The Fascinating Jeju Island!
As the largest island yet the smallest province in Korea, Jeju Island or the ‘Islands of the Gods’ was officially proclaimed as one of the world’s seven new wonders of nature in 2011. This oval-shaped volcanic island found in the southwest of the Korean peninsula measures about 31 kilometres from north to south and 73 kilometres from west to east. Because of the abundance of rocks, wind and women in Jeju Island, it is also called as Samdado Island which means “three many”. Past volcanic activity as well as ocean wind steadily blowing here throughout the years has made some eccentric-shaped yet marvellous-looking black rocks. As for its reputation of having an abundance of women, stories say that many fishermen of the yesteryears tend to be lost at sea somewhere near Jeju Island.
Because this place is warmer than the mainland especially during winter, it is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea though it bears little resemblance in both geography and climate of Hawaii. Until today, it remains as the top honeymoon destination for Korean newlyweds.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities for both adventurers and laid-back backpackers here in Jeju Island. Hallasan, the highest mountain is South Korea, is located here. Its other name, Mt. Yeongjusan, means it is the mountain high enough to pull the galaxy. It is an easy hike even for beginners and with all the different species of plants and animals here, you’d be surprised how fast time flies by. It is even possible to go to the peak and as well go back in just one day. But still, check the weather updates before proceeding with your hiking trip and make sure you bring plenty of water, sunblock lotion and a fully-charged camera as well as your curiosity and energy!
Real life mermaids exist in Jeju Island and you can become one – if you want to! Haenyo are fascinating female sea divers who gather all sorts of seafood and other sea treasures they can find as a way to support their family. Haenyos are mostly main breadwinners of their families on Jeju Island. When the tides are favourable, they usually dive several times a month - without any special equipment used! And you’d be surprised that most of the Haenyos here are already widows and grandmothers! According to history, the tax imposed on male labour in the 18th century is outrageously high so being a male diver is not that profitable for the family. An uncanny group of women soon found out that they can do so without having to pay taxes! Thus, it started the centuries-old tradition that made the Jeju Island a highly matriarchal society. Besides, women can stay longer in the cold water because they possess a higher percentage of subcutaneous fat which make them physically better suited for diving than men.
The beauty of nature in Jeju Island is truly remarkable. One particular must-see attraction is the Jusangjeolli Cliff. When Mt. Hallasan, Korea’s highest mountain, erupted many years ago, the overflowing lava created the pillar-shaped cliffs as it cooled down towards the sea. For the most part of the Jusangjeolli Cliff, it has an almost perfect hexagonal formation as if bare hands made it that way. Even Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway couldn’t even dare to make such claim.
The Jeju Folk Village Museum is another inspiring attraction in Jeju Island. It showcases the traditional houses, simple lifestyle and unique culture of the Koreans in the 19th century. On the 4500-hectare site, there is a fishing village and a mountain village as well as an old government building, market place and even an authentic shamanistic ritual site! The houses are built in the traditional ‘Hanok’ style of long ago – thatched roof, low-ceilinged walls and heated floors using the ancient ‘ondol’ system. Visitors here are greeted with flowers and warm welcome. A unique sculpture here named Dol Hareubang, meaning ‘old grandfather’, is believed to be the protector that guard off demons from the place. There are actually 21 Dol Hareubang with different sizes in the island.
A gastronomic delight in Jeju
Of course, no trip to Jeju Island would be complete without having to experience the excellent dishes and delicacies. After having the whole day travelling and roaming around Jeju, it is definitely tiring and you need food that won’t only restore your energy but would also satisfy your cravings. Jeju Island has a long list of mouth-watering home-cooked meals that you have got to try.
There is the famous gogi-guksu (noodles in pork bone soup) which is the main noodle soup in the island. Black pig bones and meat are boiled for a long time. Its broth is what is used for the noodle soup. This popular dish is served in villages in the Seogwipo region during festive days.
Then there is also the five-layered pork belly or the ogyeopsal which is made also from the famous black pig of Jeju Island. Thick slabs of this red meat are grilled over hardwood charcoal. This expensive treat has a notably high proportion of red muscle fibres that gives the meat its strong steak-like taste and nutty flavour that requires no extra seasoning.
Another worthy dish is the Jeonbok-dolsotbap (porridge with abalone), which is a rice meal with vegetable toppings served in a sizzling hot stone pot. First, rice is fried inside the hot stone pot together with abalone innards. When it is done, it is topped with vegetables such sweet pumpkin as well as thinly sliced abalone.
The mom-guk is another traditional favourite in Jeju. Mom is Jeju dialect for gulfweed. It grows in between sea rocks and is a rich source of vitamins, fat and calcium. The pig bones and intestines are boiled to make a broth and then afterwards, gulfweed is added. It is usually served both in celebratory occasions and condolences.
The lip-smacking goodness of the galchi-jorim, or braised cutlassfish, is a winner for those looking for a very hot and spicy dish. The pepper flakes and the gochujang sauce are the key ingredients here. Sliced radish, minced garlic and ginger are added for texture and more flavour.
For those looking for simple yet striking seafood flavours, there is the okdom-gui or grilled fish. This fish species is native to Jeju coast. Its delicate texture and sweet flavour is a hands-down winner for rugged campers and posh travellers alike.
Another seafood winner is the Korean-style bouillabaisse or the haemul ddukbaegi. The steaming hot stone pot has generous amount of spicy seafood broth filled with fish, prawns, clams, crabs and abalone. Yum!
The list goes on! There is the omaegi-tteok, a local rice cake made from black glutinous millet and is only usually available from May to July as well as the soft and chewy Jeju sundae made from traditional Korean blood sausages. You’d definitely fill your stomach with all the healthy goodness of traditional Jeju cuisine. Don’t leave the island without buying gamgyul or tangerines.