Cherry blossom season only really lasts about a week, so I popped over to catch the cherry blossom at Jeongdok library in Bukchon. This is where Gyeonggi High School used to be – it was the oldest and most prestigious school in Korea. The library nestles in Bukchon hanok village so I took an early morning stroll around there too!
One way to get to the hanok village in Bukchon is to start from the palace Changdeokgung. For a couple of hundred years during the Joseon period this was the King’s residence. Now there is a line of cars parked along the outside of the palace walls but years ago the high officials who lived in Bukchon must have come by this way on their way to work – perhaps carried on a palanquin?
This road away from the palace and towards the hanok village is slightly uphill so there’s a good view of the palace here and this is the first of 8 must-see views on the Tourist Information’s Bukchon walking tour.
Palace workers also lived nearby and by following the palace wall we reach the streets where the palace craftsmen lived and worked. Here is a modernised hanok house in the area built in the 20th century and now open to the public.
On the way to the main hanok house neighbourhood I passed by Chung Ang middle and high school. This was also one of the filming location for the popular Korean drama Winter Sonata. (the first Korean drama I ever watched!)
The cherry blossom is out in front of Chuna Ang school. A sign outside the building tells us that this building was designed by Korean architect Park Dong Jin and built in 1937 in a Gothic style which was influenced by the European and American schools of the time. (The original building had been designed by a Japanese architect but was destroyed a few years earlier) The students at the school took the lead in the March 1st Independence Movement against Japanese occupation in 1926.
Right in front of the school there’s a shop selling Hallru souvenirs (obviously a lot of Korean drama fans come by this way – especially Winter Sonata fans 😉 ) There are very few hanok houses left these days and so Bukchon has become pretty touristy with souvenir shops and establishments offering all sorts of traditional experiences such as making traditional crafts and trying on hanboks.
The hanok neighborhood of 11 gawoe dong is one of the most popular scenes in Bukchon. And the view of the hanok rooftops is definitely a highlight. In this picture Chung Ang School is in the distance.
Gahoe dong has the most concentrated cluster of hanok houses in the area. During the Joseon period there were far fewer houses here and they were built by craftsmen for the wealthy yangban and those connected to the royal family. These houses were mass produced and were built in the 20th century. They are very close together as the space needed to be utilised for the growing population of the city. Today Hanok houses are very expensive though compared to other accommodation!
And now for a juxtaposition of tradition and modernity. Beyond the row of hanok houses is a great view of modern Seoul with Namsan and Seoul Tower. It’s a pity that nobody seems to want to live in Hanok houses anymore. They are said to be cold and expensive to look after. So unfortunately it seems that Seoul is set to become a city of characterless apartments. Having said that, I can’t imagine living here with groups of tourists arriving all throughout the day! (There are signs everywhere reminding visitors that this is still a residential area and requesting visitors come between 10am and 6pm.)
Groups of tourist information guides dressed in red uniforms patrol the area ready to help tourists in a range of languages. I followed two guides down Stone Stair Alley which is the end of the Bukchon walk and it took me back to Samcheong Dong where there are cafes and restaurants galore.
Many of the hanok houses in Samcheong dong have been turned into restaurants and art galleries and museums. Here a a stack of rice has been impressively balanced on the back of a scooter to be delivered to a local restaurant.
Other hanok houses have been transformed into tea shops. This one is right behind the Jeongdok Public library.
In the morning the tea shop was quiet and I was the first customer.
I had a bowl of patjuk adzuki bean porridge and a cup of 쌍화차 ssanghwacha medicinal tea! (it was a bit pricy though) It has a bitter taste and it’s made from boiling several medicinal herbs and served with a few slices of jujube and a sprinkling of pine nuts. I like the bitter flavour. It feels like it’s doing me some good. 😉
Walking back downtown, I stopped to snap a cherry blossom tree peeping over the wall along Gyeongbok Palace.