Destination: Gwangju Kimchi Town (Gwangju, Jeollanam-do)
Gwangju Kimchi Town (광주김치타운) – possibly one of the weirdest places in Jeollanam-do – and on a road named after a food! Intended to house a kimchi museum and a working manufacturing plant, we saw no evidence the latter was operating. The place was such a ghost town we weren’t sure the place was open at first – even the cafeteria was closed. Eventually, we discovered the first hall (seen above). A kind but clueless lady actually asked us if we knew what kimchi was. Bear in mind, this is after researching the place, after finding the place, after showing the taxi driver the address (who hadn’t heard of the place!)… She couldn’t have known we’ve been living in Korea for a long time, but she has to realize the place is in the middle of nowhere. There were zero other tourists on this particular Saturday afternoon, so we had the run of the place:
Uhm, yeah. A couple dozen varieties of kimchi, anyone?
Head up the stairs to the second floor for the bizarre:
The classic ‘write-the-question-in-English-and-Korean-but-put-the-answer-in-Korean-only’ issue rears its ugly head yet again.
A reproduction of a Korean cookbook from 1459, describing 38 varieties of kimchi.
As a folk vegetable to live in the mountains and fields and taste slightly butter, not only does Korean lettuce’s taste and flavour stimulate appetite, but also cleans blood and strengthens stomach. Normally, Korean lettuce Kimchi made with a lot of salted fish, is the delicacy of the southern provinces eaten after the Lunar New Year’s Day.
There’s a couple dozen pillars like this, some almost as bad.
Just a few of the many varieties available across the country – but wait! There’s a kicker:
Oh, dear. I’ve heard there’s about 200 varieties, although what constitutes an ‘official’ number is likely to need scrutiny. Each area in Korea (both North and South) has a regional specialty or three, and a sign offers some of their names.
With five zones to the museum, there was bound to be one that offered a more hands-on approach to the famous side dish. It’s hard to get much more hands-on than a ball pit, of course:
Yep, it’s a ball pit – in fact, it took us a minute to realize there actually was a point to it – a new-fangled ‘throw-the-ball-at-the-screen’ game:
The idea was to throw the air-filled balls at the squares, breaking open the ‘jars’ to combine the four ingredients. Manage this, and you’re rewarded with some cutesy animation. While I’m unsure how many elementary-schoolers would have the patience for this, we had a blast!
All this time I had no idea what sound maturing kimchi made. How did I ever live life? It’s actually a downer, as there was no sound to hear (at least, none that we heard in an mostly silent museum), no buttons to push, and nothing that was motion-activated as with other exhibits.
Although the liter has become the standard measurement, you might have wondered why some things are sold in an 1.8 liter odd size. That middle box – called 되 (pronounced ‘dwey’) – held approximately 1.8 liters. The larger barrel, 말 (mal) held about 18 liters, while the tiny box on the right (홉, pronounced like ‘hope’) held 180 milliliters.
Man, I tell you – that kimchi just goes right through you! Despite hundreds of balls in the ball pit and another ‘throw-the-ball-at-the-screen’ game nearby, there were no balls for this exhibit (and yes, we tried the other balls – they didn’t fit). A real shame, too.
As museums go, it attempts to cover the five senses. It’s clear a major budget went into the funding of this place – on more than one occasion, the simple way to do something was bypassed for a fancy, expensive way to accomplish the same thing. It’s worth visiting for the sheer bizarreness of it all, although there’s more information about the side dish at the COEX kimchi museum in Seoul.
Ratings (out of 5 taeguks – How do I rate destinations?):
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Address: Jeollanam-do Gwangju-si Nam-gu Imam-dong 675 (Gim-chi-ro 60)
Korean address: 광주광역시 남구 임암동 675 (김치로60)
Directions to Gwangju Kimchi Town: From Gwangju train station, look for the stairs just left of the main exit. These stairs let you cross over the tracks and lead you to the SUPER SECRET exit. Head to the bus stop and hop on 순환 (Sun-hwan) bus 01. It’s a red bus that comes fairly often. Ride the bus to the Majae post office (마재우체국 – Ma-jae oo-che-guk), then transfer to the green 진월 (Jin-wol) bus 78 and ride to the terminus, Gwangju Kimchi Town. IMPORTANT: these buses do not accept Seoul’s T-money traffic card – consider picking up a local traffic card for free transfers or be ready with change and small bills.
Phone number: 02-673-8401