Nestled amongst steep hills and semi-bucolic countryside, the small city of Jeonju is the capital of North Cholla province ( Jeollabuk-do in Korean) in south western South Korea.
The city is something of a travel gem that deservedly should be on the itinerary of every foreign visitor to Korea. But as a tourism late bloomer few overseas folks have heard of its name until quite recently. The 1985 edition of Lonely Planet guidebook on Korea left out Jeonju completely. Even harder to understand is that for a place that was supposed to be an important cultural centre when Korea was ruled by the great Chosun (Yi) dynasty its name is not even found in English language history books on Korea except for a brief one time mention as a city that was occupied in 1894 by armed and highly pissed-off peasants during the Donghak Rebellion, an event that led to war between China and Japan.
Simon Winchester in his 1988 book about his journey on foot across the length of South Korea described Jeonju (then spelt Chonju) as “a town of very little distinction and even less beauty”.
Today’s Jeonju has a village in its downtown area that is a cross between a heritage suburb and a cultural theme park with the country’s biggest concentration of traditional houses of curvy oriental tiled roofs built in the 1930s called hanok. Jeonju also has an amazing dining scene and is famous all over the country for its version of the bibimbap which uses a cornucopia of wild ingredients from the surrounding woods, mountains and fields.