The last stop of my winter trip to Seoul: a place that allows visitors to gain a sense of what the city might have looked like before war and economic development changed its urban landscape forever.
A longish walk from Anguk Station (Line 3) brought me high up the hills overlooking downtown Seoul, into an area known as Bukchon Hanok Village.
Whilst many parts of Seoul (the Myeongdong shopping district, for example) feature tightly packed clusters of small buildings, Bukchon is unique in that the maze-like warren of narrow streets that dominates the area is filled with hanok (traditional Korean houses).
Some of the buildings in Bukchon are said to date from the time of the Joseon Dynasty, although a good number of them are clearly of recent manufacture (albeit constructed using traditional methods). In any case, whether or not the houses are centuries, decades, or just a few years old isn’t the biggest strength of the district: it’s more to do with the overall atmosphere of timeless beauty created by the sight of so many ancient (or ancient-looking) structures gathered in one place.
The best views can be had from Bukchon’s higher elevations. At some point, the terrain is far enough above the rest of the city to provide splendid views of a sea of tiled roofs, set against the marbled congestion of modern-day Seoul far in the distance.
A word of caution when travelling in winter: some of the streets are quite steep, and maintaining a foothold can be difficult when they’re coated with ice and packed snow. In addition, the district itself can pose a challenge for navigation with its dense network of streets and lack of visitor-friendly signage. Even with a map and guidebook, I failed to locate a particular hanok I wanted to visit, and for a few moments I struggled to find the best route back down to the main road. I’d strongly suggest paying a visit to the local tourist information booth before venturing deep into Bukchon – something I myself tried to do, except that it was closed at the time.
Well, so much for my first visit to Seoul. Next on the agenda: a series of posts covering my second visit to the same city, which took place this past October.
For the moment – cheerio.