If you wish to see something truly historic in Seoul without having to go far or pay anything, you should take your time to check out Bukchon Hanok.
A LITTLE HISTORY
This small village once used to be a village for the elite so to speak, where only the aristocrats of the society lived. In a way, that tradition has stayed with Korean Culture as the only people who stay there permanently or otherwise tend to be those who are rather fortunate financially-wise. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the people there are wealthy, most go out of their way to preserve this historical village. The neighbourhood with their tiled-roofed houses reminiscent of Chinese villages of long ago is one of the oldest historic site found in Seoul, dating back nearly 600 years to the Joseon Dynasty.
TRIP TO BUKCHON HANOK
At first we were not planning to go to Bukchon Hanok as our trip was rather packed but then we decided we really had to go as it was an opportunity to see a great deal of Korean history. Boy, were we glad we went there. The place was absolutely beautiful! I felt as if I somehow time-traveled to a different era. It was so different from the rest of Seoul – with its cute little houses with courtyards and rooms with wooden panels like those you see in Japan or olden China. Of course, as a tourist, you are not allowed to peek in or anything like that as the place is literally someone’s residence.
The houses itself are actually on a hillside so most of the paths were steep and we were literally climbing up the mountain but for a place that is not that far from Seoul’s city centre, it is amazingly quiet and serene. Although, they did seem to have problems with vehicles coming in as the streets between houses are so narrow they could probably only fit one car at a time.
The place even had workshops at certain points between the houses. The few I passed were a folk painting workshop and a knot workshop ( not sure what that was ). One of the most interesting things I learnt when I was there was that apparently there were guest houses that you could stay at for a time if you wished, although it is probably quite costly and they probably won’t have many rooms available. However, if you wish to experience what living in Bukchon Hanok is like, you could always give it a go.
There was also a kindergarten almost at the peak of the hill of Bukchon Hanok as well as a rather large seafood restaurant of some kind. We did not get to eat there but I took a look at their menu and it looked great. Of course, not all of Bukchon Hanok are houses. Some are renovated coffee shops and craft shops especially the buildings on the other side of the hillside. There was even an antique shop there although it was closed at the time.
WHAT NOT TO DO AT BUKCHON HANOK
What most people who visit Bukchon Hanok forget is that the place is still a residential area where people still live in the houses. I saw some tourists who tried to take pictures of the interior of the houses without asking for permission and I think that is quite unacceptable as it is still a private residence. I have heard that some of the residents of Bukchon Hanok protested against tourists treating their houses like public attractions. So, if you visit Bukchon Hanok, keep in mind that these people have to live there and taking pictures of sensitive things such as photos with car plate number’s is not only insensitive but potentially dangerous for these residents who allow the public to experience a bit Seoul’s history.
Another thing that a tourist should keep in mind is to not litter the alleyways. Although there were few dustbins placed along the alleyways that I could see, please hang on to any rubbish you have until you see a dustbin to deposit them in. Some of the alleyways were literally some houses’ front yard, so to speak. Just act like you are visiting someone’s house and you should be fine.
HOW TO GET THERE
Bukchon Hanok is quite close to the National Folk Musuem of Korea and Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is in the area of Jongno-gu and it is possible to walk from the National Folk Musuem of Korea to Bukchon Hanok if you wish. The distance between the Folk Musuem and Bukchon Hanok is somewhere around 400m. I am unsure if there are any buses that go there but even if there are, the buses cannot go into the main area so you would have to walk anyway.
If you are taking the train, your best bet is to stop at the Anguk station which is one station away from Gyeongbokgung and walk along Gahwe-ro road until you see Bukchon Hanok on your left. The walk itself is a little under 800 m.