Arriving at Jeju International Airport at around 6pm, there was a huge crowd of visitors gathering at the baggage claim and it seems that many Koreans still regard the island as a resort and getaway location. After all the weather is milder in winter with no snow but rain on the evening I arrived. Baggage claim was fast and efficient and I was able to catch an airport limousine bus to the Seogwipo Resort Area on the southern part of the island, where the big resorts are all located at. The bus ride took around 70 minutes, which is worth noting that the bus journey would actually be longer than the flight time from Seoul to Jeju.
Another point worth noting is that the city centre of Jeju is located close to the airport, and there exists lodging within the city centre, though most visitors would be better off staying in the larger resorts in the south part of the island which has views of the ocean and closer to some of the natural beauty the island is known for. The airport limousine bus dropped passengers on the doorstep of the lobby and the bell desk helped with the luggage immediately. Checking in the Hyatt Jeju was fast with its staff being very proficient in English, and one of the concierge used to work and study in Vancouver as well! The agent did not recognize the diamond status as enthusiastically as the Hyatt in O’Hare, but I was given their best room available with an ocean facing room. I was also informed of the use of the club lounge and the opening hours of the lounge.
The room itself is old though it was clean and comfortable. Once the bellboy arrived, he showed me the features of the room and how to open the door to the balcony and made sure to point out the features of the door knob to prevent myself from being locked out in the balcony. The room was also very warm when I came in, thus I opened up the balcony a bit and it was nice to hear the sound of waves crashing upon the rocks! I was also able to get tourist information from the bellboy on tours around the island.
Since it was around dinner time by the time I reached the hotel, I wanted to have dinner but the relatively remote location and cold, rainy weather made me pick to have dinner at the hotel. Eventually I settled for dinner at the Regency Lounge, and there was enough hot food, various appetizers and snacks for a light dinner. However, due to the relatively small size, the lounge can get crowded and noisy. One might even need to wait for a spot to be seated. For other visitors, there is a small casino in the hotel itself which mainly caters to guests from China, though it does also have a small self-serve buffet counter that serves Chinese food.
This was the second time I tried the Diamond status in Jeju and the upgrade to an ocean view room on a high floor and the included access to the lounge was adequate since I didn’t really need the extra space. The bathroom in the toilet is also spacious enough in the best room available and the toilet was fitted with the Japanese auto spray system with dryer mechanism. The ocean view rooms are well worth it in my opinion, as otherwise one gets the view in the Regency Club Lounge which faces the mountains.
In addition to the ocean views, the gardens around Hyatt Regency Jeju is also great to walk around in. Fans of Korean drama will remember the gardens from the scene where some moments of the movie ‘All In’ were shot at. Around the resort are also some hiking trails that leads to beautiful spots like the Black Sand Beach. I am pretty sure this is a great family resort spot in summer time since the Hyatt also has a great outdoor pool. If there was one fault during my stay here, it would have been the day on check out when I have already requested for an airport shuttle but when the airport bus arrived, the bell boy who was waiting at the entrance failed to stop the bus to wait for me, and he seems to be quite flustered to even apologize… Luckily for me, the next bus arrived and I still had adequate time to check-in for the flight to Seoul as I had planned for extra time in the event of delays like this.
Now, with regards to Jeju island, it is a popular tourist destination amongst Koreans, and many couples frequently visit this island for their honeymoon. Summer is usually the best time to capture the natural beauty of Jeju but it wasn’t too bad in early December since the weather is much milder than Seoul. The concierge at Hyatt booked me on a day tour for the next morning departing directly from the hotel early at around 8am, and the day tours are operated by Yeha Tour, with it being conducted in English. Generally it would take 2 days to cover the major sights in the island as the day tours operate alternately on an eastern and western route. I was booked on the eastern route since it was a Thursday, and according to the concierge it visits the more popular sights in Jeju.
I was the only tourist from Hyatt to sign up for the tour and the bus continued to pick up passengers from the neighbouring resorts in the Seogwipo area, including the Lotte Resort just beside the Hyatt. From the Seogwipo resort area, the bus brought the passengers to the first stop which is the Trick Art Museum. As the name suggests, it creates duplicates of famous scenes and paintings and uses visual illusions to ‘trick’ viewers. Visitors can also pose with the paintings and murals on the wall to create interesting illusions! Naturally it is a location best visited with two or more people so that you can have someone helping you to take the photo. We spent around one hour to view the exhibits but mostly to take photos. From there, it was off to the Seongeup Folk Village, where one can still find Koreans living in traditional thatched huts. The main highlight is perhaps the classical courtyard architecture of a Confucian school in the village which was built in the Chinese style. Lunch was also served in the village where we were given a choice of Bibimbap or Black Pork BBQ, and I really enjoyed the tasty pork BBQ.
After lunch, it was time to sweat it off as the tour bus drove us to the Seongsan Sunrise Peak, a volcanic crater surrounded by the ocean. Be prepared for a half hour trek up to the peak, though the view from the top is probably one of the best and the highlight of the tour in my opinion. I am pretty sure the view might be better in sunrise, but I would have to leave that to the next time… On the descent from the top of Seongsan, it was time for a show and this came in the form of the women divers in Jeju. Apparently due to men looking down on the menial jobs of fishing, women had to dive to supplement the family’s income and this resulted in the tradition of women diving in the sea for prized seafood like abalone and conch which tourists could purchase fresh to be cooked on the spot. There are two show times daily at 1:20pm and 3:00pm and each takes about 30-40 minutes where the women divers all in their 50s and 60s start with a dance and song ritual before entering the water to catch a variety of seafood. During the time I was there, the sky cleared up somehow providing the chance for me to capture the beauty of the landscape around Jeju Island. At the base of Seongsan, tourists could also find numerous shops selling local snacks and souvenirs since this is one of the top tourist attraction in Jeju.
The final stop in the tour is the Manjang Caves which we reached by going through the Jongdalri Shore Road, a winding coastal road passing through some of the best sceneries in Jeju. The drive takes us to the northern end of the island. Touted as the longest lava tube in the world, this is one of the natural attractions of Jeju though it should be mentioned that only around 1.5 km of the cave is open to visitors, and even then it will take more than an hour to walk along the whole length and back. Most of the cave is lit along the pathways and some of them are also paved with wooden blocks, though most of the caves can be tricky to walk through if you are not wearing comfortable walking shoes. Also do make sure you have hiking boots if the grounds are wet since it can be slippery.
After the tour the bus drops all other tourists around the hotels in Jeju City which is at the northern end of the island. Since me and some other tour participants are staying at the large resorts in the southern end of the island at Seogwipo, we were dropped off at the airport where they gave us vouchers to take the airport shuttle bus back to the hotel. The other 2 participants chose instead to explore and have dinner at the city before heading back to the hotel, so it can be scheduled to have dinner around the city before returning to the resort.