November 1, 2017
Joy and I are capping our nearly two-week excursion in a city that I have long wanted to visit – Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province. To be honest, I have never heard of the city until I started watching The Return of Superman. Jeonju is a usual haunt of Lee Donggook, a Korean soccer superstar, and his children. It simply fascinated me so much that I insisted that we must visit the city before going back north to Seoul. Thankfully she relented. For a more authentic experience, we stayed in Jeonju’s famous Hanok Village.
Being true to its brand, Joy and I woke up to a calm morning. After careful preparation, we headed out to find a place to eat. We walked around and explored our part of the village. As the darkness that once wrapped the village lifted, the village begun taking form before our very eyes. However, the village was still in deep slumber; most shops were closed and very few locals were out on the streets although it was already past 7 AM. Near our accommodation is a stream and a bridge where a traditional pavilion was erected. We crossed the bridge to find a café as we are going to gulp down coffee (nothing surprising there) for breakfast.
With caffeine infused into our bloodstream, we went back to our hanok to prepare our things for our trip back to Seoul later in the day. After everything’s been settled, we headed out to explore the rest of the Hanok Village. The village’s gridded pattern makes it easier to navigate and explore its hidden secrets. Shops line up the streets and pathways. They offer a plethora of merchandise ranging from what can be ingested to what can be kept as a memento. There are restaurants and hanbok rental shops (for a more Korean feel) as well.
It was pleasant walking around the village because it was not crowded and it was very clean. After a couple minutes of mindless meandering, we found a fortified structure which is reminiscent of Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung. Although we barely had an iota on what it was, we nonetheless bought admission tickets. Upon checking the inscriptions on the entrance, I have learned that this structure is called “Gyeonggijeon Shrine”. It was erected in 1410 and houses the portrait of King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty and who traces his roots in Jeonju. Without further ado (and because we have very little time), we headed out to explore Gyeonggijeon.
It was relatively smaller compared to the very vast grounds of Gyeongbokgung but it was equally fascinating. As we are amongst the early birds, Gyeonggijeon wasn’t as crowded. We took advantage of the solitude and explored as much as we can before it gets crowded. Our first destination was the Subokcheong which was once where low-ranking officials stayed to prepare for the sacrificial rites held at Gyeonggijeon Shrine.
While exploring Gyeonggijeon, we came across a group of young Korean students who were out on a field trip. It is always fascinating exploring areas like this because I also get to learn. I commend the Korean government for keeping these places well-tended. It is a great way to educate Korean students and foreign visitors alike. In the company of the children, we had fun exploring Gyeonggijeon’s “kitchen”, a collection of structures such as the Yongsil (where food for sacrificial rites were made), the Jokwancheong (where food, including rice cake, to be offered at sacrificial rites were made), and Jegigo (where utensils used in sacrificial rites were stored).
From the Annex, we proceeded to the Royal Portrait Museum. It contains numerous mementoes from the Joseon era such as implements used in Royal ceremonies. There are caricature depictions of daily life during the said period as well. More importantly, the museum houses one of the original portraits of King Taejo. It is also home to the portraits of Joseon kings who succeeded King Taejo such as King Saejong, the father of the Korean language and alphabet.
Our next stop was the Jeonju Sago, which houses historical archives. It contains the annals of the Joseon Dynasty which were collectively listed in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Registry. The annals are comprised of 888 books and nearly 2,000 volumes which comprehensively documented different events, judgements, and political and social affairs during the said period. We ended our tour of the Shrine at the main halls of Gyeonggijeon. For avid Korean fans, numerous scenes from the famed drama Moonlight Drawn By The Clouds were shot here.
With very little time to spare, we proceeded our exploration of the village. Within striking distance of Gyeonggijeon is the Jeondong Cathedral. Its fusion of Romanesque and Byzantine inspired architectural style makes it an interesting and idyllic spot. Because of this, it is often referred to as the most beautiful church in Korea. Some even hailed it as the most beautiful structure in all of Korea. It was also designated as a Korean Historical Site (Historic Site # 288).
After snapping a couple of pictures at the church, Joy and I moved on to the next stop which is visible from the church, the Pungnammun Gate. It was built during the Joseon Dynasty. Of the original four Jeonju city gates, it is the only one that stood the test of time. Although it was damaged during the Japanese invasions (1592-1598), it was rebuilt in 1768. It was completely restored in 1978. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the Gate. We’ve no choice but to just take pictures from a distance.
Picture trip done, Joy and I went back to the village to explore it for one last time. The village is very clean and there are a lot of trinkets one can purchase for souvenir. For the more daring, they can purchase the Jeonju makgeolli, a rice wine. We both bought a bottle of the wine to take home to the Philippines. But no trip to Jeonju is complete without trying its real heritage – the bibimbap. Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish and Jeonju’s is tagged to be the best. There are a lot of restaurants in the village to choose from and when we found one, we gulped down the healthy dish. Well, to be honest, I have very little experience of bibimbap so I have no point of comparison. However, Jeonju’s bibimbap exploded with flavors. It is truly a must try!
Whoa. Another exhausting day in the books. Now we must return to Seoul as Joy’s departure is later today while mine is tomorrow afternoon. I still can’t believe that our Korean trip has just concluded. Ugh. If only I can stay here forever. But reality is knocking on my door. Do watch out for my conclusion of our South Korean trip in the coming days!