Jeonju is a major city and administrative capital of the North Jeolla Province, Jeollabuk-do, in the southwest of the country. It is known as the 'breadbasket' due to the highly fertile plains that surround the city, providing many fresh ingredients for the city's cuisine, which is regarded as the finest in South Korea. Jeonju is also the centre for the country's arts and culture scene, especially in terms of music and paper crafts. It is famous for its hanok (traditional Korean house) village as well as for one of the best known dishes, bibimbap. A popular stop on trips around the country, Jeonju has history, culture and entertainment in equal measures and is most definitely worth spending at least a couple of days in.
At the entrance to the Jeonju Hanok Village is a shrine to Yi Soeng-gye, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, the last and longest Confucian dynasty in Korea which ran from the end of the 14th century until the end of the 19th. It was built in 1616 and is a fine example of Confucian architecture from the dynasty.
Also of interest to see whilst you are in Jeonju is the Jeondong Cathedral, built by French missionaries in 1914, and the Pungnammun Gate, the only surviving gate (southern) to the once walled city.
Around half an hour outside of town by road is one of South Korea's most important and largest Buddhist temples, Geumsansa. Set on Mount Moaksan, a peak important to Korea's shamanists, it was founded at the turn of the 7th century, but destroyed during the Japanese invasion in 1592 - what you see today dates from the mid-17th century. One of the highlights is the Mireukjoen Hall, designated National Treasure no.62, which is the only three-storey building of its kind left in the country.
By far the main attraction in Jeonju is the Hanok Vilage in the Pungnam-dong district of the city. The self-contained village contains hundreds of these traditional Korean houses, most of which have been converted into guesthouses, museums, tea houses and galleries. Visitors have the option to stay in a hanok for the night, experiencing what it is like to live a traditional way of life, sleeping on the floor and taking classes in things such as etiquette, art and tea ceremonies. It is a very quaint place to wander around and also for buying authentic gifts to take home.
Every September or October, the Jeonju International Sori Festival comes to Jeonju. This week-long event is one of the country's largest and most popular music festivals where one can witness traditional Korean music and danse as well as a selection of world music, something which was added to the event to give it a broader appeal. The festival is a great opportunity to see pansori, typical Korean lyrical storytelling for which this area is famous and which features a vocalist accompanied by a drummer.
About an huor by bus to the northwest of Jeonju is the magnificent Daedunsan Provicnial Park, named after the 878m-high Mount Daedunsan and its granite peaks. There is a cable car which takes you a far way up the mountain from where you can continue up the peak. Along the way you will cross an 80m suspension bridge which crosses a ravine as well as a climb of 127 steps after which rests a 20-minute hike up to Macheondae peak, the highest in the park. The reward is the stunning view of the surrounding landscape.
+ The centre of South Korea's arts and culture scene
+ History in abundance
+ A young town with night entertainment
+ Easily accessible with a good tourist infrastructure
- The Hanok Village is a little touristy
To think about
Jeonju is easily accesible from several other of South Korea's major cities. There are several KTX trains from Seoul each day (2 hours) as well as slower trains which take closer to three and a half hours to reach Jeonju. You can also catch a bus from the capital (3 hours) as well as from Daejoen and Gwangju, both journeys taking just over an hour.
Jeonju, just like the rest of South Korea, is a very safe place in which to travel. The crime rate is very low and you are unlikely to run into any trouble. In fact, it is more likely that you, as a visitor, will offend the locals if you fail to abide by the strict social etiquette that is so important in every day life in the country. For example, when greeting someone, make sure you bow or nod slightly and when entering a restaurant or a private abode, leave your shoes at the entrance and make sure you have socks on. Always take a gift (to be offered with both hands) if you are invited into someone's home and insist that they take it, ignoring their efforts to refuse it. There is no culture of tipping in South Korea and leaving gratuity may offend.
The region in which Jeonju finds itself is widely acknowledged to be home to the finest cuisine in South Korea. The city is home to arguably the best known dish outside of the country, bibimbap, a rice mixed with seasoned vegetables, ground beef, a fried egg and Korean chili paste. You will not fail to find a restaurant serving the dish in Jeonju and everyone will have their favourite place so ask around for recommendations. But there are some other dishes to try aside from bibimbap. Kongnamul gukbap is a clear, spicy soup made with soybean sprouts and rice and is supposed to be a good hangover cure! You will also find sundae in Jeonju, Korean blood sausage, which is sometimes put in rice soup.
To bring back
Thanks to its status as the centre of Korean arts and culture, Jeonju is the perfect place to buy souvenirs to take back home. While there are many individual boutiques around the city where you can purchase various artisanal gifts, the best place to do so is within the Jeonju Hanok Village where there is a concentration of shops selling all types of traditional artefacts. The type of products available include ceramics and wooden decorative items for the home made by master craftsmen, hanji, traditional Korean paper, cloth and clothing, fans, embroidered decorative pieces, artwork, tea and lots more. Not that the Koreans are big onto producing counterfeit goods, but here you can be sure that you are buying the real deal and that you are not being ripped off.
South Korea : Discover the cities