Jeju Island Solo Backpacking: A small person on a big island

In South Korea, World
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Seogwipo City

Jeju Island, also known as South Korea’s Hawaii, is the dream destination for all South Koreans. Located in the South of South Korea, Jeju Island is furtherer away from Busan, South Korea’s second biggest city, than it is from Japan’s city of Fukuoka. Jeju Island itself is also a lot bigger than it appears on map. As a solo backpacker, I found that it was simply impossible to backpack Jeju Island solo whilst sticking to my USD 40/day budget. Unless you are willing to spend more money and exceed your budget, you will probably miss out certain attractions particularly the more remote places. That will be a shame, but being aware of this can help you gather a crew to visit Jeju together with.

Getting to Jeju Island

The easiest method to get to Jeju Island from Mainland South Korea is to travel by air. Jeju Airline, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines operate flights on an hourly basis from Seoul to Jeju for as low as USD 30 one way. Since Jeju Airport is an international airport, there are direct flights from neighbouring countries like Japan and China. Additionally, it is possible to catch overnight ferries from Busan to Jeju. After speaking to backpackers who tried this option, I decided not to give this a go as I wanted to save time and thought a beauty sleep was worth the additional USD 10 to fly.

Mt Hallasan above the clouds

Getting Around Jeju

In general, getting around the main parts of the island is easy and cheap. There are numerous public buses operating on the island and the routes are straightforward. For instance, you can take bus 701 from Jeju City all the way to the other side of the island to Seogwipo town down the West Coast or you can take bus 702 from Jeju City to Seogwipo down the West Coast. The journey down the East Coast will be slightly longer.

Even though the public bus system is relatively extensive, some tourist spots cannot be reached without a renting motorbike/car or a taxi. Even though it is possible to hire motorbikes from the airport for around USD 30 a day, I would not recommend renting a motorbike as Jeju Island is a very windy island. Although there are locals riding bikes, they do so within towns and cities rather than cover long distances. In fact, since the island is so large, it will take at least three hours to go down any coast. However, the roads are clean and flat rendering it very easy to ride motorbikes. Taxis in South Korea are affordable but if you are backpacking on a budget, it is better to share a cab with others.

The main difficulty I felt was the large size of the island and how challenging it was to get to places without relying on taxis. For example, Seopjikoji is supposedly one of the most beautiful areas on Jeju and is also a stunning sunrise view point. It is located on the Eastern side of Jeju near Sunrise Peak. It is possible to reach Seopjikoji via Bus 702 but getting off the closest station will still require 40mins of walking before arriving at Seopjikoji.

Seongsan Ilchulbong

The scooter I rented on Udo Island

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Accommodation

Accommodation on Jeju Island is more expensive than it is on the mainland because it is a more popular destination for honeymoon or family trips than it is for international backpackers. The standard price for a hostel is almost twice as expensive as the standard price in Seoul and Busan. The good thing is, there is still many accommodation options to choose from from all over the island. Accommodation near Jeju Airport can be cheap as parts of Jeju City is located conveniently less than 10mins bus ride from the airport.

Hanok

Food

South Korea is full of great food for affordable prices. Since Jeju is an island, it is a few thousand wons more expensive for a meal in Jeju than it is for the same meal in Seoul or Busan because ingredients are shipped to the island. However, certain food are cheaper on the island than it is in mainland and certain food are hard to buy in the mainland, for instance seafood and Jeju tangerine.

It seems prevalent across Jeju and the rest of the country that many restaurants do not welcome guests who wish to dine alone. There are signs outside food joints and labels on menu indicating “2+ people” or “minimum 1kg Korean BBQ pork”. Unless you would like to pay for the price of 2 and to eat double the quantity, it is easier to stick to street food and the less upscale food joints. There are more than enough of those on every street in Seogwipo but I really recommend going to Seogwipo Olle Market to try their Jeju Island BBQ black pork and Jeju Island tangerine waffles that come in the shape of the island’s iconic dwarves.

Haenyeo (Jeju Island female divers) serving fresh catches to customers on the shore

Tourist Attraction Entrance Fee Information

Jeju island is a popular destination for South Korean families and the South Korean government has done a good job on growing the tourism industry. For most attractions, there is an entrance fee to pay. I highly recommend bringing a student ID card for the student price as usually tickets are 50% cheaper than a standard adult ticket. However, do note that there are attractions where you can only get an adult ticket or a child ticket.

For other activities such as ferry tickets to nearby islands, there is a lesser fare difference between an adult ticket and a child ticket. There is also no student ticket option. The good thing is that even if you are traveling on a budget, you will never be stranded on the outer islands as the ferry terminal requires you to purchase return tickets.

Udo Island canola flower field

Even though there are restraints and that you are definitely going to spend more money on Jeju Island than you would on the mainland, Jeju and the surrounding islands are indeed beautiful. The trip to Jeju is well worth it and those who are willing to go the extra mile will be awarded with the island’s natural beauty, colourful fields and fresh scents of tangerine.

 

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