A Day in Jeonju

Selfie in front of Spirited Away mural inside Jeonju Mural Village

Edit: As I finish up my Jeonju posts and start recording Busan, I learn that Korea was just hit with its strongest-ever earthquake, with the epicenter near Busan and effects felt even in Seoul. #PrayforKorea 😦

Back in Seoul during the food tour, a Korean man training to be a guide himself had joined us. When I told him I would be going to Jeonju, he was confused.

“Jeonju?” he asked. “That isn’t exactly a city I would think people would visit. I mean, my parents are from around there…”

Naturally, I was beginning to wonder whether booking two nights in Jeonju was a good idea, but I was confident in the research I did do regarding this place, and the woman back from the cooking class had said herself she loved it—specifically the makgeolli.

So there are quite a few YouTube videos about the food in Jeonju, mostly thanks to YouTuber Mark Wiens. I’d come across his online presence when researching travel bloggers way back when, so I was happy to see that I could actually see what he looks like—and boy, is he a character. I mean, really, he gets SO excited.

As I mentioned in my last post, the guesthouse owner showed me around after dinner, pointing out the best spot for the famous bean sprout soup. I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember the exact spot, though, because the market it’s located in is a total maze. Plus, in typical Sonia fashion, I woke up early, before much of the market was even open. After failing to find the exact spot and not knowing how to say the dish in Korean to the owners of one shop I wasn’t sure of, I ended up going to a spot that actually had customers and looked good.

Everyone ordered the bean sprout soup, and I knew that this was as authentic as I was going to get anyway. After all, if I had never had it, I’m sure minor nuances wouldn’t make a difference to a tourist like me.

It wasn’t until after I had taken a better look at the picture I took that I realized just how many chili seeds covered this bowl. My mouth burned like a thousand suns, but I loved it.

I spent the rest of the morning walking throughout the village, exploring the Gyeonggijeon Palace, hiking a short trail leading up a mountain overlooking the village, browsing the art at the Mural Village, and watching all the young Korean women dressed in hanbok taking selfies everywhere.

Although the guesthouse owner advised against going to the Mural Village due to the sun and heat, I still went, figuring I could just chill at a café somewhere inside.

Not without trying the choco pie first 😛 I didn’t end up going to the PNB chain for the “original” ones, because I just stopped by the shop that the guesthouse owner and I walked into the night before. I had decided to wait until this morning to try one. They’re nothing that special, but it’s one of those things you just have to try while here, apparently. I later passed by so many PNB stores that I wondered what was the difference with the one I had tried.

After hiking up the village’s hilly alleyways, I found an adorable café, run by a mom who lets her cute baby daughter hang out inside. Having ordered an iced latte, I sat next to the A/C unit and fan to cool down, enjoying the lovely view of the impeccably well-kept, green backyard. There was even a cute painting of her kid perched atop the counter I sat at. I indeed did a double-take to see that it was of her kid.

Then making my way back down, I figured it was finally time for a foot bath. And folks, get ready for another interesting story 😛

Back in the Hanok Village, I found a shop on the second floor of a building that advertised foot baths for 10,000 won. When I walked in, I saw two young Korean boys seated on the benches. Coming from China where young kids are often seen working inside service shops, I kept looking and smiling at them for attention—until the old man actually attending to the foot baths went to serve them. Oops. Apparently only that one man worked in this rather large shop with a whole wall lined with massage chairs.

Jeonju foot bath

So when it was my turn, he had me sit on the small stool first to get a brief shoulder massage. It was funny to watch the boys getting them because the pressure that the man uses is so intense that their bodies lurch forward rhythmically and awkwardly, all while seated on a tiny plastic stool. So when it came to me, I feared looking similarly ridiculous but was just happy to get a massage, however brief.

Anyway, the foot bath is quite literally just a foot bath. You sit on an armchair, and the most massaging you get is from the chair itself, while the jets from the tub your feet soak in do the rest. Near the end of your session, the man returns to use some pointy metal stick to jab into your pressure points. Voila. Experience over.

It’s worth noting that I was sweating like crazy during the whole process, because, well, I had just hiked all morning and was now soaking in a hot foot bath inside a shop with no noticeable fan or A/C. The boys whom I had accidentally gave serious eye to in the beginning finished up just a bit earlier than I did.

Jeonju foot bath shop

When I made my way back down to the street, I paused to check my map of the village for where exactly the guesthouse owner said was the best bibimbap. Suddenly, one of the boys from the foot bath came up to me and introduced himself. In terribly broken English, he told me he was 28 (looks early 20s), was from Seoul, and wanted to make “foreign” friends. I said simply that, well, I’m foreign (LOL for forever awkwardness), and soon, he asked if I had Kakao (Korean’s WeChat, America’s Messenger) or email. Given I had deleted my Kakao I had created for fun years ago, I gave him my email. Plus, less pressure with email to actually continue conversations…right?

Then I shit you not, hours later, I received an email from him. “J,” as he called himself, reintroduced himself, but this time, changed his age to 26. Now, I know about Korean ages, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works 😛

Over the next few days, we would exchange a few emails but have since stopped emailing. And no, he was not that cute. Unfortunately, he was cuter from afar, which makes me sad about how this could be true about every Korean. LOL.

OK, finally BIBIMBAP. Although I couldn’t find the exact place my guesthouse owner suggested (I see a theme here), I asked someone who led me to a restaurant with two huge bowls of fake bibimbap on display at the entrance. Woo.

Jeonju bibimbap

With the spicy soup and choco pie from the morning and latte in the afternoon, I wasn’t hungry enough to stuff myself with a full-sized bowl of bibimbap, so I was more than happy to see the mini option on the menu. But then again, for someone who had come all the way to Jeonju just for bibimbap, I felt a bit ashamed of getting a “mini.”

Still, the size wasn’t that small, and I savored every bite. What made this one special was the addition of red dates. The meat was marinated well, too.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking throughout the village, even getting a henna tattoo and two handmade bracelets.

I also stopped by a camera museum, featuring an impressive collection of top cameras from the past few decades. The entrance fee includes a free drink at the end of the short walk through the exhibits, which included one where you looked through peepholes to see actual nude photographs, among the first, I guess. Funny.

Gilgeoriya baguette sandwich
Gilgeoriya sandwich.

At last, such a packed day (definitely did not feel as long as it did until I wrote this, which means it was a success!) came to a close, as I tried the last of my guesthouse owner’s recommendations: a baguette sandwich from Gilgeoriya.

It’s basically a hollowed-out baguette filled with the most flavorful sauces and veggies. I’m a fan.

Despite what seems like a day of eating, I barely touched the list of things to eat in Jeonju.

So Jeonju ended up exceeding my expectations. I definitely would have stayed an extra couple nights solely to eat more. The city is definitely the food capital of Korea, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Korea! 🙂

Next up: Bus to Busan and falling immediately in love with the city.