Jeju Island on the cheap? It’s possible, but act fastIf there’s one reason why many Koreans prefer to travel to Southeast Asia rather than to Jeju Island for a vacation, it's largely because of the high cost.
The average price of hotels in Jungmun Resort, the island's largest beach resort with luxury hotels, an aquarium, a park and more, ranges from 380,000 to 500,000 won a night in high season, about double the price one would pay in Korea to go on a package tour to luxury resorts in Phuket, Thailand, or Cebu Island and Borocay in Philippines, all of which are increasingly popular among Korean travelers for spa and golf vacations.
Yet Jeju is still a dream resort to many Koreans. You often hear well-traveled Koreans say that, “after all, there’s no place like Jeju.”
The island, located off the country's southern coast, used to be known as Korea’s “honeymoon island” before islands like Bali or Hawaii became an option for newlyweds. Even now, it’s not unusual to spot young men and women garbed in “couples’ T-shirts” walking around Jeju and exuding conjugal bliss.
Since the start of the national five-day workweek, the island’s scenic beauty has been attracting more weekend travelers who enjoy outdoor activities like cycling, inline skating, scuba diving, hiking and kayaking. On top of everything, the news about Park Chan-ho, the major league baseball player who will get married on Jeju next year, added celebrity sheen to the island’s image as a place of fantasy and romance.
Sure, it might be one of the world’s most beautiful islands, but still: is there a cheap way to travel to Jeju?
That depends on when you go.
Actually, the period from now until Christmas is the best season to fly to Jeju and stay in four-star hotels along the shore near Jungmun Beach, one of the country’s few beaches untainted by rank commercialism.
After Chuseok, many hotels and local airline companies start to offer special rates for travelers to Jeju, with a range of discounts. The biggest discount offered, 30 percent, is for flights from Cheongju on Asiana Airlines.
A new alternative for cheap travel to Jeju is to take advantage of low-cost carriers, which began to appear in the domestic market this year.
Hanseong Airline, based in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province, began a domestic service to Jeju last month. Jeju Air begins its service next June, and is promising that flights on the Jeju-Cheongju route will be 70 percent of the price offered by any rival airline. Jeju Air is a joint venture between Jeju province and Aekyung Group, which was granted a license for regular air transportation last summer.
Travel agencies and hotels also offer great bargains after Chuseok. The Shilla Hotel and resorts in Jeju offer shockingly low prices for suite rooms as part of its autumn package, which lasts until the end of the month. The package costs 180,000 won a night and includes breakfast for two, but is only available on weekdays.
Hyatt Jeju is offering a late summer package for 200,000 won, about two-thirds the regular price.
But perhaps the best deal for Jeju tourists is to take advantage of various “airtel” services and package tours through travel agencies and local airline companies.
Remember that the organized tours included in most package deals to Jeju by local travel agencies are an extra service, which means the tours are not obligatory. Those wanting to avoid the hassle of being dragged to gift shops and touristy spots and instead rest quietly at the hotel’s swimming pools can opt out of the daytime tours.
The latter option is strongly recommended, even for first-time travelers to Jeju. My personal experince with the tours around the island didn’t turn out to be so pleasant, as I was often being dropped in places like theme parks or random museums that had little to do with the island’s unique culture. Another alternative is to join a half-day tour, and ask a driver to drop you in spots where you can easily catch a public bus back to your hotel.
Package trips to Jeju at one of Jungmun Resort’s nicest hotels can be found online for less than 300,000 won for two nights, including airfare, by taking an early-morning flight.
Currently, Jayu Travel Service offers a package of two nights at Jeju’s Hotel Lotte for 269,000 won per person (singles have to pay 100,000 won more), with the same rate applying for Shilla Jeju. The program at Jayu offers similar deals for tourist hotels in Seogwipo, known for sand beaches, a port, and the lowest prices on the island.
For those who don’t mind staying at a slight distance away from Jungmun, Korean Air offers weekday airtel services for 210,000 won to KAL Seogwipo, a fine resort hotel owned by the airline about 15 minutes away from downtown Seogwipo. The cost, which is only valid through September 30, includes a return trip from Gimpo to Jeju on Korean Air, two-nights’ stay at its hotel, breakfast and free tours. It’s not a bad deal for being so close to the beach and having access to the hotel’s beautiful garden.
But there are always other options.
For adventurous travelers, temple-stay programs for foreigners, which began in Jeju in 2002 for World Cup guests in Seogwipo, are offered as part of a joint tour package with Korean Air. The package, priced at 177,000 won, includes a three-day temple stay program at Gwaneum or Yakcheon temples, located on the side of Mount Halla about 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) above sea level. The flights and meals are included.
If possible, arrange your trip so that you can go see one of Jeju’s outdoor markets. Seogwipo’s traditional market at Dongheung-dong is opened on every 4th and 9th calendar day, and offers shoppers everything from fresh seafood to local crafts. Jeju Market, which opens on days of the month that end with a 2 or 7, is near Jeju’s airport, and sells a wide range of local goods. Visitors to the market can also duck into street restaurants to eat a wholesome meal of side dishes, steamed rice and seasonal fish for only 5,000 won.
After all, Jeju isn’t cheap. But it’s not impossible to enjoy a thrifty deal on the island for a trip just as good as one to a Pacific island, without the six-hour flight.
by Park Soo-mee
Airtel services by Korean Air also depart from Busan and Cheongju. For more details, call GL Network at 02-512-7518. On Mondays and Saturdays, Korean Air also offers organized tours to Tansan Hot Springs on Jeju Island. To rent a pension on Jeju, check out http://pension.jejun.com. For general information about Jeju, call Jeju’s tourism department at 064-750-7568.