ALL ABOUT GWANGJU: Where To Stay, Things To Do, Where To Eat, Etc.


Gwangju is the hardest to grasp for me for this Spring 2019 trip. It was frustrating! I thought it will be Yeosu since I only had less than a day to explore this city. But Gwangju, I felt the same feeling I had when my last day was about to end in Busan--sobrang bitin! Parang hindi ko pa sya makilala ng lubusan.

Gwangju's must see sites, aside from the ones I was able to visit, are about 2-3 hours away from the city proper. These include a bamboo forest and a green tea farm from neighboring cities. I had to take long bus rides to achieve these side trips, which will take up my whole day. It wasn't possible on my day 1 since it was just my arrival, and my day 2 since it was also the SBS Super Concert day. And sadly, even my day 3 was already set as my transit day for Seoul (plus it was raining!).



In the little time I spent in Gwangju, I was able to appreciate this side of Korea with little western influences. I appreciate the people who were very kind to tourists, even though there were minimal travellers in their city (compared to Seoul). They were warm and welcoming, especially my guesthouse owner Panda Mom who cooked the MOST DELICIOUS Korean pancakes for us every morning for breakfast. 

If I will go back to any of the cities I went to for this trip, it's definitely Gwangju coz of my unfinished businesses here. My favorite encounters in Gwangju aside from Panda Mom, my guesthouse friend, and the SBS Concert are the food market and Penguin Village. Here are the stuff that went down on that quick trip to South Korea's "province" (the literal meaning of the word Gwangju!).

Vignettes from my neighborhood in Gwangju:





ABOUT GWANGJU

Some facts about Gwangju:

1) It is the 6th largest city in South Korea, located in the heart of the agricultural Jeolla region.

2) Its name is composed of the words Gwang (Hangul: 광; Hanja: 光) meaning "light" and Ju (주; 州) meaning "province."

3) Some notable personalities from Gwangju include Seungri of Big Bang, J-Hope of BTS, Minzy of 2NE1, and actress Park Shin Hye!

4) Considered as the "Birthplace for Korean Democracy". Looking up, Gwangju is known in history for the tragic Gwangju Uprising, or the May 18 Democratic Uprising that dated from May 18 to 27 in 1980.  

"During this period, Gwangju citizens took up arms (by robbing local armories and police stations) when local Chonnam University students who were demonstrating against the martial law government were fired upon, killed, raped and beaten by government troops." (source)

Most of the monuments and tourist spots of Gwangju are in commemoration for the 5.18 incident.


A subway billboard in Gwangju, featuring Hoseok of BTS paid by his fans: 



HOW TO GO + HOW TO GO AROUND

From Yeosu's Yeocheon bus station, I took a nonstop bus to Gwangju U-Square for around Php 680. Travel time is about 2 hours. 

Aside from bus, other options include train and plane.

Gwangju has KTX stations (Gwangju Station and Gwangju Songjeong Station), and local subway and bus system. I used the train and bus a lot while I was in Gwangju, but I also walked a lot when my next destination is just about 15 minutes away, max. 

They also have Gwangju Airport if you want to take direct flights from Incheon or Gimpo.








WHERE TO STAY IN GWANGJU

Again, the highlight of my Gwangju trip is my stay at the Panda Guesthouse.

But before that, let me say that there are many negative things that I can point out about Panda Guesthouse. First, the dorm is located on the 3rd floor of a building with no lift, so I had to carry my luggage myself to reach the hostel. Second, it's the smallest common room I had for this whole trip, so bye bye na talaga sa privacy and personal space. And lastly, the switch for hot water is outside our room, crossing the kitchen. It was spring time pa, and water is still cold! There's this one time that I will never forget where I had soap and shampoo na but I had to wear my clothes again, and go out of the shower room, cross the kitchen, just to see that someone from another room actually switched off the heater!!!

My roommate saw me running, cold and wet across the kitchen, and I just hurriedly shouted, "They turned off the heater!" HAHA!

Liblib corner and steep stairs to the hostel:



But even with all these boo boos, Panda Mom made her way to my heart with her home cooked Korean meals and genuine concern! She communicates to me through her Korea to English app, shows interest when I told her about the concert I went to (even showing the morning paper with BTS on the front page!), and other little things like taking my pic in the kitchen so she can add it to her wall, telling me that she'll leave for Sunday mass service, getting our cab to the bus terminal coz it was raining on our last day, etc. Encounters in the Panda House felt very very personal! It's the kind of vibe and relationship you'll want to have when staying in a guest house. In a way, she made us feel like a small family in her own little, homey hostel in the middle of Gwangju.


Welcome to Panda Guesthouse in Gwangju! I booked here because of the good reviews in Agoda, and because it only costed me around Php 2000 for 2 nights!




Here's my room at the guesthouse, which I shared with 3 other guests. There is no privacy, no personal space! But I was able to get by because everyone's just minding their own business.



The lower bunk is mine, while my top bunk mate seems to have no inhibitions at all! Haha!

The house rules, super basic and easy to remember:

There are two doors inside our room, one leading to a small laundry area, and the other one is the toilet and bath (complete with toiletries).




I experienced 2 breakfasts here in the Panda Guesthouse! Super love the kimchi pancake cooked fresh everyday by our Panda Mom + orange slices for dessert!



THINGS TO DO IN GWANGJU

Here's my list of some of the places you can go to when you're in Gwangju.

Chungjang-ro Street – Gwangju's Myeongdong (shopping and food center). Went here briefly for coffee and egg tart at the recommended Palace Bakery.



Yanglimdong – a lane of coffee shops, café hopping

Gwangju Observation Tower - best view of the city!

Penguin Village (Yangnim-dong Penguin Village) - First of all, do not expect a penguin when you go to Gwangju's Penguin Village! Haha! It's actually a photo zone where lots of random knick-knacks were put together to create art. It reminds me of the Rainbow Village of Taichung in Taiwan and Gamcheon Culture Village where you go to take pictures and check out cool outdoor art. It also has a souvenir shop, and no food options except for a small stall where you can buy instant ramen and the like.






I really like my short stroll around the Penguin Village, it's like a whole different world! I hope they add cafes so my stop will feel more complete!





1913 Songjeong Market – The Songjeong Station Market used to be a go-to place to buy produce and other items, but in the 90s people started to prefer large marts for their shopping. To maintain the 1913 Songjeong Market, they redesigned the area and emphasized the history of the old shops. It's now a mix of traditional and modern food stalls.


Since it was almost dinner time, I tried some of the food stalls like this grilled cheese stand:

There's a random stage in the middle of the road, with people just dancing and taking videos of each other!



I had a whole tray of vegetable gimbap for dinner, yum!



Art Street - just walking distance from the hostel, Art Street was my first stop on my first day in Gwangju. They have small stores where you can purchase art created by locals. There's also a cosplay event when I was there, and kids drawing with colored chalk on black papers taped on the ground.
 







May 18 Memorial Park - Didn't realize that this one is still different from the May 18 National Cemetery, but way easier to get to. I was able to find my way to this huge and beautiful park which pays tribute to the civilians that fought and died during the uprising.

Honestly not much to do here, as it is just a park. Locals were there to walk their dogs, have a picnic with their families, and just chill and enjoy the outdoors. So I just kept strolling, before deciding to go back to the subway.









Asia Culture Center - Just across our guesthouse is the ACC! I wasn't able to maximize my time here, but it's like Seoul's DDP where they hold exhibits and performances in this venue. The architecture, just like DDP, is also very impressive! Aside from the shows, they also have a library, museums, and an outdoor bazaar at night (while I was there).






Side Trips from Gwangju:  
May 18 National Cemetery
Boseong Tea Fields
Damyang Bamboo Forest  

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On my last day in Gwangju, I wanted to visit even just one from my list of side trips but the rain ruined my game plan. I decided to just let go of it, pack my bags, and leave for Seoul.

My roommate became an instant friend. She's from Malaysia, but currently studying in Korea's Chuncheon area. She can fluently speak in Korean, so she's my translator for the day haha! We usually exchange smiles whenever we pass by each other during breakfast, and she's the girl I saw in the kitchen during the water heater incident! Hehe!

We decided to go to the bus stop together, and Panda Mom noticed that we have too much stuff and, again, it was raining non-stop. Instead of commuting, she called for a taxi. While we were waiting inside Panda Mom's other business which is an optical shop, we had a little chat and thank yous and photo sessions. This was also the time when Panda Mom showed BTS in Gwangju's front page feature. You can read more of my SBS Super Concert here.




 

 You really can't tell when and how you'll be friends with anyone during travels, but I am happy I was lucky in Gwangju. :)

Watch my full IG Stories on this city on my IGTV @anagon.




Comments

  1. Love it ate Ana �� I think the heater incident is really embarassing but it’s also a funny experience to keep. Hehe. My first time reading a blog from you and really enjoyed it. More blogs to come.
    -@akoangjosh 🤗

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  2. I really enjoy reading your blog miss Ana. I found it very educational. Thank you for always taking us with you during your travels.


    Love lots, Vanessa Sabroso

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for appreciating! I work hard in all my blogs, I hope to make them more interesting!!!

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  3. Hi ate Ana how do you take picture alone?

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    1. Yes!! Been mastering self timer game during solo travels since 2016!!! :D

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