This post will be split into two parts. The first part on my visit to Bakchon Hanok Village. The second on my visit to the 4th Annual Seoul Lantern Festival at Cheonggyecheon.
Last tuesday I headed up to Seoul to meet up with a friend for the 4th Annual Seoul Lantern Festival. Since I was already committed to the 2 hour subway trip up there I headed up early to do a little sight seeing as well before hand. I thought about going to one of the palaces or museums but my little brother and sister will be here next month, so I thought I’d wait and save some of those till later. Instead I decided to check out the Hanok village situated between them.
I’ve heard a lot about Bukchon Hanok Village around the web and seen lots of photos. It sounded like a fun cultural trip.
Bukchon is not an official municipal name; rather, it means that it lies to the north of Cheonggyecheon (Stream) and Jongno, the downtown area of Seoul. It used to be the high-end residential district for royal family members and high-ranking government officials. The sight of a number of Hanok built next to each other, sharing a wall and touching each other’s eaves, will give you a glimpse into the friendly and open-hearted lifestyle of Koreans. This might be the true charm of Bukchon Hanok Village.
Surrounded by Gyeongbokgung (Palace), Changdeokgung (Palace), and Jongmyo (Royal Shrine), the Bukchon area is a traditional residential area in Seoul that boasts 600 years of history. Its location reflects the views of neo-Confucianism, regarding the world and nature, during the Joseon Dynasty. Home to some 920 Hanok, a museum, and various craft and tea shops hidden away in the alleys, the Bukchon area is a popular spot for busy tourists to catch a glimpse into the 600-year history of Seoul in a few hours. Hanok architecture places great emphasis on the topographical features of the land on which it is built. Structural arrangements, layouts, and other spatial aesthetics are major concerns here, as are the styles of the buildings themselves. Relatively smaller buildings somehow embrace and complement the beauty of wide fields, high mountains, and the endlessly stretched sky. Though different in atmosphere and form, a walk through Bukchon’s narrow alleys will bring you the fun and excitement similar to a walk through the small streets of Venice.
Sounds great huh? I guess that’s tourist information sites for you. Overall I was pretty disappointed. The hanok style houses are pretty and historical, but they weren’t that interesting. Maybe I was just in the wrong area but they seemed small communities of houses, not the stretching streets packed with hanok buildings that seem to take you back in time to a whole different era. You could almost always see some part of modern architecture pressing in on the village. It wasn’t busy while I was there, for the most part it was filled with photographers.
As you wandered around you found some buildings offering traditional Korean skills. Knot tying. Stamping. Painting. You could take a class for a small fee. There were also a few tea houses around. Most were closed, but I did find a nice one off the main street that I enjoyed a lot. Not the traditional floor seating tables you would expect. It was filled with retro relics, records, and appliances converted into furniture. You keep your shoes on and have a seat at one of those custom tables and browse through a menu of teas, beer, wine, and other little treats. You pay for the experience though. My pot of tea, while delicious and high quality, cost 8,000 won. Everything in the shops around the city is likewise overly priced because a lot of tourists come through.
All in all I would say that visiting the Hanok Village should be toward the bottom of your list if you are planning to visit Seoul. I suppose it’s entirely possible I didn’t find the heart of the hanok village where it would be much more impressive, but this entry is based off my experience. There’s also another village, Namsan Hanok Village, a short taxi ride away that might offer a better experience. I haven’t been there. I still enjoyed myself since I went to take photos, appreciating the textures and patterns. Give yourself no more than an hour here.
Based on my other travels there are so many better places to go and get a cultural experience, such as the temples, palaces, and busy market streets.
To Get There:
Take the subway to Anguk Station, Exit #2. Walk 300m straight down the street to arrive at Bukchon Hanok Village.
To get the full experience you must follow a path. I recently found a map that is helpful for tourists trying to plan trips around the city. It’s easy to navigate and is in English. Below is the map given for Bukchon Hanok Village. I’ve heard other accounts that to walk the plotted trail takes about 2 hours.
To view the second part of my day, walking around the Cheonggyecheon for the 4th Annual Seoul Lantern Festival, click here.