All you need to know about Korea’s city of love – Namwon!
Oh, Namwon. I have such a special fondness for this little city that its logo is probably going to pop up as a tattoo someday. This is where I spent the first two years after college, and it’s become something of a second home to me even now. I love visiting and seeing how things have changed. It’s crazy to imagine, but the elementary schoolers I first had are all in high school now! I don’t think I’d recognize them on the street, nor do I think they’d recognize me.
Anyway, Namwon is a must-stop for anyone hoping to really get off the beaten path in Korea. Not that I’m biased, but it’s got some of the best food in the whole country, and it’s just such an incredibly charming, peaceful place.
Where is Namwon?
Namwon is actually right near the border between Jeollabukdo and Jeollanamdo and 2 hours by KTX from Seoul. It’s right in the heart of the Jeolla provinces.
What is Namwon known for?
Namwon is know mainly for Chunhyang, which is kind of like Korea’s “Romeo & Juliet,” but better in my opinion. Every year in May, there’s a huge festival in her honor (more on that below).
Depending on you ask, some will say pansori, a super traditional style of Korean music, originated in Namwon. I don’t know if that’s fact or not. It definitely originated in the region, though.
Another thing the city is known for, but not exclusively, is its proximity to Jirisan, one of the most important mountains in Korea.
What to Do in Namwon
1. Visit Gwanghallu
To really learn more about Chunhyang, pop on over to Gwanghallu. It’s quite a large park that’s dedicated to all things Chunhyang and Mongryong as it’s meant to represent where to two first met. There’s a mini museum within that tells the story. Gwanghallu is easily one of my favorite places in Korea. I think I’ve been in every season and weather condition, and it never gets old.
If you’re here in the winter, I strongly recommend trying to visit. It’s actually magical.
2. Do one of the hiking trails in Jirisan
Jirisan is a massive mountain, one of the biggest in Korea, so there are a ton of trails to try. I, myself, have only done the Baemsagol trail and some very short ones close to the city.
If you’re aiming to hike to the tallest peak, Cheonhwangbong (천황봉), checkout the following courses:
- Baengmudong – Jungsalli Course
- Yupyeong Course
- Bengmudong Course
- Georim Course
- Jungsalli (Kalbawi) Course
- Jungsalli (Jangteomok) Course
The ones closes to Namwon are the Guryong Valley Course, Baemsagol, and the Baraebong course, which is famous for its azaleas. If you check Jirisan’s website, it actually is quite detailed and helpful for planning your trip!
3. Visit the mini amusement park
Yep, there’s the Chunhyang Theme Park and weirdly I’ve never really been in! I’ve seen some of it at night by accident, but for one reason or another I never actually walked around.
The theme park is split up into 5 different sections that that represent the 5 different parts of the Chunhyang story:
- First Encounter
- Love and Forced Separation
There’s a Ferris Wheel in the park, which I’ve always seen, but just be warned — I’m not sure when they’ve lasted updated the features. My friend, Lynsey, rode it once and said she’s never been so afraid for her life!
4. Enjoy the river
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Namwon is to just walk or bike long the river. Sometimes I’d see just how far I could bike before I hit a regular road or I’d go for a run and wind up running by some of my students lol.
The river is where you really can enjoy Namwon’s seasons, especially in the autumn with the fall foliage or spring with the cherry blossoms. Usually in nice weather, some food vendors will pop up while the halmonis and hanabeojis hangout on the sitting areas!
5. Visit Honbul Literary House
During my two years as a teacher in Namwon, we were pulled out for the most random field trips! One of those was to the Honbul Literary House (혼불문학관).
The reason that “Honbul” is so important in Korean literature is that it’s considered an epic. The author, Choi Myeong Hee, wrote it over 17 years, and it’s about 3 generations of the Namwon Lee women living under Japanese rule. The literary house serves as a bit of museum to give you insight into Choi’s life and the writing of the books.
Unfortunately, the museum is only in Korean and I don’t think the actual books have ever been translated into English! However, the area is worth a little visit, especially if you have a car as it’s a bit out of the city. If you can go with someone who can translate, even better!
6. Also check out Seodo — the Old Train Station
While you’re out there, pop over to Seodo Train Station (서도역)! It’s a pretty random but cool fixture, and there are some old train tracks as well. If you’re a fan of “Mr. Sunshine,” you’ll recognize this place from one of the episodes!
7. Check out the space observatory.
One of the last things I did living in Namwon was pop up to the space observatory (남원항공우주천문대) with my friends, Eunyoung and Nicholas. It was too cloudy to see any stars, but it was a fun experience regardless! Don’t miss the 4D film if you go. My friends figured out going, but you can try having a Korean friend call 063-620-6900!
8. Hike up to Deogeum Peak
Right near the main tourist area in Namwon is the entrance to a small hiking trail that goes to Deogeum Peak (덕음봉)! It’ll take to a pavilion which gives you a really gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside area. It’s not a huge hike, so the trail should only take maybe 30-40 minutes at the most, and there’s a small cafe (below) that’s a nice midway point.
9. Check out the fun Jirisan Herb Valley Park
In nearby Unbong, check out Jirisan Herb Valley (지리산허브밸리). There are so many parts to this one place, I don’t think I’ve even been to all of them! You can see all sorts of flower fields and check out the inside museum which is all about, you guessed it, herbs. If you for the Baraebong azaleas, this tour combines the hike with a visit to this park.
10. Visit the Gochang Pansori Museum
One of my random Sunday, post-church excursions was out to the fun Gochang Pansori Museum (고창판소리박물관). If you’re driving, it’s a cool stop to get an idea of the history of pansori! There are over a thousand museum pieces in the various exhibits all related to the art of pansori and the famous singers.
All in the same walking area is Gochang Eupseong (고창읍성), and you can enter through the North Gate, which is near the pansori museum.
11. Go to the Chunhyang Festival
I mean, if you’re in Jeolla around May, might as well check out this fun festival! It celebrates everything related to Chunhyang and even includes a random beauty pageant one of the nights. Your best bet is to follow the Namwon Facebook page and just look for updates on when the festival is held and the schedule.
12. Check out Kim Byeong Jong Art Museum
Open from 10 am – 6 pm every day except Mondays, tthe Kim Byeong Jong Art Museum (남원시립김병종미술관) is a pretty new addition to Namwon. My friends took me when I last visited, and it’s such a cool little place! There’s also a bookstore/cafe you can work or hangout at after.
By far the best things to do in Namwon is to take advantage of the incredible cuisine here. Like we were so spoiled by how good the food is, whenever anyone went to Seoul and tried Korean food there, they came back disappointed. I’ve listed my favorite places to eat below!
Where to Eat in Namwon
Bongga Myeonok (봉가면옥)
So naengmyun comes from northern Korea, which is why you’ll see a lot of restaurants named after North Korean cities like Hamheung or Pyeongyang. I’m sure deep in the North Korean countryside, hidden away from Kim Jong Un, there’s the most magical recipe for naengmyun we haven’t tasted yet.
Until that moment comes, however, I’m going out on a limb and saying Bongga Myeonok has the best naengmyun in all of Korea and the world. A little dramatic? Maybe. But of all the cold noodle dishes I’ve scarfed down, this is the only place that has really blown me away! The broth is steeped for 20 hours, and you can taste how much more flavorful it is than other restaurants!
If I had to pick a favorite restaurant in Korea, it would probably be this place, though the naengmyeon restaurant does give it a run for its money! 25시 mainly serves one thing and it’s bbyeodagwitang (뼈다귀탕). It’s basically like hangover soup and according to Autumn is the same thing as gamjatang, but this particular restaurant has the best combination of spices and meat to soup ratio!
Okay, this is kind of a controversial opinion, but I’ve always loved this all-you-can-eat BBQ place. However, among my expat friends in Namwon they’ve always been split between absolutely hating it and liking it. Autumn hates it, but I love their LA kalbi!
If you want to try some Korean Chinese food, I highly recommend visiting Gemsaengchun! The one in Dotong actually didn’t exist when I lived in Namwon, but I’d go to the original location in Geumji with my co-teacher randomly. The jjambbong (짬뽕) is seriously delicious. Normally jjambbong can be pretty thin and overly spicy, but this restaurant is locally quite famous for how good its recipe is. The jjangjangmyeon is also delicious if you have no tolerance for spice.
Cafe Pat (팟)
This is another place where I knew it by its nickname far longer than I knew its actual name! Everyone introduced me to Pat as the Fat Cat Cafe because of their cute “mascot,” which is a chubby kitty. They serve Thai food in the coziest setting, and the owners are actually the sweetest humans. I always went here if I wanted normal food while I worked. Definitely get the green curry! That was always my favorite.
Best Cafes in Namwon
If there’s one city where you should eschew the normal Korean franchises, it’s in Namwon. There was so many cute cafes with the loveliest owners, I was actually quite angry when I saw a Twosome Place downtown and haven’t been to one since even in Seoul.
First Bean House (퍼스트민하우스)
I remember when First Bean opened! We were taking cooking classes every other Wednesday, and our teacher was helping them with their menu, so we all popped over eventually. SUCH good food! I guess technically this belongs in the restaurant section! They have such good, freshly made bread and soups, but really you can’t go wrong with any of the menu items. I spent many afternoons hanging out here working or chatting with friends.
Siesta Cafe (카페씨에스타)
I kind of had this nice routine of eating at 25시 and then walking down a few buildings to get honey bread or omija cha at Siesta since it was so close. Siesta is super cozy, and it was probably like the last place I got a drink at before I left Namwon!
Buddha Cafe (전망대)
When I came to Namwon, this cafe’s nickname was the Buddha Cafe for obvious reasons! You can drive up, but we always did the little hike and then got smoothies or coffee and sat on the deck to take in the views from above.
You can stop here on the hike I recommended above to the Deogeum Peak! It’s kind of a halfway point.
Zone Out Cafe (존 아웃)
Seriously, ignore that giant Twosome Place cafe and keep walking to Zone Out! It was opened by one of my former students’ moms (even though he doesn’t remember me), and Autumn took me there when we popped into Namwon. She makes all the cakes fresh, and it’s just a nice environment to relax or work!
Namwon was such a good place to live because it was so nicely located. Here are some really easy day trips you could take or incorporate into a Korean countryside itinerary.
Gokseong is actually still on the regular bus routes in Namwon, that’s how close by it is! The main attraction is the Train Village, and really that’s only in May for the rose festival. I’ve been outside of the roses and while it’s okay, it’s not really that worth it to go.
On the train line, Gurye is maybe 30 minutes away? It’s one stop after Gokseong. I need to spend more time here, but it’s even more countryside than Namwon, and I’ve always enjoyed my random visits! Check out the main temple of Haweomsa, which is also near a hiking trail, and if you go in March, head over to the Gurye Sansuyu Festival.
My other home city in Korea! Suncheon is an hour by Mugunghwa train and only like 10-15 minutes faster by KTX, so save your money. It’s a pretty big city with a lot of really cool sites like the Drama Film Set, Suncheon Bay, Suncheon Bay Garden, Jogyesan with its two temples, and a little farther way, Naganeupseong Village.
On the opposite side of Namwon, Jeonju is about an hour by bus and maybe 30-40 minutes by train. I recommend taking the bus from Namwon, though, because you can get off at a stop closer to the Hanok Village and walk. The train station is a little farther away.
Jeonju is, of course, probably the most well known area on this list since it was named in Lonely Planet’s 2016 Best Destinations in Asia. Of all the hanok villages with giwajip roofs, I think Jeonju’s is the most charming. There’s also Deokjin Park with its lotus pond in the summer, a nearby mural village, and, for expats, Gaeksa has a ton of shopping in one area!
I always recommend Gwangju as a good base for traveling around most of Jeollanam-do. It’s a big city, so there’s not that much about it that’s quaint or cultural. However, it’s usually a transfer point for a lot of different sites like Naejangsan, Boseong, or Damyang.
If you do want to hang around Gwangju, Mudeungsan is supposed to be a nice hike, and there’s the 5.18 Memorial Park which commemorates the Gwangju Uprising. Downtown is like a mini-Myeongdong or Hongdae. I used to go to get a decent burger, Mexican food, or like once or twice for clubbing.
Namwon Travel Guide
How to Get to Namwon
You can get into Namwon pretty much any normal way! For somewhere so countryside, it’s actually really convenient getting to and around.
Most of the time I took the bus in and out of Namwon. The main bus station was only a 5-10 minute walk from my apartment, which made life very convenient. It had frequent of buses to and from Jeonju and Gwangju, which are the two main cities for the Jeolla provinces.
The other bus station is only for Seoul and Incheon, so I would taxi there, though technically I could walk.
Namwon Train Station (남원역) has both the KTX and the Mugunghwa trains. When I was impatient, I’d take the KTX up to Seoul since it only took about 2 hours. The train station is a little inconvenient as it’s a it outside of town and not easy to walk to. I’ve always just taxied to and fro, and it’s only ever been about 3,000 KRW.
And, of course, Namwon is a pretty drivable city. Because it’s smaller, it’s not nearly as overwhelming as driving in Suncheon or Yeosu (or, obviously, Busan or Seoul).
A car might be convenient if you’re planning to visit some of the places I listed about. They’re not the easiest to get with by bus.
Getting Around Namwon
Namwon is super easy to get around — just walk! For the occasional times you do need a taxi, you can very easily find them.
Where to Stay in Namwon
Okay, so while I lived in Namwon, I obviously never needed to find a place to stay besides my own apartment. However, I’ve been doing some research lately, so I found quite a few fun places! You basically want to make sure you’re in town or by the river to make it easy to get everywhere.
If you’re more on a budget, there’s Mua Guesthouse, which is a cute little place run by some friends of friends who moved to Namwon right when I left.
for more on korea
For some inspiration, check out my list of beautiful places in Korea as well as my guide to all my favorite Korean food. I also have seasonal guides for spring, summer, autumn, and winter, include tips on where to find the best cherry blossoms and fall foliage.
And if you still have questions and you’re a woman, join my Facebook group!
And there you have it! My guide to one of my favorite places on earth — Namwon. Have you been? What did you think?