean government in 2006, has also relaxed visa regulations to encourage international tourism. Indians do not need visas to go to Jeju, as long the island is their sole destination. Flights from Delhi and Mumbai start at about INR 45,000. The island, a product of volcanic eruptions over a million years ago, is a natural wonder recognised as such by UNESCO.

The Peak of Hallasan
The Peak of HallasanRichard Lee/Flickr

Famous for its lava tubes, caves, waterfalls and white sand beaches, Jeju is also famous for The peak of Hallasan, Korea's tallest mountain, which can be seen from everywhere on the island. It is a relatively easy day hike to the top of the mountain, with its lovely crater lake and is one of the many scenic delights in Jeju.

Haenyo at Jeju Island
Haenyo at Jeju IslandYvonne/ Flickr

Deceptively large at about three times the size of Seoul, Jeju has a distinct culture and cuisine. It is hardier, more austere, and respectful of nature's beauty and also its power. The tough, modest life which is the culture of the island is epitomised by the resident haenyo (the women), most of whom are senior citizens, and who think nothing of diving into the cold waters to forage for abalone and conch that are exported to Japan.

The Stone Grandfathers
The Stone Grandfathers Larry Koester/Flickr

Jeju has a matriarchal society, because of the haenyo, but also because of the thousands of men who were killed in a failed rebellion against the US-backed Korean government in 1948. There is a deep belief in indigenous spirits that are said to govern the island the ubiquitous stone grandfathers that are found all over Jeju offer protection to the island.

Love Land at Jeju Island
Love Land at Jeju IslandTed McGrath/Flickr

The island retains a laid-back, beach town feel, with kids on surfboards and couples strolling on the sands. The island also has wild horses, short and muscular, domesticated versions of which are available for tourists to ride. Among the most popular attractions is Love Land, a sexually frank sculpture park. Apart from giggling couples, and families with young children, busloads of Korean and Chinese pensioners can be found casting a stoic eye over massive stone genitalia. Love Land is graphic and erotic but also humorous and innocent. It is a little like Jeju, beautiful and endearingly weird. Indian tourists have still not joined the rest of Asia in flocking to this island paradise, but that should change soon.

Getting there

Taking an airplane is the fastest way to get to Jeju Island. Gimpo International Airport in Seoul or Gimhae International Airport in Busan offer several flights.

Ferries are also a popular means of transport from the mainland, offering stunning ocean views.

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