Fine art, good food and spring’s gloryThe Jeolla provinces, in the southwestern part of the Korean Peninsula, have long been known for the arts and for gourmet food. In South Jeolla province, Mokpo and Gwangju, in particular, are must-sees. One thing that’s caused Seoulites to think twice about visiting them has been the inconvenience. Getting to Mokpo, at the end of the Honam line in South Jeolla province, takes four hours and 40 minutes on the first-class Saemaeul train. But with the launch this week of the KTX train, it now takes just three hours to reach the city and its culinary specialties, like raw sebal nakji (three-legged octopus) and mineo (croaker).
Gwangju and another Jeolla destination, Iksan, are also closer now ― reachable in two and a half hours and an hour and 40 minutes, respectively. Business travelers to these cities will now have a little time to enjoy them.
This week, Mokpo celebrates the arrival of the bullet train with the Mount Yudal Flower Festival, which began yesterday. Gwangju has prepared itself for an influx of travelers by arranging limousine bus tours of the city. Here’s what to eat and where to go in the Jeolla provinces.
Gwangju, the City of Art
Here’s the key to enjoying the city of art: Go to Jung-oe Culture Belt, where museums and art centers are clustered. If you take the No. 1-1 or 13 bus from Gwangju Station, you’ll reach it in 15 minutes. It boasts Gwangju National Museum (062-570-7014), Gwangju Art Museum (062-529-7123), the Literature Center (062-510-9333) and Gwangju City Folk Museum (062-525-8633).
Gwangju Art Museum is especially worth a visit; its Ha Jeong-ung Permanent Exhibition includes masterpieces of modern art by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault. For a more Asian taste in art, Gwangju National Museum is the place. From relics of ancient kingdoms from the shores of the Yeongsan River to china from the Song and Yuan dynasties, Gwangju National Museum distinguishes itself with its rare pieces. From September to November, the Gwangju Biennale will be held, with the theme “One Grain of Dust, One Drop of Water.”
If you are an outdoor person, be sure to check out Mount Mudeung. A 20-minute taxi ride from the train station takes you to the foot of the mountain, known for the beauty of its rock cliffs. True to Gwangju’s reputation, this mountain in the heart of the city also has art museums. In Uijae Art Museum (062-222-2034), you can enjoy traditional landscape painting by Heo Baek-ryeon, a Jeolla native. For more modern works, visit U Je-gil Art Museum (062-224-6599), which displays Western-style paintings by O Ji-ho.
What truly completes a good travel itinerary, however, is the food. The Jeolla provinces have a reputation for fine food and drink. A good restaurant for an authentic Korean course meal is Myeongseonheon (062-228-2942) in Jisan-dong, in the city’s Dong-gu district. The chef, Choi In-sun, was initiated into royal cuisine by the celebrity chef Hwang Hye-seong.
The house specialty is sinseonro, a soup with assorted fish, meat and vegetables, allegedly the finest treat for customers of royal or noble heritage. They’ll fill up your table with as many as 30 side dishes, from a variety of jeotgal to fermented fish and assorted kimchi. Depending on the number of side dishes, a serving of sinseonro costs from 25,000 won ($20) to 40,000 won.
The Songjeong Station neighborhood is famous for tteokgalbi, grilled balls of minced beef and vegetables. More than 10 restaurants that specialize in the dish can be found in the area.
Mokpo, the Port City
In the Mokpo area, Mount Yudal and Gatbawi Sea Culture Belt are the places to go.
A 10-minute taxi ride from the station will take you to Mount Yudal, which is famous for its spring blossoms. Try a hike from the entrance of Yudal Park to the peak of the mountain, marked by Ildeung Bawi, or the First Rock.
The mountain comes alive at sunset. From Ildeung Bawi, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the sea, dotted with small islands. From the lower peak, Ideung Bawi, the Second Rock, you can overlook the city, and take in a park that features 78 sculptures by 64 different artists, which seem to be in harmony with the rock cliffs. Also in this area is the Orchid Exhibition Center, which has 267 varieties of the flower.
The Sea Culture Belt, 15 minutes from the station by taxi, is the city’s cultural center. There you’ll find Namnong Memorial Hall (061-276-0313) and Sea Remains Exhibition Center (061-278-4271). Namnong Memorial Hall attracts visitors with a variety of Oriental paintings dating from the late Joseon Dynasty. This June, another natural history museum opens, with more than 26,000 items from fossils to meteorites.
When it comes to food, a must-have in Mokpo is raw mineo, or croaker, which has long been a summer treat for the health-conscious. Croakers are good all year round, but they’re best in July and August. Yeongran Hoetjip, at the foot of Mount Yudal, is known as the best place to enjoy them, with a special pepper and vinegar sauce. Three servings will cost you 35,000 won. Another good place for seafood is Bukhang Hoe Center, where about 80 small raw fish restaurants are clustered.
Mokpo is welcoming the bullet train’s first passengers with the Mount Yudal Flower Festival, which continues to next Monday. The city government plans to start a city bus tour on weekends.
Iksan, the Flower Paradise
Flower heaven isn’t far from the train station in this city in North Jeolla province. A five-minute taxi ride, or 15 minutes on the bus (No. 3 or 60, in the direction of Hamyeol), is all it takes to reach this paradise ― the campus of Wonkwang University.
In early April, the campus is colored with countless flowers (and students seem to be outnumbered by the brides and grooms getting their pictures taken). Next to the agricultural college is a park boasting all sorts of different trees found on the peninsula.
Another attraction of the city is its Jewelry Museum, where about 200 rare minerals are on display. A bus from the train station gets you there in 10 minutes. On your way back from the museum to the station, you can stop at the Mireuksaji Temple, where you can reflect on the ancient spirit of the Baekje Dynasty.
by Koo Doo-hoon