Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: Serious hikers could spend several hours here on the hill that is Gamcheon Park. With magnificent views across the city, shady pines and no crowds, well what more could they ask for? For me though, id better get back to the original plan – visiting the Gamcheon Culture Village which means a hike back but this time on a different path and on the opposite side of the hill, with a hunch that eventually I should see the village from above. Its Not long before the trails land up on a public road and yes, another set of great views – this time of Gamcheon village, although I’d class it as a small town rather than a village!
Gamcheon from the park road…..
From this distance one can’t help forming the opinion that the place resembles a shanty town, a slum but of higher quality. Being one of Busan’s top attractions there’s obviously more to the place than ramshackle dwellings and open drains, so lets go and explore!
Well, having made it to the main street one gets an immediate feeling of mass tourism – a tidal wave of Koreans all jamming into the one street, jostling for space at the obligatory trinket and souvenir shops, fried food stalls and Ice cream counters. An array of arty shops are established along the one main road, here at the start of proceedings and down into some side alleys. Personally, well, I can poke my head around the door of 1 maybe 2 art shops for curiosity sake, the rest I can happily bypass. Wall art though is different. more relevant and accessible to everyone and anyone, and there’s plenty of it around here. Murals adorn walls and sides of buildings adding character at least to the touristy part of Gamcheon.
This is of course a tourist setup, but a setup representing the daily lives of folk that rely on tourists for an income, albeit a very small section of the town. One therefore feels the need to deviate from the tide of tourists if any degree of authenticity is to be Found. Sadly though deviating from the main street is frequently met with “No entry” signs and one can only let out a sigh while looking down into the picturesque little ally ways.
So, moving along with the tide of tourists here on a sunny Saturday afternoon, one has little option but to participate , jostle for photo spots and observe some Korean quirkiness.
Food, some of it indescribable and some no doubt a Korean delicacy. A British inspired cafe and yes, of course the food is more expensive than it would be in Britain!
Here’s an example of how a local has adapted to the influx of tourists – by turning her house into a cafe, possibly the smallest cafe in the world. The menu is limited and there are only 2 tables in the tiny little room but the prices are good. Noodle soup, cooked up from scratch, takes around 20 minutes but its well worth the wait – delicious!
So there it is, the Gamcheon Culture Village – “the neighbourhood on a hill”. Despite the throng of tourists there are some quieter spots towards the far end as the road curves down the opposite side of the hill. The unique feature being the way this placed has evolved – the circular lanes, the tiered houses so densely packed one wonders how there is space to move.. Quite how to define the cultural aspect is difficult. Perhaps its the artisan appeal or the culture of Korean food or is it the obsessive culture of taking selfies!. Either way the place has a quirkiness albeit for tourist effect and a couple of hours here is time not wasted.
Now its time to head down hill again, down into the city and back towards the hi-ride and -mid-rise metropolis. I’m taking a different route down carefully following Google maps. Very quiet, just the odd bus, taxi and a few cars. This is a very different part of Gamcheon devoid of tourists. A quick deviation to the right with some interesting features – a giant notice board with old photos and an explanation of the history of the place. Then a viewing platform with a sofa – all to myself. Oh yes, this is a better spot, quiet and among the real people of Gamcheon. (Google Map)
And so to conclude this rather long winded post, a selection of views from the lower part of Gamcheon looking across Busan City.