Most tourists visit Jeonju City for a quick day trip from Seoul. Honestly, there’s just too much to absorb and experience at Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을). The main tourist sights are in the old village and that’s where you should choose to stay — at least for a night.
We stayed (White Tourist Hotel) next to the Express Bus Terminal because we would travel to Gwangju on the following afternoon. Besides, we had also squeezed in a visit to Deokjin Park and Jeonju Hanji Museum — on the day we reached Jeonju. We used local cabs to get around and that left us with a couple of extra hours before sunset. We decided to explore a small part of the hanok village in the evening. We took a cab from our hotel and reached the Hanok Village pretty quickly. Alternatively, there are a many buses from KB Kookmin Bank (Geuman Branch) that go to the old village. The official site has more transportation options.
We reached the old gate late in the evening. It was a cloudy day and we got a few glimpses of the sun before sunset. There weren’t many tourists around and the streets were practically deserted.
Pungnammun Gate is the last surviving remnant of the old fortress wall of Jeonju. The other three gates couldn’t survive the test of time and war. This south gate is a reflection of the past glory of the Joseon Dynasty.
Nambu Market is bang opposite Pangnammun Gate. On a Friday evening, most of the streets were deserted and very few shops were open.
There’s a wide open public space around the old gate and it’s a nice place to watch sunset. We spotted the tower of Jeongdong Catholic Church and decided to explore the streets on the other side.
Jeonju Cultural Heritage Night Tour
Most travellers visit Jeonju only for a couple of hours and that’s why there’s very little information about the night performances at the old village. We were surprised to make it in time for two evening cultural shows. According to the local website, most shows are held in the months of May and September. However, we visited on the second weekend of June and did manage to catch a few good traditional performances. The shows are held in the area of Pungnammun Gate & Gyeonggijeon Shrine.
Korean Sword Art
The first evening performance was held just outside the main gate of Gyeonggijeon Shrine. A small group of people were seated on the pavement — waiting for the artists to begin their act. There’s no fee for this show and seating depends upon the place you can find. We found a place right in front — giving us a good view of the artists.
Like most Korean performances and shows, the leader of the troupe gave a brief introduction (Korean only) to the act. There were hardly any foreigners in the audience and they would have been as bewildered as we were. Fortunately, language didn’t matter once the show started. This site gives an introduction to Haidong Kumdo : Korean Sword Art.
I could never imagine that a person could be so graceful with a sword in his/her hand. It was fantastic to watch the entire group dance, sway, and slice those invisible particles of air. Occasionally, they’d slice some barks of bamboo. It was heartening to see so many women (especially the leader) in the group, and even if, they looked petite — once they swooshed their sword — you wouldn’t want to mess with them. The local audience wowed every move and the group was appreciated with a thunderous applause.
There were multiple sequences in the whole performance. The duet between these two men was particularly entertaining. They were light as a feather and had perfected the art of guesstimation. The video below will give you a better idea.
The music was charged with emotion and the penultimate act struck a chord with the audience. I could feel goosebumps and I’m not even Korean. The last part of the show mixed a Kdrama love story with martial arts. When the artists started calling audience members to perform with them; we knew it was time to escape.
Jeondong Catholic Church
Jeondong Catholic Church is opposite to Gyeonggijeon Shrine. The premises of the church had quite a few tourists in the evening. We couldn’t enter the church because the main doors were closed. A team of technicians set up the equipment for some sort of evening performance. We decided to stay back and join in.
The church bears an uncanny resemblance to Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Interestingly, the foundation bricks of the church originated from the fallen ramparts of Pangnammun Gate. Construction work on Jeondong Catholic Church first started in 1908 by Father Baudounet and was finally completed nearly 23 years after its inception. Father Poisnel, credited with the architectural design of Myeongdong Cathedral, was the last priest to oversee the completion of the church in 1908.
Jeondong Catholic Church was built on the site where the first Catholic martyrs lost their lives in Korea. The church is considered to be a fine example of a confluence between the east and west. It’s also the oldest and biggest Romanesque building in the Honam region and has featured in Korean dramas and movies.
Sound & Light Show
The front facade of the church served as the backdrop for the light display. People were seated at the front yard or around the garden. Ushers distributed programme brochures (Korean only) to the audience. The show was free of cost and was held twice (20:30 and 21:00), every friday, between 17.05.2019 – 21.06.2019.
The media show lasted for about half an hour and was divided into 3 themes. The first theme showcased nature and the universe (above video). Click on full screen view to enjoy the video.
The second theme was inspired by the Jeoseon Dynasty and the historic past of Jeonju.
The finale focussed on present day Korea.
After the show we walked back to the gate of the shrine and looked around for places to eat. Jeonju Bibimbap is quite a speciality and we were hoping grab a bite to eat. Most places were open but had already taken their last order.
The Hanok Village at Night
It had been a long day and we were tired and hungry. The hanok village looked spectacular at night and I wished we had booked a night’s stay in an old hanok.
The streets are a treat to explore at night. They were lit up by Korean lanterns and street lights.
Comfort Women Memorial
We didn’t have a choice and had to head back to Nambu Market. En route, we passed by the statues of the comfort women.
Pungnammun at Night
The old gate looked resplendent at night. The streets were empty and silent. We hoped that the night market would have some snacks to eat. Although, the streets resembled a ghost town.
Nambu Night Market
Nambu Market is open on Fridays and Saturdays. It takes some effort to find the hidden alley that houses the night market. Once inside, it’s a gastronomical overload of eclectic street food and desserts.
There’s very little room to stand and salivate at the stalls. There’s always a flurry of people passing by and decisions have to be made quickly. Food stalls represented Korean specialities, fast food, as well as Thai, Vietnamese, and Turkish cuisines. There are small hotels serving traditional Jeonju delicacies inside the hidden alleyways.
We were famished by the time we spotted this treat. It was steamed potato with oodles of sauce and cheese.
We also picked up a quick bite of fried chicken and found a quiet corner to eat our meal before heading back to our hotel in the city.