Andong City, in Gyeongsangbuk Province was a centre for Confucianism during the Joseon period and many influential yangban noble families lived in the area at that time. These days there are still villages of traditional hanok houses there, but of course many have been turned into guest houses for tourists (like me 😉 ) wanting to get a taste of traditional life.
We stayed for one night and I was determined to experience all the things that Andong is famous for: hanok houses, jimddak (chicken cooked in a soy-based soup), and Andong soju.
WHERE TO STAY
The main purpose of going to Andong is probably to experience a night in a hanok house.
Queen Elizabeth 2 visited Andong in 1999 as it was considered to be the ‘most Korean’ place in the country. She planted a tree in the Hahoe Hanok village and there’s a plaque (and a tree) there to prove it.
But the hanok villages are outside Andong city centre. So driving into Andong, you wouldn’t think that it was an old, important city with all that history. The town centre looks like any other small town, with the main drag of square concrete buildings covered in signboards and tall apartment blocks.
Our plan was stay in the Hahoe village. Mr Kim chose the guest house after checking out some blogs on Naver. The proprietor said that they didn’t serve any food and that there were no restaurants nearby so we would have to eat before we arrived! To be honest even though Mr Kim repeated the fact that there would be NO restaurants in the village, I didn’t quite believe it. But it was true.
Hahoe village is about 40 minutes by car from Andong City. Cars are not allowed to enter the village during the day, but guests staying at the guest houses are allowed to enter in the evening. That was lucky because it would have been quite a hike from the car park at the entrance to the village to our accommodation…
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO STAY IN A HANOK HOUSE?
the view from the front courtyard of the hanok house
The rooms were very small – a room for two people was just big enough to spread two futons on the floor. And there was no fridge or cooking facilities or even kettle in the room. The floor was heated so it wasn’t cold. But the only modern convenience was a small TV. There were clean sheets on the futons and we were given a bottle of water each by the elderly proprietor when we arrived.
The guest houses don’t tend to serve food at all (no dinner or breakfast) so guests have to bring anything they want to eat themselves. The next day when we walked around the village I saw a couple of guest houses advertising food but this didn’t seem to be the norm.
Shoes must be left outside the house on the ground before stepping up into the house. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear heavy rain and started panicking about the shoes getting wet outside. So I got up to investigate. But the eaves of the house were long enough to shelter the shoes from the rain!
The bathroom was shared between three guest rooms and was at the end room of the building. So you have to put on your shoes, or the plastic slippers provided, and run down to the end of the house if you need to pop to the loo in the night. (And if it’s raining – you’ll get a bit wet!)
I recommend getting up early and walking around the hanok village before the tourists arrive. After a couple of hours it will be time to head into the city for food.
WHAT IS THERE TO EAT?
The must-try dish is Jimddak, chicken and potato cooked in a soy sauce based soup. In Seoul this dish is too sweet for my taste so we don’t usually eat it in Seoul but we had to try it while we were here. There’s a Jimddak alley in the market of Andong town centre where all the shops serve this dish.
We just randomly chose one of the restaurants here in the market. You can choose between sweet, regular, or spicy jimddak. We chose the spicy one. It’s served with rice on the side which you can use to mop up the sauce. Very good and a reasonable price – the medium size pan of chicken was 25,000 won and was more than enough for two if not three people.
Grilled mackerel is another famous dish in the area and there were a row of restaurants opposite the bridge area serving it so we stopped here for food. I really enjoyed the mackerel, juicy, meaty and not too salty. Just right.
Andong is also famous for Soju and there’s a small soju museum in the town centre. It is very small though and I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip just to go there.
WHAT TO SEE NEARBY
In the city itself there are some tourist attractions, but perhaps not overly exciting. Wolyeong Bridge (The Moonlight Bridge) is said to be the longest walking bridge in Korea. It’s 387m and crosses over the Nakdong river. It was built here for people to enjoy the local landscape by moonlight. In the evening the bridge is lit up, so it is probably best to visit here after dark.
A little boat for tourists (with explanations in Korean) runs up and down the river. And across the bridge is a small village of peasant and yangban houses. There’s an ice storage (a kind of outdoor cellar dug into the mountain) that was built during King Yeongjo’s reign to preserve the sweet fish caught in the Nakdong River for the king.
VIRTUOUS JOSEON LADIES
Since Andong was the city of noblemen, there are also some monuments here remembering the virtuous ladies of the time according to Confucian ideology.
One problem for non-Korean speaking visitors here is the lack of information in English. When we got over the bridge we came across little bottles padlocked to a fence. But the information in English only stated that you can buy these ‘prayer wishing bottles’ at the ‘folk museum rest place’ nearby if you want to wish happiness for your loved ones.
However, the sign in Korean explained that these wishing bottles were inspired by a virtuous lady from the 16th century. When her husband died she was so sad that she cut off her hair and wove it with straw into a pair of shoes. She put the shoes into the coffin with her husband’s body. I do find this story a bit odd. I mean, why did she choose to weave shoes? And why weave her hair into it?
Anyway, the point was that she was showing loyalty and care to her dead husband and so she is presented as an example of a virtuous Joseon lady. The area behind the bridge had a small selection of thatched house and tile-roofed houses with notices explaining who had lived there long ago.
There were few tourists when we arrived in Andong. Partly, perhaps, because it was off season and so a bit too late to catch the autumn leaves. But also, with most of the signage only in Korean this area doesn’t seem very foreigner-friendly either. It is a place that I would recommend visiting with a tour group.
The tourist maps show several routes that can be taken around the village to look at various homes of well-known noble families from the Joseon period. Many of the government officials had homes in Andong. It’s quite a large village and you could spend up to two hours walking around to see everything.
A night in a guest house in Andong is certainly an experience. But it’s something I would only do once. A trip to Andong needs preparation as places of interest are not that close together and since we had to take food with us to the guest house it was a bit inconvenient. Still, that was partly the point – to experience something different!
It would be tricky without a car to get around. And I can imagine that it gets fairly busy during the peak season too. The best part of the experience was walking around the quiet village paths in the morning, but the mood would have been spoilt if there had been lots of other tourists around…. The advantage of staying the night in the village is that you can get up early and soak in the atmosphere of the village before tourists arrive. The village was very quiet in the morning and beautiful with mist still hanging over the mountains.