Over summer, the Korean president announced that August 14, the day before Korean liberation day (the 15th) would be declared a national holiday because the actual liberation day fell on a Saturday. At the time of the announcement I had already planned my summer vacation and didn’t include the 14th. Since I was left with an extra vacation date, my co-teacher said that I could use the vacation date anytime I didn’t have class.
Last week, my students were preparing for their school festival and I had no classes so I took the Friday off. That way, I had a three day weekend to travel in Korea without the crowds of long holiday weekends. I live in the countryside town of Gapyeong-gun in Gyeonggi, in a very rural area so it takes quite a bit of time for me to get anywhere outside of Seoul or Chuncheon. So I decided to visit two provinces I have seen little of so far — Jeonbuk and Chungnam.
My first stop was Jeonju, where I took the KTX from Seoul on Thursday night. My main priority for visiting was Maisan, or “Horse Ear Mountain,” but I also checked out the Jeonju hanok village.
I read online that the village was very touristy and commercialized. That is largely true as the area is filled with shops and cafes and it’s very hard to tell which (if any) are actual residences. It has a really different feel from Andong or Nagan Eupseong. While those two are touristy as well, it’s easy to tell that people actually live there and they do feel old. The Jeonju hanok village feels more like a reconstructed historical park.
To it’s credit, though, the village does have a pretty romantic vibe at night, the streets and houses are really pretty and lit up at the time. It’s also less crowded then, though there were plenty of people around. I was in Jeonju during a bimimbap festival celebrating the popular rice and veggie dish, that originates in the city.
Jeonju is also well known for Jeongdong Cathedral, a historic Catholic Church designed by the same priest who designed Myeongdong Cathedral.
The next morning, I headed out to Maisan.
Maisan has two entrance points, North and South. South Maisan is where Tapsa temple is located. Several buses go back and forth to North Maisan, but South Maisan gets much fewer buses. The most popular way to get to the park from Jeonju is to take a bus to Jinan-gun and then take a bus from there to North Maisan, then hike to South Maisan/Tapsa and then back to the North side to get a bus back to Jinan.
However, when searching online I found that there is a small, infrequent bus that goes to South Maisan straight from Jeonju Station. I planned to use this bus to go to South Maisan, and then hike to the North where I would take a bus to Jinan terminal and then back to Jeonju from there. This plan ended up working well.
If using the Jeonju bus, head to Jeonju train station and walk across the parking lot to a tourist information counter. Here there is a sign with the bus times and directions.
I took the 9:40 bus. Somehow I actually missed the bus stop I was supposed to wait at — although I took a picture of the directions it was for this blog and I didn’t actually read it. The ladies at the tourist office gave me directions but I somehow passed the bus stop and waited at a different stop a few feet away. Luckily when I saw a small orange bus with “Tapsa” in hangul written on it I tried to chase it down to the correct stop but the driver picked me up where I was then pointed to the right stop. Bus number 105 and 60 also leave from that stop. The small bus takes a really twisty but beautiful route through the mountains to the park, located in a very rural area.
If entering Maisan from the South side (not sure about the North side) BRING CASH. Cards aren’t accepted and there are no ATM’s around. I had no remaining cash when I arrived but I managed to get in by asking the woman at a convenience store nearby to charge my card and give me 10,000 won (they charged 11,000 on the card for taxes). The convenience store DID accept cards so they were able to do that and the man from the Tourist Information office translated for me. I was really glad I didn’t have to make a trip out to Jinan town just to get a few won for the entrance fee.
After walking for about 10 minutes, I approached the peaks.
After passing the lake, Tapsa came into view. Tapsa was founded by a hermit monk who built hundreds of rock pagodas around the temple without using cement. He started this project in the late 1800’s, yet most of the pagodas still stand today.
There are some stairs near Tapsa that lead to Maisan North. They go through another temple called Eunsusa.
Past Eunsusa, I went up several stairs, and followed the signs to the northern parking lot.
At the parking lot, I got a lunch of bimimbap and then waited for the bus to Jinan.
Jinan terminal is only ten minutes from the North parking lot. At Jinan, there are frequent buses to Jeonju, and I waited only about 5 minutes.
Back at Jeonju, I walked around the village again. There’s plenty of vendors selling yummy snacks there, and I actually got a kebab for a 500 won discount just for being a foreigner. Later I had dinner with the hostel owner and other guests. The hostel I stayed at, Carpe Diem, was excellent both for the location and super nice owner. Carpe Diem is located in a traditional house near the folk village parking lot. It’s small but that just gives it an intimate feel. I enjoyed hanging out with the various guests and talking with the owner, who speaks English well and is very helpful.
Maisan is an easy and lovely hike, especially in autumn. From pictures I’ve seen online, it also has plenty of cherry blossoms in spring so that would be an ideal time as well. I didn’t really have any expectations for Jeonju as I mostly used it as a base, but there’s some good street food at the village and the village isn’t bad to walk around, though it doesn’t exactly come across as this very old traditional village as advertised.
The next day, on Saturday, I left Jeonju to spend a day in Gongju, which I’ll detail in the next post.