With a volcanic crater to see and two folk villages to explore, rural Route 97 – also known as the East Tourist Road – is a delightful way to cut through Jeju’s interior. All three attractions can be visited on a day-trip from Jeju City, or as part of a journey between the capital and Seogwipo on the south coast, though it pays to start reasonably early.
Heading south from Jeju City on Route 97, the first place worth stopping is Sangumburi (산굼부리), one of Jeju’s many volcanic craters; possibly its most impressive, certainly its most accessible, though currently the only one you have to pay to visit. Hole lovers should note that this particular type is known as a Marr crater, as it was produced by an explosion in a generally flat area. One can only imagine how big an explosion it must have been – the crater, 2km in circumference and 132m deep, is larger than Hallasan’s. A short climb to the top affords sweeping views of some very unspoilt Jejanese terrain; peaks rise in all directions, with Hallasan 20km to the southwest, though not always visible. The two obvious temptations are to walk into or around the rim, but you must refrain from doing so in order to protect the crater’s wildlife – deer and badgers are among the species that live in Sangumburi. Consequently there’s not an awful lot to do here, though there’s a small art gallery on site.
Seong-eup Folk Village
A twenty-minute bus ride south of Sangumburi brings you to dusty Seong-eup Folk Village (성읍 민속 마을), a functioning community living in traditional Jeju-style housing, where you’re free to wander among the thatch-roofed houses at will; the residents, given financial assistance by the government, are long used to curious visitors nosing around their yards. Here you’ll see life carrying on as if nothing had changed in decades – farmers going about their business and children playing while crops sway in the breeze. Most visitors spend a couple of pleasant hours here, and if you’re lucky you’ll run into one of the few English-speaking villagers, who act as guides.
Jeju Folk Village and around
Route 97 buses terminate near the coast at the Jeju Folk Village (제주 민속 마을). This coastal clutch of traditional Jeju buildings may be artificial, but provides an excellent complement to the Seong-eup village to its north. Information boards explain the layout and structures of the buildings, as well as telling you what the townsfolk used to get up to before selling tea and baggy orange pants to tourists. The differences between dwellings on different parts of the island are subtle but interesting – the island’s southerners, for example, entwined ropes outside their door with red peppers if a boy had been born into their house.