What to do and where to go in South Korea’s Jeolla province

What to do and where to go in South Korea’s Jeolla province

First on the agenda: Go to the same forests where BTS’s RM took photos.

In the BTS song Ma City, member J-Hope raps about his hometown of Gwangju in the South Korean province of Jeolla. While the other members wax poetic about Busan, Daegu, Ilsan and Seoul, J-Hope provides social commentary about the people of Jeolla, giving you the impression that he’s wildly proud (and protective) of his roots. He goes on about it again in Paldogansan, where he uses the South Jeolla dialect to reference local delicacies like bibimbap.

Jeolla-do’s been mentioned a couple of times in BTS’s earlier albums, which is why I was kind of familiar with the province in the first place. A quick Google search one afternoon led me to a short description — Jeolla is a southern province of South Korea, known for its rich history and yummy food. Apart from that, though, I knew nothing about it. I’d been to South Korea twice before, but I’d never thought of exploring outside of Seoul.

So when I received word that I was assigned to a familiarization trip in Jeolla-do, I welcomed the opportunity despite qualms about it being in an area you wouldn’t normally see in a Korea travel brochure.

“It’ll be like a 2 Days & 1 Night kind of situation,” I said to myself, recalling the South Korean reality show where cast members travel around provinces in South Korea while completing challenges (for food, and to avoid punishment). “I’ll basically be IU in The Producers.”

While our tour wouldn’t be heading to J-Hope’s beloved Gwangju, we’d be traveling to five cities and two counties in Southern and Northern Jeolla in a span of four days. And when your itinerary was as packed as mine was, what’s not to be excited about?

Luckily, Jeolla-do is a chill place, and quite urbanized. The tourist spots weren’t too congested when we went in late May, and the weather was the perfect mix of warm and cool (think: Tagaytay on a good day) that made it easy to be outside all day. Here’s a little bit about the places we visited, along with some suggestions for activities and eats to check out. 

Jeollabuk-Do (North Jeolla Province)

JEONJU CITY

After brief stops around Dangjin and Gunsan (for the former, a shrine for Kim Taegon, the first Korean saint; for the latter, a museum visit and some red bean bread at the legendary Lee Sung Dang bakery), we arrived at Jeonju. The city is the capital of Jeollabuk-do, and the 16th largest in all of South Korea. When we arrived, we had just missed the Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), which is one of three international film festivals held in the country every year. 

Hanbok happy: Try on traditional Korean dress at Jeonju Hanok Village.

What to do: Try on traditional Korean costumes (hanbok) and stroll around Jeonju Hanok Village (29, Eojin-gil, Wansan-gu), which has over 700 hanoks. For those wanting to scratch that shopping itch, as a Pinoy is wont to do, head to the area surrounding JIFF Street. It’s full of all the trendy clothes you’d see in Hongdae, with prices of women’s blouses ranging from 9,000 won and up and men’s T-shirts going from 13,000 won and up (about P400 to P580). I also spotted a couple of vintage stores selling all your streetwear staples (a.k.a. K-Pop idol off-duty looks) including workwear jackets, tracksuits and oversized T-shirts. 

Mixx mixx: Sample the famous Jeolla-do bibimbap at Pung Namjeong in Jeonju City.

What to eat: Bibimbap! Jeonju is the home of the dish, after all. While you can eat it pretty much anywhere in the city, the dolsot (stone pot) version of it at Pung Namjeong (54 Taejo-ro) is as authentic as you can get. Don’t forget to request for extra gochujang for maximum flavor. It’s worth noting that I also had the best pajeon I’ve ever tasted at this restaurant. For dessert, head to PNP Pungnyeon Bakery (180, Paldal-ro, Wansan-gu) to decorate your own choco pie.

Jeollanam-Do (South Jeolla Province)

DAMYANG COUNTY

While I maintain that every spot in Korea is a certified photo-zone, Damyang is at the top of my list when it comes to ~nature~. I’d even consider going back for some me-time. Fans of Korean TV will be excited to know it’s a popular filming site for both dramas and variety shows, but I was mostly excited because photos I saved of BTS member RM looked like they were taken in the area — a fact our tour guide excitedly confirmed (“BTS? Oh yes, they were here last year!”) (I died.) 

Boy in luv: Our tour guide confirmed that BTS’s RM visited Damyang’s Juknokwon Bamboo Park last year.

What to do: Reserve an afternoon for some quiet contemplation at two of the county’s main attractions. Go for a chill stroll around Juknokwon Bamboo Park’s (119 Jungnogwon-ro, Damyang-eup) eight courses and stop by Korean contemporary artist Lee Lee-Nam’s museum while inside. A little further away is the Metasequoia-lined road (578-4 Hakdongro, Damyang-eup) that rivals even the one on Nami Island — it isn’t called one of the most beautiful roads in Korea for nothing. If you’re looking for something along the lines of Petite France, you can also visit the nearby Meta Provence, a small commercial village populated with quaint stores and cafes, all with a European flair.

Just right: The European-inspired Meta Provence in Damyang is a prime spot for romantic photo ops.

What to eat: Damyang’s signature dishes are tteok galbi (Korean-style Hamburger steak, marinated in soy sauce) and daetongbap (rice cooked in bamboo). I’d have to say that the bamboo gave the rice the wet-yet-perfectly-pasty quality that I look for.

BOSEONG CITY

Three words: Green tea heaven. Boseong is the largest tea-producing area in Korea, with almost one third of all tea farmland located in the area. Tbh, that’s all you need to know. 

What to do: Walk through the green tea plantation and pretend you’re a farmer from the Joseon Dynasty, or a character from that scene in Legend of the Blue Sea. Try going in the mid-afternoon, so that the sun isn’t as hot and you can still get those quality “I’m here in this green tea field!” photos that are also Windows XP screensaver-worthy. Sadly, I can’t promise that you’ll see Lee Min Ho here, but as they say, libre mangarap!

Green flavor: Have a cup of green tea soft serve by one of the filming sites for Legend of the Blue Sea.

What to eat: Green tea ice cream and green tea lattes, or if you’re a tea person: PURE GREEN TEA. There are two shops that sell it — if you want more of a green tea taste, head to the shop by the entrance to get a cone for 3,500 won (P155). If you’re more into creaminess, get from the cheaper 3,000 won (P135) shop a few steps away that’s right at the foot of the fields. 

Yeosu City

Located on the southern coast of the Korean peninsula, Yeosu is the kind of city I imagine Koreans visit when they want a quick beach getaway. While Busan is also famous for that very purpose, Yeosu has its charms, too. I’ll never forget waking up to cool weather, while gazing at the seaside view, breathing in that familiar salty ocean air.

Summer magic: At Yeosu Artland’s Sky Walk, you can get breathtaking (and slightly terrifying) cliffside views of the ocean.

What to do: Head to Yeosu Art Land for an interactive art experience. For the more daring, check out the Sky Walk and swing (245 Dolsan-eup) that gives you breathtaking (and, well, slightly terrifying) cliffside views of the ocean. Scaredy-cats like me can opt to take the Yeosu Maritime Cable Car (3600-1, Dolsanro) to the mainland for a friendlier bird’s-eye view experience.

Mukbang-ready: Have a seafood meal at Yeosu’s “romantic pojangmacha”, which is what they call the row of tent restaurants on the boardwalk by the sea.

What to eat: Choose from a variety of seafood at Nangman Pocha, or “romantic pojangmacha” (Isunsingwangjang-ro, Yeosu), which is what they call the row of tent restaurants on the boardwalk by the sea. Food is quite pricey for tent restaurant standards, but well worth it for the seaside ambience.

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#art #culture #travel

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