It’s the crowds, rush hour traffic, hip but snotty restaurants, smell of sewers wafting through high-rise buildings, and the blurry eyed drunk people at any given time past 11 p.m.
It can feel suffocating, and give you what I call “city sickness.” Add to this the Korean phenomenon of chungonjeung, or “spring fatigue,” a disruption in body rhythms brought on by changing temperatures, daylight hours, and general physical activity.
The combination of foggy spring weather and April bloom makes for a lovely time of getting lost in the Hanok Village.
The best remedy for such dismal conditions is to escape to the rest of the country, which in my experience has always been kinder, greener, and most importantly, refreshing.
Jeonju, the capital city of North Jeolla province, is perfect for the occasion. Its main attraction is the Hanok Village, a place of about 700 hanok built in the 1930s as a sign of opposition against the Japanese invasion. The Hanok Village is a thing of beauty, and the combination of foggy spring weather and April bloom makes for a lovely time of getting lost.
Grab a map from the tourist office to navigate the maze of buildings in the Hanok Village, which contains endless sites to visit. There are hanok of all purposes and sizes including the royal palace, city gate and Confucian school to name a few. At this time of the year, you’ll find every hanok decorated with an assortment of spring flowers as well as age-old gingko trees and bamboo forests.
Here is the taste of the few I visited during the recent voting day holiday.
The convenient first stop is the Gyunggijeon, a royal shrine right by the entrance of the village. Originally housing the portrait of Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, it is a religious venue now filled with mossy trees, a bamboo forest and apricot flowers. The spacious palace also preserves the royal document archive.
Once inside the village, a must-go spot is Omokdae, an outdoor garden pavilion sitting on a small hill. Yi Seong-gye took leisurely walks here and is known to have held a momentous banquet after a war victory in 1380. Sitting in the pavilion provides quiet from the bustling crowds, as well as a scenic view of all the hanok rooftops in the village. If you climb up to Omokdae from Taejo road, you will be greeted by cheery Korean golden bells blooming abundantly along this road.
Walking down through a series of alleyways, you may arrive at Hyanggyo-gil. This cute pebble road is lined with cafes and snack stalls, which helps provide that extra caffeine and sugar needed for all the walking around the village. There are unique shops along the way too. One by the name of Needle Girl Factory sells handmade embroidery by sisters who can be seen peacefully working in their little shop.
At the end of the pebble road is its namesake landmark, Hyanggyo, a Confucian school established in Joseon Dynasty. Along with a long history, the site is known for its protected trees. The youngest trees are at least 200 years old, and the highlight among them is the two majestic gingko trees that are 380 years old. Hyanggyo also gained fame through the Korean drama “Sungkyunkwan Scandal,” which was filmed here.
Once you’ve had enough of hanok, you can easily walk over to Nambu Market, a nearby market which not only sells fresh produce, but also provides a hidden spot for a hearty bowl of bibimbap or bean sprout soup, two of Jeonju’s best-known delicacies.
The combination of traditional architecture, spring flowers, and a full stomach is a promising therapy for both fatigue and the city, to say the least.
• Yongsan to Jeonju Station, five trains daily, takes 2 hours & 10 minutes.
• Online reservation available through korail.com
• Mobile reservations available through the Korail Glory app
• KTX tickets around 32,000 won
• Tip: If KTX tickets are sold out and you’ve got time to kill, Mugungwha trains run more often, take around 3 hours 15 minutes and cost around 18,000 won per person.
• Gangnam Central Express Bus Terminal to Jeonju Express Bus terminal, buses every 10 minutes from 5am to 12am, takes 2 hours & 45 minutes.
• Online reservation available through hticket.co.kr
• Mobile reservations available through the Kobus website
• Generally around 15,000 won
Getting to the Hanok Village from the Jeonju train station/bus terminal takes under 30 minutes by local bus, and is even shorter if you taxi it.
Coming back, the bus is your only option out of Jeonju if you are leaving after 2pm. Buses are available every 10 minutes from 5am–12am at the Jeonju Express Bus Terminal.
Photography by Keri Shay.