Jeonju Hanok Village might seem a little touristy at first glance. It’s one of the reasons why it’s taken us so long to visit it. But, once you’ve overlooked the obvious tourist traps, there are many hidden corners and gems to be found. Not surprisingly, Jeonju Hanok Village is one of the Top 100 Must-Visit Tourist Spots in Korea for 2019.
We had already explored Jeondong Catholic Church and Pungnammun Gate on the earlier night. We had about half a day to explore the main sights of the old village before our afternoon bus to Gwangju. It’s a tough call because there’s a lot to see. We shortlisted Omokdae as our starting point and decided to explore the rest of the village from there. Our route traced the Tour Course for Walking & Reflection — recommended by the local tourism website.
It’s better to stay at the old village if you have more time. We left our luggage at the counter of our hotel (near the bus terminal) and took a cab (minimum fare) to the Hanok Village. Most taxi drivers were chatty and were entertained by my limited Korean. I also got laughed at because I was speaking a (Seoul) version of Korean which is slightly different from the dialect spoken in Jeonju. I couldn’t make out the difference though. On the plus side, this trip was an opportunity to practice the language.
Most tourist places and information centres will have a map of the hanok village as well as the rest of the city. Alternatively, you can download the tourist map here. The village is best explored on foot. But, if you’d like to cover larger distances quickly, there are many options (above) to choose from. Most tourists wear hanboks to recreate an old world setting. I couldn’t imagine being covered up in the June heat.
Hanok Village Dulle-Gil Trail
Finding the trail to Omokdae is a little tricky. The stone board (first picture) is the marker for the trail. Avoid entering the main village road and walk along the narrow path that’s hidden by trees. We followed voices and climbed up till we hit the Hanok Village Dulle-Gil Trail. There are multiple paths and trails to explore — if you have the time.
This hidden trail was perfect to hide from the sun and heat. The quiet was worth the climb and the smell of green leaves and mud filled the air.
It’s a steep climb to reach the top of the hill. There are pavilions, some with enshrined tombstones, at different corners of the levelled ground. Omokdae is historically important because Yi Seong-gye (the first king of the Joseon Dynasty), later known as King Taejo, stayed at this location after a victory over Japanese pirates. Yi Seong-gye was a military commander who overturned the 400-year-long run of the ruling Goryeo Dynasty (Korea gets its name from a mispronunciation of this dynasty’s name) to give birth to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). His grandson was King Sejong, an erudite scholar, who introduced the script (Hangeul) for the Korean language.
Panoramic Views of Jeonju Hanok Village
We were tempted to follow the trails that lead to hidden places. We didn’t have time and we returned to the same route that would lead to the village below. The tiled rooftops of the old village were camouflaged between the branches of trees. It’s one of the best places to let time pass and also observe how time passed: with the old rooftops being dwarfed by the towering buildings in the backdrop.
The long flight of stairs opened into the village below. We stumbled upon a small hanji experience centre. We couldn’t find the Jeonju Traditional Hanji Center (전주전통한지원) — which looks more interesting — than the Hanji Museum that we visited on the earlier day.
Jeonju Crafts Exhibition Hall (전주공예품전시관)
The Jeonju Crafts Exhibition Hall caught our attention with its paper umbrellas and floating flowers.
The outer courtyard is an ode to Korean paper. The inner halls (no photography) are dedicated to Korean crafts and there’s also an experience centre.
All the main streets in the village have information boards at regular intervals. Although, it’s better to get lost in those cobbled streets and discover places that are off the radar.
Wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean garments) tops the list of local and foreign tourists visiting Jeonju. Pastel silks, fine lace, and intricate gold embroidery glided and whooshed around us. We had taken a step back in time and had entered a magical world where K- Dramas were brought to life — by their loyal fans. Not to be left behind, male tourists also wore the hanbok, and some — the female hanbok.
Time stands still in the old village. It’s perfect for letting go of life in 2019 and escaping into another century. Water gurgled along funnelled pathways and wooden pavilions invited tired legs.
600-year Old Ginko Tree
The 600-year old gingko tree was bright green and had a fresh set of leaves. It didn’t look as old as it was mentioned.
Donghak Revolution Memorial Hall
In June, the gardens were bursting with colour and almost every hanok had a colour-pop in its front yard.
The hanok village has many nooks and corners that are hidden in plain sight. A slight detour from one of the main alleys lead us right into a mural street.
Beware of Dogs
We came across tiled rooftops, chirping sparrows, and deserted gardens. The local residents were probably inside — guarded by their dogs — who didn’t like uninvited intrusions or visitors.
Love is in the Air
Art & Crafts
Jeonju is known for its talent and craftsmanship. From clay figurines to illustrations, there’s lots to shop for and appreciate.
Jeonju is famous for bibimbaap — a bowl of rice and mixed veggies. Bibimbaap is often topped with a runny or well done (on request) egg. In Jeonju, in some restaurants, you can opt for raw beef as a topping. The restaurant we shortlisted added a set of beef patties as an accompaniment. It kind of negated the reason why I intentionally ordered bamboo (vegetarian) rice. With the assortment of different accompaniments and kimchi, it was a hearty meal.
Taejo Eojin Museum (First King’s Portrait Museum)
The Royal Portrait Museum lies in the same complex as Gyeonggijeon. Photography isn’t allowed in certain sections of the museum. The museum gives a brief history of Jeonju and its connection with the Joseon Dynasty. The only surviving portrait of the first King (not in pictures) is preserved in the main museum hall. The King’s Portrait Hall (above pic) displays the original portraits and some copies of the kings of Joseon.
We had entered from the east gate ticket office and first explored the Royal Portrait Museum. We walked towards the annex of Gyeonggijeon and passed by the west gate ticket office. There’s a small door that opens into the annex. Jeondong Catholic Church towered in the background.
Glimpses from the Annex
Yongsil – A place where food for ceremonial rites was prepared.
Jegigo – Wooden structure for storing utensils used in sacrificial rites.
Eojeong – The King’s Well
Main Entrance & Ticket Booth
Bamboo Forest Walking Trail
Main Hall, Gyeonggijeon
Jeonju History Archive
This building was constructed to store the annals of the Joseon Dynasty.
We walked back to the cafe that we had spotted during lunch. We were lucky to witness a re-enacment of the royal procession. We generally avoid clicking pictures of people (especially faces) unless it’s virtually impossible (e.g. selfie-frenzied tourists). However, in tourist events like these, we believe: the people participating in the events will understand that they will be captured on camera and give their consent (Korean laws require prior permission). It was surprising when the main guy and an usher covered theirs faces (not in pics) while they passed us. It’s hard to avoid faces at a close range and it’s awkward for photographers/tourists to stop clicking suddenly. I understand the need for privacy, but how do you capture something that wants to be captured — by only capturing a part of it?
This cafe has an incredible view of the hanok and we were happy to find it. By late afternoon, the place was packed with tourists and it was hard to get a place to sit. We nearly gave up before getting lucky with a table.
It had been a long day with a lot of walking in the sun. We had a couple of hours more to go and we decided to explore Jaman Mural Village.