AT THE time I visited Jeju, Malaysia was experiencing one of its worst haze crises in recent memory. I had also been struck by a potent flu virus, throwing my participation in the 5D4N media familiarisation trip – organised by AirAsia X and the Jeju Tourism Organisation – into doubt.
The prospect of missing out on this trip was unthinkable. Resolving to make it through, I set off on my journey after a visit to a doctor to get the necessary medications.
There are some places in the world where you are instantly rejuvenated upon arrival, and Jeju is one such place. I felt the restorative and reparative powers of my body swing into action. To say it was a miracle would be a stretch. But with my symptoms more than alleviated, the stage was set for a soul-enriching five days.
Jeju is an island that has been spared the vagaries of gentrification seen in many other equally famous destinations. The first thing you notice when you hit the roads are huge swathes of greenery, dotted with low rise buildings.
The clean air was a welcome relief. This is in part because almost 50% of the vehicles on the roads in Jeju are electrically powered.
While greenery and nature are at its heart, there are, however, a wide array of activities that await visitors to this lovely island.
Led by our affable guide Jin, from Jeju Core Travel, we began our journey to explore all that Jeju had in store for us.
Jeju’s answer to Abbey Road
The Yongdam coastal road is a tribute to the island’s women divers (Haenyo).
Historically, the Haenyo were charged with taking care of their families after the death of their husbands, during the war.
This meant that they had to go to the sea and work, to put food on the table. The Haenyo are highly revered for their role as the breadwinners of the family in the absence of men.
Sadly, these Haenyo are a dying breed. There are only 3,000 over women divers left in Korea, and alarmingly, their average age is 70.
A perfect spot for a meditative stroll along the coastlines, Yongdam’s rainbow coloured walls make it a perfect spot for photography.
It is the sort of scenic spot that would give London’s iconic Abbey Road – which The Beatles’ crossed for the cover of its 1969 album of the same name – a run for its money.
Best of nature
The Seongsan Sunrise Peak, a mountain that was formed as a result of volcanic eruptions across the seabed over 5,000 years ago, offers a breathtaking view to visitors who scale to the top.
Meanwhile, the Jeolmul Recreational Forest is the island’s beautiful green lung, that for a brief period makes you forget the trials and tribulations of life, and lulls you into a sense of serenity.
Art lover’s paradise
Jeju is also home to a number of art galleries and installations. I visited the Amiex Bunker De Lumieres: Klimt, a spectacular immersive art exhibition of the works of Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, housed within a once-clandestine national communication facility.
Once visitors step into the bunker, they will see various works of art beamed onto the walls by dozens of projectors. It made the whole space feel like a surreal, whimsical land, as Klimt’s artwork came into life.
9.81 PARK offers motoring enthusiasts a unique opportunity to steer go-kart-like cars powered solely by gravity. The numerics denote the gravitational acceleration of the Earth, which is 9.81 mph2.
The skill of steering the kart takes precedence over speed in this fascinating racing experience, and the Hallasan mountain provides a perfect backdrop to this 140,000 sq m track.
K-Pop celebrity-owned cafés
A number of K-pop music videos were shot around Jeju, and there is no shortage of enthusiastic fans taking selfies and group photos in the iconic places where their favourite stars were seen singing and dancing.
Its only natural that the stars themselves have capitalised by opening cafés utilising their brand.
For instance, G-Dragon of Big Bang owns the Café Mõnsant de Aewol, and one of the newest on the island, Café Gongbech, is known as the BTS café as it is owned by the brother of BTS member Suga.
Both cafes have vast floor-to-ceiling glass walls and viewing decks or balconies overlooking the sea.
These cafés often resemble places that have been set up with the best interests of Instagrammers at heart.
I returned to Malaysia completely rejuvenated. The wonders of nature will never cease to amaze, and their restorative effects on human beings are eternal.
Jeju is one destination that I am already itching to revisit, and I can’t wait till I’m back there again.