Located almost exactly in the centre of the city, you find Bukchon, a place where you can almost take a step back in time. Bukchon was a residential district for Korea’s nobility during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and is now still home to dozens of hanoks (traditional Korean houses). People still live in these houses and so there are a lot of banners hanging around with the text: “Shhh… for silence, please!” “No smoking.” “Don’t knock.” & “Don’t litter.”
In 2011, the government launched the Buckhon refurbishment project. Now, 342 out of the 1233 hanoks are registered and get subsidy to help maintain the houses in their good state. Although the government seems to be taking good care of the houses, we did come across some… damaged? street not far away from the most significant street in Bukchon. I guess someone did not feel like waiting when this street was still in the making.
Although hanoks are now being preserved, there are many modern buildings standing in between the old ones. According to an information board, the old and the new are living in harmony but in my opinion, the contrast is really big. It seemed to be nearly impossible to take a picture with just the hanok buildings. This might be best visible from a point where you have an overview of the roofs of the houses.
Next to supporting several residents of the hanoks, the government also purchased 33 of them. These are now used for workshops or have been turned into a guesthouse. The government reserved one house which tourists can enter, presumably so that people leave the occupied houses alone. In this one house, you get educated about Bukchon and can take a few different maps with you that mark walking routes in the area.
We did not reserve an entire day for Bukchon so we came on two other days. On one day, we decided to try out one of the cafes: The Hanok Coffee and Brunch Cafe. unexpectedly, the place did not have higher prices and turned out to be just as delicious or even more so, than any other place.
Ina and I were particularly interested in knotting our own traditional Korean… thingy. Together with Truci and Hang, we participated in the Donglim Knot Workshop which didn’t last longer than 30 minutes. There really isn’t much to it. You can choose which colours you want to use and the beginning has already been knotted for you. In the end, you only learn to make one kind of knot, but because of its simplicity, this workshop was perfect for me. I don’t like handcrafting. I much rather buy the finished piece.
Unlike me, Truci and Hang became very enthusiastic and felt like trying out another workshop. At the next place where we stopped, you could pick from 9 different activities. As I did not feel like doing anything else, Ina and I settled for some simple amulet stamping. Truci and Hang decided to paint their own eco-bag.
Just a few houses further on, a man offered gold gilding workshops. You can choose to stamp a pattern in gold on either a greeting card, a bookmark, a ribbon or on a pouch. In history, many countries added gold to clothes and other fabrics that belonged to the royals. Every country used a different method. In some countries, the patterns of gold were painted by hand. In Korea, people use stamps.
Bukchon is definitely worth a visit. It is one of the places you must have seen if you’ve been to Seoul. The additional workshops are quite entertaining and it is fun to try out a few. However, taking a stroll through the town alone is just as nice.