Jeolla Province is not a destination for first time travelers to South Korea. But it is something you should visit to when Seoul becomes too familiar to you. Jeolla Province, the southwestern part of the country, offers alternative destinations for tourists who want to discover something new.
Eat, eat, eat in Jeonju
It’s easy to equate Jeonju with South Korea’s kitchen. It has a distinct smell of ginkgo trees and something good cooking on the stove. The city is so well known for its culinary delights that even “Hometown Flex” hosts Cha Tae-hyun and Lee Seung-gi talked about how food comes to mind when they hear the city’s name.
Going there to eat should be a top priority, along with strolling the cobbled streets in Hanok Village while wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress).
Think of it as South Korea’s Vigan, with over 700 traditional houses. Some were converted into establishments, others into bed and breakfasts, but the rest remain residences.
Here’s a pro tip: rent an electric scooter. Exploring Hanok Village will be a lot more comfortable and faster this way. Several shops rent it out by the hour and it’s easy to operate. No special license is necessary.
PNB is the original choco pie seller in the city. Unlike the commercial ones you find in grocery stores where they have marshmallows in the middle, PNB’s has jam or whipped cream sandwiched between the round, chocolate-covered sponge cakes.
The city is known for its bibimbap, too. The traditional dish features rice topped with different vegetables and beef tartare. They are all mixed together with gochujang. I prefer mine with an extra serving of sesame oil.
What makes Jeonju bibimbap different from other regions is the chunks of yellow mung bean jelly added on top. The city is also famous for its makgeolli alley that serves unlimited side dishes. It’s the perfect place to practice Korean drinking etiquette that you often see in dramas and films. Makgeolli is usually served in an aluminum kettle.
Hanjeongsik or table d’hote is a multicourse meal. Anyone can have it now in Jeonju but It used to be reserved for royalty and nobleme. The meal consists of 30 side dishes, strictly following an order to highlight the colors and variety. Everyone gets a bowl of rice and soup, but the rest are shared, including the grilled fish, tteokalbi (minced grilled beef ribs) and variations of kimchi.
Nature appreciation in Damyang
The popular variety show “2 Days & 1 Night” received a Presidential Commendation in 2018 for finding hidden tourist spots for their show. Stumbling upon two of those spots in Damyang county in Jeolla Province can be exciting!
The Metasequoia Land stretches to up to 2.1 kilometers. Nami has the same trees, but Damyang has more. It has 487 trees lining a picturesque road and used to be the main road in the 1970s. The government converted it into a park when they decided to build a highway next to it, make passing vehicles stop by Damyang. It’s also good for locals who do their morning exercise.
In the romcom series “Mr. Queen,” the queen’s senior lady in waiting goes to a bamboo forest in secret to scream her frustrations at the top of her lungs. I finally understood her location of choice after visiting Damyang Juknokwon or the bamboo forest. The spot is promoted as a place to take forest baths to cleanse away stress and boost intestinal and cardiovascular functions.
Its size makes it one of the best. The forest covers over 310,238 square meters of land area. There are eight pathways to take and each route can take from five minutes to 20 to finish. But believe us when we say that you won’t be able to finish it within the suggested time because you would want to stop and breathe in the fresh air. Markers for shows like “2 Days & 1 Night” can be found on Juknokwon and Metasequoia Land. The signs are in Korean in this area and majority of the cities in Jeolla province, but the markers always come with pictures.
Culture at Gwangju
If Jeonju fills the stomach, Gwangju feeds the soul. Art and culture are the city’s main selling points. We started our journey at the Wolbong Seowon or the Confucian Academy. This visit would have been highly inappropriate if it was still the Joseon era—the period when the school was founded.
In that bygone era, as a woman I could have lost my head just by walking on what was considered a sacred ground of education, wearing a Confucian scholar’s uniform. It feels something straight out of K-drama. Oh wait, they did make such a gender-bender drama called “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”! Of course, things are no longer like that. But it was nice to pretend that I was Park Min-young’s character for two hours.
Wolbong Seowon holds experience programs for guests. Fusion group Rootmerge treated us to traditional music performance for our session. The performance included Gwangju’s version of the folk song and Korea’s unofficial anthem, “Arirang.” However, versions of this song differ not only in Jeolla Province, but other parts of Korea as well.
A tea ceremony was also held where two teachers demonstrated the proper and super formal way of serving tea. It’s not just about transferring hot water from the kettle to the pot to cups. We were taught how to fold a napkin according to our gender, when to use the left hand and the right and how to politely show appreciation for our host’s kindness.
Take the taxi
The Asia Culture Center (ACC) is 30 minutes away from Wolbeong Seowon. Gwangju Tourism director Jeong Jeong-suk told us that taxis are the best mode of transportation in the city for tourists. But yes, they have subways and buses.
“Everything is 30 minutes away by taxi, which can cost around P500,” she said. It sounds steep at first until you remember that a 15-minute taxi ride from Myeongdong to Hongdae in Seoul can cost more. Every inch of the ACC space is a visual joy. The railings going there are designed in the shapes of cherry blossoms, there are sculptures to appeal to grownups, and colorful play areas for children. Even the escalator that takes you inside is a media gallery of Korea’s four seasons.
It is Asia’s Hub containing books and artworks from and about other Asian countries, including the Philippines. Their current exhibit is Yee I-lann’s “Sulu Stories.” It features her composite photos of people, creatures and objects from countries connected by the Sulu Sea.
We were told that the most popular display is the photograph titled “The Ch’i-lin of Calauit.” It shows Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda standing on an island. Behind him is a palm tree whose branches are spread out like a peacock, while she’s holding a giraffe on a leash.
Garden stop at Suncheon
Garden and plant enthusiasts will enjoy a stop at the Suncheon Bay National Garden. The expansive property includes a wetland wherein you can observe the bird and fiddler crabs. They have Sky Cube, an unmanned train that passes through the reed trail. The garden is hosting an International Garden Expo from Oct. 7 to April 4 next year.
Yeosu’s night sea
The port town of Yeosu is bustling with life at night. The pojangmacha lane or tent bars that line under Dolsandaegyeo bridge are crowded. Their view is of the sea reflecting the city’s lights.
Some have credited the bustling local tourism to Busker Busker’s 2012 ballad, “Yeosu Night Sea.” The song goes “I want to walk here with you/ I want to walk along the sea with you / I want to walk this street with you.”
But mornings can be interesting, too. Photo enthusiasts will find the best angles aboard the Yeosu Maritime Cable Car. Pick the glass-bottomed car and you will have a drone effect over the ocean.
Our guide Lisa Hong said the Midas’ hand in Yeosu Art land Resort is a recognizable stop on Instagram. The Arte Museum is a permanent exhibition at the Yeosu Expo International Pavilion. You can spend a couple of hours or more exploring and taking photos at the immersive media art gallery.
The media familiarization trip in Jeolla Province was organized and sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization Manila Office. Visit visitkorea.or.kr.