We got recommended to visit Jeonju by several people who we met in Busan. They told that it is one of the most beautiful cities in Korea. Even Lonely Planet lists Jeonju as one of the best places to visit in whole Asia so we were sold. Two top things in Jeonju are of course the traditional Hanok village and as second but not least, the food. After reading some tips for Jeonju we figured out quickly that many Korean people go there purely to eat. Sounds like a place for us. The street food is affordable and most things to see in Jeonju are for free so it is a good destination also for budget travelers.
Jeonju is located about 3 hours away from Seoul and can be easily accessed by bus from all directions. If you want to make a day trip to Jeonju from Seoul, Trazy offers a daily tour at weekends* for only $23. If you want to spend a night in a traditional Hanok house, they also have a two-day option for $65.
We wanted to continue our hitchhiking success that we had from Busan to Daegu but unfortunately it didn’t work out this time. There is not much information about hitchhiking from Daegu so we couldn’t find a good spot. After trying to get a ride on a busy road before the highway ramp we finally gave up and took a bus. The same happened when we tried to hitchhike out from Jeonju – we only managed to get a ride to the bus station.
Traditional Hanok Houses, Hanbok Dresses And Cozy Cafes
The biggest attraction is Jeonju is the Hanok village. It is well preserved and consists of 800 wooden Hanok houses. Nowadays there are loads of restaurants, cafes, tea houses and cultural places in these buildings. The streets were crowded with tourists even during a normal weekday in February. We saw mainly Korean and other Asian tourists but only two other western people during the whole day.
The most popular way to experience Korean traditions is to rent a traditional hanbok dress with a group of friends and take lots of pictures in the historical surroundings. Many tourists also rented electric bikes and cruised the streets very loudly, laughing and trying not to crash with the people. There are hanbok rental shops everywhere so it’s not a problem to find a suitable dress for you. We preferred watching other people wearing the dresses and save the money for eating though. Wandering the atmospheric streets and watching the people felt like we had stepped centuries back in the time.
We are not that much into museums but if it’s about food or drinks and has a free entry we are ready to check it out. We visited the Traditional Korean Wine Museum. They didn’t have much information in English but there was a short explanation about producing soju and makgeolli so the place was pretty fun to visit. There are also other museums and culture centers to visit in the village.
There are lots of cafes and tea houses to enjoy and have a break from walking. Because the weather was sunny, we grabbed take-away coffees and walked to an inner yard to enjoy the sun. We found people playing a traditional bamboo game. You simply try to throw the bamboo sticks to the bamboo basket. It seemed pretty hard and most people didn’t hit the target. We wanted to try it too so we played for a while. Jarkko managed to score and all the people started applauding to him haha. The games are for free and anyone can try them out.
Foodies Paradise: Yummy Bibimbab And Street Food
Jeonju is told to be the birthplace of the famous Korean dish bibimbap. It consists of rice, various vegetables, spicy sauce and meat, fish or egg. Everything is mixed together in the bowl and eaten with a spoon. Eating bibimbap in Jeonju is a must thing to do. Almost every restaurant advertises it so it’s very easy to find. We love bibimbap because it’s very healthy and fresh especially after eating too much fried food. We went to eat in a small family restaurant next to Nambu traditional market and paid 8.000 won each. Not the cheapest bibimbap we have had but it was delicious. You might find higher prices in Hanok village but we wouldn’t pay more than what we paid. The marketplace itself is also worth having a look.
After spending a day exploring Hanok village you might grave for some snacks. It’s time to try the street food that is served at every corner. Give a try for meatball or cheese chicken skewers, shrimp dumplings, chocolate pie from PNB bakery and fish pastry with ice cream.
A Night In Hanok House Or Korean Spa
You can find several Hanok guesthouses offering the chance to experience a Hanok house from inside and actually spend a night there. For us this option was out of the budget so we went for a second option – Korean spa jimjilbang. For the second night we got a couchsurfing host. Many Korean spas are open 24 hours and offer a space for sleeping besides bathing.
We went to Jeonju Hanok Spa that is located only few hundred meters from the village. The entrance fee after 9.30 PM is 8.000 won but if you go earlier you get the ticket for 7.000 won. Apparently there is no time limit for staying in the spa, or at least nobody told us anything. We spent about 14 hours inside. If you don’t feel like sleeping in a spa, check out the cheapest accommodation in Jeonju here*.
We were given towels and clothes at the reception. First, you need to leave your shoes in the locker and take the key for your locker in the changing room. Ladies and men’s changing rooms, pools and saunas are on different floors. We went to change and were both very confused in the beginning. We had no idea where we should go and when to wear the clothes we were provided with. After wandering around for a while among naked locals we slowly figured out how everything works. The whole spa area can be accessed only naked, including saunas and pools. For Finnish people this is not a big shock but as only foreigners we could feel all the eyes on us…
After bathing and relaxing it was time to put the shorts and t-shirts on and go to the common space where we finally could meet each other. There are thin mattresses, blankets and pillows for sleeping. The floor was already pretty full but we found a good spot for us. There were also some private cubicles that looked a bit like doghouses but they were all taken. You can buy food, snacks and drinks in the restaurant area. We felt sleepy and relaxed and slept almost 9 hours like babies. When we woke up almost all the people were already gone. Jimjilbang was a very nice experience. For such a cheap price you get both accommodation and a spa visit together, perfect!