Three times the size of Seoul and just an hour’s flight away is Jeju Island, known for its natural beauty. This quiet, idyllic destination is where many South Koreans go to unwind. Getting there: From Seoul Incheon Airport, take the Airport Express train to Gimpo Airport (about half an hour’s ride). From there, domestic airlines like Jeju Air and Jin Air offer daily flights to Jeju Island.
Getting around: Book a taxi – from 100,000 won ($120) for a half-day tour – to take you around the island. But plan where you want to go beforehand and make sure your driver sticks to it.
Nature Lovers, Rejoice
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Manjang Caves (admission: 2,000 won) is the largest volcanic lava tunnel in Jeju Island. Even if you’re not into geology, it’s worth visiting to see how lava once flowed here, leaving spectacular rock formations and patterns on the walls of the passage. At the end, you’re greeted by the world’s tallest lava column – 7.6m tall. Temperatures inside the tunnel can drop to a chilly 11 deg C so bring a jacket.
Formed when Mount Hallasan – a dormant volcano that’s also the tallest mountain in South Korea – erupted, the Jusangjeolli Cliff (admission: 2,000 won) is made up of majestic, cube-shaped lava rock formations. From observation decks overlooking the ocean, you’ll get a stunning view of the crashing waves at high tide.
Watch 2-D paintings seemingly become 3-D at Alive Museum (admission: 9,000 won), thanks to clever angles and special painting techniques. Strike your most imaginative poses with these wacky optical illusions – from getting crushed by a giant foot to escaping an inferno. I particularly enjoyed “dangling” precariously off a building from a nail.
GIMNYEONG MAZE PARK
Find your way to the centre of the maze park (admission: 3,300 won) and ring the bell atop a bridge. It’s not much of a challenge for adults (I managed to find my way out in under 20 minutes) and appeals more to kids, but the beautiful, lush greenery – with manicured trees from all around Asia – makes this walk in the park enjoyable.
Go Back in Time
JEJU FOLK VILLAGE MUSEUM
Learn about traditional Korean village life here (admission: 8,000 won). For K-drama fans, it’s also the location where the wildly popular Daejanggeum (Jewel in the Palace) was filmed. Catch daily musical performances and try your hand at traditional Korean childhood games like tuho (throwing arrows into canisters) and gulleongsoe
Two of Jeju Island’s signature dishes to check off your list: abalone porridge (jeonbokjuk) and black pork (heuk dwaeji) barbecue. Most restaurants have these items on their menu so don’t miss them. The abalone porridge is a local speciality, and plain as it is, the abalone is fresh and I liked its mild, salty, sea flavour. As for Jeju Island’s barbecued black pork, it’s chewier and has a more smoky taste than regular pork.
This article was originally published in Simply Her March 2014.