A Hidden Village
by Rebecca Biage
(Suwon, South Korea )
Seoul boasts a variety of hip and old-fashioned neighborhoods for travelers, but a visit to the Samcheong-dong neighborhood is a must. Samcheong-dong is chock full of clothing boutiques, cutesy cafes, craft workshops and museums. However, the main attraction tucked away in this particular neighborhood is Bukchon Hanok Village. Bukchon is filled with hanoks, which are Korean traditional style houses. And every alleyway gives you plenty of options to view them!
The village dates back over 600 years to the Joseon Dynasty. During this historic period many high-ranking officials and aristocratic families settled in Bukchon. The name itself "Bukchon" means northern village, given its location in the city. It's also centrally located between two of Seoul's major palaces, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung.
Hanok architecture consists of smoky gray tiled roofs, slightly curving upward at the outer corners. Many of the homes are painted a bright white, decorated by wooden beams or layers of brick along the bottom halves.
Bukchon is located uphill so the legs definitely get a workout, but one that's much better than the gym. There are numerous alleyways to get lost in. (Besides, the added bonus of getting lost is that one usually stumbles upon a good photo opportunity!)
After canvassing much of the alleyways I stopped by the quaint Gahoe Museum. The museum's cozy interior takes roughly 20 minutes to explore. Along the walls are brightly colored folk paintings. Many of the paintings depict birds, flowers and wildlife. The display tables contain various amulets, such as a vintage medicine book and red pepper pendants. For those feeling inspired by the creativity surrounding them, the museum offers a painting workshop that visitors can participate in.
While roaming through Bukchon was fun, the real highlight of the afternoon was being approached by a group of middle-school students. They were out scouring Bukchon on an English assignment to interview English speakers. Their bubbly personalities shone through as they ran down their list of questions: your name, where are you from, why are you in Korea. After the Q&A portion their teacher wanted to get a picture (I also asked her to snap one using my iPhone). These English Q&A encounters have happened in the past and I always get a kick out of them.
In a metropolis filled with neon lights, lofty office buildings and haggard workers, wandering through an area like Bukchon reminds me of simpler days in Korea's past.
Bukchon Hanok Village can easily be found by taking subway line 3 and getting off at Anguk Station. Look for exit 2 as you make your way out of the station. When you reach the top of the stairs walk straight for several minutes. There are also signs that will direct you towards the village.