WITH SPRING semester of 2020 officially coming to an end, I decided to take a much-needed break from the busy city. Having suffered through endless hours of online lectures, I began to dream about having an adventure far from the cause of my stress. I bought a one-way ticket to Jeju Island on impulse, a decision I would never regret. Obviously, there was no need to travel abroad when there was already so much to explore in my own country.
Samyang Black Sand Beach
The first place I visited was the Samyang Black Sand Beach in front of my lodging at Samyang-dong, which is only 20 minutes away from the airport. Despite passing through the Olleh Road 18 leading to the heart of Jeju-si, the neighborhood is less known due to its remote location from other tourist destinations. At first, it felt awkward to be all alone in an empty beach, but I soon came to love its serenity, and it even felt like I owned the place, at least for that moment. I wandered along the seashore with my earphones on, feeling the moist sea breeze through the air. The glittering black sand of basalt, which is what the beach is mainly known for, added to the exotic look of Samyang-dong. There were many small restaurants and cafés nearby, so I chose a café aptly named “Scone Store” for its freshly baked scones in multiple flavors. Enjoying the beautiful view of the sea, I decided to spend few more hours there, reviewing my itinerary for that day. Samyang Beach was the perfect place for me to organize my restless thoughts, which was all I needed after having a grueling semester.
O’ Sulloc Tea Museum
After I had brunch at the scone café, I left Jeju-si and travelled to Seogwipo-si by bus. Transportation is usually very inconvenient in Jeju, so I would recommend considering at least an hour whenever you need to travel to another destination. Seogwipo-si is known for the Seogwang Tea Garden, one of the biggest tea fields in Jeju, so it seemed like the entire place was blanketed in green. O’ Sulloc Tea Museum, the first tea museum in Korea, is located nearby, opening from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum aims to reinvigorate and spread traditional tea culture, so I was able to watch the way Sulloc Tea is roasted and brewed, taste different types of tea offered, and savor some of its best dessert sets including tea ice cream, O Fredo*, tea latte, and tea roll cake. I highly recommend you try at least one on your visit. After I left the museum, I went outside to capture the lush green of the tea field with my polaroid camera, and I also dropped by the Innisfree Jeju House next to the museum. Because Innisfree is famous for its cosmetics made out of Jeju’s natural ingredients such as volcanic pore, camellia, and green tea, it’s a great place to buy gifts for your friends.
After leaving the tea museum, I took a taxi to visit Camellia Hill nearby. Camellia tree grows only in a subtropical climate, and Jeju is one of the few places to see its flower in Korea. As one of the most visited botanical gardens with 30 years of history, Camellia Hill houses nearly 6,000 camellia trees imported from 80 different countries. As they usually bloom from January to April, the flowers had all wilted, but camellia trees in green were also stunning. The first flower that greeted me by the entrance was the hydrangea. The hydrangea is known for its ever-changing blooms, as it starts out as a white flower and turns blue in acidic soil and pink in soil rich in lime. Its pastel color matched well with the green camellia tree, bringing liveliness to the space. Next, I came across the glass conservatory with a greenhouse for wildflowers. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of variety, as they were mostly cultivating bigger hydrangea. I chose to skip some of the designated photo zones where people were already waiting in a long line. I particularly liked the Lightbulb Forest Path where the smell of evergreen trees provided me with a free phytoncide therapy. It was not very difficult to follow along the path, as the directions were indicated pretty clearly. Because there is no artificial lighting in the arboretum, the museum’s opening and closing hours differ from season to season. Luckily for me, because Camellia Hill closes at 6 p.m. from June to August, I was able to take my time with my visit.
Bon-te Museum and Bang-ju Church
To end the day on a good note, I chose to visit Bon-te Museum, built by the Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Ando Tadao. The gallery displays traditional Korean craftworks and some exquisite modern artworks, working in harmony to fully capture bon-te or an object’s “original form.” The first impression I received from the place was how spacious it was. While the museum is huge, Tadao’s signature “exposed concrete” walls made it look even bigger. Similar to his other works, the building had dark concrete walls with large windows stretching through the entire corridor, giving us a peek into Jeju’s scenery of Mt. Sanbang and its surrounding villages, which looked like miniature models in the distance. I loved how Tadao incorporated Jeju’s traditional walls and waterways into his design, as it gave the place both a folksy and modern impression at the same time. Although I only had two hours left to review all of the five galleries, I couldn’t take my eyes off the building’s design the entire time.
Speaking of the galleries, Gallery 1 was like walking inside a time capsule of Joseon’s cultural heritage, as it had wooden furniture like tray-tables and cabinet inlaid with mother-of-pearl, traditional patchwork bo-ja-gi, small ornaments, and traditional outfits of that era. Gallery 2 is dedicated to the contemporary art and structures of renowned artists like Dali, Picasso, and Baek Nam-joon. The distinct styles of the three artists stood out thanks to the museum’s simple interior. My favorite was Gallery 3 which is also popular among tourists for displaying the art of Kusama Yayoi, well-known for her polka-dot pattern and infinitely mirrored rooms. Upon entering the mirrored room, I felt like I was stepping into a small galaxy. It was like I was in a bubble, detached from my surroundings. Gallery 4 and 5 are usually reserved for special monthly exhibitions, which are explained in the museum’s website. Opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, the museum is absolutely worth the ₩20,000 entrance fee.
Next to Bon-te Museum is another masterpiece built by Tadao, Bang-ju Church, named after the exterior’s resemblance to Noah’s Ark. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with no entrance fee, and for anybody looking for a Sunday church service, they offer one twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
*O Fredo, a tea shake topped with tea ice cream, is one of O’ Sulloc’s signature menus.