Nick and I spent his first days in Seoul but I will come back to that later. The Highlight of the visit has to be when we went to Jeonju for three nights and stayed in a beautiful traditional hanok home with the loveliest family – so this gets a big long post.
Jeonju is famous for its food and hanok village, a quaint area separated from the rest of the more normal city. After getting a cheap taxi to Golmokgil Hanok Guesthouse, we found a note on the door written in English. It explained which room was ours and that we could use the cute kitchen area and help ourselves to coffee, but apologized for not being there for “awkward English conversation.” We had a map marked with tips for places to visit and eat, but one problem – we couldn’t figure out how to open the door! In the end, we called the owner and Park came to meet us. Turns out we didn’t think to lift the handle up instead of pulling down. So simple!
Once Park was there anyway, we started talking. He offered us a pear (which is like gold here since fruit is a bit more expensive than I expected) and made us laugh when he told us that our 3-night stay was too long via a translator on his phone. Talk about wanting our business! We explained that we wanted to go to Maisan Park for hiking one of the days so he offered to give us a lift to the bus station the next morning. His wife and her sister came by later and we chatted a little, with the phone translators of course, and to be honest, they just seemed to be really intrigued by this Korean girl that doesn’t speak Korean!
We wandered around the village for a while and tried some mandu (dumplings).
They gave us a recommendation to go try Haitai BBQ for some spicy chicken dinner, and Nick got to try his first sampling of soju – a Korean rice liquor. Not a big fan (who is?) but then we did as the Koreans do and mixed it with some beer. Generally people say that Korean beer is really “light,” so mixing it with soju helps give it a bit more of a kick.
The next day, we wrote to Park to take us to the bus station, and when he came in the morning with his wife, we asked them if they had ever been before, and they said no. They were also worried about the weather for us because the forecast said rain (I just remained hopeful it would hold out until the afternoon). We got in the car and suddenly they were telling us that they were taking us to Maisan, because they had time and were worried about the rain. We tried to refuse but it was impossible and since we were already in the backseat of the car, there wasn’t much to do but go with it! On the way, we stopped for tofu donuts, which I still find hard to believe were actually made from tofu – they were delicious! Just like fried donuts! I mentioned the black pork, since the region is supposedly famous for it, and they said we could go for lunch. At that point, we realized that they were not only taking us to the park but coming with us for the day!
Maisan is a small provincial park, and you can walk from one side to the other in about 2 hours going through two peaks that look like horse ears. The legend is that two god descended to earth to have a child, and when they were going back up, a village woman saw them and they became trapped on earth as the two peaks. Apparently in winter, you can leave out a bowl of water and icicles will form going up towards the sky from the bowl!
Anyway, hiking in Korea = stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. We finally go to the center of the horse ears and passed Eunsusa Temple just on the south side of the peaks when it started sprinkling a little. But wow, it was so worth it getting to Tapsa! There were supposedly 120 stone pagodas built but now about 80 remain. Hand-constructed over the course of 30 years by one man, Lee Gapyong, who began when he was 25 years old. The largest twin pagodas are 13.5m to get an idea – and somehow all of these have survived some 100+ years despite typhoons and winds! Pretty magical.
Nick and I were originally going to continue on for a further walk, but with the weather and basically not finding the trail, we headed back together and went for lunch in nearby Jinan instead! We had some kind of eel soup (eels cooked down so you can’t find them, which was explained when they realized why we were digging in our bowls haha)
When we got back to the guesthouse, we went for a siesta and meanwhile, a Dutch couple (Peter and Mariska) arrived, so we ended up going out for dinner as a group. First we went on a little walk for a nightview of Omokdae and the hanok village from above…
And then it was onwards to try some makgeolli! Makgeolli is another rice wine that looks more like milk, and they have these restaurants where you order a kettle of it and then get tons and tons of food! Lots of seafood – big and small snails, little crabs, raw fish – some soup, silkworms (despite me liking them, Nick and Peter described them as sweaty sock taste), kimchi, and I can’t remember what else but look here!!
The next day, Nick and I went to explore on our own because Park and his wife went to work (in the end, he also works as an estate agent and she has a shop – we guess they just closed for the day before because they can!). We wandered about the New Town Market full of vendors selling all types of food, then back to the center to snack on some chicken skewers, and sing and play guitar in a bubble tea shop! Final destination – Jaman Art Village to check out the murals and stumbled upon a little corner painting workshop, we decided to get some personalized souvenirs from her.
When Park came back, he hustled us into his car again (no idea where we were going again, “just go with it”) and we ended up going out to borrow a guitar from his friend in the city, and pick up some food to eat together at the guesthouse – kimbap, dried fish (I think pollack?) and some eggrolls.
Two of the wife’s sisters came, and some other friends stopped by but were shy and left quickly. In the end, it was Park’s family, us, the Dutch couple, and two Spanish girls from the Canary Islands that were passing through. Some guitar playing and singing of Korean, Spanish and English songs, and talking lots about K-pop and comparing cultures. Park’s wife and his sisters talked to me for a long time about my adoption and plans in Korea and were so very kind in offering their help and support. Quite touching.
The next morning, we said our good-byes and Park and his wife took us to the bus station and helped us get our tickets since it was a busy holiday travel day just before the Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving. His wife and I both ended up letting some tears escape. It was really something… we could only communicate so far between their English skills and our zero Korean, but it was a real special connection that I don’t think you get with just anyone. And to think, Park initially told us that 3 nights was too long – well, it ended up being too short! We probably could have spent the whole trip there and been happy.
We are still keeping in touch now and they have invited me back down to Jeonju once my Korean classes finish in December, so I will definitely have to make a visit to see them again! So glad to have met them all – now I know I will always have welcome home in Korea.