Winter Vacation: Jeonju Weekend, Awesome Food and Royal Archives


Leaving Suwon on Saturday morning I took the number 13 bus from Paldalmun Gate to Suwon Station.  After a breakfast bagel of the Dunkin’ variety I took line one heading for Cheonan where I was meeting FOBY who would drive down to Jeonju, joining me for a foody weekend. FOBY called and asked me to get of at Jiksan as it was easier for parking.

Emerging from Jiksan was like being behind the iron curtain, it did have parking, mainly because it sat in the middle of nowhere. I looked for barbed wire and sentry guards and FOBY’s car, all were absent. FOBY was on Korean time as his mother had force-fed him breakfast and arrived some 14 minutes late.

After an unsuccessful foray looking for a car wash the FOBYmobile remained soot-ridden and headed for Suwon.  Following Ms, SK Navigations instructions we were directed through a number of expensive toll gates before reaching our destination some two hours later. As we entered the humongous long boulevard into central Jeonju we passed the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, the home of Hyundai Motors professional soccer team.

The accommodation (Goodstay Arirang Hotel) was in the business district, part of yet another “love” motel village.  It was sound though with fake art deco-style features and a Korean Tourist Board recommendation plaque.

We headed into town for a wander, FOBY had visited over 20 year before and  found it much different in a positive way. Jeonju main attractions are the well-preserved Hanok Village and it’s food. Jeonju has a millennium-old history of being home to many dynasties and reigns of royalty. Jeonju Hanok Village has 700 traditional Korean houses, Hanok that are still home to residents today. IMG_4523The village was extremely busy with visitors queuing to get in restaurants. We got in line and had a tasty griddle beef lunch, by the time we left it was late afternoon.

To survey our surroundings we passed an ancient Ginkbo tree and climbed the ice clad pathway to the top of the small hill on the outskirts of the village. Here you are rewarded with a great view over the traditional rooftops. On the top of this hill (called Omokdae) was a large open pavilion and a shrine to those who defeated the Japanese pirates during the late Goryeo Dynasty. As FOBY took a rest stop I noticed another “Mural-dong” across the busy main road.  I also saw this could be accessed over a footbridge and added it to the next days itinerary. We returned to sin-city and planned to return to the village area for traditional Jeonju Bibimap later that evening.

After some Internet research we discovered two adjacent restaurants, the one we chose was on the corner of Jeollagamyeong 5-gil and Dongmun-gil on the second floor. Gajok Hwegwan 가족 회관 is very conveniently located in the heart of the downtown area near the city’s Hanok village. The bibimbap here was excellent and the side dishes were plentiful. There were lot’s of locals eating there which reminded me of my first lesson in travel; follow the locals for food. Mr Zenkimchi describes the matriarchs thus “the fearsome ajummas who run the place.” I beg to differ FOBY and I had a more than friendly discussion about a strange pickled dish which looked like green gooseberries to me. They were efficient and hospitable.

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We headed further downtown on the hunt for a beer, the rainbows reappeared! The shopping area of Jeonju, “Gaeksa,” is named after a local historical site, and tourist information describes it as, “Street that is desired to walk.” It’s a ten minute walk from Pungnammun gate and only a few step from the restaurant. It was immensely busy and gaudy with pulsating horrid music belting from the shops.  The sales assistants “foghorns” were belting forth on every street. Why anyone sane would spend more than 10 minutes shopping here I have no idea.  I reminisced about Shelley’s in London which around 1997 was my favourite shoe-shop.  After a 00’s makeover it became my worst nightmare and I never shopped there again. We found an upstairs bar for a beer; it was at 9:30pm and full of inebriated parents. Their kids were left to fend for themselves, running wildly around the bar while the parents sank their pints + soju….my oh my!

DSC_0602IMG_4916Day 2: We arrived back in the Hanok Village midmorning taking the footbridge over to the “mural-village,’ which is set into the hillside over from Omokdae. Again the mural quality was varied and the houses many in need of repair but it’s an interesting and peaceful trek from the busy main Hanok village. Returning to Taejo-ro we visited the Gyeonggi Portrait Shrine. This is the location of the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye. It was originally built in 1410 shortly after the death of Yi Seong-gye, the founder of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). After a fire, in 1614 it was rebuilt and remodeled and is also home to a national archive of Joseon documents.

I did the most touristy thing I’ve done in Korea buying a T-shirt with a dragon emblem and a scented pomander to send home to mum.  For my sins I did check that the items were made in Korea and NOT china!

Jeonju is well-known for its traditional crafts, especially fans and other items made from hanji (paper made from mulberry). Historically, Jeonju was known for making the best bamboo and mulberry paper fans in Korea, and has been home to master fan makers called Seonjajang for centuries. Cheap paper fans can be found all over the Hanok village.

DSC_0604We pottered around for the rest of the afternoon and then FOBY laid on a treat a full traditional Korean meal with a multitude of dishes. The meal was served in a traditional hanok by two hanbok clad maidens with impeccable serving skills. A lovely end to a fulfilling 2 day visit to Jeonju.  Tomorrow FOBY would drop me at Cheonan Station for my return to Seoul and the Chungju.