Well, we did it, we successfully traveled inside of South Korea, outside of our school, and city, to a new area and explored a beautiful part of the country. We feel successful and inspired.
A month ago I heard we would be having a long weekend for the South Korean holiday Chuseok (literal translation “Autumn eve”) - a 5 day weekend. So I looked into our handy Lonely Planet - Korea book and searched for something nearby that could be a quick stay, as I didn’t want to be a foreigner disrupting S. Koreans biggest holiday for travel and family. (Which was Monday-Wednesday)
Andong! 1.5 hours away, the Hahoe Folk Village is a Unesco World Heritage site preserving one of the oldest villages in South Korea, I then found a rental in the village in a traditional Korean hanok home. Plan was leave Saturday return Monday.
“Hahoe, pronounced “ha hway”, means “River Returning” which reflects the village’s position at a looping bend in the Nakdong River. Hahoe is a Unesco World Heritage site, established in the 16th century during the Joseon Dynasty, Hahoe has been a one-clan community since that time. The village is notable because it has preserved many of its original structures, such as the village Confucian school and other buildings, and maintains folk arts such as the Hahae Mask Dance Drama (‘Byeonlsin-gut’.)
Hahoe is the village where the members of Ryu family which originated from Hahoe Village and has been together for 600 years. To the north of the village is Buyongdae Cliff while Mt. Namsan lies to the south. The village is organized around the geomantic guidelines of pungsu (Korean feng shui) and so the village has the shape of a lotus flower or two interlocking comma shapes.”
“Hanok refers to houses built in the traditional Korean style. While tile-roofed and thatch-roofed hanoks were equally common, the former were typically noblemen residences while the latter were mostly houses of the commoners in the past. These days, most traditional hanok that are still used for housing have modern facilities installed within.
Hanok’s are fantastic, there are two main draws to hanoks. The first is the unique heating system: ondol. A layer of stone is laid down below the flooring and when heated, the heat spreads up into every room of the house, keeping both the floor and the air surprisingly warm in winter. The second wonderful point to hanok houses is that they are extremely environmentally friendly. The materials needed to build a hanok house are free from chemicals, making it a healthy environment. The pillars, rafters, doors, window frames, and floor are wooden, while the walls are a mixture of straw and dirt. The paper to cover the frames of doors and windows was made from tree pulp. As the building materials used are all natural, hanok houses have excellent breathability, perfect for escaping the summer heat.” (Which we experienced first hand as it was in the mid °80’s for the whole weekend we were in Hahoe.)
A short history from Lonely Planet and internet sources.
Here are some pictures of our Airbnb hanok, obviously what drew me here.
The best part about the trip, for me, was Gagopa - the hanok we stayed at - our stay with Min Joo, the owner. The house and the grounds were so beautiful … it’s really hard to find words for it. You walk into the entry and there is a big open wooden platform built from the most gorgeous wood, our friend Clara said “Omg forget the scenery look at that gorgeous wood flooring” and we agreed. Small rectangular windows look out into the yards with herbs and plants growing, and there in the distance are the mountains. And it’s quiet. Quiet like out in a forest. Sure you hear some people and maybe a car drive by but that’s rare. On the first day, we were the first guests to check-in/arrive, so we had a few hours with our hosts by ourselves. I was hungry after a long trek of metro to bus to another bus then walking into the village. So we plopped down and started to make some of the ramen and rice we brought. Min Joo’s wife (I didn’t grab her name and very much regret it, as she was my favorite) all of sudden brought out coffee and a bowl of snacks (peanuts and rice crackers.) Min Joo spoke great English his wife did not but that was no problem we communicated in many other ways. So here we are travel-worn for the first time in a long time, sipping the best cup of coffee I’ve had in a while, with handmade cups on a handmade wooden tray, in a traditional Korean home.
I’m going to call his wife Nam Joo, just for story-telling, I envied everything about her life, where she lived, what she was doing, and the way she carried herself. Neutral but happy. A flowy but baggy navy dress, short curly hair down to her chin, slippers in bare feet. They (Min & Nam) were always cleaning or taking care of something. She came in with a basket full of tomatoes, went to go clean off the vegetables at the water spout, a small kitchen for themselves in the back and where they lived, I’m sure in a similar small apartment/part of the complex. The care and detail with what they’ve chosen together I loved. It was utterly dreamy. I wanted to wake up every day and have small plates of food with coffee, taking care of the land and property (I can tell what my next move is after teaching life.)
The beds - hardwood floor with wooden mats, with a quilted pillow topper to lay on then a comforter and pillow. The first night was rough, as I imagined it would be, I hoped sleeping on my back would be okay, but my lower back couldn’t handle it. I didn’t have anything to prop my curved spine up on or help my legs. I tried frog pose which helped for a bit, then my inner thighs screamed. I bent my legs a bit but then my lower back started to feel all the pressure. Then I said “well let me try my side” (I’m a side sleeper anyway) but I worried I was going to have my shoulder or hips go numb - it wasn’t too bad! - and way better than sleeping on my back. Stomach was okay, but I’m not a stomach sleeper either. I put my towel underneath my hips just to pad a little bit more, I woke up many times, turned over and went to the other side for relief. I did feel rested though… in some ways. Second day of sleep was much better and I’m sure if we persisted it would become normal.
Andong Jjimdok chicken & Pajeon (glass noodles & chicken, and green onion pancake) I can’t tell you how delicious this food was - it’s nothing crazy amazing in terms of technique, spices, sauce, baking etc. but the flavors are delicious. The pajeon in particular, maybe I wasn’t expecting much since the term pancake was used, but the flavor of the ‘pancake’ with the salt/savory of spice and green onion - blew me away. We’ve also been having cafeteria food this whole time, so to have food out in the countryside of Korea with people who love and care for their food I’m sure added to the experience.
On the whole, the trip was relaxing and rejuvenating, we missed the Mask Dance at 2pm on Sunday, but maybe we can catch the Andong Mask Festival in the upcoming months. We really just enjoyed the hanok and explored the area and that was perfect for a two night stay. We wandered down the farm fields looking for the Buddhist Academy with plenty of scenic photos taken. It felt good to be rural and exploring. We returned Monday morning to the Hahoe market for our farewell pajeon pancake at 9am before our bus ride back. I would recommend anyone stay with Min Joo at Gagopa or recommend any hanok stay. We were inspired to start to explore more of Korea, we came away with plenty ideas of where we’d like to go next, all within our budget and some even cost free. Great first travels.