After a hearty meal of authentic Jeonju bibimbap, it was time to explore Jeonju, a city completely unlike the metropolis of Seoul. Jeonju is famous for several things, and not just it’s unique bibimbap; the beautiful flowers, Jeonju Hanji, Hansori and Hanchum, the ancient history, religious history, and its massive Hanok Village. Often known as the “one thousand year old city”, Jeonju is a city where the new and the old exist harmoniously, and has many fun and unique cultural things to see and do.
On our drive out from the huge capital city, it was really intriguing to see how the landscape of South Korea changed during the journey to Jeonju. As we travelled through different towns, you could see the vista becoming more and more rural, giving us a preview of a Korea outside of Seoul. A favourite moment of the bus journey was stopping at the road side services. In the UK, road services seem like one of the most boring places you could think of, there are toilets, WHSmiths, KFCs and coffee shops. But seeing one in Korea for the first time was so full of novelty value that everything was exciting; in fact their service stations just seemed to be tonnes of fun compared to our stop, eat and toilet break stops. There was even a lady rocking out on the guitar entertaining everyone – so awesome!
Upon arriving in Jeonju, you can immediately feel the vast difference from this city to Seoul. Bit of an obvious statement to those living in South Korea, but from a foreigners perspective, and having only ever seen Seoul, it was interesting to note all the differences between the capital and the rest of South Korea. The Hanok village itself is visually breathtaking. The streets are cobbled, hanoks everywhere, with water features and flowers galore. It’s like walking through a picture book.
The first stop on our tour of the Hanok Village was Omok-dae pavilion, a local monument. At this historical site, Yi Seong-Gye (who later became King Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty) stopped to rest and hold an evening party on the way to Gaegyeong after overpowering Japanese soldiers at Namwon Unbong Hwangsan. We had a beautiful tour guide take us around the area and she explained to us that this Pavilion is full of religious history, as it was especially commissioned by the King, during a time where Christianity was on the rise, as a way of keeping this beautiful area traditionally Korean. The Pavilion today is a calm and peaceful area, and there were many women in the pavilion having a bit of a chat and laugh. It seemed like this was the social place to be to catch up on all the gossip! Looking down the hill of the pavilion, you can see the whole of the Hanok Village below. Seeing the stretch of the Hanok village was breathtaking, it was MASSIVE and you could really admire the architecture. There were no tall sky scrapers, just a whole neighbourhood of intricate Hanok roof tops all gathered together.
After a short walk through the hills, and a bit more exploring around the delightful Hanok Village, we came to Jeon Dong Catholic Church. This visually imposing building stands just next to the entrance to the Hanok Village, and was built from 1907-1914. The site of the building is where the first Korean Catholic martyrs, Yun Ji Chung and Gwon Sang Yeon, were killed. The architecture of it is obviously very Western, which makes it stand out all the more in the Hanok Village. It’s a popular tourist destination for both the religious and atheists. Our guide told us this Church had been used in many Korean films as a back drop, but she couldn’t remember the names of the films! If you recognise this Church from a film, tell us!
Just near Jeon Dong Catholic Church is Gyeonggi-jeon, the “symbol of Jeonju Historic Village”. This Palace, built during the 10th year of King Taejong’s reign in 1410, was erected to show honour to the portrait of King Taejo commissioned after the founding of Joseon. Having several buildings dotted around, the Palace very spacious and beautiful. The architecture and colours were familiar after having visited Gyeongbokgung, but the surroundings and atmosphere was very different. Dotted around Gyeonggi-Jeon are several secrets. If you look closely at one of the main buildings, on the roof you’ll see some turtles carved into the wood. This was done by the carpenter as he wished that Gyeonggi-jeon would last for eternity after a few natural disasters. Gyeonggi-jeon is another very popular spot for filming dramas and films, so keep your eyes peeled for any familiar places!
Jeonju is also famous for it makgeolli, the traditional Korean rice wine. In fact, there’s even a street called ‘Makgeolli Street’ (막걸리 골목)! You’ll find if you order just one kettle (makgeolli is traditionally served in a kettle, and no we don’t mean a plug in electric one :P), you’ll find you get a whole array of side dishes served with it – all for the price of one kettle of makgeolli! The longer you stay, and the more makgeolli you order, the more side dishes you get. Sounds like a win-win situation! We also got to try the slightly less well known alcoholic drink from Jeonju, Moju. Moju is made from makgeolli with herbs including ginger, jujube, licorice root, ginseng, arrowroot, and cinnamon powder. It sort of smelt and tasted like Christmas. Some of us really liked it, but others weren’t so keen. The only option is to try it for yourself! We also had some more amazing BBQ dishes, and of course, that Jeonju staple, bibimbap.
Jeonju’s Hanok Village was so picturesque and full of things to see, we’d say it should be a definite destination for anyone travelling around South Korea. With flowers and water features flowing down the main street, as well all the traditional architecture, coupled with the amazing food and drink, it’s just so beautiful, anyone visiting this area is sure to be delighted and have an amazing relaxing time away from the city! Top Tip: A night walk down the main street is a definite must!