The following day we headed to Jeonju (전주시), the capital of North Jeolla province located in the southwestern part of the Korean peninsula.
In the past, the area that included Jeonju was part of the Baekje kingdom and founded in 57 B.C. Our tour guide took us to the Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을), where Yi Seok, the last prince of the Joseon dynasty resided. The village itself is comprised of 800 traditional Korean houses and blends well with the modern buildings in the background. One can easily wander around the alleyways and discover various sights and delights, including a museum about the production of rice wine and rice cakes as well as the history of the village; and beautiful mural art.
Ancient Tombs in Songsan-ri – Royal Tomb of King Muryeong (무령왕릉)
Gongju National Museum (국립공주박물관)
Gongsanseong Fortress (공산성)
After enjoying the splendors of Seoul, we joined the next tour that explored the western part of Korea, starting in Gongju (공주시) city located in the eastern part of Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong) Province. Gongju (previously named Ungjin) was the ancient capital of the Baekje kingdom during 475-538 A.D. The city lies on the banks of the Geumgang River and is surrounded by two beautiful mountain ranges: Charyeongsan Mountain Range in the north and Gyeryongsan Mountain in the southeast.
Huddled in the mountains are various historical sites related to the Baekje kingdom. Our first stop was Magoksa Temple (마곡사), the main temple of the 6th diocese of the Jogye order of Buddhism in Korea. Founded in 643 by Precepts Master Jajang under the patronage of Queen Seondeok, the temple is a charming sight, especially in the spring and autumn.
The Taehwacheon Stream flows in front of the temple, giving the temple grounds a peaceful atmosphere. It is speculated that the name of this temple was dedicated to the preceptor monk, Magok Bocheol, who had attracted crowds of visitors to this temple in ancient times.
During the Joseon (조선) dynasty (1392-1910), Yi Seong-gye established his capital in Hanyang (modern-day Seoul서울) and brought forth a dynasty that would last more than 500 years; this led to many cultural, scientific, and technological achievements that would define Korean history.
Seoul, today, is home to one-fifth of the country’s population (about 9.8 million) and has remained South Korea’s capital since its founding. Its sprawling metropolis is divided into 25 districts, but it can be visualized as two halves: north and south of the Han River (Hangang). Our guided tour primarily focused on the districts north of the Han River.
We arrived in Seoul on October 5th from Tokyo, Japan. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a Hanatour driver, who took us to the Center Mark hotel. After refreshing ourselves, we explored the city on our own that same evening.
Our guided tour began on October 6th at Gwanghwamun Square (광화문광장) that enshrines a statue of King Sejong the Great, the fourth ruler of the Joseon dynasty and founder of Hangul—the Korean writing system. The Square was the center of the tumultuous history of South Korea; from the March 1st Independence Movement to civil revolution against the Japanese annexation of Korea to celebration of the Candlelight Culture Festival, the Square withstood these changes and represents the Korean spirit of democracy.
During my visit to South Korea on October 5 to 13, 2017, I had the pleasure of going with my family on a guided tour from Hanatour. We explored Seoul, and then traveled to the western part of Korea and to Jeju Island.