by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, September 28, 2017
What’s the busiest air route in the world? New York to Washington DC? London to Paris?
The correct answer will surprise you. The most in-demand flight on Earth is actually the 280-mile hop from Seoul Gimpo International (stop sniggering) to Jeju International. More than 1.28 million passengers made the trip between the two South Korean airports in July, the website Routesonline.com reports, almost double its nearest rival.
Second on its list is Sapporo-Tokyo Haneda, with 688,394. New York-Washington DC and London-Paris don’t even make the top 20. In fact, only two of the top 20 routes doesn't feature an Asian city.
A quick search on Skyscanner shows the planes bound for Jeju depart Seoul Gimpo with unerring regularity. Fancy going there on Monday morning? You could catch the 0610 service, the 0620, the 0625, the 0640, the 0655...
More than 26 million passenger use Jeju International each year - that’s more than any UK airport bar Gatwick and Heathrow.
So what the devil is Jeju, and why are so many rushing to see it?
It’s actually the capital of an island, Jejudo, which might just be the most popular holiday destination you’ve never heard of.
Unesco-listed, and billed as South Korea’s answer to Hawaii, it's pure Instagram gold, and home to dramatic volcanic landscapes, underground caves, hiking trails and scenic beaches.
Halla Mountain, at 1,940m above sea level, is South Korea’s highest peak, while the cone of Seongsan Ilchulbong, or “Sunrise Peak”, is particularly spectacular.
In 2011 Jejudo was named among the "New7Wonders of Nature”, though there were accusations that its selection was down not just to its beauty, but also the readiness of tourism or marketing organisations to stump up cash – including taxpayers' money – to support its campaign.
There are also casinos, which help lure tourists from China, and, thanks to the island’s self-governing status, anyone can visit without a visa.
Bizarrely, there’s also a sex-themed park, Jeju Love Land, which features phallus statues, interactive exhibits on the “masterbation cycle”, and other sculptures of humans in flagrante. Love Land is said to owe its existence to Jejudo’s popularity as a honeymoon destination. Young newlyweds would arrive knowing next to nothing about the birds and the bees so some hotel employees offered to share their expertise. The island soon became an unofficial centre for sex education, making the theme park entirely logical.
But Jejudo also has a dark side. In 1948 and 1949, the South Korean government brutally put down an attempted uprising on the island. Villagers, including women and children, were massacred, and as recently as 2008 mass graves were still being uncovered. Some 30,000 people died as a result of the uprising, with a further 40,000 fleeing to Japan, and the atrocities are remembered at the 4.3 Peace Park memorial.
Fancy discovering Jeju for yourself? UK tour operator Cox & Kings can put together an itinerary.