Travelling Alone in Jeju Island

by Royston Chan

Travelling solo can be fun and Jeju makes it Stressful but Satisfying

Co-Jejudo-Seogwipo-Plage Jungmun by Jacques Beaulieu via https://flic.kr/p/wm9uL6

Traveling solo in Jeju Island is definitely not for the faint hearted, well unless you’re proficient in Korean. Even so, it may still be a challenge as the people of Jeju speak in native Korean, a dialect that is quite different from what you hear in Seoul. That said, nothing is really impossible; I can’t speak Korean for nuts, I travelled by myself in Jeju Island (including exploring Udo island and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak) for 3 days, and I survived it!

Getting There

Domestic flights to Jeju Island can be pretty cheap – I bought my 2-way ticket for approximately $150 (via Asiana Airlines & Jeju Air). Most flights depart from Gimpo Airport, which is about 5 stops away from Incheon International Airport (via the Airport Railway a.k.a. AREX).

Jeju Island Accommodation

There are 2 main cities in Jeju Island – Jeju City (Jeju-si) & Seogwiop City (Seogwipo-si). Jeju-si is the capital city of Jeju Island and you’ll probably end up there if you get in by plane. It is the bigger of the 2 cities and you’ll get plenty of choices in terms of accommodation and restaurants.


I chose to stay in Seogwipo-si as it is nearer to the scenic attractions. The various cities are quite well connected by public buses; Seogwipo-si is about an hour’s bus ride from the airport, and about 1.5 hours from Jeju-si.

Another popular area is the Jungmun Tourist Resort Complex. This area is about 30 – 45 minutes away from Seogwipo-si and houses many of the upscale hotels and resorts like The Shilla, Lotte Hotel, Hyatt Regency etc. It’s easier to stay here as the hotel staff can speak English. The area is also pretty near the scenic attractions and even has its own stretch of beach – a good choice if you want a seaside holiday. However, there’s a good price to pay if you’d like to spend your vacation in the Jungmun area; hotel rates are very much comparable to those in major cities like Seoul itself.

Of course, you can also choose to stay in the remote areas of Jeju Island since there are many minbaks (Korean guesthouses) scattered around. However, transportation might become a problem, well that is unless you choose to drive.

Language Barrier

As you might have guessed, language is certainly a barrier in Korea, and this is even more pronounced in Jeju Island. Most people cannot speak or even understand English. On my first night there, I was at a restaurant supposedly famous for their seafood soup. However when I tried to ask about prices, the waiter could not even understand me. Most of these restaurants also do not have a menu with pictures; what they sell is usually listed on a board in Korean characters, and hence my helplessness at that point in time.

By then, due to my feeble attempts trying to communicate with the waiter, I had everyone’s attention at the restaurant and could feel at least ten pair of eyes staring at me. Tried as I might, with gestures and even a Korean phrasebook, I could not get anyone to understand me. I had to walk out feeling utterly embarrassed and hungry.

Transport

Getting around Jeju Island is best done if you rent a car. However bearing in mind that you don’t get much English road signs, and that you probably can’t get much help from the locals if you’re lost, it’s definitely a gamble but certainly the most convenient mode of transport.

Alternatively, there are various buses that ply between the two cities (Jeju-si and Seogwipo-si) and also to the various tourist attractions on Jeju Island. Once again, language becomes a problem; I took quite a while locating the Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal. Fortunately by means of hand gestures and the use of a map, a kind ajumma (Korean middle aged woman) pointed me to the right direction.

Seogwipo City Bus Terminal

Seogwipo City Bus Terminal

I was so relieved when the old man manning the bus ticketing counter could understand me, of course that’s after a few attempts of trying to pronounce the name of the place I was trying to get to. He sold me the ticket, but try reading this:

Bus Ticket

A typical bus ticket

I didn’t even know when the bus was arriving or how to identify the bus. Thankfully the kind old man gestured to me when the bus was there.

Bus Stops Listed In Korean

Bus stops listed in Korean characters

It’s a good thing that these buses now come with pre-recorded announcements of the various bus stops, in Korean, English, Mandarin and Japanese. If not I wouldn’t have known when to alight!

Although public buses are pretty frequent (perhaps an interval of every 20 minutes or so), attractions in Jeju Island are too far apart and it’s easily a bus ride that takes an hour or two. Further, bus stops not located within the cities only have bus schedules in Korean, which makes travelling around the island even more difficult.

Driving is definitely the better option.

Korean Restaurant

Korean Restaurant

Seafood in Jeju Island

Jeju Island is famed for its fresh local seafood and I couldn’t leave without trying it. By then, I had learnt to choose appropriate restaurants to have my meals so as not to repeat my ordeal on the first night. Hence on my last night there, I went to a local restaurant for grilled mackerel.

Grilled Mackerel

Grilled Mackerel

As with any typical Korean restaurants, the meal came with an array of delicious side dishes, but I must say the grilled mackerel is to-die-for! The fish is marinated with salt, grilled to perfection, and served warm. It was so good and just the perfect ending to my 3 days stay in Jeju Island!

Travelers’ tip

Having said all that, I must have succeeded in scaring away many potential travelers to Jeju Island! However, you’ll then be missing out on all the good scenery and interesting sights there.

To be honest, I think Jeju would have been much more enjoyable if you travel there in a group. Your group could then rent a car and it’s much more convenient to drive to the attractions. Even if you do get lost, you’ll have more resources navigating your way back. It’s not easy but it ain’t that difficult too! Plus it’s also less scary when you’re with friends! The attractions are so far apart so it’ll be good to have some company to make merry along the way.

Of course, you could also splurge on a good hotel stay at the Jungmun area. Jeju Island is a popular spot for honeymooners and it’s certainly a very laid back and relaxing place to spend some quality time with your loved ones.

Read more onExplore Eastern Jeju – Udo Island & Seongsan Ilchulbong


 

  • Peter Loke

    Planning to Jeju on 28th Oct 2nd Nov for 4 pax. Please advise.

    • Hi Peter,
      We do not organize tour. If you are looking for a package tour to Jeju in late Oct, you may visit the forth-coming Natas Fair on 24-26 August to find out the best deals.

  • ying

    Hi royston, i’m planning for a solo trip to jeju in may. Tried researching for info on jeju transportation but seems to be very limited.

    May i know how did you travel by public transport to Udo island?

    Is it convenient to stay at hotels near jeju airport since there are buses running from airport to tourist attractions?

    Thank u in advance!

    • Royston Chan

      Hi Ying

      Transportation in Jeju Island may be a challenge, especially if you cannot speak Korean. If you can drive, I’d recommend you rent a car with English GPS and it’ll make traveling much easier.

      Public buses are available, but once out of the city, it’s hard to interpret bus schedules at the bus stops since they are in Korean. The island is quite big and it takes (on average) approximately 2 hours to get from one tourist attraction to another (by public transport). Bus frequencies in the city ranges from 10 – 25 mins, and that’s during summer. Hence, plan your itinerary wisely and be sure to budget for traveling time.

      If you intend to travel by public buses, I’d recommend you stay either at Jeju City or Seogwipo City – these cities have a bus terminal where you can get help from the ticketing counter. Another option would be to stay at one of the hotels in Jungmun Tourist Resort Complex since most public buses stop at these hotels. From the airport, you can easily get to Seogwipo City or Jeju City via the airport limousine.

      Public buses have automated announcements on the current bus stop and the next bus stop, and the announcements are made in English, Chinese, Korean & Japanese. You may find this website helpful: http://bus.jeju.go.kr/internet_2012_eng.

      On getting to Udo Island, I walked to Seongsan Port from Seongsan Ilchulbong (approx. 20 min). Just follow the coastline and you’ll get to the port where you can buy the ferry tickets. I suppose you can also get a bus directly to the port but unfortunately I have no information on that. Bear in mind the last ferry back to Jeju Island is around 6pm; be sure to check with the ticketing counter if you don’t want to be stranded on Udo Island!

      Hope this helps! Cheers!

  • Elaine

    Hi Royston,

    Can you recommend a hotel in Seogwipo-si? One that is nice, clean and not to expensive? I’m planning a trip for a family of 6.
    thank you

    • Royston Chan

      Hi Elaine

      I stayed at a hostel called Backpacker’s Home in Seogwipo-si. I personally liked it because it was conveniently located, clean, the owner was friendly and helpful, and they provide a simple but good breakfast. You have to check with them but I’d think you’ll be able to get a private room for your family.

      If a hostel isn’t what you’re looking for, you might want to check out hotels listed in this webpage: http://bus.jeju.go.kr/internet_eng/bisb_bus/bus_020.jsp

      Look at the hotels listed on the Airport Limousine schedule (at the bottom of the webpage). The bus plies between Jeju airport, Jungmun Resort and Seogwipo-si, making stops at many hotels along the way. It’ll be convenient to stay at these hotels, especially if you’re not driving.

      Cheers!

  • CC

    “Native Korean” is Hangul. SOME older people in Jeju speak Satori – an older dialect of Hangul. If you speak even a little Hangul it is easy to get around Jeju as they cater to tourists who mostly speak broken English (Chinese, SE Asians, Europeans, etc.)

    Good job finding a dinner of fried mackerel… they served you a fish that is usually a throw away side dish as a main course. Go for abalone or sashimi next time.

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