South Korea – An Abandoned Village, Andong

Andong, South Korea, April 2017: Having crossed the river on the wooden Pagoda bridge, ones instincts are to take the left hand path. about 5 minutes of a stroll between the rive, some deep rustic coloured maples and a rather large pine forest cladding the hill. I’m heading towards what looks like a village, a hamlet of straw thatch dwellings extending up the hillside, very similar to those I saw yesterday at the Hahoe folk village.

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Unlike Hahoe, this place feels an element of authenticity. Clearly the village isn’t lived in, used, worked, whatever authenticity might mean here, but I’d say these dwellings were originally in the valley and moved before the place was flooded. Quiet, calm with just a handful of Koreans stomping up the hillside. So, lets take a look around this abandoned village – abandoned to the changing landscape of progress.

So, for a moment transport yourself back a few decades, and imagine the scene here as it might have been 1900’s.

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Its a wonderful view, looking back down the hill over the village and towards the river. further up and more evidence exists of past civilisation around here. A grand set of steps leading onto a plateau – here one can imagine a compound of dwellings for clan leaders, important folk.

Well, that was pretty nice. A few good photo opportunities without thousands of tourists in the way, without getting run down by pensioners electric carts and without those tacky gift shops, expensive restaurants. No this place obviously has been left with as much originality and authenticity as possible – well done to the gate keepers!

Getting here:  About 45 minutes walk from town or bus No. 3 or 3-1 from near Andong railway station  stops at the wooden bridge, 1200 Won fare.

Cost: Nothing. Free to cross the wooden bridge, free to walk around the village.

Eat and drink:  A host of restaurants and coffee shops before crossing the bridge, not cheap though. Nothing near the village.

Where is it? :   Google Map

Verdict: A delightful, non-touristy experience. 5 star recommendation

South Korea – Pagoda Bridge, Andong.

Andong, South Korea, April 2017: Today’s plan, a short hike over to the bridge I spotted a few days ago as the train rolled in. Significant because its wooden and has a pagoda at its centre and means some historic value presumably.. Since the weather is nice, warm and blue sky, now is a good time to go and check it out. Its not far, just along the river about a 30 minute hike I’d say. (Google Map)

Its a pleasant hike beside the Nakdong river sharing the purpose built path with Lycra clad cyclists. A scenic photo opportunity with a green hilly background, the clear blue river and the wooden pagoda bridge.

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Well, its taken longer than I thought, probably because I’ve lingered a little to much admiring the scenery! About 40 minutes to reach a recreational area from where the bridge can be crossed. First though, a quick coffee from one of the plethora of shops, cafes and restaurants around here (Google Map) A very pleasant area where Korean families come to enjoy their Sunday lunch and get a little exercise afterwards by crossing the bridge and back!. And its a pretty nice place to grab some scenic photos too….

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Spotted across the river, halfway up a hill is a traditional type house worthy of closer look and a good enough reason to stomp across this wooden slatted bridge. So, according to the above tourist information below used to be a valley with dwellings until one day a dam was constructed further up. Now what we really have here is a flooded valley and it all happened in recent times, about 1950. Its a long bridge and I suppose the pagoda in the middle is for rest!

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At the bridges end, turning right will take a board walk back to town while heading left takes us to those houses, the old fashioned ones spotted earlier. Well, no contest, lets explore the old houses.

Next, exploring an abandoned village…

South Korea – Hahoe Folk Village, Andong Part 2

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:  Having endured 40 minutes of an hour long Mask Dance show, time to move on. Quite interesting for the first 20 minutes but unless one has a Korean interpreter around then the thing can become somewhat tedious. So its off to the famed Hahoe Folk Village to presumably see the folk! (Google Map)

As the crowds head off through the village I’m heading off to the fields on the edge. The rural landscape with a hilly backdrop makes for a couple of nice photos. Very quiet, peaceful infact as there’s no sign of life at the nearby farmsteads. Now wouldn’t you at least expect some chooks to be running around the yard!

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Moving further along and one stumbles on a little church. Maybe its a preserved relic or perhaps its still used, hard to tell, but it makes for a pretty unusual photo.

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Yes, quite a picturesque scene here, with giant bees buzzing in and out, a few wasps and several butterflies, but no sign of theses folk! Moving on then and its getting just a bit busier as the pathways meander towards the village centre. Squealing kids and a gaggle of pensioners on scooters almost running me down.

IMG_4251 In reality there isn’t a great deal of visibility as most of the properties are obscured by high walls. So, if one is really keen of seeing straw thatched roofs then come here, your in for a treat! Occasionally, one comes across a property that visitors can actually see, well, at least the full frontal, but dare not step over the rope barrier!

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Actually, the guard dog here looks quite placid, part of the deception perhaps. Here’s a few more photos of the Hahoe Village….

Complete with village shop – only this shop isn’t selling commodities and necessaries, instead visitors will find a host of knickknacks and souvenirs. so, right now I’m cutting this visit short and going to head for an earlier than planned bus, because quite frankly I’ve had enough. My earlier skepticism about the place hasn’t diminished any. To label the Hahoe folk village as ‘Authentic’ is perhaps misleading. Certainly evidence of some habitation here but I suspect in the main were looking at preserved relics and some reconstructions from times past, hence 3000 Won to see it all!

Getting here: Bus No.46 from near Andong train station, 1200 Won each way

Cost: 3000 Won to enter.

Food and Drink: Expensive restaurant in the village, other options near the ticket office.

NOTE: The mask dance (read Here) only performs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays in the summer months, then just weekends through the winter.

South Korea – Hahoe Folk Village, Andong Part 1

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:  The Hahoe village is a big thing around here – gets a big splash on the tourist literature and a Google search reveals all good things said about the place. Its billed as an authentic living village and even the United Nations Cultural Department have put their stamp on the place. Personally, I treat these situations with a degree of skepticism as at this moment in time tourist trap alarm bells are sound off, and quite loudly. So, if the United Nations like the place it must be good – right! Well, lets go and see!

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Easy enough getting there. There’s no bus station as such in Andong with all the public transport loitering outside or near the train station. Hop onto bus 46, pay 1200 Won, about £1 and in 50 minutes we should arrive at Hahoe Village.

That sinking feeling tempers my enthusiasm for this trip as the buss rolls up to a giant car park and crowds of people scurrying to board the shuttle bus into the village. 3000 Won to stroll the streets of a village as the queues for tickets grows. Yes, I knew in the back of my mind this might be some kind of a set up! But now I’m here, I’d better make he most of it.

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Well, at least we get a cultural performance thrown in which might me interesting. They call it a ‘Mask Dance’ and is quite a famous tradition attributed to Andong.  So now would be a good time to pitch up in the theater and stake my place since I can see there being some jostling for spots later, especially among some of the bad tempered pensioners shuffling around the place!

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In England, we’d call this a pantomime, but before the performance a preamble. Unfortunately for me it’s all in Korean but one would assume its all about setting the scene and explaining the various masks – ranging from an amusing a-sexual to the downright hideous male. Its an odd story with equally odd antics abound, somewhat concerning at times since there are so many little kids watching. Concerning because we have a cow urinating on the audience, then a character pretending to butcher the cow and if that’s not enough out comes an old hag, squats and urinates while an equally hideous old timer go’s to sniff the said urine. The audience though are delighted with the performance, laughing, clapping merrily. Oh, id better mention the urination scenes were just water – I think! Well, I’ve just about had enough and its time to make a quick exit.

In part 2.. a look around the supposedly authentic living village.

South Korea – A Good Ol’ Hike, Andong

Andong, South Korea, April 2017: The Korean landscape is pretty, hilly and sometimes mountainous. Andong is surrounded by hills, quite close and looking good for an hours hiking. The closest hill, as it happens, is located right in this neighbourhood, perfect for a good ol’ poke around today.

The Neighbourhood is quaint. Little streets and pathways accessing traditional style housing built into the hillside, heading upwards. We’ll take a closer look here on the way back down, but for now the paths are turning into trails as the neighbourhood becomes obscured by pine trees. A strategically placed pavilion with seats gives hikers a chance to rest while taking in panoramic views of the town below.

Panoramic views as the trail heads upwards…

Stomping around in the hills for an hour or two – just me and the butterflies consuming the sweet fresh air of spring, slightly fragrance’d with pine. Now though, time to head down again, a different route from the summit, but any direction down should arrive more or less back to that quaint neighbourhood, according to Google Maps.

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And so with a few twists and turns accompanied with a little guess work, the trail down eventually leads back to almost where it began at the quaint little neighbourhood filled with traditional styled houses. The place is so peaceful and quiet, no traffic to speak of. I’d say this is one place visitors to Andong should consider exploring – a real authentic Korean neighbourhood without the tourists!

So lets explore the little pathways and admire the wall art…

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South Korea – The First 24 Hours in Andong

Andong, South Korea, April 2017:  My accommodation should only be a 10 minute walk from the station according to the Air bnb listing and after the 3 hour train ride from Seoul, a good walk is what I need right now. Conveniently located on the forecourt here is a tourist office but looking around the place there is a distinct lack of tourists – just me! All smiles from the 2 girls inside with their traditional Korean greetings. I get handed an A4 map of the town and a list of the local buses that will at some point pass the towns attractions – and what might they be, I don’t know yet, lets just see how this story unfolds!

Air bnb Shock: I’m shocked to find my accommodation is not as listed, completely the opposite in fact. So, instead of “1 private room with 1 single bed” turns out its a dormitory room with no beds. Yes, visitors here are expected to sleep on the floor on what I can only describe as a padded cloth about 2 inches thick. Having registered my utmost displeasure at the situation, the host found me a couple more of those 2 inch padded cloths and with the thick duvet on top of that, well, I actually couldn’t feel the ground. With promises of limiting any other visitors to the room, i might actually get a nights sleep!

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Temple Art and Free Food:  Having bitterly cursed the host, not out loud of course, I did actually have a good nights sleep on the pile of thin mattresses. They also provided cereal for breakfast with was welcome, saving me a small fortune on the food bill. Time now though to take an exploratory stomp around the area, get to feel for the place and figure out what I’m going to do with the next few days.

Compared to Seoul, the streets around here are quiet, deadly quiet with just the occasional pensioner stumbling around and the odd car whizzing through. The local temple is here too. These places are always good for a 10 minute nose around, pretending to be the cautious tourist which often ends up being invited in, a free local cup of tea and free reign to look the place over. This time however, if I come back at 12, they’ll give me a free lunch – an offer I just can’t refuse.

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I’m not particularly into art and all things artisan, but this has to be admired here at the temple. Wall art decorates pretty much every corner of this multistory’d building. Scenes and expressions clearly hand crafted!

And the lunch, well it’s tasty enough. Rice, seaweed and the invariable concoction of spicy vegetable mixes along with noodles and soup. How hospitable the Koreans are. I would never expect this in London.

South Korea – Moving to The Hart of Korean Culture, Andong

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Having spent 10 very pleasant days in the capital its time to move on. A few days a go I booked an Air bnb  accommodation in Andong, a town in the central region and said to be the pulsating hart of Korean culture or as Mr. Lee from the Seoul guesthouse says, “more Korean than Seoul”. So for now, its good bye Seoul for a couple of weeks before returning via the Southern city of Busan to complete my Korean adventure.

How to get from Seoul to Andong by train: The track begins at Cheongnyangni station. The line is named Mugunghwa and the trains operating are local trains as opposed to the super fast KTX ot the less fast ITX.

  1. If arriving at Cheonbnyangni via the Metro/Subway then passengers for the overland lines need to head up to the 3rd floor where there is the ticket office. There are no directional signs in English, just have to guess. I found a lift near the metro ticket machines as directed by a very kind old timer who spotted I was somewhat lost!
  2. Frequent trains run down to Andong from here and its easy enough to rack up and get a ticket for the next service. 15,300 Won, about £12.50 for the 3 hour ride on the 1150.
  3. Carefully follow the signs to the correct platform, its quite easy to get on the wrong train if passengers are not of Korean origin.
  4. Bring snacks and drinks since I didn’t spot any on board services. And that’s it –  the Koreans have their public transport needs weighed up pretty nicely!
  5. If it all go’s pear shaped, well, there’s always the bus.

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A very comfortable ride, plenty of room and space to move around. The train is about 1/2 full, mostly pensioners heading back to their base after a mornings stomp around Seoul. Every so often the ticket inspector passes through, pauses and bows, impeccable manners these Koreans!

Its a first look at Korea outside of a metropolis. Quaint little hamlets of traditional style houses. Farmsteads, rice fields and veggie patches, this train ride offers a fleeting glimpse into Korean rural life. And the scenery, well that’s pretty awesome shining through in the afternoon sunshine. Here, take a look….

Next: Air bnb shock, temple art and a free Korean lunch, coming up shortly.

South Korea – Deoksugung Palace, Seoul

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: The Koreans have the foresight to preserve their ancient heritage and there’s plenty of it! This is the third such ancient Palace I’ve come across since arriving in Seoul with the attraction here being a re-enactment of the changing of the guard. I don’t usually go for this kind of attraction but since its in the middle of downtown, only costs about 85p entrance fee and with the guards routine should make for some unique cultural photography. The place is located next to City Hall so its a pretty easy ride from Mokdong.

Looks like the Changing Guards ceremony isn’t taking place today, presumably because of the big demonstrations outside City Hall – read it here. Nevertheless, an hour spent strolling around the grounds of the Deoksugung Palace reveals some well preserved architecture from around the 1500’s, amidst the last of the spring blossoms.

Here’s a bunch some pretty and unique photos.

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South Korea – The Mountain Again

Seoul, South Korea, April 2017: Yes, the mountain again – the place where one can feel completely free from the hustle and bustle of the city,s thronging crowds,  relentless traffic and those giant steel skyscrapers. Sometimes on a trip there are places worthy of a second visit and the Namsan Park is definitely one of them. This time I’m hoping to catch the sunset and grab a few night views as the city traverses day to dusk to night.

From City Hall station and following Google Maps, its about 20 minutes to the base of the mountain before the upward stomp starts in earnest. Locals can be seen enjoying the late afternoon sunshine while tourists are poking around in the bushes – ha, I mean taking a look at the nice springtime display of flowers and blossoms.

So, here we are just about to begin the climb up, but first enjoying the spring flowers…

So as the sun sinks ever lower, I’d better get a move on and join the thousands all stomping upwards towards the summit and the N Seoul Tower in order to catch the legendary Seoul City Sunset. About 20 minutes to reach the top, dodging the selfie obsessed locals trying to catch that perfect vanity photo under the falling blossoms. Dodging the locals dragging their poodles up the hill, and down as there are just as many heading away as there are up!

And so as the sun sinks the city changes colour, but the awesomeness remains just the same.

And as darkness falls across the city, its teenagers begin their smooching lips locked, with one arm extended holding a mobile phone – yes, like I said, a nation obsessed with selfies. The sunset, rather disappointing since a layer of cloud on the distant horizon blocks what might have been a spectacle, oh well, never mind. As the queues for tickets to ride up the Seoul Tower grow ever longer, I’m looking for some alternative spots to grabs those night views. Actually, quite difficult at times, having to barge in on some smooching to claim prize position!

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That was a pretty nice hour after dark. didn’t get any smooching but never mind, there’s always next time! Now though, its a stomp back down the mountain, across to Seoul station and back to base in Mokdong.

South Korea – Not Enough Hours in the Day

South Korea, April, 2017: Well, there just isn’t enough hours in the day! By the time I’ve finished stomping the awesome streets of South Korea, I’m just too knackered to write the blog posts. Don’t worry though, by the time I get to Phuket next weekend I should have more time on my hands.

In the mean time a quick photo summary of where I’ve been stomping the last couple of weeks….

Andong, the cultural centre of South Korea.

 

Busan, the second city and a major port, oh and a beach.

So, some awesome blogs with equally awesome photo’s are on the way, just be a little patient, thanks.