This past week was Chuseok (the Korean version of Thanksgiving, but 3 glorious days + the weekend) and my plans were to explore different areas of Busan and to practice using my DSLR (and when I say “practice”, I mean “learn-how-to-use-after-2.5-years”). Four days into the holiday and I had yet to leave my beach bubble or even snap a single photo. The weather was an amazing 80 degrees and sunny and the beach was beckoning us during one of the last summer weekends.
On the last day of our brief vacation, we finally were sober slash non-hungover enough to do something productive. So we headed to the Gamcheon Culture Village about an hour away from Haeundae. I had been meaning to make this trek for about a year now and was drawn to it for its artsy, urban, very non-Korean vibe.
A Brief History
Some people refer to it as the “Santorini of Korea” because of the small, hillside houses overlooking the ocean. The village was first the headquarters of Taegeukdo members, an early religion whose philosophy believed in the “yin and yang” (as seen on the Korean flag), which symbolizes the balance of good and evil in the world. “By building the houses in tiers so that no house blocks any house behind it, the architectural layout of the village adheres to the Taegeukdo teaching of allowing others to prosper” (CNN). Gamcheon was also refuge to many people fleeing to Busan during the Korean War. In recent years, Gamcheon has gained a lot of attention (and tourists) for its art and the city has been redeveloping the village to add more art exhibits to help the community flourish.
We cabbed to the top and spent the day wandering through the steep, narrow alleyways. The weather was a bit hazy (as per usual in Korea), but it didn’t suppress the vibrant colors of the tiny shacks. We got lost meandering through the maze of blue-roofed monopoly houses and seafoam-green lego-block homes. We stumbled across murals of libraries and solar systems, trouser-planter boxes, Salvador Dali-esque paintings and countless vans and cars that I continuously cursed at for ruining my pictures.
It was a wonderful and refreshing escape from the stodgy, monotonous high-rises that crowd most of Korea. The further we walked into the alleyways, the better the views got and the weirder the art became.
We came across a little shack named the “Happy House”, which sold little love locks to attach to the railings on the rooftop view. While a slightly tackier version with the plastic heart attachment, we decided to spend the 8,000 won and do it anyway. Although the combo-lock is a bit of a contradiction to the whole “throwing the key away to symbolize everlasting love”. Since, you know, you could just unlock it again. And it was also a bit suspect that all of the locks only dated back as far as a month. Maybe this place is a month old, or maybe someone does a monthly cleaning.
Directions to Gamcheon Culture Village:
Take the metro Line 1 and get off at Toseong Station (4 stations away from Busan Station). Most other blogs I read said to take the bus (2 or 2-2) but it’s only a 3,000 won cab. Tell your cab driver “감천문화마을” or “gahm cheon moon hwa mah eul” ( – thanks Headstand Travels!) Either of these should get you to the top of the hill. You can also walk from Toesong Station (it was visible as soon as we exited), but it’s a bit of a hike up so the 3,000 won is worth it. There’s no good way to navigate through the village, as it’s basically a maze, but getting lost is the best part 🙂