Jeju

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After visiting the northernmost point of South Korea (even walking around the table to North Korea), my friend and I flew to the southernmost point of the country: Jeju Island.

Known as the “Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju is a honeymoon and vacation hotspot for Koreans. I thought this was mostly hype, but with a random free week in my schedule, I made plans with my friend and bought tickets.

I am so glad I went.

Jeju is so different from the rest of South Korea it almost felt like another country. South Korea is lucky they managed to keep this gem for themselves. (My understanding of the political situation is that Jeju has decent self-governing powers. I am not aware of any disputes.)

Granted, much of my experience of mainland Korea has been city. City!Korea is sleek and sophisticated, a clear-cut machine that thrums on all cylinders at all hours. City!Korea exports technology, electronics, cars, and ships.

Jeju feels like it’s everything. You can see slices of city!Korea (especially in Jeju City) but there’s also plenty of beach and ocean, of mountain and snow, of fields and tons of earthy goodness. Jeju exports citrus and products made from volcanoes. It’s most famous icon is the dol hareubang which looks more like an Easter Island statue than anything mainland Korea could’ve come up with.

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(And trust me when I say the dol hareubangs are EVERYWHERE.)

In other words, this place is so fucking amazing I almost want to move there. And I mean, I might live there for at least awhile, depending.

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(Hallasan, the highest mountain in Korea from the airplane. Photo credit: Frances)

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(Statues of haenyeo, women divers in Jeju. Photo credit: Frances)

We took a largely relaxed approach to our stay in Jeju. Our first smart decision was to rent a car. My friend got a Korean driver’s license and got a Korean friend to put in a reservation for us. We ended up calling the same Korean friend (at 8:30 in the morning) to help get the car released, but soon enough we were snugly outfitted into a white car with an English speaking GPS. As we bumpily made our way out of the airport parking lot, my friend confessed to never having driven an automatic before. Later, she would further confess that her home country of South Africa drove on the other side of the road. I’m sure the rental team back at the airport parking lot thought they were never going to see us again, except maybe as a scorch mark on the road.

Driving around was great! My friend didn’t have any major issues adjusting and we spent most of our time there just chewing up road and looking at things. Mainland Korea is busy and a tough place to drive (it’s a tough place to be a pedestrian too!), but Jeju has more space for roads where you’re the only one and that helped. It was deliciously peaceful.

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(By just driving around, we found all sorts of cool stuff like windmills.)

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(Or cool houses. Photo credit: Frances)

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(And cool markets.)

We stayed at a guesthouse in Aewol-eup near the water. (Nearly every place name on Jeju either had wol/월/月/moon or rim/林/forest in it. It was amusing.) It was covered in graffiti to the delight of my artist-friend. The guesthouse owner had parties every night which on some nights was a fun opportunity to talk with the other Korean guests (we made do with their smattering of English and our smattering of Korean) and other nights unbelievably taxing. Party on, Minu, party on.

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(Photo credit: Frances)

We saw a lot, we ate a lot, we did a lot. You know, the usual travel/life rigamarole. I talk more about those things in the other Jeju posts. Here, I just want to enjoy the fullness of the experience. Jeju was magical.

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(Our meal at a 꽃밥 place. Photo credit: Frances)

[This post was originally published on February 13, 2015. It has been backdated for tidier, chronological organization.]

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