Jeju Island Holds Wealth of Surprises

Korea's Jeju Island has gorgeous beaches, stunning mountains ... and some very odd museums.

By: Allen Salkin

Sure, Jeju Island has gorgeous beaches, stunning mountains and fields of glorious sun-yellow flowers, but the most bizarrely wonderful attraction on South Korea’s don’t-miss southern island has to be the Teddy Bear Museum.

Costumed-but-still-cuddly teddies are used as characters in dioramas of important 20th century historical events and cultural trends.

Seriously, while many whirlwind tours of Korea drop into Jeju for a one- or two-night stay, the island is definitely worth more. The best thing for clients to do would be to rent a car and experience some of Asia’s most picturesque and pleasant driving. Snow-peaked Mt. Hallasan is visible from almost everywhere. At different points along the coastal roads are winter resting places for flocks of storks, spoonbills and various rare birds. At other points are rocky inlets, waterfalls, fields of flowers and beaches.

Still, there is fun to be had at the island’s eclectic museums. (Who wouldn’t want to see a teddy bear version of Michael Jordan depicted dunking a basketball?) The Teddy Bear Museum is part of one of Jeju’s most impressive new developments, the Jungmun Beach Resort area on the island’s temperate south coast.

Jeju is South Korea’s largest island, located south of the main Korean peninsula, an hour’s flight from Seoul.

There are top-flight hotels and resorts on the island. One of the most noteworthy commissionable properties includes the Paradise Hotel Jeju, which some locals refer to as “the honeymoon house” because of its power to pull in a clientele of lovers. Located on a cliff above the sea, the 30-year-old luxury hotel has rooms in six styles American, Scandinavian, African, Mediterr- anean, European and Korean, starting at $317 a night.

Guests at the Shilla Cheju (Jeju is often spelled Cheju) have included President Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union. This is a very fine property, located in the Jungmun complex. The entire area has seen an increase in tourism facilities.

The Shilla Cheju’s leisure desk can arrange mountain biking, scuba diving and sea-fishing expeditions. Rates start at $278.

Also a part of the Jungmun tourism area is the 224-room Hyatt Regency Cheju, which offers horseback riding, golf and target shooting. The hotel’s Omi Market Grill is a Korean and Japanese restaurant with an open kitchen, so chefs can be seen plying their craft. Rates start at $150 nightly.

Another good choice around Jungmun is the 500-room Lotte Hotel Jeju, one of the Lotte chain’s best properties. The swimming pool evokes a South Seas feel with surrounding gardens crisscrossed with shady walking paths. The architecture is modeled after the Lost City Hotel, a well-known hotel in South Africa. Rates start at $274 nightly.

Crowne Plaza Hotel & Casino Jeju is located five minutes from the airport in downtown Jeju. With gambling available here and the island’s balmy-by-Korean-standards 80-degree Fahrenheit summer days, the property helps Jeju earn one of its advertising slogans: “The Hawaii and Las Vegas of Korea.” Rates that start at $100 a night leave money in the pocket for gambling.

While most activity options are available on the south coast, Jeju’s north has some fine attractions as well. On the northeast coast is Manjanggul Cave, purported to be the longest lava tube in the world at 8.4 miles.

Just west of Jeju is Yongduam Rock, a coastal lava formation that looks like a dragon’s head.

Elsewhere are volcanic craters, a coral sand beach, a traditional folk village and a wild orchid center. All of which rightly earns Jeju Island its place as Korea’s Hawaii.

Gardens, Museums and More

Jeju Island has more on display than teddy bears:

" The Bunjae Artpia displays 1,000 different varieties of potted plants. (Admission, $6; 064-772-3701)

" Chocolate Castle, constructed from local brown volcanic stone, shows a collection of chocolates from around the world and produces varieties flavored with green tea, mango and ginseng. (Free admission; 064-711-3171)

" Miniature Theme Park has miniature replicas of 100 famous buildings, including Korea’s own Bulguksa Temple and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (Admission, $5; 064-794-5400)

" O’sulloc Tea Museum highlights the history of tea and features an observatory with views of the largest tea farm in Korea. (Free admission; 064-794-5312)

" Hendrik Hamel Monument was built to commemorate the Dutch sailor who was shipwrecked near the Jeju town of Sanbanggulsa in 1653 and who, after spending 13 years in Korea, was the first Westerner to write about the land. (See

" Tamna Mok Sok Won is a garden displaying interestingly shaped natural stones and dried tree roots. (Admission $1.70; 064-702-0203)