Jeonju: City mixes history, culture with modern-day living
JEONJU, South Korea — About a 90-minute bus ride from Kunsan Air Base is this bustling city and a special district filled with cultural treasures, museums, a serene, spacious park, and a thriving downtown lined with coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.
The city is Jeonju, population 630,000, and governmental seat of South Korea’s North Cholla Province.
Besides being home of the Jeonju International Film Festival, and famous for its rice dish known as bi-bim- bap, Jeonju offers a chance to get close up to Korea’s history and cultural traditions, and in the same afternoon to step into 21st century Korea with its modern shopping district or live performances at the Jeonju Traditional Culture Center.
Parks and points of cultural interest are concentrated in the city’s southeastern sector, the heart of which is Taejoro, a street that runs through the core of the district.
The list of things to see in Jeonju is a long one, but among just a few of the high points are the Pungnammun Gate, the tidy grounds of the Confucian academy, the Hanbyeokdang Pavilion, and the Jeon-dong Cathedral.
And along Taejoro are coffee shops — besides those in the downtown commercial district — with tables and chairs out on the sidewalks.
But for daytrippers looking for a quiet break alone or with a friend, the park at the Gyeonggijeon Shrine may just make your day.
The park is a place of wide-open, shaded spaces where birds sing, and a breeze rustles the leaves. An elderly but fit-looking man goes by on a bicycle. A dozen or more elderly men and women lie on platforms, sleeping or enjoying the air. A group of women who’ve just visited the nearby cathedral sit in a circle out at one corner of the park and quietly sing together from a hymnal.
Also of note is the Jeonju Traditional Culture Center. The center holds performances of Korea’s traditional pansori singing, renderings of other types of traditional Korean music, experimental crossover music that blends Western pop with Korean traditional, a traditional food hall and traditional wedding hall. The center’s Web site is: www.jtculture.or.kr
Just a five-minute stroll from the center is the Hanbyeokdang Pavilion. Visitors climb stone steps to the open-air wooden structure, which is painted in richly colored traditional patterns.
The pavilion looks out over a long, verdant bend in the Jeonjucheon River, and ends where a series of sharply peaked ridges cross the horizon.
For a more classically modern South Korean downtown experience, make your way to Gosa-dong, a place with movie theaters, restaurants and shopping.