Queen Elizabeth’s visit

On Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Korea, they asked her what she wanted to see. Her reply was the understated wisdom that has characterized her reign. She wanted to see ‘The most Korean place in Korea’. In choosing Andong and the Hahoe village I think they got it just right. There is a small exhibit dedicated to this visit which has the rare glimpse of the Queen (one of the most well-travelled people in history) genuinely enjoying herself and being charmed by the most Korean place in Korea.

The Hahoe Folk Village is a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Korea. There are several ‘Folk Villages’ in Korea but this one is by far the best preserved and most authentic I have seen. I took a local bus there on my recent East Coast Tour, although this place is pretty far from the coast by Korean standards.

The village is a 45 minute bus ride from Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Like many of the places around Andong, Hahoe sits on the edge of the beautiful Nakdong River. This river seems more timeless and peaceful than any of the big rivers in Korea. On the opposite bank of the river, near the pine trees, is the Buyongdae Cliff. You take a small boat to Buyongdae Cliff for a panoramic photo opportunity. The village is organized around the geometric guidelines of pungsu (풍수);  so the village has the shape of a lotus flower, of which there are many near the entrance. Pungsu is the Korean for what most of us know as Feng-shui. Whether you believe in the principles of ‘qi boosting’ or not, this place is a good advert for pungsu. In comparison to modern developments in Korea it seems as if the place is part of nature, not just in harmony with nature. The colours are earthy ochres and the contours of each street seem to echo the nearby river valley. There is a small road that loops round the village and gives easy access to farming vehicles. 

Unlike some of the more disneyfied offerings in Korea, Hahoe retains an authentic dignity. I saw old men fixing walls, older men tending to their vegetables, and the oldest men squatting in the shade to avoid what was an unbearably hot day. There are women too of course. The main difference, and perhaps the main advantage, is that people still live in Hahoe. It feels a little voyeuristic at times to see people going about their daily routines. There is not much of the Hanbok (traditional silk clothes) costume pantomime that you see in many such places. I was expecting people to be dressed in their original Joseon clothing and pushing donkey carts, I was pleasantly surprised to see the occasional  Hyundai parked in some of the courtyards.

I could wax lyrical about the beauty of the original Joseon architecture and the tiles and wooden beams, but that’s what the photographs are for. What I do want to say is the tourist industry has this place to perfection. I am usually very critical about the touristification of culture and traditions. I sincerely believe that such things should be allowed to continue in our normal environment not just in hermetically sealed tourist ghettos. Luckily for Hahoe, they seem to have the best of both worlds. The tourist tat and trinket pushers are located in another mini village before you go to the ticket office. You can get a traditional meal in one of the many restaurants, the patrons are not shy in drumming up potential business. You can also leave your luggage in a pin code locker for free, not a bad service when it’s reaching 37 degrees at 11 in the morning.  After paying admission there is a short shuttle bus ride into the village itself. I’m sure there are plenty of guided tours around to see the sights of the local Yu clan, but I felt free enough to just wander round. Actually I noticed that some local people seemed to just get off the bus and just walk around with no tourist agenda, one lady was power walking round the small road I mentioned earlier.

Why does this village exist?

Many of the older architectural styles  have been lost because of relentless modernization and development. The intricate tiles and rustic thatched-roof  homes serve as a reminder that not all of Korea is concrete and ugly. The architectural styles of the Joseon Dynasty show us that Korea was, and sometimes still is, a culture born from seasonal agriculture. The small lanes and buildings of this time capsule demonstrate a healthy respect for nature and an aesthetic harmony which is all but extinct in modern Korea.

As I wandered round the village I was questioning why I haven’t seen similar things in the UK. The one example I saw was in Beamish in the North East, although this is more of a living museum than a folk village. My conclusion, reassuringly, was that in many European countries we live out our lives in living folk villages. In my city I can travel from a Roman Bath House, through to the Medieval gatehouse, and wind my way down cobbled Georgian streets in the space of 1 km. None of this is sectioned off, it’s just a living , breathing part of the place. I guess the changes that affected Europe happened over a longer period, only in places destroyed by war do we see what is common in Korea. Take Coventry or Milan for example, just a couple of cities destroyed by bombs in the second world war.  These cities are wall to wall concrete, car parks, and ring roads. Although Milan does have a Gothic Cathedral!

In a county which is overwhelmingly late 20th century and designed more for cars than humans, I’m very happy that places like Hahoe exist. I just hope that in the future they can integrate some of the traditions into the towns and cities of Korea instead of building hyper real pantomime villages.


Getting there: Some times have changed from the website, if in doubt go early!!

Bus 46 Andong to Hahoe: 06:20, 09:00, 12:00, 13:30,16:00, 18:10/ 40min-ride

Bus 46 Hahoe to Andong: 07:15,  10:20, 12:00, 13:10, 14:40, 17:00

From Andong Train Station: exit the station, turn left, walk about 200m to the Kyobo building. The 46 bus leaves from the stop on the other side of the road.

From the new Bus Terminal: There are some tourist buses leaving from outside the terminal but the stop with the best city buses involves exiting the main door of the terminal, turn left, go to the end of the street, turn left again then cross the main road to the bus stop near a shop. You need to go the opposite direction to down town (시내).

The tourist information office outside the train station is excellent and has a concise and accurate bus schedule for all the out of town destinations.







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