Naju (나주) is a city in South Jeolla Province, South Korea, famous for its pears and lush farmland. Naju is very spread out, covering an area of more than 600 square kilometers, yet what you'd consider Naju City is actually quite small. To reach many of the destinations described below, it is recommended that you have a car or have a really good understanding of the bus system.
For centuries, Naju was the capital of the South Jeolla area - known then as Geumseong - and it continued to be an important power base as control of the area passed from the Baekje Kingdom to the Koryo Kingdom and finally to the Joseon Kingdom, when, in 1895, the capital of the Province was moved to Gwangju, a neighboring city.
Despite being a relatively small, remote city, Naju offers quite a bit to the dedicated tourist or to the expat who happens to find Naju home.
Naju has undergone a lot of economic and cultural changes over the last ten years, the main catalyst for change being the national government's push to decentralize the Seoul economy and force corporations to relocate to regional areas, known as Innovation Cities, one being in Naju. That led to a sharp increase in Naju's economic standing with thousands of people moving to Naju for work. The second major change had been the sharp rise in international marriages in the early 2000s, where some sources had reported that 10% of marriages in Naju were international, mostly between older, divorced Korean men and younger Southeast Asian women. That trend gave rise to a strong push for Naju to be more multicultural.
Naju proper consists of the old Joseon-era center of town. There, you can find Naju City Hall, several historical sites, Naju Bus Terminal, and a spread of shops, restaurants, and hospitals found in a typical Korean city.
North of the city center is Dae-ho Dong which is the location of Dongshin University, one of Naju's two universities, and just next to that, Dae-bang, a college-friendly neighborhood with several nice coffee shops and restaurants. It's worth noting that Dongshin University is a commuter school, meaning most of the student population lives elsewhere and commutes to school each day. That has led to the neighboring establishments being more seasonal and day-operated, and a result, there is little in the way of nightlife in Naju.
East of the city center is the Yeongsan River (영산강) which flows southward through the city, then west out towards Mokpo.
On the eastern side of the River is Innovation City (혁신도시), mentioned earlier, where several major Korean corporations have been relocated. It has a number of new coffee shops, restaurants, retail shops, a VR room, and a CGV movie theater.
South of the city center, just north of the River, there is Lotte Mart, and across the highway, Naju Train Station, and Naju Sports Park.
South of the River is Yeong-san Po (영산포) which is famous for having several skate fish (홍어) restaurants, giving the neighborhood a distinct smell.
Naju's most prominent feature is all of the farmland inside its borders, which offers a lot of great opportunities for exploring. There are several traditional Korean villages (한옥), where you can spend a few hours wondering around and marveling at Korean architecture; there are also the Naju Museum, Naju Image Theme Park, and many, many more things to see and do --all of which are described below.
Naju is accessible by bus or train.
Several long-distance bus companies operate between Naju and other major cities in the Jeolla Province and Seoul (4 hours). For other cities outside Jeolla-do, such as Busan, you have to transfer through Gwangju first.
Buses stop at Naju Bus Terminal. Few long-distance buses terminate at Naju Terminal and will only stop for 2 or 3 minutes, so you need to pay attention to your stop.
Intracity bus tickets can be bought here: https://www.bustago.or.kr/newweb/en/index.do
Once you get off, you'll likely take a local bus. Few are well labeled, so it's advisable to do a little research on the bus schedules using a phone app or something.
Several local inter-city buses operate between Gwangju (40 minutes), the neighboring big city, and Naju.
- 160 runs the longest route with its route running the entire length of Gwangju City, parallel to the subway line Gwangju Metro most of the way, then going by Dongshin University, Naju Hospital, the Bus Terminal, Naju City Hall, (depending on the route) Naju Station or Lotte Mart, and Youngsan Po.
- 196 also runs between Naju and Gwangju with a slightly different path than 160
- 1160 runs between Gwangju and Naju Innovation City
Naju Train Station, likewise, connects Naju with the rest of Korea.
It take less than 3 hours to reach Seoul (Yongsan Station, not Seoul Station). First class tickets are about ₩56,100, and regular tickets are ₩37,000. You can also take the slow train, which is cheaper.
Depending on the time of day and your route, you might have to transfer in Gwangju.
It takes 40 minutes to travel to Mokpo, the opposite direction on the tracks from Gwangju and Seoul.
You can buy train tickets here: http://info.korail.com/mbs/english/
The nearest airport is Gwangju International.
From there, several buses run to Naju, including the 160, the 196, the 180, and others.
You can also come into Naju by taxi. From Gwangju, a taxi will cost between 25,000w to 30,000w, depending on the time of day.
Taxis are relatively cheap in Naju and elsewhere in Korea. Fares start at about 3,200w. There are several taxi stands located around the city. For example, there's one near Dongshin University, one near the bus station, etc. You can call 1-588-8910 for a taxi and explain your location.
Going from the Daebang area to Innovation City costs about 11,000w. From the train station to Daebang, about 17,000w. Here are the numbers to a few taxi companies: 061-331-4785, 061-334-4600, 061-334-4135, 061-331-8255.
As mentioned, a number of bus lines operate in Naju. To understand these, download the Naju bus app or use Naver.
Despite being a small, somewhat remote city, there's quite a lot to do in Naju. The one issue is that everything is pretty spread out, so it's best if you have a car.
Here's a list of some of the more interesting attractions:
- Geumseonggwan (금성관)- Located in the middle of Downtown Naju, Geumseonggwan is definitely worth a visit. Dating back to the Koryo Dynasty, it was used as a guesthouse and administrative building for dignitaries and magistrates who visited Naju, and it was even used during the period of Japanese occupation. Since it had never been burned or destroyed, it's possible to see how pre-modern Korean architecture looked. Nowadays, it hosts numerous cultural events, such as Korean traditional music performances, holiday celebrations, Naju Festival, etc. And nearby, there are a slew of amazing restaurants, namely Naju Gom-tang, the most famous Gom-tang restaurant in Korea. Address: 109-5 Gwawon-dong, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do
- Naju Image Theme Park (영상테마파크) - Without a doubt, this is one of Korea's most interesting, yet most underrated tourist attractions. The name is horribly misleading as are many of Korea's "theme parks," which are neither themed, nor parks. This place is actually a movie/TV drama set built as an elaborate Joseon-era castle with rooms you can walk in, traditional clothes you can try on, musical instruments you can play, vendors with traditional cheledon pottery you can buy, etc. -- all of which culminates in a spectacular view of the Naju countryside from atop the castle walls. It's a good 20 minutes outside the city. Tickets cost 5,000w, and if you are a Naju resident, you can get a discount (this applies to foreigners, too, so long as your ARC lists Naju as your official address). Check out their official site for more information: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=495604
- The Natural Dyeing Museum (한국천연염색박물관) - This place lays along the Yeongsan River. It explains the history of Korean dyeing, interesting if you've ever wondered how hanbok (traditional Korean clothes) gets such rich colors. Unfortunately, there aren't any explanations in English. But the cool thing about this place is you can experience how to dye clothes firsthand. Ask the front desk for more information. Check out their website: http://www.naturaldyeing.or.kr/
- Naju National Museum (국립박물관) - Korean museums rarely disappoint. The two most interesting things about this museum are the burial vases unique to the Baekje Kingdom, and the interactive video displays which show superimposed images over the artifacts, giving you a real sense of the history you're looking at. Just outside are several ancient burial mounds to the kings and queens of late. The only problem is that this place is really far from the center of the city. Check out this link for more information: https://naju.museum.go.kr/html/en/intro/intro_0105.html
- Naju Mary - Apparently, there's a small church near downtown Naju, where a woman who runs it is said to suffer from stigmata. In the church, there was a statue of the Virgin Mary that cried blood and secreted oil, and it had been investigated by the Vatican. They hold daily services and sometimes overnight mountain vigils. ('Note': As of 2015, the relic has either been stolen or removed). Check out more at: http://www.najumary.or.kr/English
- Abandoned Bowling Alley - Nearby Dongshin University, there is a large bowling alley which has been abandoned since the 1990s. Koreans don't seem to have the same fascination with abandoned buildings as Westerners do, so there aren't any drug addicts or vagrants hiding in the place. It's definitely worth a visit. If you feel so inclined, you can go bowling with ghosts and ghouls; there are plenty of bowling balls, pins, and even bowling shoes available. After you've finished your game, you can head downstairs and sing to your heart's desire at the abandoned norae-bang. If you don't believe in the netherworld, however, you can pilfer through boxes of unused shot glasses and mugs. To get there from Hoban Apartments: walk towards the university, turn right at the street that's in front of the university. Walk about 25 yards, then, you'll see paths that lead you towards the bowling alley on your right.
- There are loads and loads of other things to do in Naju. It just takes a little research. The Naju City government offers tours to both Koreans and foreigners. You can learn more at the official Naju City website: http://www.naju.go.kr/en. It's also recommended that those interested check out the Naju and Gwangju Facebook clubs.
In Korea and especially in the Jeolla Province, staying in shape is an important part of life. Koreans are fit people. And if you watched the Olympics, you'd see that most of the Korean medalists came from the Jeolla Province. Below is a list of fun things to do in the Naju area, many of which involve getting outside and having some fun:
- Relax at Jungheung Gold Spa & Resort (중흥 골드스파 & 리조트) - A bit further out, there's Naju's water park. According to other websites, it costs about 37,000w to enter the park and additional money to ride the rides and eat. To learn more about this place, check out the following website: Band Adventures
- Ride a traditional Korean boat, a Dotpae (돛배), on the Yeongsan River. To do this, you need to go out to the Yeongsan Po District. The jetty is located across the street from Skate Street (more on that in the "Eat" section). You get a ticket - free for Naju residents and maybe 3,000w for non-residents - and you get to go on a 10 minute boat ride a good ways up the Yeongsan River. The boat ride offers exceptional views of the Naju countryside, and occasionally, they have musicians on the boat who play traditional "river boat" music. It can be quite a nice time.
- Bike the Yeongsan River. One of the best things about Naju and much of Korea is the access to the kilometers and kilometers of bike trails. Theoretically, you can bike all the way around the country from any one of the trails. In Naju, the trails are breathtaking in their beauty, personified by majestic farm lands, cattle yards, and truly sublime views of the River. Every 5 kilometers or so, there is a rest station; some offer maps. If you manage to bike through this area, it's recommended that you try to pass by Neureoji Observatory (느러지전망대), which is a lookout tower, where you can stare out across an oxbow in the River. You can read more about that here: Namu Wiki
- Hike Geum-seong Mountain (금성산). It's not a particularly tall mountain, but it does offer some stunning views and as with most mountains in Korea, quaint, enlightening Buddhist Temples nestled here and there. What makes this mountain interesting is its history: With its several jutting peaks, three in total, it has the look of a dragon's back, and so, dating back to Korea's shamanistic days, Geum-seong Mountain has been worshiped as a holy place. Also, during the Korean war, a group of North Korean soldiers got stranded up there after MacArthur's famous attack on Incheon; those soldiers set up landmines around the mountain and held out until the bitter end. There's a South Korean military base up there now, making the highest peak inaccessible. However, there is a water park located over the first ridge of the mountain; it's only open in the summer and may look out-of-business, because they drain the pools every day (strange), but it's definitely worth a visit.
- Check out Naju Culture Center - Located between the Daebang area and City Hall, the Culture Center offers several surprisingly good theater and dance performances, and it also serves as a movie theater on occasion while the new movie theater in Innovation City is being build. The 160 and 196 buses go by here. Check out there website here: http://najuart.naju.go.kr/
Naju also hosts several festivals throughout the year.
- Naju Pear Blossom Festival (나주 배 꽃 축제) - April - Pear blossoms give cherry blossoms a run for their money in terms of their beauty and soft colors.
- Naju Rapeseed Festival (나주 유채 축제) - May - Odd sounding name but a lovely festival with breathtaking flowers.
- Naju Yeongsanpo Skate Festival (영산포 홍어축제) - May - Celebrates skate fish. Click the link to find out more: Asia English Visit Korea
- Naju Reed Festival (억새풀 축제) - September - Celebrates the reeds that grow near the river, which are quite beautiful. Walking around there, you get the feeling you're in a horror movie or something.
- Mahan Culture Festival (마한문화축제) - October - Celebrates the traditional culture of the Mahan Kingdom, which ruled before the Three Kingdom period
- Dongshin University Festival (동신대학교 축제) - Fall - 3-day festival with live music, games, and food, which is held in the fall.
Every five days, the traditional market opens in Naju, East of the Daebang neighborhood.
Here is a list of some of the more famous foods/restaurants in Korea:
- Naju Pears (나주 배) - Naju is known across the country for its pears, which are very large, round, and unimaginably tasty. You'd think that since Naju is the pear capital of Korea, the pears would be cheaper here; quite the contrary, they're more expensive here than in other places in Korea. Along the highway in and out of Naju, pear vendors set up stalls, which have marginally cheaper pears.
- Naju Gom-Tang House (나주곰탕집) - The other food Naju is famous for is Gom-tang (곰탕), beef bone soup. There are several such restaurants around Naju, the most famous being Naju Gom-tang right next to the front entrance of Geumseonggwan. One note about this: Naju Gomtang is quite famous and often busy. Right next door to it is a flashier, much prettier building, which also serves gom-tang. The neighboring building is okay, but it's definitely worth your time to wait for the famous one. Here is their address: 48-17 Jungang-dong, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do
- Yongsan Naru (영산나루) This is a wonderful, high end restaurant near the river in the Yeong-san Po area. It has Italian food. The owners of the restaurant also have a tea house with a Japanese tea room, an English tea room, and a Korean tea room. In addition to that, they also have hanok-style guest rooms available. Here is a link: https://pf.kakao.com/_xbMQlM#none
- Song-hyeon Bulgogi (송현불고기) - A year ago, a famous TV show named this restaurant the best bulgogi restaurant in Korea. Since then, this little restaurant next to Dongshin University, where little old ladies hand grill all the meat, has exploded with business. The place is always obnoxiously busy, you have to get a number to be seated, and the "parking lot" is utterly chaotic most days. But the place is indeed yummy. They only serve one dish, and one portion costs 10,000w. Here is the address: 195-3, Geonjae-Ro, Naju, Jeollanam-do 58242, South Korea.
- The Tastiest Bulgogi Restaurant (장 맛있는 불고기) - Next door to Song-hyeon Bulgogi, you can find "The Tastiest Bulgogi" restaurant (why do Koreans always do that kind of stuff?). Personally, I think it's just as tasty as the other one and a good bit cheaper.
- Skate Street - So, Skate Street is where dozens and dozens of Skate Fish restaurants are located. Skate fish (홍어) generate ammonia from their pours, and since the ammonia keeps the fish meat from rotting, it was easy for people to store; they didn't need salt or refrigeration. So, it's become a delicacy in the Jeolla Province. However, due to the ammonia, skate fish stinks like piss and tastes even worse. If you think you're a brave eater, try some!
The only Western-style "bar" in Naju Proper is WaBar, where they have a nice selection of drinks and appetizers. This is a frequent hangout for expats. Here is the address: 58-5 Jungang-dong, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do
There are several other bars in Innovation City. And of course, there are loads and loads of other establishments that serve alcohol and food, usually chicken, around Naju. Most of the places that cater to Western or younger tastes are near the University. The further away from the city center, the more the places only serve soju.
There are several love motels scattered about Naju and a new Hotel near the Train Station. Motels in Korea run between 30,000w up to about 80,000w, and an average price is 50,000w.
If you want to try to find the Blessed Mother's house, here are some suggestions:
- Yusung-gak Motel and Golden River Motel are near the Blessed Mother's House, about 15 minutes if following the nearby stream. The prices are about 35,000 won per night.
- Pilgrim's House, located between the Blessed Mother's House and the Blessed Mother's Mountain, is 30,000w for a twin room, 45,000w for a triple, 60,000w for a quad-room, and 20,000w for a single. For more information, check out the following website: http://www.najumary.or.kr/English.