Jeju Starlight World, Park and Planetarium, Jeju, South Korea
Fails to set the sky alight, but has potential
Story and photos by Jim Saunders
Jeju Starlight World, Park and Planetarium is a brand new attraction on the slopes of Hallasan, overlooking Jeju City. Three floors of space related matter (including a 4D theatre, a dome-shaped theatre and an array of high powered telescopes) make for a potentially thrilling experience. Unfortunately, some sheen is taken off a visit by poor planning and organization.
The poor planning is evident even before entering the building. Our taxi got stuck following the small access road to the front of the building where the driver was promptly shouted at by a member of staff for going that way despite no signage indicating a prohibited zone. This was further compounded by the fact that the roads leading up to Starlight World are large four lane affairs. The main parking lot is downhill from the building, accessed by a long, steep, winding path or equally long and steep staircase.
The poor organization continues upon entering the building, with a complete lack of fanfare to let you know that you’re actually entering a planetarium. Instead large amounts of sterile white and gray surfaces bathed in bright glaring lights lead you to feel it’s more like a hospital than anything else. A small counter heralds the ticket desk (with no English language provision). Wandering through the hall to the left of this desk (‘Space Odyssey’), you’ll find little else but the 4D theatre, which runs once every thirty minutes and shows a film unrelated to space.
Short on authentic exhibits from space
The educational exhibition, on the second floor, is a collection of multimedia-touch screens and gimmicky activities for children. Experience gravity on a selection of planets in a special chair (seemingly out of service when Jeju Life tried) or pilot toy Mars Rovers in one corner (parts were already falling off). Potentially redeeming features, such as the multimedia touch screens, while providing information in English about stars and star signs, suffered from translation errors. It was also disappointing that there are no authentic exhibits from space exploration, or even items from the recent Korean space program.
The dome-shaped theatre, which fares better, shows various space related films. Comfortable chairs recline almost 180 degrees allowing your gaze to filter up at the film projected onto the ceiling. Those with longer legs should be careful, however, not to get them crushed by the chair in front. If you are over about 5’2”, go for the first row. Park Chang Hyun, a P.h.d. holding astronomer and English language speaker, was on hand to tell us that films can be shown in English if demand is large enough (usually by reservation).
Telescopes for viewing
By further reservation (and by far, the highlight of a visit), are six (80-200mm) permanently sited high powered telescopes for night sky gazing in the sub-observatory along with the centerpiece telescope in the main observatory (600mm). With retractable roofs and darkened, quiet, interiors this is what a visit should be for. Yet thwarted by poor weather, the telescopes were not operating the night of Jeju Life’s visit. The very expensive equipment was, however, accessible to the public, and we cringed to see small children playing with them like toys. The staff seemed more intent on monitoring the 4-D glasses supply than guarding the real equipment.
Poor interior planning struck again as it was difficult to find these observatories. The sub-observatory is behind a rather normal grey door on a nondescript third-floor corridor. And to get to the main observatory from there, you have to scramble across the flat roof to another door which looks more like a fire escape. Later we found another way to get to the main observatory- down (yet another) nondescript corridor full of offices and seminar rooms. It’s as if Jeju Starlight is ashamed to show off its best attractions. There was a proper, grand granite spiral staircase leading to the observatory, but it was not the main access. It was as if two different architects designed the stairs and where to put them.
A lack of planning and organization also arose after watching one of the films in the dome-shaped theatre. It ended two minutes after the 4D-theatre showing started. Delaying the start of the 4D theatre by five minutes would have allowed the crowd to enter, instead of letting almost all of them file out of the main entrance to go home. It would be another hour before the 4D began again, with little else to do but wander the corridors. Though one thing to do while waiting is soak in the stunning night view of Jeju City, with an uninterrupted vista that stretches from Sin Jeju in the west to Samyang in the east. A large plaza features a sculptural solar system sunk into the brickwork, lit up at night.
Jeju Starlight World has the potential to be a worthy addition to the island’s attractions. However, in its current state, it falls well, well, short. Aforementioned poor planning and organization is compounded by children running amok and a lack of English language provision (despite the attraction being partially funded by the Jeju Free International City authorities).
Using the telescopes is by far and away the best reason (and really, possibly only reason) why you would want to visit Jeju Starlight World.
– Jeju Starlight World, Park and Planetarium is located up the 5.16 road, a short walk up from the main intersection that lead towards Cheju National University.
Take any bus going to Cheju National University and get off at the intersection as it pulls off the 5.16 route. Continue up the road on the right hand side. After walking for five minutes you’ll come across the entrance way to the park which is a further 800 metre walk to the building.
A taxi from City Hall should cost around 5,000 won (one way). Tell the driver, “제주 별빛누리공원”. The attraction has not organized a call taxi number for return, so it might be worth considering walking back to the main road.
– Open daily 3 – 11 p.m March-October; 2 – 10 p.m. November – February.
– Closed on Mondays
– Admission is free until June 2009. After that time an adult ticket will cost 5,000 won with gives admission to all attractions including the telescopes.
– Telephone: 064) 728-8900
– http://star.jejusi.go.kr/ (Korean language only)