One of the wonderful things about friendships in foreign countries is that your native pals can open up so many opportunities for you to experience the places that haven’t quite made it on to the tourist map. Hangae Village in Seongju is one of those places.
On a day trip to go and visit my friend Jimin’s parents, we stopped off at Hangae for a look into one of only seven remaining traditional hanok villages in which people still live today.
Less than an hours drive out of Daegu, there is something so special about visiting such a tranquil and beautiful place like Hangae. So far in my travels in South Korea, it’s been rare to find a spot that isn’t swarming with tourists, both Koreans and foreigners alike. In fact, on this particular Sunday I don’t recall seeing another visitor. Magical.
The road leading into Hangae is lined with many high waving South Korean flags. As you enter the village you start to see the sandstone walls flowing up into the hill, on your right the hanok houses start to appear and on your left is a lush green rice field.
Hangae is famous for its scholars, being a place where several independence activists from the early 1900s were born and raised. Several of the houses have lengthy excerpts in English about their previous habitants available to read before walking inside, as well as information about the house’s age – some even dating back to the seventeenth century. The houses themselves are a very pretty sight, varying in size but all taking on the traditional Hanok structure with their elaborately designed Giwa roofs that flick out at the edges. Some of the houses have thatched roofs, an indication that the proprietor was not as wealthy as those with a tiled one. Another tell-tale sign of a traditional hanok is that all the houses are slightly raised from the ground to allow for the ‘ondol’ heating to occur in winter – a method of under floor heating specific only to Korea.
Jimin and I were a little nervous on entering the village, the guide in the information booth at the beginning of the road told us it’s an open village and that you as a visitor are free to wander into people’s gardens and take a look at their homes. However, we were reluctant to casually wander into someone else’s private space. Luckily our nerves were soon forgotten as the local people were more than happy to come out and chat with us. Most of the residents we met were over 70 and had lived there since birth, providing us with a great amount of detail about the history of the village. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to speak with them and learn about their families’ heritage, one man told us of how his house was one of the most special because standing in a specific place it’s possible to see the highest mountain – not visible from any other house in the village. This particular man also gave us some cold canned coffees to drink as we left and kept apologising to Jimin for wearing only a vest. He hadn’t been expecting visitors he told us, proving to me that Hangae is a treasure only a few come across.
As you walk around and go in and out of gardens you’ll see just how interesting this small village is. It’s a paradise of traditional Korean living with a natural beauty that’s inconceivable in the city. You’ll observe how people live day to day with clothes hanging in the wind, chillies out for drying in the heat and plenty of dogs relaxing in the shade (although they might get a little yappy as you walk past!).
It’s easy to get lost in Hangae. Although small, its paths wind around houses and up and down hills providing little quirks along the way, like this beautiful rusty blue gate or flowers so vibrant that you just have to stop and take a photo.
As Jimin and I made our way back to the road, we heard voices shouting us from a far away house at the other end of the rice field. Jimin’s father was there and beckoned us over. There we met three men, one of which was in traditional Korean dress named Heo Yun Do, who was hand weaving dried rice stalks into crafts. We sat with him and his friends and chatted, trying out the hand weaving for ourselves. We all laughed as I practiced my clumsy Korean with them and they offered us some very spicy home-made kimchi and rice wine, which made me a little woozy in the heat of midday. Later, Heo Yun Do treated me to a musical performance and we were all given a drum each to play along with. You can see the video of us singing along to a traditional Korean song here.
I couldn’t help but pinch myself as I looked out from the Hanok in which we sat at, gasping at the wealth of colour from the mountains which rolled as far as the eye could see. There was not another person in sight. I took in the beauty of Hangae and realised how special life can be. As the music played and the rice wine flowed, this joyful interaction gave me a smile so wide I felt giddy.
I left Hangae with memories of friendship, beauty, tranquility and generosity and promised our new friends that in a year’s time when my Korean was better I’d return to drink rice wine with them again once more…
How to get to Hangae
From Sangin-dong in Daegu I took the Dalseo-3 bus and then transferred to the 250. When we reached Seong-ju we got off the bus and took a taxi to Hangae Traditional Village.
Would you like to go to Hangae? Or maybe you’ve been? Let me know in the comments box below, I’d love to hear from you.