South Korea: Jeju Island Driving Tips and Experiences

There are only mainly three travel options for free-and-easy tours in Jeju-do: Taking public buses/taxis, hire a tour guide/driver or to self-drive.

The first option was out for us as public buses in Jeju Island are infrequent and may not bring us to the destinations we want. That leaves us with the last 2 options.

Since I already have ample experiences driving in countries like Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Malaysia (Langkawi), Thailand (Koh Samui) and USA, the self-drive option is certainly the better of the two. We will have more freedom and control over our itinerary and will be more at ease without the presence of strangers. Furthermore, having an additional tour guide and/or drive would mean we will need a bigger vehicle since we are travelling in a group of 6. 

With that decided, let’s see what are the preparations that need to be done prior to the trip:

BEFORE THE TRIP

1. IDP (International Driving Permit)

An IDP (International Driving Permit) is mandatory to drive in South Korea as a foreigner. The car rental company will request for this document before you will be able to pick up your car.

You will need to get your IDP from the Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS) (if you hold a Singapore driving license).

You may opt to apply it online or go to one of their offices to apply over the counter. Applying online saves all the hassle and although the site claims that it could take up to 10 working days to receive the IDP, I got mine within a week.

Remember that even with the IDP, it is advisable to bring along your driving license along for your trip too, in case of any discrepancy.

2. Renting the Car

After reading reviews online, we decided to rent our car from LOTTE Rent-a-car (now owned by HERTZ) for its large car fleet and good customer service.

We would strongly encourage you to sign up for a free account on a site to receive significant discounts before renting a car. The savings is quite substantial compared to non-members.

After you select the date and time of your pick-up and return, you will be able to select the brand and model of the car you wish to rent. We would advise you to rent a bigger vehicle. The reason is to accommodate for the space that will be taken up by your luggage since you will probably need to drive your vehicle to your lodging first, before unloading all your baggage. We chose a KIA Sorento (7-seater) and had some difficulty initially to fit in all our luggage and passengers.

Next, you can choose the add-on(s) for your rental. I do not think it’s necessary to check the Navigation options since the GPS is already included with the car and it is a standard package with the rental. For us, we added both an Infant Car Seat and a Booster Seat for our children.

Note that all their rental cars are of Automatic Transmission so there’s no need to specifically request for one.

Remember to bring along the same credit card you made the reservation for your trip! The staff will require that for verification and payment.

Once you have completed the reservation, you will be good to go!

DURING THE TRIP

1. Picking Up the Car

Note that the pick-up point for your rental car is not situated at the Jeju International Airport itself. Instead, it is located at the Lotte Rent-a-car office about a 15-minute ride from the airport. Fortunately, you will be able to travel to and fro conveniently with their free shuttle buses.

Upon arrival at the airport, head to the HERTZ counter and show the staff at the counter your reservation confirmation slip. Upon confirmation, she will hand you a small slip of paper on where to get on the shuttle bus to their office to pick up your car.Head out the Gate to cross the road and follow the sign towards the Car Rental Building. Once there, look for the Bus Stop Number on the slip (Bus Stop 9) to board the shuttle bus. Make sure it’s a Lotte bus and not a bus belonging to other car rental companies. There will be staff to help load your luggage into the bus’ cargo compartment

Upon arriving at the Lotte-Rent-A-Car office, get a queue number and wait for your turn. It should not be longer before your number is called and you just need to go through the verification and registration process, which should take you around 10 minutes.

Once done, approach one of the staff standing near the exit and they will guide you to your vehicle.

Just as any other car renting procedures, perform a visual inspection of your vehicle to ensure everything looked fine. Clarify any obvious dents and damages to avoid any discrepancies later on.

The staff would then guide you on how to operate the GPS. Basically, everything is in Korean except for the guidance voice is in English. Make sure the staff has set all these up correctly.

To get to a destination, the easiest way will be to enter its 7-digit telephone number, usually starting with the number ‘7’ (e.g. 7XXXXX for Lotte Rent-a-car office). There is an option to enter the destination in Korean, which will come handy when you are unable to locate your destination using the telephone number. There is also an option to key in the destination in English but most of the places of interests are not searchable in this way. We only managed to use it to locate the nearest fast food outlet (e.g. by entering ‘Lotteria’, a Korean fast food chain).

Once you are clear about the car and GPS controls, you are good to go! Remember to keep the Lotte Rent-a-car’s number handy for emergencies and to be able to return here using your GPS!

2. Getting Used to the Car and Driving Around

If you are already used to Right-Hand Driving (RHD) (i.e. placement of driver seat is on the right side of the vehicle) such as when driving in many countries in Asia, it may take a while to get used to Left-Hand Driving (LHD) in South Korea.

Before driving off after getting your rental car, make sure to get familiar with the vehicle’s common controls (when in doubt, check with the rental company on the spot). Controls such as turning signals are now on the left of the steering wheel and wiper controls on the right, so it does need a little getting used to. Also figure out the controls for headlights and air-conditioning.

There are many traffic junctions and speed cameras in Jeju, so you need to be very familiar with these two things when driving there.

For traffic lights, they are similar to those from other countries, with the exception that there are some traffic junctions with two blinking amber lights. That means you may proceed through the junction with caution and self-judgment.

For speed cameras, there are plenty of them all over Jeju, so watch out for the signs indicating the speed limits and that speed cameras are present. Fortunately, the GPS will alert you whenever you are 500 metres from the next speed camera, and what is the speed limit. Just observe the limits and drive under that till you pass the camera.

3. Booster/Child Safety Seat

If your passenger(s) consist of child(ren) under the height of 1.35cm, please ensure that the suitable child safety seat(s) or booster seats is/are present in the rental car, by including these add-on when making reservations for your car. Although in Jeju, these traffic laws may not be strictly enforced, these measures are highly recommended for your child(ren)’s safety. This is especially so when there are many drivers on rental vehicles on the road.

child car seat

4. Petrol

There are many petrol kiosks along the roads with staff manning there, so there should not be any difficulty in topping up your petrol.

We had only needed one top-up at the end of our 4-day road trip because we needed to return the car with full tank.

5. Parking

Most parking lots are free of charge, with the only chargeable parking lots encountered at Mt. Hallasan and in the towns’ parking garages.

At popular places of interests such as O’sulloc Green Tea Museum and Seogwipo Olle Market, you may face difficulty finding empty lots at the nearest car park, though there are usually alternative car parks to park your car at.

In smaller towns such as Jungmun, we had to perform parallel parking along the roadside as there was no car parks available. 

6. Navigating Using the GPS

As mentioned in Section 1 above, the GPS is in Korean and the easiest way to enter your destination is via the location’s telephone number. However, do not expect your car rental company to provide a list of numbers for you. You will have to do your homework and note down all the important numbers before your trip.

Below are the GPS numbers which we have used and verified working during our trip:

  • Lotte Rent-a-car: 7518000
  • Myeongjinjeonbok (명진전복) (for Abalone Dolsotbap): 7829944
  • Manjanggul Lava Tube (aka Manjanggul Cave) (만장굴): 7834818
  • Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak (aka Sunrise Peak) (성산일출봉): 7830959
  • Jungmun Resort (중문관광단지): 7311000 or 7311100
  • Hallasan National Park (Yeongsil Trail) (한라산 영실): 7479950
  • Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market (서귀포매일올레시장): 7622925
  • Jeongbang Falls (정방폭포): 7331530
  • O’sulloc Green Tea Museum (오설록티뮤지엄): 7945312
  • World Automobile Jeju Museum: 7923000

I would advise performing the following two additional checks after entering the GPS number:

(1) Double check that the Korean words of the destination closely match the name of the destination.

(2) Check the map to make sure the location destination appears to be where it should be.

We had one occasion where we trusted the telephone number for Woljeongri Beach (월정리 해수욕장) was correct and blindly followed the GPS, only to realize that it brought us into a town instead of the beach. Since then, we would perform the above two checks for each destination we head to.

7. What to Bring Along

These were some of the essential stuff that we brought along for our road trips:

Bottled drinking water: We would fill up our water bottles with boiled water from the Guesthouse and bring along bottled drinking water (was supplied by our host) to place in the car since we are out almost the entire day. We also like to buy bottled drinks such as fruit juices from the convenience stores (CU) and bring them along.

Neck pillows: Very useful for the passengers to ensure our necks are rested and comfortable, especially when our times on the road were usually long.

Sweets and Snacks: Important when we were feeling hungry in the car or just wanted something to keep our mouths occupied. It was essential to keep the driver (me!) awake too. When our toddler got restless, the snacks kept her occupied and took her mind off the long journey.

Motion sickness medication: Especially when any of the passengers is prone to motion sickness. Note that some medication has to be taken before the person starts experiencing motion sickness.

Printed/Screenshot maps of destination and surroundings: Could be helpful as GPS and google maps can only do that much some times…