Jeonju: Hanok and Bibimbap Aplenty in Korea's Cultural Heartland

Jeonju may be known around Korea for its excellent food, and specifically its famous mixed rice dish of bibimbap, but the city also has an illustrious past and has played its part in helping to shape the Korea we know today.Once described by a Busan native as “the countryside,” Jeonju is indeed located in a beautiful area of the country, with four national parks a short bus ride away.History abounds here too, and Jeonju’s hanok village is the place to experience the traditions of old Korea,learn about Jeonju’s place in history and sip tea in a traditional teahouse.

Birthplace of the Joseon Dynasty

If not for the defeat of the Hubaekje (“later Baekje”) kingdom in AD 936, uniting the three later kingdoms and unifying Korea under the Goryeo Dynasty, Jeonju might not have had its five minutes of fame.

The former capital of Hubaekje was thrust back into the national spotlight when King Taejo of Jeonju's Yi clan succeeded in overthrowing the Goryeo Dynasty to establish the Joseon Dynasty (1392—1910)—a dynasty that was conceived in Jeonju and would lead Korea for over five hundred years.

Jeonju Hanok Village
Jeonju has some beautiful and interesting places to go, and the peaks that surround the city offer great hiking and views, but all tourists, Korean or international, inevitably find their way to the hanok village. Built during the 1930s, it was a reaction to the expanding Japanese influence in the city and was seen as both a source of national pride and a way to counteract the Japanese architecture that was becoming prevalent, examples of which can still be seen in the village. The village is located in the southeast of the city, and its entrance is signaled by the magnificent Jeondong Cathedral. Made of foot stones from nearby Pungnamun, one of the former gates to the city and a prominent cultural asset in itself, the cathedral was established to uphold the spirit of Catholic martyrs, and it is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Korea.

Next to the cathedral is Gyeonggijeon, the complex that houses Gyeonggi Hall, which in turn houses the portrait of King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty. The rest of the village is filled with all kinds of wonderful hidden treasures that can be found only by exploring the alleyways and courtyards. You may find a small workshop hand-making hanji paper, or perhaps a tiny tea house. There are also plenty of restaurants, as well as calligraphy and wine museums.
The village is deceptively large, running from Jeondong Cathedral in the west to the Imokdae Pavilion in the east. There are craft shops on Taejo-ro, the main street running east to west, where you can participate in workshops for making all kinds of things out of hanji and clay. Off in the recesses of the village are more studios offering wood engraving, natural dyeing, embroidery, weaving, fan making and more.
The Korean Traditional Life Experience Park is a place where people can go to experience a variety of traditional aspects of Korean life, and it also doubles as a hanok hotel. For a more modern sleep, the Jeonju Core Riviera Hotel, on the eastern fringe of the village, offers a fantastic vista of the tiled rooftops of the village. The beautiful buildings and myriad alleyways that provide places to eat, drink and be entertained during the day transform at night to give off an air of authenticity that is hard to see when cars and tourists are filling the narrow roads. A wander around the village at sunrise or sunset, when the residents of the village emerge and most of the tourists have left, is a must.

Land of the Bibimbap

Jeonju is perhaps best known around Korea for its food. The fertile Honam Plain and the clear waters of the region are said to be contributing factors in the city's nationwide food fame. Bibimbap is the city's signature dish, and it can be found everywhere.
There are, however, a few restaurants that have excelled in its production. Gogung, located near the lily-laden Deokjin Park, specializes in both bibimbap and goldongban, the food of the kings of the Joseon period. There is also a bibimbap museum on the second floor, which traces the history and regional varieties of this deceptively simple and delicious dish.
Nearer the hanok village, Gajok Hoegwan is another famous place to eat bibimbap in Jeonju. There are also plenty of traditional teahouses in the city, with most concentrated in or around the hanok village. One of the nicer ones for escaping the busy streets is Punggyeong, a small place located directly opposite the entrance to Gyeonggijeon on the second floor. A window seat offers you the chance to observe the throng of tourists and locals who pass through everyday. The green plum tea here is especially refreshing. If you prefer a glass of wine, then head toward Bom, a converted hanok that sells a selection of drinks and small snacks with an attached gallery that houses small exhibitions.

Getting There
Jeonju is a major transportation hub, so getting there doesn’t present much of a problem. The quickest way is to take the KTX from Seoul’s Yongsan Station to Iksan, and transfer to another train to Jeonju. The trip takes about 2 hours, 30 minutes in total. There are cheaper trains that go directly to Jeonju from Yongsan, but they’re much slower and they tend to fill up on the weekends.

More Information
Guided tours of the village are available from the Hanok Village tourist information office. Reservations can be made by phone at (063) 282-1330.

• Gogung | (Korean, English) | (063) 251-3211
• Gajok Hoegwan | (Korean) | (063) 284-0982
• Korean Traditional Life Experience Park | (Korean, English) |
(063) 287-6300
• Jeonju Core Riviera Hotel | (063) 232-7000
• Punggyeong (Korean traditional teahouse) | (063) 283-2371
• Bom (hanok wine bar / cafĂ©) | (063) 284-3737

The people of Jeonju take three main breaks from eating bibimbap each year. These are as follows:

• Jeonju International Film Festival—this festival has been up and running
for eleven years now, and is back for an twelvth time from Apr. 28 - May 6, 2011. A perfect excuse to combine a week of good films with a spring break in stunning Jeolla-do province.
• Jeonju Hanji Culture Festival—organized to promote the unique qualities of Korea’s traditional paper, hanji, the festival offers a fascinating range of exhibitions and hands-on opportunities.
Due to take place in early May, 2011.