When I came to Korea and started traveling around South East Asia, I made a pact with myself: I would ensure that I went to all 9 of Korea’s provinces at least once. I didn’t want to be one of those people- you know the ones who have been around the world yet, they have not explored the place where they live! Last weekend I decided to visit one of outstanding three provinces on my list. Faraaz and I headed for JeollaBuk province and found ourselves in the city of Jeonju.
Jeonju is the capital of North Jeolla province but it could not be more different from the country’s capital, Seoul. Seoul for the most part is fun and exciting. There is always something going on and no matter what time of night or day things are always open but; it is in no way beautiful. In fact… Seoul is an ugly city. It’s dirty, it’s loud, the smell reminds me of the outhouses at a music festival and the architecture looks like it was modeled after prisons. The neon is to a degree that would make Las Vegas stand up and say, “Hey, uh, guys, you think you might want to tone it down a bit?” It’s a city built around the idea of convenience and it is certainly that. You can get anything you want before you even know that you want it.
But Jeonju… well Jeonju was just great; it had personality. There were actual trees, not just ones that they put in the ground for the summer and then load up for the cold harsh winter and store in a warehouse. Jeonju is exactly what I’d hoped to find myself living in when I came to Korea. Before I left South Africa in 2010 I did a little bit of research and looked at enough photo’s to know that Seoul was a sea of concrete and smog but in my mind I thought, if only I can find a place like this, a place with old buildings and older streets to get lost and explore then… everything will be okay. Well, sadly when I arrived I quickly learned that these places don’t really exist anymore and if they do they’re just really for tourists. It’s hard to find a place here that’s really scenic and nice but Jeonju was the real deal. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover somewhere so sweet and well-preserved.
Now on to our day trip!
First stop in Jeonju: The Hanok Village (Hanok Maeul)
Jeonju hanok village is a traditional style village, surrounded by a fence, near the city’s downtown core. At first, inhabitants of the hanok village were not allowed to renovate their homes, but these rules have since become more relaxed. However, very few changes are made to the outsides of the house, and they all sport the traditional, ceramic-tiled roofs. Jeonju Hanok Village is a lot bigger than Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul and there are full of things to see and experience like Hanji crafts, traditional knot-tying, fans, pendants, sot-daes, totem poles, Jiseung plates, porcelains, rubbings, natural dyes, woodcuts, woodcraft, pungmul, tea ceremonies, postcard writing, etc.
Faraaz and I loved walking hand in hand down old brick streets and alley’s lined with traditional Korean houses. A hanok is a wooden structure that people all over the country used to live in until they were burned through various wars and torn down to make way for modernization once the people here got a lust for sky rises and faux bakeries. Winding our way down the cobbled streets we felt so happy not be surrounded by grey monolithic apartments and bombarded with neon advertisements. Jeonju was just quiet, clean, colourful, and….exactly the place I wished Korea would have been when I left home. Some places we visited at the Hanok Village:
1. Jeondong Cathedral – It was established to uphold the precious will of the first Korean martyr, and is known as the most beautiful Catholic church in Korea.
2. Pungnam Gate – This is the most prominent cultural asset of Jeonju, which used to be one the four gates of Jeonju city.
3. Gyeonggijeon – It is a historic site in Jeonju, which was built to enshrine the royal portrait of Taejo Seonggae Lee, the king that found the Joseon dynasty.
Just being at the Hanokmaeul made our trip already worth it. You wouldn’t believe that this place was in the heart of the city. The serenity of the place, the convergence of tradition and modernity and the richness of culture preserved made the visit to the province worth remembering.
Next stop in Jeonju: Deokjin Park
Deokjin Park is filled with white and pink-colored lotuses, providing beautiful scenery for visitors. They had a big lake there where you could ride these cute pedal boats!
Jeonju was a scenic and well worth trip.
I only wish I could’ve lived there or discovered it sooner. I have no idea why it isn’t publicized as well as other Korean cities like Busan/Gwangju when it’s far more stunning & peaceful than the other cities. But I guess someone could say that there is nothing much one can do in Jeonju, because its a small city when compared with the other major cities in Korea. It’s not a busy, modern and glamorous city like Seoul or Incheon. This city’s attractions are limited. But it’s a great place for experiencing diverse attractions. If you are going to visit its major attractions, one or two days would be enough, making it the perfect weekend getaway.
Jeonju is a major transportation hub, so getting there doesn’t present much of a problem. The quickest way is to take the KTX from Seoul’s Yongsan Station to Iksan, and transfer to another train to Jeonju. The trip takes about 2 hours, 30 minutes in total. There are cheaper trains that go directly to Jeonju from Yongsan, but they’re much slower and they tend to fill up on the weekends.
We took an intercity bus from Cheonan (no stops) which costs 9,800 won per person. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes.
There are plenty of English-speaking tourist information booths in Jeonju so don’t worry about planning your trip too heavily beforehand. Also, Jeonju is a small city and it’s possible to take cabs to all the tourist attractions as they are close to one another.
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