Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 9 – Day Trip to Jeonju

5:45 is not a dignified time to be getting up. Brings back bad memories of the teaching grind and making sure my early bus ride to work would have no students on it. But needs must as we have a 7:05 to catch to Jeonju. Never did manage to catch any additional shut eye on the way as the man in front of me kept insisting on rotating his chair to the point where my pull down tray belonged as much to me as it did to my husband sitting next to me.

At least I had a good breakfast though! We were looking for these dosirak boxes yesterday, but it turns out we couldn’t find anywhere in Busan station that did them. The opposite is true for Seoul station where we were completely spoiled for choice. My husband went for one that was a like a rice ball lottery, with one of them being hot enough for him to struggle. I went for this spicy pork bowl based purely on aesthetics (the Pokémon themed dried persimmon pack was for later snacking) and it was delicious. It even came with a little pot of hot soup. The perfect meal to eat when settling in to a long train ride.

We arrived in Jeonju just after 9 and, a short bus ride later, we were in the main area that tourists tend to go. In modern day South Korea, this is a minor city but its of major cultural significance. For one, Jeonju is the home of bibimbap – which, by most metrics, would be considered the national dish. It is also the city where the family of Korea’s final royal line (the Joseon dynasty) originate. So this city is actually a pretty big deal if you want to do some more digging during a visit.

Our first visit was a flying one to Pungammun Gate. It’s the final surviving gate of the old city of Jeonju before the walls and the other three gates were destroyed by Japanese invaders. It’s one those things that is near the top of the suggested sites, but to see it without knowing the history and how, for some reason, it still survives actually does it a bit of a disservice.

Anyway, near that is Jeondong Catholic Church which is interesting just to see how a country in East Asia would put together a church. Outside it’s a lovely looking building and there are free-standing statues of Jesus and Mary near the stairs. Inside, it’s not overly ornate, but then again this is a fairly new church, so it might have just not been built during the main decoration ostentation period. Still though, nice church and it was nice to hear some Korean language hymns as we caught the tail end of a service.

Across the road is the big singular attraction of Jeonju – Gyeonggijeon. It is here that the Joseon dynasty members would have lived when in Jeonju. It was also where the vast writings and histories about the previous kings were stored, prior to a substantial section being irretrievably burned by Japanese invaders (this is getting beyond a recurring narrative at this point).

Here we looked around the grounds, the gates and other buildings. Sadly the shrine wasn’t available to us as it was otherwise occupied by some event that neither of us could make out. This area also contains a few royal portraits of Joseon kings. Some of them are the only originals left (because burning) and is the place with the only remaining ‘original’ portrait of the founder of Joseon dynasty.

With the major sights seen, it was time to wonder around the wider area that comes under the umbrella of the Jeonju Hanok Village. Think of it as a concentration of buildings in the traditional Hanok style. It’s what the mini village in Gyeonju was trying to do, but it’s done a lot better here.

In our initial wanderings we visited the old Confucian School, two shrines (with the similar names Omokdae and Imokdae) and clambered up into the Jaman Mural Village to see what it was like there. It was really cool to climb up and down this mountain-side village and seeing all the different murals used to decorate their houses – some in original works and other deriving from Studio Ghibli films, Pokémon and even a red-headed Marilyn Monroe. The way that cafes were interwoven into this area makes me wonder if this is one of those places that might later evolve into a miniature Gamcheon Culture Village within the next decade or so.

After the village we ended up walking along the riverbank. Like with so many other water areas we’ve come across in South Korea, the water was clean enough for small fish and herons to go about their daily business. It was also a nice source of cool air in another day that was made of beaming sunshine and cloudless skies. I swear that our only bad weather day was when we climbed that mountain on Jeju.

By now we were getting peckish and were keen to sample some bibimbap in it’s hometown. So we found a nice enough looking place and got talking to this Korean man (who we think was a tour guide) and talked about him coming to the UK to visit his son studying in university. He seemed tickled pink about how much I knew about and loved Korean food. Don’t know how, but he seemed to talk to the restaurant and we got into the restaurant at lightning speed.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Bellflower Root
Progress: 784/1001

So, what’s it like to have bibimbap (specifically Jeonju-style bimimbap) in it’s hometown? Bloody gorgeous that’s what. This is one of those moments that I have been waiting for all holiday and that first bite after mixing all the ingredients together was one of beauty. We also got a seafood pancake to share between us, but there is no denying the pure unadulterated power of a dish prepared in its original city.

We did some more exploring of the main section of the hanok village in an attempt to soak in some final ambience of watching people running around in rented traditional costume and to get some souvenirs. Sadly we came up empty on souvenirs, but it was a lot of fun to walk around all the old-style buildings and to learn more about how this village area came to be.

This is probably where we would normally call it a day, but we were booked on a late train back into Seoul and had some time to fill, so we made the bus trip across town to Deokjin Park. The map emphasised two main things, the massive pond in the centre and a suspension bridge that went across it. The bridge was pulled down earlier in the year, but it definitely delivered on a pond filled with lotus plants and people riding in pedalos and motor boats.

It was in this park where we had two more really sweet interactions with locals. First was two children in a pedalo who would not stop yelli itng ‘hello’ and waving at us. It was so cute, especially as the little girl must have been about 2 or 3 and she latched onto the word used by her brother and went with. We also got a hello and an unprompted handshake from another local, which left me so taken aback that I could hear a mother with a pushchair behind me giggling. It’s the little things that can get you, isn’t it.

We finished our time in the park by watching the musical fountain that, by chance started as we had completed our walk around the lake. It really made a perfect ending to our time in Jeonju as we sat there as the only westerners in a crowd of Koreans watching the waters dancing for us.

That was it for our time in Jeonju. We grabbed something light for the train ride back – me grabbing a spam mayonnaise kimbap from the nearby CU convenience store to sustain me as I write this post and to fend off the dinner grumbles which were then satisfied by most of the bounty you see in the picture as we did some laundry in the hotel basement. We didn’t eat the matdongsan or the chocolate things, but we did fall for the garlic sausage stick.

Tomorrow is another trip out of Seoul, but to a nearer location. The forecast is for fun as we go to Everland, the largest theme park in South Korea. It is set to be another sunny day with just a touch of cloud. Despite the early departure time, I really cannot wait to just get on some rides and see how this country does theme parks.

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