Busan’s scenic Gamcheon Culture Village

by - 01 February

The most efficient way to promote and share beautiful stories about an inviting country is to experience it firsthand. With series of travels in Korea, I have lots of happy and unforgettable experiences to share, as it wasn’t only my first in the “Land of the Morning Calm” but most importantly I have made new friends throughout the tour.

In late October, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel to Korea with my fellow Korea.net honorary reporters during the autumn. We were invited by Korea.net, which is under the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS), for a week of exciting tour of various scenic spots and must-visit places around the cities of Seoul, Busan and Tongyeong.

With our first two days well-spent in Korea’s beautiful capital, our tour itinerary took us to Busan. Our experiences in the ‘Dynamic City’ were as exciting as the ones we had in Seoul, as Busan is situated attractively right on the coast and at the southeasternmost tip of the country.

The metropolis of Busan is the second largest city in Korea after Seoul, and is known as the main seaport of the country and the fifth busiest port in the world by cargo tonnage.

Just like Seoul, the dynamic city of Busan is also rich in the arts, tradition and history, as well as having some of the most beautiful and worth-visiting tourist attractions in the country, such as the Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장), Beomeosa Temple (범어사), Jagalchi Market (자갈치시장), Yeongdodaegyo Bridge, (영도대교) and Taejongdae (태종대).

It was a fine day when we left our hotel in Seoul for Busan. Upon arrival at the Seoul Station, we were welcomed by an impressive modern structure that reminded me of the airport at Incheon where it’s as well a world-class facility. As one of the remarkable places featured in the hit movie “Train to Busan" (부산행, 2016), for me, it truly made our tour amazing, enjoyable and all the more special.

It took us two and a half hours on the very accommodating KTX train from Seoul to Busan. Although it was a long tiring trip, we didn’t notice the time but instead the many exciting activities prepared for us at our destination.

Arriving at around 1:30 in the afternoon, we were then greeted by our ever-smiling tour guide at Busan Station. After a short walk from the train station to the waiting area for our bus, we headed right away to our first stop in the city as we had a really tight schedule that day.

Just as fascinating as our tour guide said, the picturesque Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을) is, indeed, stunning at first glance as it’s located in a picturesque geographic location.

The first stop we had on our tour in Gamcheon-dong was the Little Museum, an old house turned into a gallery, which showcases the past and present of the neighborhood. It offer visitors and tourists a glimpse of its historical significance to Korea through pictures and timelines including exhibits of old household items donated by residents themselves.

Gamnae was the old name of the then neighborhood of Gamcheon, which originally meant "sweet water." The word gam is derived from geom which means "God," while nae is a Korean pronunciation of the word cheon, a Chinese word meaning "a small river.”

It was interesting to learn that the place started as the first habitat of believers of Taegukdo, a religion based on the ideas of Jeungsan. Refugees from the Korean War and Bandal Pass, situated between the mountains of Cheonmasan and Amisan, settled there nest here. Throughout the years, they built their homes on the hill itself and formed a small community that later contributed to the progress and development of today's Gamcheon.

The Gamcheon Culture Village is a unique neighborhood built in a stair-like pattern and composed of houses that are lined up quite orderly so as not to block the view of the other structures surrounding them.

Walking along the alleyways of Gamcheon-dong will give you not only a great view of the village but also a glimpse into the daily life of the welcoming community. In the neighborhood, you'll get up close with the many pastel houses in different sizes, colors and designs, which are really distinctive from one another and have their own respective beauty. Other than the structures, you will also see art installations as you walk the alleys which show the creativity of the community. Some of the masterpieces you wouldn’t want to miss and you can have beautiful set of postcard-worthy photos include the Becoming One, Fish Swimming Through the Alley, Sweet Rest, Little Prince and Fennec Fox, Our Town Gamcheon, Mongi and Beanpole, Village Wriggling, and the Autumn Journey.

With its maze-like alleyways, colorful houses and attractive works of arts by renowned artists and residents, the Gamcheon Culture Village continues to attract thousands of tourists each day.

Aside from the creatively-designed structures, there are also art shops and galleries in the neighborhood that sell some of the most amazing artworks in town such as ceramic wares, woodworks and naturally dyed textiles. Some of these studios also offer workshops to visitors for them to experience first-hand how a work of art is made.

Our tour guide led us to the Haneulmaru observatory (하늘마루), which is really a must-see for every visitor. At its rooftop, you get to see panoramic views of Gamcheon including the lush mountain of Yongdusan as well as the busy ports of Busan and Gamcheon. A breathtaking scene where you can have your souvenir photos and selfies against the beautiful village, great mountains and the blue sea.

While an hour of walking makes your feet tired, there are also photo spots along the way where you can rest and sit while taking pleasure in the neighborhood's most breathtaking views. Besides, if you get hungry, there are as well restaurants and food stalls where you can delight in some of the best delicacies of Gamcheon. One of those is ssiathotteok (씨앗호떡), a fried bread stuffed with sugar and mixed nuts. You really have to try this version of hotteok as it’s one of Busan’s most sumptuous street foods.

Usually referred to by locals as the "Korean Santorini," Gamcheon-dong has its own charm and beauty, as some of the most famous TV shows and movies were filmed and set right in the attractive neighborhood: "Hero," "She Came From," "Camelia," "Never Ending Story," "Man From the Equator," "Running Man" and "The Return of Superman," to name a few. It’s no wonder the Culture Village of Gamcheon was officially designated as a "third house of cinema" by Seanema Busan, another reason that the place is worth a visit when in the city.

Through its past, Gamcheon-dong contributed significant progress to the history and society of Korea most especially during the Korean War. You can even see traces of the village's olden times as you walk through its alleys.

Besides the vibes of its timeworn streets, it was also exciting to learn that the neighborhood holds the annual Gamcheon Alley Festival where in exciting market encounters, art exhibitions and performances take place.

Furthermore, with the initiatives and resourcefulness of the residents and community as a whole aiming the continuous improvement and enrich tourism in the village, you can see that Gamcheon-dong is truly a neighborhood with a kind heart.

An hour and a half wasn’t enough for us to tour the entire Gamcheon Culture Village. Although we hadn't been to all of the interesting spots, the experience that we had gave us overwhelming surprise and amazement. The warm people, delicious food and scenic place made our visit a cherished one.

"Busan's scenic Gamcheon Culture Village" was first published in the Korea.net blog. All photos included in this article are property of Annyeong Korya and protected under applicable copyrights.

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