After sleeping off the kimchi coma that resulted from my gastronomic over-indulgences in both Seoul and Suwon, the time had finally come for my to continue my journey South through the remainder of the South Korean peninsula. The next two destinations on my itinerary were that of Jeonjo and Gwangju: the former being the birthplace of the Joseon Dynasty (a powerful, five-century regime that oversaw a flourishing period in Korea’s history) and the latter being the artistic and cultural hub of the country. I’ll readily admit, however, that even after eating everything in sight in my previous two stops, I happened to choose both of these next destinations based more on their culinary heritages (or proximity to, in the latter case) than their respective histories — but hey, everyone has their own reason for traveling, after all!
Jeonju, South Korea:
The heart of the city of Jeonju, though devoid of any major attractions, is a quaint and peaceful hanok village (the traditional Korean houses) — a place where it is easy to watch an afternoon flash by in front of you while wandering amongst the crafts shops and tea houses that make up the bulk of this part of the city. Cutting a swath into the Eastern side of the city, too, are a few foothills leading to the nearby mountain ranges, the main peak of which houses the Omokdae Pavilion, offerings splendid views over the village below. Here are a few of the images you’re likely to encounter if you happen to pass by through:
In addition to the historic home of one of the most famous ruling parties in Korea’s history, Jeonju is also home to one of the most famous dishes in the Korean repertoire, that of Bibimbap. This dish is composed of a bowl of warm white rice topped with a colorful variety of lightly sauteed vegetables, thinly sliced bits of meat, a raw egg, and a spicy chili paste known as gochujang (occasionally, even nuts, seeds, and beans are also thrown in). Even though it seems sacrilegious to mar the beautiful presentation with each ingredient delicately laid out, the proper way to eat bibimbap is to stir the whole mess together, where each bite becomes its own exploratory experience, that mouthful may have a little more of this or a little less of that.
Gwangju, South Korea:
Continuing further South along the Western coast (or at least approximately), my next stop was that of Gwangju. Although the outward appearance of the city is pretty much a carbon copy of any other similarly sized mini-metropolis, the city is defined by a more rebellious spirit. A few decades ago, in 1980, this was the site of what has come to be known as the May 18th Democratic Uprising — where a city-wide protest of a current government resulted in several hundred deaths and several thousand injuries when the military was called in to cool things off. Although reliving these tumultuous times is certainly a worthwhile experience, my primary purpose for visiting lay in another field: that of the arts. In addition to their own Contemporary Art Museum and National History Museum, the city is also home to the ”Gwangju Biennale,” a collaborative art event held every two years involving several hundred artists from over 40 countries engaging in a roundtable discussion so-to-speak, with their ongoing exhibits on display for all visitors. And the dates of this year’s event just so happened to coincide with my trip — meaning I had a day of museum hopping in front of me:
Boseong Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation:
After being cooped up indoors for a whole day having visited a trio of excellent museums, and continuing with my culinary theme, I decided to brave a few local buses and to venture towards the Boseong Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation a few hours outside of Gwangju. Perched along a curved hillside lie the cascading rows of delicately tended tea bushes, a visual delight from any angle (and later, a tasty treat, too!).
To fully finish off the tea plantation experience, however, one must sample the fruits of nature and try out their tea-flavored goodies:
After Jeonju and Gwangju, I’m next headed to the Southeast side of the peninsula to take in a few ocean views in Busan — with the famous Jeju Island on deck. Until then, cheers from Jeonju and Gwangju!