I would like to say that we planned to go to Hyeopjae but the truth is, it wasn’t even on our radar. We were doing this whole Jeju Island thing blind; two non-spontaneous people fumbling their way around a last-minute destination. All we really wanted out of this trip was to relax, eat good food, hike, and spend all day at the beach.
We narrowed down our beach choices to Hamdeok (recommended to us by our trail buddies) and Hyeopjae (recommended by several online review sites). In the end we chose what we thought seemed like the smaller, less populated, closer-to-get-to-by-bus, beach.
I think we made the right choice.
Hyeopjae felt like a beach town, instantly recognizable even though it didn’t resemble any beach town I’ve ever visited. There were no boardwalks or cheesy gift shops selling painted hermit crabs or 3 for $10 tshirts. There weren’t any dark air conditioned video arcades or stands selling buckets of greasy french fries.
Instead there were brightly colored cargo container restaurants selling craft pops made from organic simple syrup, a farm-to-table Neapolitan style pizza place, and an unmarked coffee shop hidden in a dark warehouse-looking building. It was a Korean hipster beach paradise — and we loved it. After lunch at the pizza place, we popped into the nearest GS25 convenience store and purchased some beach snacks along with two $1 bottles of cold makgeolli and a couple paper cups to drink our tasty beverage.
We crossed the street and walked across the mesh tarp (secured to the sand so that you don’t get sand on your shoes) to the part of the beach where sand was allowed to be sand. For $10 we rented an umbrella (known as “parasols”) and a bamboo mat from an elderly lady who monitored the umbrella/mat situation like a hawk. Step one toe on a mat that wasn’t yours, even if you were sitting on the mat right next to it, and she would come over and show you who was boss. Luckily we never made this mistake, but others around us did. It was actually pretty badass to watch..
– Nobody wore swimsuits, not even children — everyone was completely covered — in layers — guys too. Victorians wore less clothing to the beach..
– We saw ONE Korean couple wear what us Westerners would think of as ‘regular’ beach attire: 2pc for the girl, trunks, no shirt for the guy. We thought for certain they were Korean-American, but they weren’t.
– People even went into the water with their shoes and socks on! We saw another lady wading in the water wearing wedge heels. This really confused me. I get wanting to cover up at the beach but aren’t your feet getting wet/dirty even when wearing socks and shoes? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to get your feet dirty instead of shoes? .
– Most people came to the beach to take pictures on the lava rocks in front of the island so the beach authorities put down a huge meshy sand=colored tarp that prevented the sand from getting on your shoes. Kind of an awesome idea, but also kind of defeated the purpose of going to a beach?
– The beach itself was pretty clean — no mysterious floating items and cigar butts floating about.
– Outside of Seoul we rarely ever see anyone who isn’t Korean. This beach had a pretty good mix of nationalities.
Our afternoon slipped away from us like most sunny days at the beach do. We got buzzed on makgeolli, polished off a few bags of chips (except for the spicy chicken corn pop chips — those were a bit too cap’n crunch like to eat as a savory snack), and when we got too hot we played around in the numbingly cold water. Mostly we slept under the cool shade of our umbrella, lulled by the white noise of children laughing and waves lapping at the seashore. I usually find it hard to lie all day in the sun, doing ‘nothing,” but I had no problems this time around. I fell into a deep, drooly, satisfying sleep more than once. Sly kept asking if I was ready to go but I kept saying, “just a bit longer.”
Eventually the tide went out and the sun started to sink lower on the horizon. We packed up our things and headed over to some sand dunes to watch the sunset. I became antsy and so we took a stroll along the lava rocks. Several people collected something (cockles? crabs? mussels?) from the tidal pools and stashed them in little sacks tied to their wastes. I peered into one of the pools and found frightened little crabs and snails but thankfully no sea roaches.
A few mosquito bites later we found ourselves in one of the only places that seemed open past 8pm — a Korean fast food chain restaurant – gulping down a plate of delicious Korean fried chicken followed by mango and acai bingsu from a dessert shop near the cargo container pension. With nothing much else open we caught one of the last buses back to Aewol and walked a couple chilly blocks through small farms and past a brightly decorated Buddhist temple to our hotel.
It was our last day in Jeju and a perfect day at the beach.
DETAILS | Hyeopjae Beach
HYEOPJAE BEACH | DESCRIPTION: Smaller, family friendly beach about 45 min (? by car) south of Jeju City. Cool hipster-ish beach town vibe with lots of trendy places to eat and stay. // AMENITIES: Free parking, bathroom facilities, and looked like you could also camp here? To rent a parasol and beach mat (approx $10), head to the end of the beach where all the umbrellas are and, if you aren’t approached by someone saying “parasol” then go inside the CU convenience store and ask.// GOOD FOR: those that like low key beaches, beach campers, day campers/grillers, families //VERDICT: As long as you don’t compare this beach to, say, those in Thailand, then you will love the white-sh sand, shallow turquoise waters, and island view to be a slice of paradise. The beach is smaller, crowded (but not annoyingly so) and beautiful. There are coffee shops and restaurants all around the little beach in case you don’t feel like having a full-on beach day. We really loved the beach but also the beach town. Next time we visit Jeju we want to stay in this part of the island. // NOTES: If you are visiting off-season — like a few days before June like we did, then keep in mind that not all the restaurants and shops will be open.
For a pretty dead-on (and entertaining) video of Hyeopjae that I found AFTER we visited Jeju.
DONATO’S PIZZA | COST: Inexpensive = Moderate // DESCRIPTION; Neapolitan oven-cooked pizza made with fresh ingredients on a thin crust. The menu is mostly pizza, salad, wine, and fresh squeezed orange juice. The owner of the restaurant speaks English very well. // VERDICT: So far the best pizza we’ve had in Korea, though kind of pricey at about $0 or so for a small pizza. The sauce tasted like roasted tomatoes, not sugar and tomatoes, and there wasn’t a kernel of corn in sight! When we were there the service was rather slow, especially given that we went at an off-time — some bread sticks or anything at all to nibble on would have been nice — but I would still recommend this place for the pizza, the vibe, and the friendly owner. // TIP: Order your pizza ahead of time/to go, then pick it up and eat it at the beach!
CONTAINER YARD HYEOP-JAE TOWN | DESCRIPTION: A cluster of shipping containers-turned-restaurants and shops including a Korean food restaurant container, a kind of hippie gift shop container, and the Craft Pops ice cream shop container. Across the street is CODE container house — a container house pension that you can rent on airBNB. We definitely want to stay here next time!
MANGOSIX | COST: Inexpensive // DESCRIPTION: Korean dessert cafe with lots of Bingsu options that have toppings like acai syrup and of course, mangoes. // VERDICT: Yum.
** all of the above places are located less than 5 minutes walking distance from one another. Find the beach parking/access to Hyeopjae and you will find everything else. “”