Busan - Gamcheon Culture Village

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village, dubbed as the "Machu Picchu of Korea" is a must in Busan that consists of houses built in staircase-fashion on the foothills of a coastal mountain.

How to get there? From the Toseong-dong metro station take exit 8, cross the street and walk to the bus stop in front of the hospital. Catch minibus 2 or 2-2 (₩900, 10 minutes) up the hill.
The history behind these artsy streets, today filled with colourful murals, cozy cafés, cool stores and millions of selfie opportunities goes back to the Korea War. As explained in our post, Busan was the last stronghold of South Korea during the first phase of the war, implying that millions of refugees fled to Busan forcing the Government to hurriedly build houses piled on top of each other on the few available spaces, like this hillside.

With the rise of industrialization, Gamcheon reached almost 30,000 inhabitants, but afterward most of its population moved to other cities and the population fell to 8,000. The few left were aging rapidly, one quarter being over 65, Many of the colorful houses were abandoned. The area lacked basic infrastructure (running water, sewer system) and gave it a rundown look, in danger of disappearing over the time.

In 2010, the local Government in collaboration with urban planners, artists and the residents, had the idea of regenerating the area and attracting tourism, opting for a sustainable development that would respect its unique character and artistic value.

The government made a major effort to improve the infrastructures (retaining walls, running water and sewage system, street paving, parking areas, etc). Meanwhile, artists and residents focused on repairing the homes of the elderly with low incomes, renovating abandoned houses and turning into new things worth visiting like museums, art galleries where cultural and educational activities could be housed.

New village businesses were also stimulated (think of shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries, crafts workshops, hotels) simply because commercial activities create jobs and generate income for the residents, part of which goes back into the community in different ways: distribution of food, organization of festivals and events, reparation of houses, etc. The government also supported the enhancement of the residents’ capacity and self-management, by offering courses in several areas, like business management, sales techniques or crafts.

Volunteers were trained to give guided tours of the village and stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children in this unique area through the “Growing through Art” initiative.

The numerous color tones of the homes, the more than 40 works of art exhibited in the village, the craft shops, the art galleries and cafés, together with the programming of different cultural festivals and the participation of the residents in the revitalization, care and promotion of the village, gave it a unique appeal that resulted in 1.5M visitors in 2015.

Gamcheon is the blueprint on how citizen efforts and Governmental actions can be synergised to execute dramatic change, from a poor marginalized area into a cultural, dynamic village full of life.

While our pictures are not fair when it comes to the beauty of the actual colors - it was already dark when we made it there... I feel thankful about having a chance to wander through the streets without hordes of Chinese tourists armed with selfie sticks.

View Post


Busan - Beomeosa Temple

Beomeosa temple, Busan

Beomeosa Temple「범어사」is a Buddhist temple located on Mt. Geumjeongsan in Busan. Established in 678, it is considered one of the three major temples in southeast Korea. However, the superb scenery of a temple built atop the mountain and the hidden gems called "hermitages" set it apart from anything else we've seen in Korea.

How to get there? First take the Busan subway (1) to Beomeosa station, take exit 1 and walk to the stop of bus 90 which will take you to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple.

The first thing you see from is the main temple entrance, called Iljumun Gate, which is very impressive but also quite similar to anything else you have seen in Seoul. The really cool stuff is hidden in the forest, but not impossible to find. When you see this main gate, just IGNORE IT and continue to walk right towards the hermitage, leaving Beomeosa Temple to your left. There will be signs that read「청련암」which means Chungryunam or Blue Lotus Hermitage, just follow them to hit the jackpot.

This unique enclave is impressive yet quiet. I doubt many foreigners manage to make it there, to be honest. But the walk is well worth it, I had never seen so many bronze statues together, laid out in such a harmonious way, guarding the golden Buddha on the top. On the sides, we can see some halls dedicated to the practice of Seonmudo, a traditional martial art.

Quite a fun anecdote happened to us there. As we were walking downstairs on the way out, a lady came running to invite us to eat bibimbap. On one side, we were somewhat hungry and exhausted (it as 4PM and we had not eaten anything for lunch) but on the other it was too late for lunch. So we politely thank her and left. Then, she came back running trying to hold us - when she arrived we realised she was bringing a bag with some food "korean rice cake" she said and gave two of these blocks to us. It didn't taste much - beyond plain rice of course - but proved quite filling, as we shared one and didn't feel hungry until more than 5 hours later... The korean name for the rice cake is tteok「떡」and is the basis of local favourites like tteok-bokki, favourite dish of a good friend, which one could call the Korean macaroni.

View Post


Busan - Geumjeongsanseong Fortress

Geumjeongsanseong Fortress, Busan

Geumjeongsanseong Fortress is located on the peak of Mt. Geumjeongsan (801.5m) in Busan. Its 17km long wall made it once the largest fortress in Korea. Now, only 4km remain from the original. While the exact time of construction is not recorded, it is believed to come from the Three Kingdoms Era - earlier than 668 - when Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla dynasties were fighting against each other. The present fortress was built in 1703, after the Japanese Invasion of Korea from 1592~1598 to prepare for any further invasions from Japan.

While you expect to visit some kind of castle, the environment you find after getting out of the cable car is actually a forest, quite a lovely walk in the nature as long as you come prepared for it. The views from the cable car as well as the wall thickness are impressive, but if you are tight on time you could just skip this and focus on Beomeosa Temple, which together with the beach and other things was the real highlight of Busan.

The good thing is that both Geumjeongsanseong & Beomeosa are located in the same subway line, rather close to each other, so you can combine both visits easily. Since the fortress is southern - and we were coming from the south - we started from there, but as said, it could have been done the other way around too... Up to you!
View Post
© dontplayahate. All rights reserved.