For those sweeping, bold sunrises that make Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ilchulbong) on Jeju Island, South Korea so famous, you’ll want to stay as close as you can so you can walk over at the crack of dawn. And if you’re looking for the best budget hotel in the area, we found just the stuff.
English hagwon (private school) teachers in Jeju Island, South Korea live simple lives: day in and day out we dote over the cutest Korean children with the smooshiest of cheeks, eating sour and spicy and chewy things, humbly accepting gifts from the parents and our bosses—and almost never, ever getting days off. Yes, there’s so much to do on Jeju, such as climb Hallasan Mountain, the highest point of South Korea, visit one of its many beaches, such as Sagye Beach, Iho Beach, or this Hidden Beach, pick some of the famous Jeju tangerines, visit the O’Sulloc Tea Plantations, or enjoy the stunning Korean cherry blossom trees. But we only really have the time to explore these places on the weekend. This is why we so energetically accept government holidays like famished kittens accept a droplet of milk—even a single day to kickback feels like a luxury.
So, when we learned we had a surprise 4-day weekend in the beginning of May over the Korean holiday known as Children’s Day, we thought it’d be a phenomenal time to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the icons of the beautiful island we live on—a crater that emerged from the depths of the ocean during a volcanic eruption a mere 100,000 or so years ago known as Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ilchulbong).
The ‘Hood of Sunrise Peak
A popular place to view the rising sun (as its name suggests), Sunrise Peak attracts tons of tourists each year who come to admire the spectacle: a glowing orb rising through the sea mist above the peak of the vibrant green crater. It would be difficult to be able to get to the peak in time to see the sunrise if we spent the night at our apartment in Jeju City. So, we opted for a budget staycation, scoping Agoda and booking one night at the Yellow Submarine Guesthouse in Seongsan-ri. Seongsan-ri is a small town on Jeju Island located right at the base of the peak—you can’t stay any closer than that!
The great location and affordability of the Yellow Submarine Guesthouse made it an easy choice. Upon arrival, we delighted to find the guesthouse centrally placed off of Seongsan-ri’s main street, a hop and a skip from the ocean, a mere 2-minute walk from the bus stop, and a 5-minute walk to the entrance of the Sunrise Peak park.
Easy to find with an English sign guiding the way, the Yellow Submarine Guesthouse is conveniently located close to 24-hour convenience stores and restaurants, including a delicious fish and chips eatery. The guesthouse has private rooms and dorms available—for our early start we decided on the comfort and privacy of a private room. Our view from the room’s window included a view of the ocean and Sunrise Peak, a lovely preview of Jeju Island’s icon before we climbed it ourselves.
Checking in to the Yellow Submarine Guesthouse
Checking in to the hotel could be a little confusing, as we couldn’t see any clearly marked front desk—at least not anything we could see in English. Luckily for us, an employee noticed us standing there and helped us check in with our handy Agoda print-out, telling us our room code. There are no keys to the room, only a high-tech electronic keypad. These are very common throughout Korea—just don’t forget the code!
This magical code opened for us a fairly spacious room, with a bathroom and kitchen—not bad for budget accommodation. The kitchen held a working refrigerator, an off-limits sink, ample cabinets, and a stove, which we didn’t need and thus didn’t test to see if it was operating.
The bathroom was clean, and as with most bathrooms in Korean hotels, had no separate shower. The sink and the shower both drain directly into the floor drain, as you’re wont to see in Korea, so wearing slippers into the post-showered bathroom is a must as you do your unspeakable business, unless you want very wet feet.
The main area of the room comes with a bed sized for two and hardened to typical Korean standards. In case you weren’t aware, beds in Korea are almost always notably harder than Westerners are used to—we manage fine, but many waygooks who move to Korea end up buying a mattress topper to fix it more to their taste. The room comes additionally equipped with its own internet router with fantastic free WiFi (South Korea does have some of the best ubiquitous WiFi we’ve ever come across), a hair-dryer, a working air conditioner and a flat screen TV. The room also comes with an enclose-able balcony with a washing machine and a hanging drying rack.
The Walk to Sunrise Peak
We took in our new nightly Jeju Island digs, stocked up on snacks and drinks at one of the nearby convenience stores for our early rise the next day, and snuggled up to get some sleep before our early wake-up call for Sunrise Peak.
Crack of dawn alarm at 4 AM and a canned iced coffee later, we made our way to Sunrise Peak. An easy breezy 5-minute walk to the base of the peak—actually, very breezy, so breezy that Lauren, decked in two layers of sweaters, was still freezing—and we began to make our ascent, which took about 30 minutes.
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Back for Breakfast
After a beautiful sunrise from the famed peak, we explored some of the stunning black sand shore nearby then made our way back down to snag some food at the guesthouse. The Yellow Submarine Guesthouse provides complimentary breakfast in a detached building—a great snack for us after we went to the peak. There are several types of instant ramen available, as well as toast, kimchi, and eggs. We also noticed a BBQ area between the main building and the kitchen/desk building, if you fancied bringing some meat and gettin’ to cookin’!
Getting to Seongsan-ri is easy from either Jeju-si or Seogwipo.
From Jeju-si Intercity Bus Terminal: Take the 701 or 710 bus. The 701 leaves every 15-20 minutes starting from 5:40 AM until 9 PM . The 710 bus leaves every 25-30 minutes starting from 6:15 AM until 9 PM. The 701 is the eastbound coastal route, and is a bit longer than the 710 bus because it makes many stops at coastal villages on the way. The 701 bus ride takes about one and a half hours, and the 710 ride about an hour and five minutes. Either bus ride will be scenic, as Jeju is beautiful no matter where you go!
From Seogwipo: The easiest way is to catch an eastbound 701 bus heading to Seongsan. You can get the bus from Seogwipo Intercity Bus Terminal or Dongmun Rotary in downtown Seogwipo.
The buses make several stops in Seongsan-ri, but we got off at the stop 성산리 취락구조to get to the guesthouse. The guesthouse was a 2-minute walk right around the corner from this stop. This stop isn’t announced in English, but if you can’t figure out which stop it is it’s no problem! Seongsan-ri is a small town, and even if you get off a few stops after or before this stop you shouldn’t have trouble finding the guesthouse. Make sure you plug the guesthouse’s address into your phone so you can use the maps app of your choosing to help you find its exact location.
The Yellow Submarine Guesthouse on Jeju Island fulfilled everything we had looked for in picking a place to stay. It was close to Sunrise Peak, easy to find, and affordable. It is not the fanciest place, but for prices as low as $13 for a dorm bed with breakfast included, it is a perfect place to crash if you’re looking to spend one night to catch the sunrise!
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Yellow Submarine Guesthouse: 220-5 Seongsan-ri, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo, Jeju-do, South Korea
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