48hrs in JEONJU: A Glimpse Into KOREA's Past
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
A side trip to Jeonju wasn't exactly a planned venture. In fact, we knew very little about this popular tourist town, until we got invited by an old roommate, who runs a beautiful guesthouse there. It must have been 18 years since we last saw each other, but thanks to the magic of social media, we managed to not only stay in touch, but we finally got to see each other after all these years!
We left our Busan base and took a comfortable 3 hour bus ride to Jeonju. The intercity bus system in Korea is very well organized and reasonably priced. You can choose from economy, excellent and premium buses. Kids were half price. Exactly at the halfway point, there was a bathroom stop with snack and beverage stands.
Jeonju, with a population of 650,000, is not exactly tiny, yet it has a charming, small town vibe. Except for the main shopping district, a lot of the businesses were closed when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. The quiet back streets and the surrounding lush foliage were a welcomed change to the busy, bustling metropolis of Busan.
On our first night in Jeonju, we stayed in a traditional Korean home. As a family, we slept together in one room on the floor using thick, blanket-like mats. A uniquely Korean feature of old homes is their underfloor heating system called "ondol", which used to involve heating stones with a wood fire underneath the house. Most hanok homes were known to have this feature back in the day. We could imagine how warm and cozy it would feel sleeping on heated floors in the winter!
On our second night, we stayed at Daemyung Guesthouse, located within a very short walking distance from the Hanok Heritage Village that Jeonju is famous for. This guesthouse was gorgeously renovated from top to bottom, with great artistic detail. Definitely one of the coolest places we've stayed at so far!
Entering the Hanok Heritage Village in Jeonju was like stepping back in time. The distinct wooden architecture of the buildings with slate tile rooftops was a stark contrast from the rest of the industrialized town. There are over 800 of these traditional style buildings, many of which had been rebuilt and restored over the years. What was once the homes of upper class Koreans, they now mainly serve the tourist population, housing gift shops, restaurants, cafes and museums.
Gyeonggijeon Palace, which is the shrine to the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, was the first place we entered. We also visited the restored buildings outside and the historic Jeonju Sago, where archives from the Joseon Dynasty are kept.
Lots of local tourists are seen roaming around wearing Korean Hanbok or old-timey clothing and taking photos at many picturesque spots throughout the village. There are many rental shops where you can choose your hanbok, get accessorized and even get your hair and make-up done.
Just outside the Hanok Village is Pungnammun, the only remaining gate from the original 4 built back in 1338, during the Joseon Dynasty. Although you cannot enter or climb on top of it, it is still worth a close look.
We spent 2 nights in Jeonju. The highlight of course was simply catching up with an old friend, getting to know her lovely family and meeting new friends. Our kids were similarly aged and they had a great time playing together. Unfortunately, it rained quite heavily on one of the days, so we didn't get to see as much as we would have liked.
We did get to enjoy eating in Jeonju, which is known as Korea's Foodie capital. As we happened to be in Bibimbap's birthplace, we had no choice but to indulge. It was the best bibimpab we've had yet! We also tried Makgeolli, fermented rice wine, with lots of appy-sized plates of food. (More on FOOD HERE)
Jeonju had it all: the history, the food, and for us, great company! We could have easily spent another week here to soak up all the atmosphere and get to know this town more in-depth, beyond the main tourist attractions. Despite the heavy rain, we thoroughly enjoyed our brief time here, and look forward to perhaps returning one day.
Next Stop: JAPAN