The largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju Island is rich in natural landscapes – teeming with deciduous forests and volcanic formations – that draw starry-eyed honeymooners in droves. More reasons are now cropping up, though, to spend time in its cities before heading to the beaches and national park.
Arguably the fastest-changing neighbourhood is Tap-dong, recently transformed from gritty to unabashedly hip. This is thanks in part to Kim Chang-il, renowned art collector and owner of Arario Museum (above), who established four galleries – occupying a former cinema, a bike shop and two motels – in the area.
Before leaving Tap-dong, be sure to also tap into the local craft beer scene at Magpie Brewing Co. (below). Its seasonal brews include Lightning, a subtly sweet black lager made with Korean pumpkins and malted barley smoked over applewood.
Changes are afoot on the other side of the island as well, with more hotels, eateries and cafes mushrooming in laid-back Seogwipo. Here, spend the night at Podo Hotel (below), which blends in with the landscape at the base of Hallasan mountain and resembles a cluster of grapes from above. Designed by award-winning architect Itami Jun, the one-storey hotel comprises high-ceilinged Korean- and western-style rooms and suites with warm wood accents that come with private terraces and jacuzzis with water piped in from hot springs.
Food-wise, a must-try at Seogwipo is b.pork Bistro (12 Seogwipo), which serves up Jeju Island’s famous black pork – typically grilled at the table – mixed with pasta or in tacos.
Enter the dragon
Since 2015, fans of Big Bang member and fashion icon G-Dragon have been flocking to his Jeju Island cafe, Monsant de Aewol, built in part from volcanic stones found across the island.
Over the years, no less than 10 episodes of popular Korean variety show Running Man have been filmed on Jeju Island, at locations such as Hanwha Aqua Planet Jeju (below), O’sulloc Tea Museum and Gwakji Beach.
Romantic K-drama scenes have unfolded at many of the island’s lighthouses. The white one near Sinchang-ri alone has set the scene for On The Way To The Airport, Warm And Cozy, and Scent Of A Woman, while the one at Pyoseon-myeon appeared in You’ve Fallen For Me (aka Heartstrings), and Bangdupo Lighthouse (above) on Seopjikoji Hill, in Orange Marmalade.
Nine hologram concerts are held daily at Jungmun Resort’s digital theme park Play K-Pop (below). Audience members can even join holographic acts – including Psy and AOA – on stage or go on dates with a virtual version of their idols on the Star Magic Bench.
Many scenes from the wildly popular historical drama Dae Jang Geum (Jewel In The Palace), which ran from 2003 to 2004, were shot at Jeju Folk Village. To this day, it has a mini theme park devoted to the TV series.
This small park offers an oceanside view of dozens of wind turbines. The vista is particularly stunning during sunset.
Hallasan mountain’s Yeongsil Trail leads up to this cluster of volcanic rocks – also known as the 500 Generals – that sits 1,400 to 1,600m above sea level and overlooks a valley. Purple azaleas bloom here in spring.
Hike up to the 456m-high summit of this parasitic volcano for a panorama of hills and velvety forests rustling with Japanese cedar trees. A limited number of visitors are allowed daily, so reservations are necessary.
This Buddhist temple at the south end of Jeju Island faces the sea, and around sunset, the monks will ring an 18,000kg bronze bell and perform a chanting ceremony.
You just may see Jeju Island’s amazing haenyeo (female freedivers) in action here. The small town of Beophwan is noteworthy for its Haenyeo School Beophwan Jomnyeo Maeul.
– TEXT BY MATTHEW C. CRAWFORD
PHOTOS AND ILLUSTRATION: 123RF.COM, PLAY KPOP, JEJU FOLK VILLAGE
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.