Friday, December 10, 2010

Hanok Stay in Bukchon

This time in Korea, we had a quite unique experience in Seoul by staying in hanok, a traditional Korean house. We loved staying in hanok so much that we even wished that we could live in one of the hanoks if we ever decide to live in Korea.

It is said that there were over 800,000 hanoks in Seoul until the 1970s, but more than 90 percent were demolished during the post-Korean War era as the Korean society focused the post-war developments on modernizing everything from its economy to people’s living quarters. This was deemed necessary to accommodate the fast-growing population and the economy at the time. As a result, high-rise apartment complexes and shiny office buildings dominate much of the scene in Seoul today, and only a handful of these hanoks survive mostly in Bukchon just north of the city centre (“bukchon” means a norhern village). Somewhat belatedly though, these once-forgotten assets of Korean history have come to Korean people’s attention these days, and many efforts have been made to preserve the remaining hanoks and educating young children about historic preservation. I was surprisingly delighted to find that the hanok we stayed in was beautifully renovated to meet today’s living standard while keeping the authentic beauty of hanok intact. I have to make one disclosure though. Hanoks do not offer the luxurious comfort you may find in hotels, but it does offer magic authenticity which gives you the impression that you walk back in time several hundreds years and let you experience the real life of Koreans back then.

I did a bit of research on hanok stay options in Bukchon before we went. There are several hanoks in Bukchon that offer guest rooms. If you can afford, Rakgojae seems to be the best option as it offers the most authentic hanok experience in a beautiful setting. But their rate was well above our budget, so we ultimately narrowed down the choices to Bukchon Guest House, Tea Guest House, and Sosunjae. The first two are most popular among foreign tourists, and I felt I wouldn't really "fit in" there as a Korean. We wanted to stay in hanoks where locals (Koreans) come to stay.

We stumbled on Sosunjae from a Korean traveller’s blog. Sosunjae is not technically a guest house, but it is rather called a “think museum” where children occasionally come to learn about Korean culture and history in a traditional hanok setting. The place only has one guest room, and it comes with its own bathroom and a library/living room space.

The library is used by children during the day time, but since it’s attached to the guest room you get to use it when it’s not in use. There is no TV or other amenities, so I find it ideal for people looking for quiet hanok stays.

The real bonus to staying in Sosunjae is that the host lady is an excellent cook. We stayed there for three days, and we were served delicious breakfast each morning.

On the last day, since we had to catch the airport limousine bus early in the morning, she packed us delicious rice balls (joomukbap) and water in a bag along with a small jar of home-made apple jam as a gift.

Overall, we really enjoyed staying in hanok and were glad that we decided to stay in hanok instead of hotels. The experience of interacting in space where the Korean culture and history take its roots was priceless. As a Korean American, I felt a sense of belonging and attachment in hanok of my mother country.

How to get there:
It takes about 10 minute walk from Anguk Station via #3 Subway Line which is usually depicted in orange on the map. Or you can use the airport limousine bus which takes you near Anguk station. If you are using the subway, exit through #2 or #3 exit and walk about a mile to the north and make a right towards Joongang High School. Joongang High School is a very famous tourist attraction as it played a backdrop for the famous Korean drama Winter Sonata. Facing Joongang High School, walk past five houses to the right, then you will find stairs to Sosunjae pictured above.

thinkmuse at naver dot com

100,000 won per day (single occupancy)
130,000 won per day (double occupancy)
Requires 30 percent deposit.


Renee said...

Migi, I LOVE your photos of Korea and hearing about your experiences. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog today, I must have gone through your entire archive! As a South korean born - New Zealand raised living in London, this is a slice of home thanks for your wonderful posts.

Migi said...

Thanks, Renee! Ms. Park, welcome!

V_hui said...

hi Migi, thanks so much for sharing. I love Korean culture and tries to go at least once a year. I want to stay in a hanok next time I am in Seoul! Just a question - is there a curfew for the hanoks?

Migi said...

V.Hui - There was no curfew where I stayed. I don't think other hanoks have curfew.

Bobapower said...

Great post and beautiful photos! The Hanok looks so quaint and fun. If I ever make it to S. Korea, I will definitely try to stay in one.

Trang Thu Le said...

hi Migi. Thanks for sharing valuable insights into Korean cuisine that is otherwise unavailable on the internet or in the bookshops. Could you please explain about the breakfast as feature in your photo? I'm quite interested in what Korean eat for breakfast and desperate to make my own.

Migi said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ryan!
@PearlRiver: as you see in the picture, we had a bowl of rice cake soup with pieces of some vegetable pancakes and kimchi. On the second day, we had beef porridge with water kimchi (made of radish) and of course regular kimchi on the side. I'd say they are typical breakfast menu in Korean households. Nowadays more and more people changing their morning diet to cereals or toast for quick breakfast though.

Ann said...

Hi Migi, I couldn't find the website of Sosunjae guesthouse. The link provided in your blog goes to Is the link correct? Thanks for advice. We are going to Seoul in May =)

Migi said...

Hi Ann, Lucky you! May is an excellent time to visit Korea. The website you mention is actually a correct one. Sosunjae doesn't have its own website for guesthouse services, but they have this one for their children's programs. You may not be able to find the info you are looking for on the website. So, it's best if you email or call the host directly to inquire info.

juvl said...

Hi Migi, thks for your recommendations. Just called Soaunjae to find out room availability in June. Understand from her that the guesthouse is under renovation n will only available in July! Wat a pity:(

Joyce said...

Hi Migi! I want to stay here when I go to Korea in September. I already emailed the site but still no answer. Is it available for non Koreans? I am a Filipino, btw. :)

Migi said...

Hi Joyce,
I am pretty sure they open up the place to all Koreans ad non-Koreans (technically we are foreigners, too). I would try emailing them again in Korean (just in case). Here is a draft email in Korean basically asking if there is availability in September.
"안녕하세요. 필리핀 사람입니다. 9월에 한국에가서 소선재에 머무르고 싶은데 그때쯤 방이 있을까요 연락바랍니다. 영어로 답변을 주시면 감사하겠습니다."

From juvl's note above, it seems like they are under renovation until July, so I am guessing they should be open by September. In any event, if they don't reply, try calling them. I remember they were quite fluent in English. I hope this helps.

Joyce said...

Thank you very much Migi!!! I really appreciate your help :)
I'm learning Korean but I'm not that well-versed yet.

Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Migi

Do you know if Sosunjae is still open for hanok stay? I can't seem to find any info on the web regarding them.


Migi said...

Hi Di,
I have no idea... I would call them to see if they are open or not. I remember they spoke pretty good English. The phone number is noted in the post. Good luck!