South Korea rapidly became a modern country. Within the past half-century it has gone from a country mostly of fields to seas of high rises. Over the years, many of these construction projects have caused the demolition of entire neighborhoods of traditional Korean houses, called hanok. Beautiful houses with tile roofs, wood framing and intricate brickwork were discarded to make way for dense apartment complexes. Fortunately, there has been a movement to preserve the hanok that remain.
You can sometimes see hanok straddled right next to apartment buildings or convenience stores scattered around the country. There are a few so-called “Hanok Villages,” places designed for visitors to take in plenty of traditional Korea, sometimes complete with costumed re-enactors.
My favorite is the Bukchon Hanok Village in Samcheong-dong, located in central Seoul, very close to a lot of other great sights such as Gyeongbok Palace and Cheonggye Stream. Bukchon is actually just a residential neighborhood, not originally intended to be a tourist destination. All of the hanok function as actual family homes, so it definitely doesn’t have a tourist trap vibe that some of other Hanok villages have. It’s great to just wander around the hilly neighborhood, looking at the beautiful houses with some great views of the surrounding city.
The best way to get to Bukchon is via subway. Take line 3 to Anguk Station and get out at exit 3. There is a multi-lingual tourist information desk not far from the exit with maps and brochures. Take a map and wander around. Afterwards, head over to the main street of Samcheong-dong offers plenty of trinket shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries and is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Be sure to check out more on Korean culture from the other Kimchi-ite posts here!
[Photo credits: Jonathan Kramer]