Explore one of Asia’s top destinations under the moonlight
Jeonju, a city nestled close to the center of South Korea in the Jeollabuk-do province, has quickly gained a name for itself across the country and the world alike. Named #3 on Lonely Planet’s “Best in Asia” list, which features the top destinations to visit in the following year, it is inevitable that travelers around the globe are setting their sights on Korea’s most traditional city. But what is it about Jeonju that makes foreigners and natives want to venture there? Is it the fact that the city’s name is synonymous with the internationally recognized culinary sensation bibimbap? Or could visitors be looking for a chance to stroll through Korea’s largest hanok village? While these questions can easily be answered with a “Yes,” there is so much more here than meets the eye. Luckily for us, Jeonju Night Walk’s “Heritage Night; Heritage Story” gives visitors and residents the opportunity to embrace a thousand years of history and beauty under the light of the glowing moon. Centered around the historic Hanok Village, the Jeonju Night Walk presents visitors with the unique opportunity to experience a rich history in a way they were unlikely to before.
If you have the pleasure of attending the Jeonju Night Walk, here’s what you can expect. The opening ceremony begins at the National Intangible Heritage Center and features several live performances showcasing Korean culture. The show begins with a comedic jultagi (tightrope walking) act which keeps the audience laughing and engaged due to a combination of heavy banter and a flying display of acrobatics. Next up, an exciting demonstration of daejeop dolligi (plate spinning) ensues, as audience members clap their hands to the sounds of live traditional pansori music. As the sun sets and seats fill, a luminous performance by the Shadow Orchestra provides a glimpse into Korean history solely using lights and hands. Going with a Korean friend may help you get the most out of the opening ceremony, but those with only a moderate understanding of the language will still enjoy the excitement of the acrobatics and performances. Although the opening ceremony is the kick off of to the Jeonju Night Walk, other events simultaneously take place around the Hanok Village throughout the night. During both days of the walk, visitors will be offered the opportunity to get hands on with Korean history. Just a few highlights that guests can participate in are handcrafting a fan made from hanji (Korean style) paper, creating a bibimbap dish, learning the unique practices of Korean tea drinking, tasting free moju (a Korean style wine native to Jeonju), and taking part in the Escape Game. A loaded itinerary offers over 17 events, exhibitions and performances, some put on for free, while others carry a low price tag of around KRW 2,000 to participate.
While the Night Walk provides interactive activities throughout the weekend, its setting, Jeonju’s aesthetically pleasing Hanok Village, is the true star of the show. Even for those that may not be well versed in Korean history, it is easy to recognize the massive influence the Joseon dynasty had on the formation of the ancient village, proving it to be an ideal setting for this celebration of the ancient culture.
Gyeonggijeon Hall and Jeondong Catholic Cathedral, situated across from one another at the entrance of Hanok Village, are both preferred destinations for visitors that come to the area. While the church is a popular spot for pictures, Gyeonggijeon, which usually carries an entrance fee of KRW 3,000 for adults, is a lavish palace to explore individually or with a tour guide. During the Night Walk, however, entrance into Gyeonggijeon is free. The grounds are lit by lanterns as women and men in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) provide information about Korean culture while soothing pansori music plays in the background. Walking into Gyeonggijeon will undoubtedly feel like a step back in time.
Having experienced the event first hand, a personal highlight was Hyanggyo, where quiet listeners fan themselves in the dead of the summer night heat with fans painted on location by a local artist. Lovers of music can sit upon cushions situated around a grand tree, listening to “Night of Sanjo,” a Korean jazz style of music. Park Kyungsu, of Seoul, will play a tranquil melody on the gayageum, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble, vocalist and dancers. When asked about the two-day Night Walk, Park said that Gyeongbokgung, arguably the most famous palace in Korea, always features bands and traditional shows, but she thought that it was a great experience for visitors to Jeonju, as “[the city] is so beautiful and has the largest Hanok Village in all of Korea.” She believes it is a great way to showcase the city’s culture.
Francesca Toemic, an English teacher from North Carolina, now residing in Jeonju, said that watching the sanjo performance reaffirmed every reason that she came to Korea. Toemic stated that, “Sometimes living in Korea can feel like living in America. Everything Western is around you. Businesses, restaurants, people speaking English. But sitting here, listening to the traditional Korean music, watching this amazing band perform inside this beautiful temple, brought tears to my eyes.” The aim of the Night Walk is exactly that: to spread the knowledge and experience of Korean heritage and culture beyond what we can encounter every day on the streets.
For those seeking a more casual approach to the event, at the center of the village, guests can try Korean street food from hundreds of different stalls lining the main street. Some foods come on a stick, some are dumplings, some are frozen ice cream steaming as vendors pass it out to their patrons. Regardless of your taste, each dish offers a taste of Korean culture. Guests can buy souvenirs and, if they so choose, adorn themselves with a hanbok (usually rented by the hour) to mix a little bit of modernity with tradition.
The city of Jeonju, specifically its historic Hanok Village, already offers residents and guests a plethora of opportunities to enjoy and embrace Korean culture. The Jeonju Night Walk encompasses all of the finest aspects of Jeonju’s history and highlights them under a bright starry sky. The event offers attendees a glimpse into what the lands may have looked like in the past, and the ability to live and practice Korean culture firsthand. It is definitely an experience I will remember and I shall return to when it is restaged at the end of September, and so should you. Whether you are a traveler or a local, this event will show and/or remind you why people across the world are setting their sights on Korea’s most traditional city.
The two-night Jeonju Night Walk Heritage Night & Heritage Story will be held again on Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1. The event organizers say that it will follow the same format. Don’t worry about putting a price on your chance to experience history because, thanks to Jeonju Night Walk, almost everything on the itinerary is free.