The Bukchon Hanok Village, courtesy of Doug Sun Beams
Think Seoul and you will likely be reminded of the modern, upscale skyscrapers and buildings that line the Gangnam district. Or the vibrant street life of Hongdae. Or even the massive global hits of Kpop darlings BTS.
But not the entirety of the bustling South Korean metropolis is a (admittedly interesting) concrete urban jungle. Nestled near the city centre lies an alluring traditional residential quarter that is somewhat charming in its own right.
The Bukchon Hanok Village, translating to “northern village”, is a cultural spectacle of the country’s rich past.
Families of a high-ranking, wealthy social class were believed to have resided in the hanoks (a traditional Korean house) in the last six centuries. Proud remnants of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897), the area was originally marked for development in the 1960s, which meant that much of the village was slated for demolishment or relocation.
The locals did not agree with the ruling, and together, made a strong case against the impending destruction of the village. They eventually persuaded the officials, who in their redesign, sought to preserve the Bukchon Hanok Village.
An alleyway, courtesy of Mathieu Thouvenin
Around 900 hanok structures stand today, with many (almost all, as a matter of fact) having undergone restoration and renovation works. The use of modern materials, as well eco-friendly resources in the refurbishment efforts meant that the house are not completely reminiscent of their former selves, but the traditional character largely remains intact.
Unlike Namsangol Hanok Village, another cultural village in Seoul, Bukchon is an actual, residential area. The presence of ordinary Koreans setting up their homes in these quarters have prompted local officials to put up signs and boards advising tourists and visitors to lower down their volumes and to respect the residents’ privacy, in order to maintain collective peace.
A bicycle props against the wall.
The massive rise of Hallyu along with special features of Bukchon by South Korean television programs, saw the village increase in popularity in the late 2000s, early 2010s. Today, Bukchon is a favourite destination for tourists and Korean visitors alike. To cater to the growing attention, cafes, guesthouses, galleries and museums have sprung up and now dot the district.
Hop over to the Bukchon Traditional Culture Centre to gain a deeper insight into Korean calligraphy and craft work. The Baek In-je House Museum gives visitors a look at the inner dwellings of a hanok. Do not miss the many souvenir stores that sell pretty, well moulded handicraft, or small art pieces. Well designed, friendly cafes serve travellers who need a short break.
Try renting a hanbok
If you have time, do explore renting and donning a hanbok, a traditional Korean costume. This is an ideal opportunity to boost your social media feed with brilliant, beautiful and interesting captures.
The real draw of the neighbourhood, though, lies in its cosy and quaint alleyways and pavements. Walking through the paths is a charming adventure like no other. The vintage, antediluvian buildings, compounded with the ebullience and buoyancy of the still-inhabiting establishes an experience congruent to the effect of a time machine. Back to the times of King Sejong the Great, to the times when Hanseong was the Korean capital. Back to the times when the Admiral Yi Sun Sin ruled the seas.