Bukchon Hanok Village

Korea's turn to modernity is a relatively young move.  In 1950 the now ultra-posh Gagnam was not much more than rice fields.  During the seventies and eighties the city exploded: high-rises, skyscrapers, an influx of people, an influx of cars, the 20th century.  This period of massive growth was marked by a desire, and a need, to repurpose nearly every bit of land in order to accommodate all the growth.  Rice fields were filled in, buildings torn down, houses knocked over.  History and the preservation of the past was an idea that was conceded in the name of record growth and expansion.  

Today, the city of Seoul and the country of South Korea finally have the time, money, and foresight to put into protecting some of Seoul's cultural gems.  Near the top of that list is Bukchon Hanok Village.  A residential area dating back six hundred years to the Joseon Dynasty, the neighborhood has seen an impressive rise in tourists over the last five years, and in response, an impressive commitment from the Seoul government to maintain and protect one of the cities greatest connections to it's more traditional past.

A stroll up and down the streets today reveals very few original homes.  The preservation of the neighborhood is really more about the sense, the feeling, the style, in which people used to live.  New construction is actually continuing, as it's become fashionable to own a hanok, if not live in it.  The neighborhood is small, compact, and easily walked in an hour or two.  Surrounded by a city which nearly consumed it, Seoul's Buckchon Hanok Village sits against the backdrop of the 21st century as a striking, and rare, reminder of Seoul's not-too-distant past.  As always, here's 10 pictures and some foolish comments.

Nearly every spot in the neighborhood is surrounded by buildings, apartments, Seoul Tower, constant reminders of where you really are.  

There are a number of museums and cultural exhibits hidden in the alleys of the neighborhood.  One is the Korean traditional knot making workshop, where you can buy yourself some traditional Korean crafts.

In 2006 the number of visitors to the area hovered around 10,000 annually.  In 2013, the number is more like 600,000.  The word's out on this place.
Most of the courtyards and homes are privately owned and off-limits.  A few, like this one, are open for pictures and craft-making.
A young couple sits and paints in the traditional style.  They were very quiet and very serious about their work.  
Tea, everywhere tea.  Most of the exhibits/museums have an entrance fee, and some of them come with free tea. 

More of the traditional style painting.

One of the newer additions.  The debates about the direction of the area continue.  Land developers, real estate holders, the city government, everybody sees a chance to make some money.  The land is right in the center of northern Seoul, so undoubtedly extremely valuable.  Will this area even be here in 50 years?  Tough to say.

The roofs are really the most distinct feature and a couple of small restaurants and teashops offer some great views over the neighborhood.
All the fall colors were on full display during our trip.  If you're planning to travel to Seoul, fall is by far the best time to come.

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  1. LOVE IT! - Great pix, Zach; my fav is the first one, with the old/modern contrast supporting your story so well. Dumb question: is a hanok a traditional house? I wonder if "traditional" refers to the general lines (swoopy roofs, wide-open rooms), materials (I think the Japanese replaced the thatch roofs with tiles?), colors?? Did you need an interpreter or were some things in English?

  2. Hey Sherri, thanks for the kind words. I think you're right about the houses. If you go to Hahoe or Yangdong they have the thatched roofs. And one of the articles I read suggested that the houses in Bukchon were mostly built in the 30's, during the time of the occupation. As far as stuff in English, there's a lot. Most of the brochures are in English, and lots of people speak English. A guide could probably give you some inside scoop, but I don't feel they're necessary. This area has a ton of great stuff to do as well, temples on both sides and a hip little neighborhood surrounding, with coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants. One of my favorite restaurants is Cafe Mama's. Awesome sandwiches and salads, and there's one about a five minute walk from Gyeongbokgung Temple.