Korea’s most exclusive resort curls along a beautiful beach west of Seogwipo, a place where expense-account tourists come from the mainland and abroad to play a few rounds of golf, shop for designer bags or relax in five-star pools in between business conventions. However, to write off JUNGMUN (중문) on account of this would be a mistake – the surrounding area has the island’s greatest and most varied concentration of sights, accessible on any budget, and can even credibly claim to possess the most distinctive temple, gallery and museum of Korea’s inexhaustible collection – all this shoehorned amid beaches, gardens and waterfalls.
Teddy Bear Museum
Teddy Bear Museum
Although it may sound like the epitome of Jeju tack, the Teddy Bear Museum (테디베어 박물관) impresses even its most sceptical visitors. The main building is filled with floors of bears, but the diorama room is the museum highlight, with furry depictions of historical events – one for every decade of the twentieth century. Moving backwards in time, you’ll see teddies bashing down the Berlin Wall and fighting in World War II. Then following on from the battle, what appears to be a roller-skating teddy Hitler races into view, though he’s soon revealed to be a teddy Charlie Chaplin. Other delights include a teddy Elvis, a “Teddycotta” Army, and a vision of what teddies may be up to in the year 2050, as well as a shop (no prizes for guessing what’s on sale here) and garden.
A few kilometres east of Jungmun, and best reached by taxi or bike, is the stunning temple of Yakcheonsa (약천사). Built in the 1990s, what it lacks in historical value it more than makes up for with its main building, a feast of intricate decoration despite its colossal size – the cavernous four-storey main hall is claimed to be the biggest in Asia, and is one of the most impressive in the country. The huge golden Buddha at the centre is best viewed from the encircling upper levels, which are themselves crowded with thousands of Buddhist figurines. Yet more (over five hundred, and all individually crafted) can be found in an exterior hall to the front of the complex; most are jovial (cheer up, no. 184) and many are individually interesting – take a look at no. 145’s disturbing party trick, if you can find him. The best time to visit is 7pm on a summer evening, when worshipping locals chant under the interior glow with their backs to the sunset. Insect and bird calls add extra resonance to the bell rings that mark the beginning of the service, while squid boats out at sea shine like fallen stars on the horizon.