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One of the best ways to develop a more meaningful appreciation of another culture is to experience the daily life as lived by the locals, explore historic sites and cultural activities and traditions of the past era. Also, if you are so inclined, a visit to a local museum can prove to be quite useful in gaining some background knowledge. Personally, I always try to learn as much as I can about the place I’m about to visit, so I can make more informed choices about where and how I can engage most effectively in my ‘speedy cultural immersion’.
Today, I had a scheduled visit to the Bukchon Hanok Village exactly for that purpose. This village is one of the last three remaining traditional villages in South Korea. The village shows the harmonious juxtaposition of ancient and modern city life and offers a variety of cultural activities and history lessons, and best of all, it’s FREE – making it a perfect opportunity to immerse.
A good mix of the old and and the new
Bukchon Hanok Village is located at Anguk Station between Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Jongmyo Royal Shrine. The 600-year-old urban village used to be the home to the Yangban (nobility) class and the most influential families during the Joseon era. Exploring the Hanok heritage houses and wandering its narrow streets provide a unique opportunity for the visitor to experience the authentic atmosphere of the Joseon Dynasty era.
View of the Changdeokgung Palace from one of the streets in Bukchon Hanok Village
The Hanok houses themselves are works of art; the slope of the rooftops, the décor on the doors, the painting on the walls and the intricate architecture are very aesthetically pleasing. I can’t help but be hypnotized by their charm. Each Hanok is quite different, so there’s a lot to explore.
The Hanoks are made using only natural materials such as earth, stone and wood. Hanok’s have their own tiled roofs (Giwa), wooden beams and stone-block construction. Cheoma is the edge of Hanok’s curvy roofs. The lengths of the Cheoma can be adjusted to control the amount of sunlight that enters the house. Hanji (Korean traditional paper) is lubricated with bean oil making it waterproof and polished. Windows and doors made with Hanji are beautiful and breathable.
The wooden structures within the house are assembled together through various kinds of joints but without using any nails. Instead, Hanok is connected by using other natural materials and methods. The joining and connecting methods also mirror yin and yang principles. How cool is that?!
Hanoks are built on a raised platform, the height of which is generally proportionate to the social status of the occupants of the house.
Upper-class houses typically had tiled roofs while the commoner’s house usually had rice straws (somewhat like our nipa huts in the Philippines).
Most rooms in the Hanok village have a sophisticated underfloor heating system, known as the ‘ondol system’. It uses a direct heat transfer from the wood smoke to the underside of a thick masonry floor via horizontal channels. The main component of the ondol system is a firebox or stove accessible from a separate room or a kitchen. Ondol was always very effective and economical heating system during winter time and its modern versions are used to this very day in Korean households.
I think ondol is a great invention. It doesn’t heat up that quickly, but once it heats up, the warmth stays for a long time. In addition, Ondol is also used for medicinal purposes. The Korean language has the phrase “sizzling the body,” which refers to a kind of fomentation effect that is created when somebody lies on the hot floor in the cold winter. Such fomenting is known as being effective for tired or sick people, pregnant women and the elderly. To this day, Koreans prefer to foment on a toasty ondol floor when they get a cold or other such illness. If you visit Korea, you will no doubt enjoy this unique home heating system.
schematic representation on how the ondol provides heat
I’ve recently checked the origins of the ‘ondol system’ and was amazed how old it was. It apparently dates back to 1000 BC, and has been discovered in Unggi, Hamgyeongbukdo — present-day Korea. Now I know the ‘ondol’ is a uniquely Korean invention. I just wish they had also invented equally effective and economical cooling system, so we could copy them in the Philippines.
Another amusing detail for me was the fact that the height of the doorways throughout the village was quite low… even for somebody like me. Feel much taller now… relatively speaking, that is. LOL!
What is a unique aspect of Bukchon Hanok Village, in my opinion, is the fact that apart from being a great tourist attraction, it is still a fully functioning neighborhood with people actually living and working there. And their living there is not the fake, touristy way you find in many ‘historical villages’, but visibly authentic and self-contained.
Several families go about their daily routine every single day here. The visit helped me imagine how the entire Seoul must have looked like a few hundred years ago. I really enjoyed the long walk along the narrow streets of Bukchon Hanok Village as I try to soak in the ancient atmosphere of the by-gone era.
kimchi making area
Many hanok in Bukchon are quite small, measuring between 25 and 30 pyong (893 and 1,065 square feet). Because of the small lots, some houses are built in a way so that their fence is practically the wall of their house, making it very vulnerable to outside noise. According to architecture experts, hanok are particularly vulnerable to outside noise. That is why some say, only half joking, that you can even hear people farting outside 🙂 And since the village is a residential area, there were signs everywhere asking people to respect “visiting hours” which started at 10 AM and avoid loud talking and excessive picture taking.
Today, many of these Hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse in Korean traditional culture. In fact, I’ve seen signs for embroidery and pottery museums, which might even include some kind of workshop!
craft and art museum
a Filipino cafe inside the village
restaurant within the village
I had expected Seoul to have a more historic feel to the city, so wandering the streets of Bukchon Hanok was very satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed observing the magnificent colors and architectures. Lovely place! Definitely worth another visit if I get the chance to go to Seoul again!
QUICK TIPS for PHOTO OP!
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has kindly marked out eight photography spots from which you can take the best shots of the iconic buildings. Look out for the signs on the floor such as the one above.
How to get there:
Bukchon Hanok Village
- Anguk Station (Line 3), Exit #2
- From Exit #2, walk straight for about 300 meters.
Bukchon Cultural Center
- Anguk Station (Line 3), Exit #3
- From Exit #3, walk for 250 meters toward Jungang High School.
- 105 Gye-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
- Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
You may also want to check my blog on: N Seoul Tower and Namsan Park, Gyeongbukgong and Changdeokgung Palace, Hanok Village, My First Impressions of Seoul,Budget Travel in Seoul , Korean BBQ Experience,15 Must try Street Food in Seoul, 15 Must try food in Seoul, Places to Visit in Seoul, Lotte World