Monday, April 14, 2014

My trip to Korea: Bukchon and Namsangol

One of the highlights of my visit to Seoul was seeing Bukchon and Namsangol.

On my first full day in Seoul, we went to Bukchon Hanok Village. This is a neighborhood in the Gwanghwamun area between the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Changdeokgung Palace. Specifically, we visited the cluster of Hanoks that lies along Bukchon-ro 11-gil, which is reached by walking up Bukchon-ro from the Anguk subway station.

A Hanok is a traditional Korean wooden house.

The Hanoks in Bukchon are still actively occupied by residents, so what's really happening here is that you find yourself walking down quiet residential streets, admiring the beautiful houses on either side.

There is at least one museum and at least one cultural center in Bukchon. We briefly poked our heads inside the museum, which was nice, but we were in a hurry, sadly.

There are also a few Hanoks in Bukchon which are now guest houses, cafes, wine bars, and the like. They seemed tasteful enough to me, but I guess this increasing commercialism is controversial.

Bukchon is near some very nice areas, including Insa-Dong and Gwanghwamun Square, and generally is a really delightful place for an afternoon stroll. If you get up near the heights, the views are very good, too.

Later in my visit, near the end of it in fact, we stopped by another Hanok village, Namsangol.

Namsangol is different than Bukchon, as it is a collection of existing Hanoks from elsewhere in Seoul that were all moved to this one location, and were carefully restored within a park-like setting that is intended to be historically representative.

That is, Namsangol is a museum, not a place where people are actually living.

But, that being said, Namsangol is gorgeous! The park is very nicely landscaped, with a peaceful (man-made) creek running through it, and the buildings are all arranged elegantly, with nice sight lines to set them off and emphasize their architectural qualities.

There are lots of informative placques which explain what you are seeing, and for the most part you can wander all about and really get a good look at the buildings.

If time is short, and you can only pick one of the two villages, you can't really go wrong. Bukchon is more authentic, but Namsangol is prettier and more educational.

Instead of worrying about which village to pick, I'd suggest visiting whichever one you happen to be near:

  • If you happen to be visiting one of the palaces of Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung, then combine that with a visit to Bukchon, which is right next to either palace.
  • If you happen to be visiting Mt Namsan, or N Seoul Tower, or the Myeong-dong or Chungmuro areas, then combine that with a visit to Namsangol, which is close nearby.

Either way, you'll much enjoy your visit.

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