Yes, it is possible! I recently spent 3-4 days on my DIY trip to Jeju Island — nicknamed the “Hawaii of Korea” — getting around solely by bus.
Because of coronavirus, the tour buses weren’t running, and I don’t have an international driver’s license. I was absolutely itching to get away from Seoul for the weekend, and since travel is quite limited in 2020, Jeju Island is the perfect destination to — more or less — safely travel around.
Ideally, the best way to see Jeju Island would be renting a car, but it wasn’t on the table for me. Attractions are far apart, so you’ll be spending a lot of time on the buses. You can mitigate this by hopping on taxis as well. But if you’re absolutely determined to bus around Jeju Island, you can.
Is it Safe to Travel Alone to Jeju Island as a Woman?
If you’re curious about traveling to Jeju Island, South Korea as a solo female traveler, I would say mostly yes. Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and Jeju Island is pretty safe for most people. Of course, use common sense and take precautions like anywhere else in the world. I avoided nighttime activities like bar-hopping because you really never know. Stay alert and make sure you don’t find yourself in some creepy, empty alleyway at night. Check-in frequently with friends as well! If you insist on going out at night, watch your drink. In Seoul, I’ve heard a lot of rumors about drink-spiking in party areas, and even though it doesn’t happen often, you should always, always be careful!
How to Get to Jeju Island from Seoul
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Jeju Island from Seoul is to take a flight — e.g. Jeju Air — from Gimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea. I highly recommend Skyscanner.com to check flight schedules. Flights run often and are usually under 100,000 KRW. If you took a train and ferry to Jeju Island from Seoul, it would take more than 9 hours and cost between 100,000 KRW to 200,000 KRW!
In July 2020, I flew via Gimpo Airport in Seoul on Jeju Air. Since demand is low, the flights were quite inexpensive. The flight itself took about an hour.
To get to Gimpo Airport from my ‘hood in Gangnam, I took Line 9 Subway from Sinnonhyeon Station straight to Gimpo Airport Station (last stop). It takes between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on whether you’re on the rapid (express) train or regular train.
The trip to Jeju Airport to my hotel in Jeju City was conveniently about 10 minutes.
TIP: If you’re coming from overseas and need a SIM card with wifi connection, you should check Klook.com and pick one up at the airport.
How to Get Around in Jeju Island by Bus
Just remember to have a T-money Card ready which you can pick up and refill with cash at most convenience stores. If you’re a resident of South Korea, you may already know that you can get the T-Money feature on your debit/credit card when you sign up at your Korean bank. This Trazy.com guide will walk you through using your T-Money card if you’re unfamiliar.
Basic bus fare is around 1,200 KRW ($1 USD) with a 30-minute window for free transfers. Express bus will be capped at 3,000 KRW ($2.50 USD).
Download Naver Map (iPhone/Android) or Kakao Map (iPhone/Android) and plug in your destination. Make sure to flag down the buses when they arrive as they can easily miss you. Each bus station is often equipped with a real-time screen to see when the bus is coming. Stay alert! If you want to check the time schedule for each bus in Jeju Island, you can do so here.
When you board your bus in Jeju Island, like Seoul, you’ll tap your T-Money Card on the T-Money device and tap off when you disembark the bus. Most buses are equipped with screens that will tell you your next destination in English and Korean, but they may be easy to miss. Track your bus movement on Naver Map or Kakao Map via GPS, so you won’t miss your stop.
I was taking a lot of power naps on these long bus rides which was actually a nice respite from all the hiking.
Alternatives to the Bus in Jeju Island
Again, ideally, buses are probably the last option you’d want to take, but it is entirely possible. If you have an international driver’s license, I highly recommend you rent a car. Or, if you’re visiting when coronavirus is not an issue, take a tour bus to save time. Hiring taxi tours (80,000 to 120,000 per day) are also a great option if you’re in a group since you can easily split the fare.
TIP: If you want to flag down taxis, you’ll see them sparingly. Download the Kakao T app instead! Biking is also a wonderful option since Jeju Island is mostly flat. This article from Jeju Weekly shows where to find some bike shops on Jeju Island.
Lotte City Hotel in Jeju
I stayed at Lotte City Hotel in Jeju City as a base since it was near Jeju Airport. They offer a free shuttle ride to/from the hotel and airport. Originally, my plan was to take tours from the hotel, but all the tour bus carriers canceled due to COVID-19.
The hotel itself was lovely. The duty-free shop on the first floor was unfortunately closed during my stay because, well, pandemic. There was also a buffet restaurant, swimming pool, gym, and coin laundry in the building. They checked my temperature daily upon entering the hotel with a thermal scanner for safety, and nearly everyone wore a face mask without question.
There wasn’t much to do in Jeju City in itself that I couldn’t get from living in Seoul, so I didn’t spend time exploring the immediate area except for seeking out food. On my next trip, I’d probably try staying in Seogwipo instead and exploring more of the Southern region of Jeju Island which is known for its natural attractions.
There are plenty of great options to stay in Jeju Island from resorts to hostels. Because demand is low right now, Airbnb is also an affordable option.
Most travelers suggest breaking up your stay into regions — north, south, east, west — and staying in hotels close to the attractions. Since I was only staying for a few days, I didn’t feel like schlepping from hotel to hotel.
What to See in Jeju Island
Jeju Island is mostly known for its natural beauty — comprised of craters, ocean views, and lava tubes. Ideally, I would spend at least 3-4 days on Jeju Island, but take in mind that most of its sights are spread out throughout the island. Food-wise, chow down on the plentiful seafood and famous black pork.
If you love hiking like me, don’t forget to bring sturdy shoes. Oreums — or extinct volcano cones — are plentiful in this little island which means lots of stairs and climbing. The views at the top are worth it though. You’ll be able to see endless fields of green.
I intentionally skipped sights like the Teddy Bear Museum and Hello Kitty Island since I was short on time, and those museums just didn’t “call” to me. If you’re in Jeju Island before October 25th, 2020, you can also catch the Van Gogh Exhibition at Bunker de Lumières (2039-22 Goseong-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo).
Seongsan Ilchulbong is an UNESCO site in Jeju Island and an extinct volcano with a huge crater at the top. Hours are from 7:30am to 7:30pm. You can find Seongsan Ilchulbong in the Southwest region of Jeju Island, located at 284-12, Ilchul-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do (제주특별자치도 서귀포시 성산읍 일출로 284-12).
There are two trails you can take, but the paid trail will cost around 5,000 KRW. There is a Starbucks at the bottom and plenty of restaurants and cafés in case you need a pre-hiking snack. It’s not particularly strenuous, but there are a lot of stairs. The views at the top are definitely worth it.
At the bottom of the site, you will also see the famous Jeju Island female divers in Korea where they have dive shows at 1:30 pm and 3 pm. These women really are so bada#$!
Watch this UNESCO Video to learn more about Haenyo culture in South Korea. It’s a declining profession since most modern Korean women do not want to take up diving as the country is rapidly modernizing. I was in awe when I saw these 70+-year-old women emerging from the sea, carrying their daily catch.
Mt. Hallasan (한라산)
I really wanted to hike Mt. Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea and a UNESCO site, on my trip, but I ended up skipping this due to heavy rainfall on the last day.
You can easily spend 5+ hours hiking up and down this mountain, so prepare to bring plenty of water, snacks, and comfortable hiking gear. You have to enter the trail no later than noon. When you reach the summit, you’ll be able to see views of the crater.
Seongpanak Trail (9.6 km, 4 hr 30 min) is supposed to be the gentlest trail — perfect for beginners! Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7 km, 5 hr) has the best views though.
Since this excursion is very time-consuming, I’d weigh if you have a full day to knock out with hiking. Since I live in Seoul, it would be fairly easy for me to fly back to Jeju Island to conquer Mt. Hallasan on my next trip.
Cheonjiyeon Waterfall (천지연폭포)
Cheonjiyeon, meaning “sky connected with land” — is a 22-meter high waterfall located in Jeju Island, South Korea. It’s about 2,000 won for the adult entry that you pay at the beginning of the trail (by cash or card). Cheonjiyeon Falls are also next to the beautiful Seonimgyo Bridge where seven nymphs are carved on both sides.
Manjanggul Cave (만장굴)
The caves span 13 kilometres, but only one kilometre is open for tourists to explore. The interior is lit with different colored lighting. These caves may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed them. Make sure to bring a sweater as the inside of the lava tubes is quite chilly and damp.
It’s a 20-minute walk to/from the bus stop, so I suggest taking a 5-minute taxi here if you don’t enjoy walking and want to save time.
Jeongbang Waterfall (정방폭포)
Oh, look! Another waterfall! After the visit to Cheonjiyeon Falls, I was all waterfall-ed out, but this one is supposed to be very beautiful and is the only waterfall in Asia to fall directly into the ocean!
Udo Island (우도)
A little getaway off of Jeju Island where you can enjoy Udo Island’s natural beauty. They’re also famous for their peanuts. A lot of people enjoy renting a bike or scooter (international driver’s license needed) around Udo Island. You can see Geommeolle Beach, Udobong Peak, and Seobinbaeksa Beach on Udo Island.
To get there, you have to take a ferry which costs about 8,500 KRW roundtrip. Just head to Seongsangri Harbor (Seongsanhang Port Bus Stop) and walk to Seongsanhang Port Passenger Ferry Terminal in Jeju Island for the ferry. Ferries depart every half hour. You need to bring your passport for passenger registration!
Jeju Loveland (제주러브랜드)
Skippable, but I needed to see what the fuss was about. This raunchy little park features a lot of sexy statues that’ll have you blushing throughout. Perfect for posing with penises — if that’s your thing. It’s also close to Jeju City and Jeju Airport!
Let me know if you end up posting the pictures on social media! Also, if you purchase tickets off of klook.com, it’s a little cheaper. I was standing outside the ticket booth, using the Klook app shamelessly.
Osulloc Tea Museum (오설록 티 뮤지엄)
I went on an ultra rainy day, so the effect of seeing the tea fields was not as magical. I am a green tea lover, so I appreciated being at the café. There’s not much to see museum-wise since it was mostly just a small collection of teaware around the world. You can still pick up some exclusive Jeju Island tea swag to bring back as souvenirs. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty neat to see endless fields of tea. Next door is the Innisfree Jeju House (이니스프리 제주하우스) where you can also purchase Innisfree products and camp out in the Innisfree café.
Hamdeok Beach (함덕 서우봉해변-함덕해수욕장)
Popular, white-sand beach with turquoise-blue waters in the northwestern part of Jeju Island. There are many restaurants and cafes on the main street nearby.
Daepo Jusangjeolli Cliff (주상절리대 (대포동지삿개))
I read a really underwhelming review of this place, and I agree. Yes, it’s beautiful, but I wouldn’t go too out of my way. The rock formations are interesting, but after a few minutes, you’re ready to leave. Luckily, it’s still close to a few other attractions — like Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls — so stop by if you have the chance.
Hallim Park (한림공원)
Besides being a beautiful botanical garden, the park also has a series of lava tubes called Ssangyonggul Cave and Hyeopjaegul Lava Tube — with features of a limestone cave. They are thought to have been created by lava that erupted from Hallasan Mountain around 25 million years ago. You’ll also see a lot of peacocks just walking around the park, minding their own business. I thoroughly enjoyed this quiet park. Adult admission is 12,000 won.
Geomeun Oreum (거문오름)
Oreums, oreums everywhere! They’re volcanic cones dotted all over Jeju Island.
Saebyeol Oreum (새별오름)
I kind of loved this spot. You’ll see a few food trucks right outside in the parking lot area, including freshly-squeezed tangerine juice and this cute Japanese-style egg sandwich truck (Makisando, below.) Once you get to the top, you’ll be in for some gorgeous views.