Jeonju is far and away my favorite spot in Korea. Hands down! There, you get a perfect mix of old and new. Known for its amazing food- it is the birthplace of the Korean staple- bibimbop.
The old: Roam the cobblestoned streets, explore Gyeonggi Palace and enjoy the charming alleyways of the beautiful hanok village. Often, Koreans will be walking around in traditional hanboks, which no doubt will give you the authentic Korean experience.
The new: The best thing about Jeonju? You can get the culture while shoving all the amazing Korean food in your face as your body will allow. Jeonju is known for its amazing street food and restaurants.
If the cultural appeal doesn’t bring you there, the food most certainly will. I’ve been on 2 separate occasions and I would go back for a third serving! Every time, I fall in love with it even more. The first time I went during a Korean film festival, the second time I learned how to make bibimbop and got interviewed by a Korean news station.
Who knows? Jeonju could be your big break- either for your career, or your pants because of all.the.food. Either way, it’s a win!
I went to Boseong just before the tea leaves were harvested and it was absolutely beautiful. The vibrant green leaves were offset with colorful blooming flowers. The rows of tea leaves sprawled father than your eyes would allow- even reaching over mountainsides.
If you are up for a brisk hike, the view from the top is worth the effort required to get there. Legend has it that the rock at the top will grant you a wish- the experience is truly magical!
The best time to go is during the annual pre harvest festival in May. It was during this festival that we got to pick our own leaves from the bushes and slave away eventually turning them into drinkable tea leaves! Though the process is long and tiring and hot, it is worth it to be taught a craft from a native who doesn’t speak your language. That experience alone was enough to make the whole trip unforgettable.
I feel like this hike was more like a pilgrimage than a hike. It’s unlike any other and if you do the entire trail, it goes on seemingly forever- 14 hours to be exact. Once you think you’re at the summit it’s like “lol, jk” and you realize there are still two more peaks to conquer. About halfway through I’m sure you’ll start getting exhausted and losing your will to continue…I sure did.
I sprained my ankle (again) on the summit of the last peak; leaving me no choice but to roll/crawl my way down. I was alone in the woods and scared for what seemed like an eternity- though in all reality it was more like 15 minutes.
Which is a long freakin’ time to sit on a rock and cry.
Because that’s what I do now when faced with a fight or flight situation. I find a nice rock on which to have a good cry. Really.
Finally Eventually my group caught up to me. Total strangers at the time, we bonded over the sheer state of pity in which I was found. Then, magic happened right there on that stupid rock:
-Someone lent me two hiking sticks to crutch my way down with.
-A Korean guy offered to carry my backpack the whole way down and his girlfriend offered me their company.
-A Korean woman lent me an ace bandage and Advil.
-Later, a Christian missionary worker (?) bought me a frozen water bottle to ice it with and drink afterwards.
Strangers have a funny way of helping you out in the most unexpected ways and on that mountain, I was eternally grateful. I don’t think you should go and sprain your ankle, but I do think the hike is an important thing to do. Test yourself and your limits- you would be surprised what you can handle.
#4- Temple Stay
When you’ve had too much of Hongdae or Itaewon than you can or would like to handle- do a temple stay! It’s an amazing way to get in touch with yourself, with nature and to just press reset. I did a stay at Geonbongsa Temple in Gangwondo. It is north east of Seoul and the temple offers spectacular views of mountains… and the DMZ!
We got to do alms in the morning and the notorious 108 bows for good health and prosperity. During our bows, we got to make buddhist prayer beads. Each time you complete a bow, you end up kneeling on the floor- which is when you place a new bead onto your string.
Everyone is kept in sync by the monk at the front of the room who creates a beat by hitting a bamboo stick against her palm. Everyone, except for me- because I spilled my entire bucket of beads…of course.
The next day we got to meditate on top of a mountain. Which was cool on its own, except that this particular mountain was situated on/inside the actual DMZ. A place civilians are not allowed- but we got to go because part of the mountain is used by a religious group. Religion FTW!
The only downside? You have to suffer through horrible temple food if you don’t bring snacks. You must eat everything on your plate and whilst doing so, “think about all the effort that went into laboring each, individual grain of rice.”
Pro tip: Bring snacks!
#5- DMZ/ JSA
This is a pretty touristy thing to do, but I don’t even care ya’ll! This was on my bucket list- not just for Korea but for LIFE! Most people think the Demilitarized Zone is the actual boarder between North and South Korea.
boarder “line” between the two is called the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which is located in the Joint Security Area (JSA)- where the 38th parallel is, or “the line” eye roll. The area around the JSA is called the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or, no man’s land.
There are two separate tours:
The DMZ- in which you will only be escorted through the area which surrounds “the line”
The DMZ & JSA- where you get to go into North Korea (without defecting) and only see the bridge of no return- THANKS a lot, Bill Clinton.
Don’t be an uninformed tourist. If you want to go to MDL don’t say you want to go to the DMZ, when you really want to go to the JSA…#awkward.
I’ve traveled extensively around Korea, but still haven’t gotten to Busan or Jeju. Those are usually the top 2 places people go when they come here. I know, haha #hipstertraveler “it’s just too mainstream.”
I have plans to get there before my time in Korea is up, so it’s possible there will be future edits to this list. But for now, I am more than happy with it as it stands 🙂
Are you in Korea? What have been the highlights of your time here? Let me know in the comments!
As always… “nobody likes a bully” let’s be nice! 🙂 ❤