Though I've lived in Jeollanam-do, South Jeolla province, for over three years, until Saturday I had never visited the capital of Jeollabuk-do. On the blog I've joked a few times that no good news ever comes out of Jeonju (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and indeed I've never really heard anything good said about the city, so my fiance and I just made the trip to try some of the famed bibimbap, a local specialty. We figured we'd spend a few hours wandering around just to justify the eighty-minute bus trip. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the city, had a wonderful time, and hope to go again. Actually, by budgeting only a few hours, we ended up wishing we had more time. Special thanks to Mark of The Jeonju Hub for recommendations on how to spend the afternoon.
The first thing we did was eat bibimbap, the local specialty.
We ate at the restaurant across from Jeongdong Cathedral. We were hungry and it was good. The owner of this restaurant was very friendly and tried to make conversation as she refilled our side dishes.
I've always rolled my eyes at this "famous" business, especially being famous for something so ubiquitous as bibimbap. Every village, town, and city is "famous" for a bunch of things, but usually "famous" can be better translated to "has ____ here." A particular village isn't "famous" for peaches or persimmon, it just happens to grow them there. Nonetheless, here's what the government homepage has to say about it:
Named as one of the three greatest Joseon foods, along with Pyeongyang Naengmyeon (cold noodles) and Gaeseong Tangban (soup served with rice), Jeonju Bibimbap uses over 30 ingredients, including bean sprouts, Hwangpo jelly, glutinous rice, and hot paste to provide abundant and well-balanced nutritional value. This is a not-to-be-missed local dish.
Across the street is Jeongdong Cathedral (정동성당), nearly a hundred years old.
This informative Marmot's Hole post has plenty more pictures.
We were headed toward the Hanok Village, but stuff kept getting in our way. A better way to say it is that lots of points of interest were right next to each other. The road to the Hanok Village is lined with shops and flowers, and just beyond the cathedral is Gyeonggijeon Portrait Shrine, which we skipped. Out front is a small tourist information booth, with maps in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. It helps to pick up a Korean map in addition to your English one, should you need to stop for directions.
There's a shop where you can make a teddy bear, a traditional Korean handicraft. Here's the shop's website.
It would have been a lot more punny were the bear white.
There's a Hanjeongsik restaurant nearby; hanjeongsik is on the schedule for the next trip. The government webpage again:
Served with 12~13 side dishes in organic tableware, this dish represents the traditional Korean meal. Another not-to-be-missed flavor of Jeonju.
When you turn left off of Taejo-ro and onto Suldoga-gil you'll find a cute pedestrian street lined with handicraft vendors and restored homes.
The traditional Korean music playing quietly over the speakers was a nice touch. A mild annoyance with historical sites is when you're wandering along to the sounds of Wagner, Beatles, or Aqua. Oh, and this is probably the largest dog I've ever seen in Korea:
To the left and right, and indeed for several blocks in all directions, are hanok. The government homepage is of little help here, though there is another official site for the Hanok Village (한옥마을). Here's what the Korean Tourism Organization has to say:
Jeonju Hanok Village is located in the city of Jeonju and overlaps Pungnam-dong and Gyo-dong. There are over 800 traditional Korean 'hanok' houses. While the rest of city has been industrialized, Hanok Maeul retains its historical charms and traditions.
Jeonju Hanok village is especially beautiful for its roof curves. The roof edges being slightly raised to the sky is unique. Hanok houses are generally divided into two sections, Anchae and Sarangchae. Anchae is also known as Gyusu room, and is furnished accordingly. Sarangchae is where the men dwell, and is referred to as the Seonbi room. Because men and women have to remain separate, Anchae is situated deep inside the house so that it is secretive and quiet.
Another trait of Hanok is that all the houses are heated with the ondol system, a unique sub-flooring heating system. Since Koreans enjoy sitting, eating, and sleping on the floor, it needs to remain heated. A part of Hanok has been set aside so that tourists can experience traditional Korean life, called Hanok Life Experience Hall. You can enter the Seonbi room and the Gyusu room to experience the warm floor first-hand. An advantage of this system is that it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The food provided is very traditional, which adds to the traditional ambience. At Jeonju Hanok Village visitors can enjoy traditional Korean life and traditional foods like bibimbap, the most well known dish from the Jeonju region.
Well, to be honest none of the descriptions I subsequently read on the internet would move me to visit. That's often the case, though the national government has a nicer description here. But I like what another blogger had to say about Nagan Folk Village, a settlement several centuries older in Suncheon, that I'll apply it here:
This place impressed me on several levels. Part museum, part artists' colony, and part time machine, this historic, inhabited fortress town is an ideal destination for those of us who adore travel but are easily bored by museums and standard touristy fare.
The Korean counterpart to Western Renaissance Fairs, folk villages are communities dedicated to preserving and perpetuating traditional customs and craftsmanship. The village at Nagan is exceptional in that it is housed inside a Chosun-era walled fortress, which in itself is a formidable historic landmark.
The Hanok Village in Jeonju isn't surrounded by a wall, but there are historical sites all over the place. And like the homes in Suncheon's folk village, many of the hanok open their doors as sukbak to overnight guests. The vendors set up along Sudolga-gil will have flyers about the available homes, and you can browse them first via this website, in Korean. Unlike the folk village in Suncheon, though, guests have a chance to try different activities. Each home includes an "experience" session, such as preparing tea or making bibimbap. These sessions are also available for smaller periods; for example:
Here are a few pictures taken while wandering through the alleys.
Here's a 600-year-old gingko tree that stands 16 meters high and gives Eunhaeng-ro its name.
Jeonju has a lot of terrifying spiders.
Here are a couple views of the Hanok Village from Omokdae, located on a hillside to the southwest. First looking at the southern half, then to the north:
Also near Hanok Village, a short block from Jeongdong Cathedral, is Pungnammun (Pungnam Gate, 풍남문).
The official Jeonju page describes this historical site as only an official Korean government page can describe a historical site.
Believed to have been built in the 44th year of King Youngjo of the Joseon Dynasty (1768).
Double pavilion with 8 layered roof, standing on Hongyemun Gate built on part of the fortress wall.
The 1st floor has 3 kan of length and width, while the 2nd floor has 3 kan of length, 1 kan of width. In the front and rear on the inside of the 1st floor, there are 4 old pillars, reaching to the 2nd floor, thereby also supporting as pillars on the 2nd floor.
This is not a usual arrangement of pillars in the Korean construction style of gate pavilions.
Like a house with "Jusimpo," "Gongpo" is only on the pillars, but the overall structure follows the trend of a house with "Dapo." "Soesu" also follows the construction style of a house with "Dapo." The carvings of dragon head on the pillars and under the "Gongpo" in the middle of the front and back of the 1st floor are examples of decoration carvings which are characteristic of the late Chosun dynasty. (representation of old profile after the rebuilding in 1980)
One area that was far below expecations was "Chinatown," about a twenty-five minute walk from the village. There was a gate.
And one Chinese restaurant a block away.
Please tell me I missed something. A few other pictures, starting with a "Cake & Cake" shop.
KFC went to a lot of effort for an order of one Egg Tart.
And it didn't show up too well on film, but Jeonju has a neat shopping district known as "Gaeksa," named after a local historical site, and the map I picked up calls it "Street that is desired to walk." It's a few minutes from "Chinatown" and ten or fifteen minutes from Pungnammun.
If you visit Jeonju, you can take a taxi to Jeongdong Cathedral from either of the two bus terminals---they're 300 meters apart---for roughly 4,500 won. Though the tourism websites said to try buses 211, 221, 231, 241, 251, and 291, we didn't see any of them stopping near the bus terminals. A woman working at a convenience store said to try bus 5-1, but we decided not to risk getting lost. Perhaps someone in the city can clarify which buses to take to get down there?
In any case, I recommend spending a day or two in Jeonju if you live in the area. And even if you don't. I read about people looking to spend a weekend in Gwangju, and I try to discourage them from doing so whenever possible because while it's a pleasant enough place, there is simply very little worth coming for. I've suggested Suncheon as an alternative, and I think I'll suggest Jeonju as well. I think if Gwangju insists on calling itself the Hub City of Asian Culture, it needs to work on first becoming the most interesting city in the Jeolla provinces.
Thank you for reading my essay.