Photo: Winter trekking at Deogyusan Mountain
Imagine a warm summer night softly aglow with the flickering light of fireflies. These little bugs can only live in pure environments. The county of Muju in Jeollabuk-do is so clean it is well known to be home to a vast number of fireflies and has been selected as a Tourism City of 2016. Every summer, countless fireflies create a beautiful and mystical atmosphere during Muju Firefly Festival, and in winter people flock to Deogyusan Mountain to enjoy both trekking up and skiing down the snow-covered mountain.
Photo: Entrance to Muju Firefly Market
Traditional markets are exciting all around the world. They can be crowded with people, and you may even lose your way winding through the many stalls, but despite this, you can feel the warm ambiance of community and vitality found especially in markets.
Muju Firefly Market brings this feeling to life and is the city’s representative traditional market. With a history of over 100 years, the market is a 5-day market, operating just once every five days. On market days, the vendors set up their stalls and begin to happily shout out in loud voices to sell their wares, ranging from agricultural products to daily necessities and junk food.
Photo: Market scene (top left) / Display of children’s clothes (top right) / Market foods (bottom)
The main products at the market are natural produce, agricultural produce, fruits, fish and industrial products, rivaling the selection available at modern, large-scale marts. Visiting a traditional market is the best way to see the daily lifestyle of Korean people and experience a sense of community with them. Walking through the market munching on jjinppang (steamed bun), donuts, dak-kkochi (chicken skewers) and other junk food, you will be just as pleased as if eating at the finest restaurant.
The market operates each month on the following dates: 1, 6, 11, 16, 21 & 26, as well as a night market every Saturday from 6:00 pm. If your travel dates line up with the market, be sure to stop by for a visit!
Photo: Insect Museum (top left) / Cheomseongdae Observatory model made from Jewel Beetle wings (top right) / Interior of Insect Museum (bottom left) / Bandi Observatory (bottom right)
For a chance to experience fireflies and learn more about them, visit the Insect Museum and Bandi Observatory at Bandi Land. Insect Museum features not only fireflies, but an assortment of over 2,000 insect specimens and fossils from the Paleozoic and Cenozoic Eras. More than the thousands of specimens on display, all eyes will be drawn to the large model of Cheomseongdae Observatory, made from the shimmering wings of jewel beetles, commonly used in accessories in ancient Korean and China.
Bandi Observatory includes exhibits and photos of the stars and other space-related materials, as well as a chance to do real-time monitoring of the International Space Station. The most popular experience, of course, is heading to the observatory room and seeing the celestial bodies through the high-powered telescope.
Photo: The world’s largest Taekwondo Tournament Hall, T1 Arena (top) / Breaking demonstration by the demonstration team (bottom left) / Taekwondo character souvenirs (bottom right)
Taekwondowon opened in April of 2014 as a center dedicated to training, education and research of Korea’s representative sport of taekwondo. The center features the world’s largest exclusive taekwondo tournament hall, T1 Arena, National Taekwondo Museum, a research center and more, providing both the chance to watch taekwondo, and to take part in training programs.
Even visitors with no taekwondo experience can join the fun at Experience Center YAP! A variety of experiences are available, from physical fitness to practical skills, virtual sparring and even taekwon-gymnastics. Each experience takes about 1 hour, just long enough to get a good work-out before returning to your travels.
The National Taekwondo Museum displays the history, philosophy and technique of this ancient martial art. The museum shop is a great spot to purchase souvenirs and gifts. Visitors can watch a taekwondo demonstration for free after signing up through the official website.
After an exciting tour and taekwondo experiences, you are going to need a rest, and Taekwondowon can provide that, too. Take the monorail up to the observatory and enjoy the panoramic view from the top of Baengunsan Mountain over a cup of coffee from the café.
Photo: Exhibit in Choi Buk Art Gallery (left) / Decorative traditional drum (right)
Experience historical life and appreciate art at Bandigol Traditional Craft & Culture Zone. The first floor features common items of daily life such as farming and kitchen tools, as well as a sound exhibition where you can try out various traditional Korean instruments. The most popular exhibit among foreigners is the traditional clothing area, where you can try on royal garments of Joseon kings and queens, traditional wedding clothes and more.
The second floor houses Choi Buk Art Gallery. Exhibits include the art of Choi Buk, a painter of the late Joseon period and various other exhibitions. The third floor is Kim Hwan-tae Cultural Space, devoted to Kim Hwan-tae, a Korean literary critic. Visitors interested in Korean literature should definitely spend some time here.
Photo: Rajetongmun Gate (Credit: Muju County)
Rajetongmun Gate was situated at the dividing line between the Silla and Baekje Kingdoms during the Three Kingdoms period. The tunnel is 3m high, going 10m straight through Seokgyeonsan Mountain. In the past people crossed over on the mountain ridge but during the Japanese occupation, a cave in the mountain-side was drilled through to allow the passage of carriages.
Forming the border between two peoples from the Three Kingdoms period until the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the regions to each side were so separated to the point that even now, people living on the two sides of the gate have distinctly different customs and dialect.
Photo: Muju Meoru Wine Cave entrance (top left; credit: Muju County) / Cave interior (top right and bottom)
Purchase meoru (wild grape) wine, a specialty of Muju County, at Muju Meoru Wine Cave. The cave remains at a steady 13-17℃ year-round, the perfect temperature for storing and fermenting the wine.
You may forget you’re even in a cave with the interior designed like a secret forest and twinkling stars overhead, creating a mysterious atmosphere perfect for dates. On the way to the wine storage area, you can try free samples of meoru wine at the wine bar. If you find a wine you like, you can purchase a bottle right away. Another special experience inside the cave is a meoru wine footbath, popular among many visitors.
Photo: Deogyusan Resort’s Gondola (top) / Trekkers at Seolcheonbong Peak (bottom left) / Snowboarder enjoying the slope (bottom right)
Deogyusan Resort is located inside Deogyusan National Park and was opened in 1997 for the Winter Universiade. The resort has a variety of amenities, from accommodations with a feel of the Swiss Alps to golf, tennis, survival game and more.
One unique point of the resort is that if you take the gondola up to Seolcheonbong Peak, you are just a 30 minute walk from Hyangjeokbong Peak, the highest point of Deogyusan Mountain. The path steadily goes up, making it easy for people of all ages. Because of this, you will find a mix of people dressed for skiing and for hiking alike, all heading to the top to take in the amazing vista.
Photo: Anguksa Temple (Credit: Muju County)
It is unknown when Anguksa Temple was founded, with some claims stating it was in 1277, during the reign of King Chungnyeol of Goryeo, while others say it was built sometime during the reign of Joseon Dynasty founder King Taejo (1392-1398). Despite the lack of knowledge on the foundation, it is an undisputed fact that the temple was used to teach monk soldiers during the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 through 1597.
Due to the construction of Muju Power Plant on Jeoksangsan Mountain, the temple was moved to its current location, before Sanjeonghosu Lake. The temple is a popular attraction in autumn, when the bright foliage and temple buildings reflect off the still waters.
Photo: Jeoksangsan National Archives Site
During the Joseon Dynasty, Joseon Wangjo Sillok (The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty) and other important national archives were preserved on the southwestern side of Anguksa Temple. This national archives site served a very important role throughout over 300 years of Korea’s history, until it was closed by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation.
Anguksa Temple is accessible by car, and the view from the mountain is spectacular. At every point, photos will turn out like paintings, with the lake in the foreground accenting the lush forest of the mountain.
* This column was last updated in January 2016, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check from the official websites before visiting.
<Last updated on February 4, 2016>