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Both economically poor and rich in natural beauty, Jeolla-do is one of Korea's most fascinating regions. Located in the southwestern part of the peninsula, it is bordered on the south by the East China Sea and on the west by the Yellow Sea. It is still sometimes referred to as the "Honam" region and it's made up of the Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla) and Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla) provinces.

As in all of Korea's rural areas, the people here speak a distinct dialect different from that spoken in cities like Seoul. And that dialect isn't the only thing that sets this region apart. The people from Jeolla-do take pride in their food. Ask anyone from the region and they'll say that the best food in South Korea can be found here. Having eaten my way around the country, I can't disagree. Historically, Jeolla-do is the ancestral home of members of the royal Yi family (of the Joseon Dynasty). Their refined cooking techniques have been handed down for centuries. Even at humble restaurants here you'll be amazed at the number of exceptionally tasty banchan (side dishes) that are brought to your table. Even the simplest of dishes seems to have been made with extra care.

Perhaps the poorest of the country's provinces, due to the area's history of conflict with the central government (it has long been viewed -- and some would say has long behaved -- like Seoul's rebellious little brother), Jeolla-do has largely been left behind as the rest of South Korea has boomed. Although this is not so great for the people who live there, it is wonderful for visitors. Not only will you get to experience the country's rural past, but you'll get to see wonderful scenery not yet ruined by huge highways, high-rise apartments, and industrial complexes.

The area has an irregular coastline, numerous tiny islands, and a vast array of tidal flatlands, making for ideal conditions for fishing and diving. The southern coastline has some of the best scenic ocean views anywhere in the country. Some of South Korea's most picturesque towns are in Jeolla-do. Don't miss the seaside town of Yeosu and the beautiful tea plantation of Boseong. If time and weather permit, take a boat out to one of the many small islands that fade into the distance off the southern coast.