Jeju - balm for the soul

Jeju-Do is one island I can keep going back to. Hallasan or Mount Halla - a dormant volcano and the highest peak in South Korea - alone, offers different vistas through the four seasons: Alpine greenery in summer, romantic shades in autumn, snow-capped peak in winter and cherry blossom profusion in spring.

Often, a hike up is made sweeter by the generosity of the local hikers, who gave us juicy winter tangerines and beer to supplement the sandwiches we brought with us.

Breathtaking scenery

The highlight of any visit to Jeju - once an island for exiles during the Joseon dynasty - is the postcard-perfect sights.

You can find craggy cliffs, blue coastlines and summery fields at every turn.

Seopjikoji is worth repeated visits for its amalgamation of canola flower-filled meadows, azure ocean and dark cliffs.

Tarry some moments at a site considered one of the most beautiful sites in Jeju.

The main walking trail along the ocean takes you past the All-In House, film site of the hugely popular casino drama, as well as old smoke mounds that warned natives of sea invaders long ago, and a pristine white lighthouse.

The Seondol rock that juts out beside the cliffs also tells a sad tale of the Dragon King's son who turned to stone while waiting for his lover.

A drive along Jeju's coastline is always a joy; there are white windmills, agrarian fields and misty mountain peaks to relish.

One of the coastal attractions is the Jeongbang Falls, believed to be the only fresh waterfall in Asia to drop directly into the sea.

Be enveloped by camellia flowers on the short walk there and on a warm day, you can frolic in the pools and enjoy the ocean view.

A haven for geography buffs

Jeju Island was formed by volcanic upheavals some two million years ago, and is one convenient place to view a medley of volcanic features, testament to its exciting past.

One of the most visited attractions is the Sunrise Peak, a volcanic cone which emerged from the sea ages ago.

It takes a 30-minute brisk walk up the wooden and stone-cut stairs to reach the crater peak, but it may leave most tourists winded.

Once at the top, you are rewarded with far-reaching sights of the island and sea, as well as the crater itself.

For those less inclined to physical activity, the base of Sunrise Peak is still pretty, if not more so, with its sea views, grassy plains and flower-filled slopes.

Nearby, the local diving women - an ageing and endangered group - will put you to shame by plunging into the sea, even during winter, to nab you a succulent octopus. Take a breather there with some very fresh seafood, enjoyed in its raw briny finery.

A lesser known, but even more fascinating volcano, is the Sangumburi Crater. This natural monument is the only crater in the country at ground level.

Without any climbing, you can walk round the rim of the crater and gaze at the unique plant and animal life within.

To me, the highlight of the area were the magnificent swathes of silver grass during autumn and early winter, undulating hills in the distance, and the guardian deer statue and old tombs on the land, all best viewed near sunset.

GETTING THERE

There are many daily flights to Jeju Island from various airports in South Korea.

If you are coming from Seoul, a domestic flight from Gimpo Airport takes only about an hour and options include Eastar Jet, Korean Air and Jeju Air.

My rides on Eastar Jet have always been quirky, with crew playing games such as mass scissors paper stone with everyone on the plane, and giving out prizes to the final winner.

TRAVELLER'S TIPS

■ If you wish to be transported to the time of Jewel In The Palace or a multitude of other Joseon period dramas, pop by the Jeju Traditional Folk Village.

There are photo opportunities galore and the chance to learn what it means when there are one, two or three posts across each dwelling's gates.

■ Around Jeju, you will encounter "grandfather stones" - tall basalt rocks that murmur of prosperity and fertility; and stacks of stones built to bring luck, the higher the better.

■ The abundant island has produced some delicious local cuisine. Don't miss out on grilled Jeju black pig, sea urchin and seaweed soup, and of course plenty of other fresh seafood.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


This article was first published on October 28, 2014.
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