We decided to come to Gwangju because it was a spot between Busan in the south where we had already been and Jeongju further north where we were heading next. Plus the flight from Jeju to Gwangju was £34 for the two of us. It was a no brainer. We weren’t expecting anything special really, but still did a quick search to find out what to see and do while we were here.
This looks straight out of a rom com movie set
One of the things that we found was a place called Ttekogalbi street. There are about 14 restaurants here that serve this regionally famous dish, so we decided that as soon as we landed we were going to get on a bus and see what all the fuss was about. With our big and small bags on we stopped at the first one we saw. It was absolutely packed which is always a good sign! The host even let us store away our big bags while we ate. As we were waiting for a table we noticed the walls were filled with letters from satisfied customers and pictures from Korean celebrities, so it must be a pretty well known place! We finally got our table and the fully Korean menu was placed in front of us. As we were about to whip out Google translate to try and communicate with the waitress, an older couple at the table next to us started talking to us, and then the waitress in Korean. The only word we all said together was “Ttekogalbi” we nodded, everyone smiled, and we crossed our fingers we were getting the dish we came here for. Turns out the sweet couple next to us ordered the dish we wanted and had the waitress bring us rice and an extra large bowl of soup filled with pork falling of the bone as well.
Charred pork and spicy pickles, what a meal
When the main event finally got to our table, the couple demonstrated with their dishes how to take the grilled rib patties and add sides onto a lettuce leaf and make a wrap. They even shared some of their soju with us! Such amazing kindness and generosity without having a common language. The meal was amazing. The rib patties had perfect char marks and a sweet savoury Marinade topped with sesame seeds. That put with the various pickles and chili and then spread on rice or smushed in lettuce was next level delicious. We did eventually use Google translate before we left to thank the couple for being so friendly and for all of their help. An unforgettable experience.
Powerful sculpture depicting the events of May 18th
Super happy and full of delicious food we jumped on a bus and headed to the May 18th Cemetery. There were very few people there but you could tell every one of them felt the impact of this place. It was here that Koreans lost their lives in the may uprising that took place in Jeonju after martial law was declared by the military government. Peaceful protesters were fired upon and some 600 lost their lives fighting for democracy. This uprising fuelled the eventual demise of that government and paved the path for the highly functional democratic society Korea has today. It’s a beautifully designed resting place, everything here has meaning and purpose from the sculpture symbolising the flame of democracy to the wall art depicting the sense of care for each other in the community that existed here during such an intensely challenging time. The staff working here were so kind and even gave us a book and a set of postcards for free to remember and learn more about this important time in recent Korean history.
View of the city below
We decided to check out some more of the gorgeous nature here on our one full day in Gwangju so we headed out on a quick half hour bus to Mudeungsan National Park. Fall is the best season and I haven’t seen anywhere that looks as stunning during this time of year as Korea does. I mean don’t get me wrong, I adore Colorado in the fall and the Aspen’s turning vibrantly yellow and gold is astonishing, but here you can see every single shade in an autumn pallet that I’ve only ever seen in postcards of New England before. Deep reds, burnt oranges, mellow yellows… It’s a wonderland! Liam eventually reigned me in from taking another picture of leaves every ten minutes. This park was a fantastic place to spend the day. We saw the city below, summited a mountain and saw a pretty small waterfall. Gwangju may have been a short stop, but it was a seriously perfect two days. Would we come here again? You bet!
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Glorious glorious fall