Jeju is the biggest Korean island, located south of mainland Korea.
The island is a very popular destination for Korean tourists, but remains relatively unknown to westerners. This is unfortunate as Jeju offers everything you can hope from a tropical island, and even more thanks to the interesting Korean culture. The island's reputation comes from the beauty of its beaches, the beauty of its women, and a unherited matriarchal culture which differs from the patriarchal culture of Korea. There are two main cities on the island, the capital being Jeju City on the north coast.
You can reach the island by a number of ways from a number of cities. You can take the daily planes from Seoul, or Tokyo, Singapore and many major cities in Asia.
The other way to connect with Jeju city is to go by ferry, from almost any city in Korea (Seoul, Busan, Wando...) but you should expect sometimes as much as 12 to 24 hours to complete the trip. Prices are somewhat attractive with an average of 40,000 Won (~$36 USD) for a single journey when you take a ferry in south Korea, but can be much pricer when you leave from Seoul.
The island is very busy and crowded with Korean tourists during the hot summer. In the winter, the temperature can reach 0 degrees celcius (32 farenheit) even though it's a sub tropical island. Jeju island even receives snow in the winter! August is full of typhoons, and should be avoided. The best months to visit Jeju are from May to July, then the end of August to September, when it's still around 25-30 degrees Celcius (77-86 Farenheit).
An introduction to Korean culture
Korea is a beautiful country, and Koreans can be some of the most charming people on earth. Korean culture treats foreigners well. They are proud people and won't hesitate to approach you if they see you in trouble or lost in the streets. This straight forward behavior is even more present in the south. Crimes are rare in Korea and foreign tourists are left alone by whatever scarce forms of criminality might exist. Korean people like those with a sense of boldness. The more they like you the more they will share with you. The only warning would be to be aware that, if a Korean invite to drink, you should be careful. Koreans drink alot and very fast, and they'll expect you to do the same if you join them! Don't be shy and drink your own way.
When you travel along Korea, always try to figure out if there is some kind of holiday or not. Some people have only one or two weeks of holiday in the entire year. They tend to take it around the same period (end of July, start of August). At this time, Jeju is crawling with Korean toursits. That basically makes all the prices go up 30% or more, and even at these exaggerated rates, you may not be able to find a room available.
During summer, and the holidays, one of the tradition is to detonate fireworks on the beach. Don't be surprised to hear detonations and go have a look for yourself!
About money, I would advise you to rely on cash, as credit cards are usually not accepted and ATM machines tend to reject foreign cards. This is a safe country, and the tourists never get robbed of their mone. Most Koreans tend to have alot of cash on them as well.
The cost of living in Korea is generally lower than most developped countries, but it's not as cheap as someone could believe. Fruits, for example, are just too expensive. The hotels are also far from the prices you can find in others Asian countries. Korea is a well developed country and the prices reflect it.
If you ever get lost for real, or if suddenly you are in panic because you can not cope anymore with your travel, you can phone, for free, to an english service speaking center, that will provide you help and assistance. Basically, if you have a bus to take but you don’t know which one, if you can’t find your hotel or whatever, go in a bus station and ask any store with a telephone.
Finding a place to stay
Many types of accomodations are available on Jeju, some you might not suspect.
The cheapest is the guesthouse : 15,000 to 18,000 Won per night ($13-$16 USD), usually in a dormitory. Jeju City’s guesthouses are the perfect place for young travelers and a great way to meet young Korean people. You can also find indivudual rooms. Be aware that these guesthouse are often full booked, and can become more expensive during the holidays.
The Korean guesthouse is a bit different. Basically, it’s a huge room, with nothing inside. You’ll rent this room for 50,000 to 80,000 Won ($45-$70 USD). Koreans like to travel in groups, sometimes large groups. So 6 people rent this room, making it very cheap, and everybody sleep in the same room on a Korean bed (similar to a futon, you lay it on the floor). If you travel in a group, it’s a very good way minimize the accomodation budget.
Hotels cost more, starting from 50,000 Won per night which will get you a decent-quality room but nothing amazing. If you look for luxury hotels (4 to 5 stars) ; you’ll have to go in the second largest city of the island, Seogwipo, located in the south.
The principal enjoyment is, of course, the beaches and all the entertainment opportunities that come with it: snorkeling, kayaking, diving, fishing, surfing. There are more than a dozen nice beaches on this island, and they vary in style: white sand, black sand, rocks.
Boat renatls are available for a day of fishing or diving.
In Jeju, the wind is very strong, so be ready to enjoy kite surfing in Iho or Sinyang beaches. You can rent all the needed gear and take an introduction course for beginners.
The Hallasan volcano, in the middle of the island, offer many hiking tracks. Once you reach the top, you'll be able to see the whole island. The exotic nature offers all kind of sports opportunities, like mountain biking and trekking. You can even go for a horse ride, or climbing. The scenery is varied: caves, waterfalls, flower fields.
One of the main activity on the island is golf. Koreans love to golf. In fact, no less than 9 golf courses are available on Jeju island.
If you feel uncomfortable in the touristy part of the island, you can do two things: rent a bike and go explore the island, looking for more deserted places and beaches. Or, go to the tiny islands south of Jeju, which are the last frontier of the Korean territory.
Night life is rarely calm, as the island has a good reputation among the youth, and the numerous bars stay open until morning. If this is what you were looking for, don't be shy and go fraternize with some new Korean friends. If you want something more relaxing, you should not stay in Jeju City, and look for a more nature oriented location.
Parks, villages and festivals
Many cultural and traditional villages are open to visit, usually for free. This is a good way to see what the island was like before the modern Jeju City came along. Generally, these cultural activities, like the many museums or historical spots, are often a good way to explore some of the cultural oddities of the island.
The most popular park is called Loveland. An art student built it around the idea of depicting a love affair. Some statues are very provocative, at the frontier of pornography. This park is popular among Korean people, and adds to the hot reputation of Jeju.
You'll also see some phallic representations, in the form of statues, around the island. This is a tradition of Jeju.
Don't hesitate to jump on a bus to go somewhere, or anywhere. The buses cost 1,000 Won (less than $1 USD) whether you ride for one stop or 12.
Taxis are cheap and safe, some will refuse short rides though.
If you have an international driving license, you can rent a car.