Location: Near Andong and Gyeongju, South Korea
Visited: Sept, 2010, Oct, 2013
Site Type: Cultural
Opinion and Background:
Historic, average, gorgeous, bland, amazing, underwhelming, overwhelming! There are so many conflicting words that come to mind when I want to describe these two folk villages. How do you evaluate two places as a single entity when they give you completely different feelings? While Yangdong made me wonder why this was even considered “World Heritage Site” worthy, Hahoe is officially, my new favorite place in Korea.
The villages can be though of as frozen in time, or at the same time, as modernizing ‘differently.’ You see, both are still occupied by villagers who have lived there for over a dozen generations and while they now drive cars, watch satellite TV,
and might go to the city to shop from time to time, they still maintain many of the traditions that have been upheld since the 15th century. Hahoe for example, still performs their mask dances and is now an International Mask Festival. Both Hahoe and Yangdong also continue the tradition of living off the land and are largely agrarian societies.
The Historic Villages of Hahoe and Yangdong are a joint-entry UNESCO World Heritage Site and a testament to not only how beautiful rural Korea can be, but how deep the roots of history run in this fantastic country. Hahoe is a 30 minute ride east of the tiny city of Andong by bus while Yangdong is 40 minutes north of the much more historic town of Gyeongju, so getting to them is not exactly straight-forward. Both have been inscribed because they represent the architectural styles of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1911) at its very best.
Yangdong Folk Village / 양동 마을
I first visited Yangdong in 2010 on my first trip to Gyeongju. As I had no idea this village was here, it was a last minute decision to visit and I definitely rushed it. I must admit that the first time I visited, I felt somewhat underwhelmed. For sure this had to be the most overrated, average looking village I had ever seen. I am not saying that the village itself wasn’t good, but this particular one seemed just like any other in the country-side of Korea. I even felt that I had been cheated since I paid for a 50 dollar cab ride just so that I wouldn’t miss it. When I was about to write my first article on this site, a friend that had been to both villages insisted that Hahoe was by far the more beautiful village of the two, so I waited.
The same extended weekend that I visited Hahoe for the first time (about a month ago), I gave Yangdong a second look. While I now have a greater appreciation for the village since I have learned so much about Korean history in the last 3 years (since my first visit), I find it good, but not amazing.If you are aware of Korean history, its existence has further meaning. Both villages are an excellent ongoing historical archive, still-living family trees if you will, of aristocratic family clans and their movements over the last six centuries on the Korean peninsula. Yangdong was founded by the ‘Son clan’ and many people with the last name ‘Son / 선’ originated from this village.
Traditional Hanok style houses adorn the side of a hill which are easily noticeable upon entering. All of the houses have been very well preserved, but there was little sign of people actually living in them. Indeed, the Korean government confirms that many parts of the village are deserted and just up-kept, essentially, for show. One of the cooler things I was able to witnessed both times was women using mallets to make ddeok (떡) or Korean rice cakes. In 2010, I was even allowed to use the mallet myself, but no such luck this time :(. They even sell some of their finished products on site, but to me, they taste like erasers, so thanks but no thanks.
Hahoe Folk Village / 하회 마을
Stunning! Fantastic! Beautiful! I feel like I am writing a review on a movie with a few catch phrases, but indeed, Hahoe is quite pretty. Upon entering Hahoe, I was starting to feel rushed much in the same way I was rushed with Yangdong the first time I visited. However, as we arrived at the river bank and saw the traditional yearly mask performances, all comparison ended. The background of the Nakdong River curling around Hahoe was just a fantastic setting which matches anything I have ever seen. The river hugs the village in a horseshoe shape that leaves it cradled in safety which gives it a magical feel.
The houses seemed occupied and while there were a fair amount of people looking around, the villagers were concerning themselves with their everyday chores. Toward the back side of the village were large fields of rice
and other vegetables that were about to be harvested. Some houses even had a relative of pumpkins growing on their roofs! It is easy to get lost in the narrow and unmarked alleyways that connect the village, but you won’t mind. Just wandering around was half of the fun.
Hahoe also has historical importance as it is the origin of the Ryu / Yu family name over 600 years ago, and the original houses of the founding members remain to this very day. In fact, some of the houses the original Ryu family members built are across the river, overlooking the village. Because of this, the village has two working boats to shuttle people back and forward to check them out.
This was by far my favorite part of the village. When I strayed from the main hiking course, I arrived at one of the most dangerous but adrenaline pumping trails I have ever been on. I was literally a misstep away from certain death as the path narrowed to about as wide as my foot on a cliff with nothing but jagged rocks far below. Sidney and I became celebrities as Koreans far below thought we were crazy and took pictures of us (which they later shared on the boat). Despite the risk though, I would totally do it again as I have rarely felt so free as when I was so close to death… Too dramatic? Alright, the view was pretty cool too.
1) Completeness and Originality (13/15): As far as I know, everything is original and extremely well kept. My only complaint would be that Yangdong is a bit empty of residents.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (6/15): While I was done with Yangdong in under 2 hours (both times), Hahoe leaves more to explore. Hahoe takes about 3 hours to fully enjoy.
3) Cultural Significance (7/25): It definitely ties up lose ends for Koreans in terms of their history, but I don’t see them having an impact beyond that.
4) Personal Impact (8/15): It was a great weekend getaway, but I would totally come here even if I didn’t live in Korea.
5) Logistics (4/10): Korea one of the best public transportation networks in the world. Unfortunately, if you are going somewhere popular and far, good luck getting tickets without reserving them far in advance. The the Andong/Hahoe Mask Festival, we had to book a month in advance, and even that was tough. Seriously, build more damn TRAINS!
6) Uniqueness (5/20): Hahoe was beautiful and Yangdong wasn’t bad, but Japan and China both have similar villages.
Combined Score: 43/100
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One thought on “Historic Villages of Korea: Yangdong and Hahoe”
I have only been to Yangdong…but I was very moved by the fact that there has always been continuous living by at least some family members for 600 years, and that it was one of the very few folk villages that were never invaded and somewhat destroyed by the Japanese. I was also fortunate enough to get a personal tour by the Son family of their home, and had traditional tea with them as the wife explained how they heat and live in their home there exactly as their ancestors. It is an isolated location so it often falls on the elders to return and live in their ancestral homes while the young make a living.