This overseas program is not only my first time in South Korea, but also my first time in Asia altogether. I am excited to explore not only Seoul, but all of Korea! As such, my friends and I decided to travel to Jeonju on our first weekend out of quarantine. We hope to travel even more in the future, so we tried to keep our budget relatively low for our first excursion. This entire experience was not extremely frugal, but can be done under $100 USD per person (less than a trip to Lotte World!).
Our experience began with the train ride to Jeonju. We spent only a few thousand won on some very yummy croquettes at the train station, spent some time at the station mall where you can get books for your journey, as well as potentially any clothes you might have forgotten to pack. We took the Mugunghwa, which is the slower of the two train options, but I didn’t find it to be that long. The difference in time was about an hour, and the tickets were much cheaper. Besides, stopping at the cities along the way allowed for some sight-seeing of parts of the Korean countryside that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see. The Mugunghwa tickets were about 17,000 Korean Won on a Friday afternoon, and this was also a slightly more expensive price that allowed us to reserve seats together. The Mugunghwa (the cheaper, slower train!!) was very clean and very quiet. The views were beautiful and the light drizzle only added to the atmosphere. The ride was about 3 hours, and with CCTV and safety being what it is here, it's easy to sleep at least some of them away.
Once we arrived, there were two options to get to our accommodations, either a bus plus a walk, or a taxi. It had started to properly pour by the time we reached Jeonju, so we decided to sacrifice a bit of budget to stay dry. Luckily for us, the taxis were readily available, and a man even held an umbrella over our heads as we got into the taxi. The sacrifice ended up being almost nothing- 6,000 won split between the four of us.
My friend Barritt found this amazing Hanok for us to stay in, right in the middle of town. It was a family run home with a few rooms to rent out. The owners were super kind, and homemade breakfast was included! Each of the four of us paid about 20,000 won per night, and we stayed for 2 nights. It was about 160,000 won total, but shared between us it wasn’t too bad. The Hanok experience is truly something special and I could honestly say some of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had. The four of us slept on the floor, as is tradition, on super comfy mats. The floor was able to be heated in the traditional way, but they also had air conditioning, which was super important in the humidity!
Each day we left the hanok after a motherly breakfast from our hosts, we headed out into the cutest town I’ve ever seen. Our first evening after the train ride, we headed up to Omokdae Viewpoint, which is completely free! It’s the sight of a historical celebration after fighting off wicked Japanese invaders, so naturally there is a gorgeous building and a better view.
On our first full day, we headed away from the historical Hanok Village and took a walk through a beautiful Lotus park. This was completely free, but better enjoyed with snacks bought in the market on the way, or trying korean snacks from a convenience store. The lotus leaves and remaining flowers covered the water so completely that when we first arrived, I thought the map at the entrance of the park had lied about there being a lake. Upon approach, the lotus leaves gently rose and fell with the soft movements of fish and turtles lapping at the algae on the surface of the lake. All in all, a photogenic experience even in its off-season, and definitely a great way to spend the day. We also made our way through several markets where street vendors had huge amounts of produce and products, though due to COVID, I could tell there were many businesses missing.
The next day, we headed downtown. It seems like Jeonju is a tourist destination for Korean nationals; there were so many cute couples walking around in matching hanboks! My friends and I hung out and got streetfood the first night, but the next day we were ready to join in on the fun. It was about 10,000KRW per person for outfits, and 8,000KRW per person for photos. It was so funny and cute! In terms of street food and the cute shops around the downtown, we bought matcha ice cream and coffee and bibimbap and dumplings, and as far as price goes, the Hanok village is a bit touristy, so prices are slightly more expensive than some other places, but comparable to Seoul. At one point, the four of us split into pairs, and while the other two decided to eat Bibimbap (which comes from Jeonju), Sabrina and I headed to Gyeonggijeon Palace. This was a super cool experience, and definitely worth the 3,000 KRW it costs to get in, which included access not only to the gardens and palace buildings, but also a portrait gallery/museum surrounding the royal family, which hails from Jeonju, specifically King Taejo.
Our final day, we went to a cafe that overlooked the entirety of the traditional Hanok village. It is hard to describe the feeling of looking at all those traditional houses, the modern people living within them, framed by skyscrapers in the distance, and misty mountains on the side. In a way, it felt like the summation of all I knew of Korea, while making me realize how little I’ve seen of this place. After a quiet start, we headed back on a train to Seoul, back to the city, and got ready for the semester to begin.