Owning a car in Korea has allowed us to embark on countless road trips throughout the peninsula; exploring the mountains and beaches that comprise the phenomenal landscape of the region. However, when time is limited or you simply do not care to navigate the highways, there are plenty of other options that do not include operating a vehicle. One of these premier destinations is Jeju Island, the largest of all the islands being dubbed the ‘Hawaii of Korea.’ The first time we went to JeJu was in late September of 2020 and with a week to explore and predictable weather, we took our backpacks, camping gear, and set off to explore via the Olle Trail (I Found My Juju on Jeju- Part 1 and I Found my Juju on Jeju- Part 2 ). This year, for a long weekend at the end of November, we decided to keep it simple, stuffed some clothes in a duffle bag, took the 1 hr. subway ride to Gimpo Airport, and boarded one of the many flights that depart to Jeju-si. We were in the air for less than hour and soon walking down the staircase onto the runway where we were immediately met by the clean and warm island air.
Location, location, location…
From our previous trip to Jeju we found that one our favorite beaches was Hopjae and so we booked in that area at Hotel Agilla (Naver Maps). The cab ride from the airport in Jeju-si was around 30min and our room had an amazing view of Gapado Island perched in the South Sea. The rooftop of the hotel boasted 3 hot tubs and a swimming pool for us to choose from and we were even enticed by their room service on a couple of occasions as the sunsets from our balcony were mesmerizing. There was even another restaurant in the basement of the hotel which served up succulent dumplings and noodles in a steamy meat broth.
In addition to the gorgeous water and fluffy beaches of Hopjae, one of the main reasons that we wanted to stay at Hotel Agilla (Naver Maps) was that we could simply walk out the door and stroll along the sea to access any number of great spots. Sometimes the best destination is the unknown and we found ourselves weaving through the streets, along the docks, and through the sand soaking in the island feel.
If you find that you must have an endpoint in mind when wandering around Hopjae, allowing your stomach to be your compass is a fantastic option! There is no shortage of cafe’s in the area which offer stunning sites along with tasty bites. On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, we stumbled upon a spot that was serving a slice of pecan pie that I could not resist. Ashlee ordered a piece of Earl Grey cake to go with our Americanos and the cheerful host of Ennikskerry Cafe (Naver Maps) even brought us a special decorated cookie that emulated the view from their deck. I consider myself to be somewhat of Panini connoisseur and the gooey goodness that comes out of Geumneung Sandwich is at the top of my list. They seem to harness some of the island’s magic between two pieces of toasted bread as they boast Jeju black pork meatballs soaked in marinara and topped with parmesan and asiago or flavor packed bulgogi with grilled onions smothered in gouda and mozzarella cheese. Definitely get an order of fries to go with any number of the drink options that are available. Even if you do not save room for desert, find a way to work through a delicious bowl of bingsu at Jeju Seolsimdang (Naver Maps). Bingsu is a sweet treat of shaved ice that would be a healthy light option if it were not for the condense milk drizzled on whatever topping you choose. There is no flavor too creative for bingsu and concoctions range from green tea matcha, mango and cheese, Oreo crumbles with ice cream or anything else that can be imagined. Of the all the places we went with stunning views, the rooftop cafe at Parato Dos offers the perfect start to a tranquil morning or a happy hour cocktail at sunset.
We honestly tried and a steadier hand would have prevailed. However, as enticing as it was to simply roll along with the waves at Hopjae beach, we were overcome with wanderlust and decided to go on an outing to different part of the island. JeJu, for being relatively small, has an insane amount of museums (100 to be exact) and one of the more famous is the Museum of Sex and Health (Naver Maps). There are incredibly affordable city buses that make frequent stops all around the island it was about an hour ride for us coming from Hopjae. To say that this museum covers ALL things related to sex would be a drastic understatement. The multilevel complex encompasses a cultural timeline of sex in the region stemming from artifacts, rooms upon rooms of folic statues and nude paintings as well contemporary ‘how to’ pieces and current data trends on the topic from across the world. Even the bathrooms are clearly marked! The displays were as entertaining as they were informative and definitely worth the price of admission. In the same area as the museum is Sabangsan Mountain Carbonated Hot Springs (Naver Maps), which we had planned on going to before learning that our hotel had multiple hot tubs. The weather was too nice to stay inside and from the museum we took a 15 min bus ride to Sagye Beach (Naver Maps). We took our time basking in the sun with our feet in the sand as we traversed the beach as part of the Olle Trail until we arrived to the bottom of Songaksan Mountain (Naver Maps). The area was bustling with tourists who were sitting down at pop-up tents that featured seafood freshly harvested from the ocean by Hanyeo (traditional women divers). We walked the staircases that hugged the tiered cliff sides of Songnaksan Mt which jutted out into the sea drenched in cobalt.
If you live in Korea, Jeju is simple to get to and navigate with plenty of beauty and activities to keep you coming back. When travel opens up again and quarantines become a thing of our past, I would highly recommend Jeju for international travelers as well. The splendid destination comes with a simplicity, affordability, and interconnectedness with locals compared with other island spots that are more tailored to tourists.