National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Korea’s historic hamlets

Shrouded in tranquilli­ty and tradition, South Korea’s UNESCO-listed villages soak up the rustic rhythms of country life and offer a glimpse into the past

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South Korea may be among the most modern places on earth, yet it keeps one foot firmly in the past with its traditiona­l villages. Hahoe and Yangdong, situated in Gyeongsang­bukdo, are two of the best-preserved historic hamlets, both granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. Experienci­ng them is like stepping back in time with their cornucopia of Joseon-era folk traditions, time-honoured rituals, and works of art.

HAHOE FOLK VILLAGE, ANDONG

Bordered by hills and a great S-shaped bend in the Nakdong River, Hahoe Folk Village is arguably the country’s most famous — so much so that the Queen stopped by the UNESCO-listed settlement for a visit in 1999. The village’s most famous resident comes in the form of a 600-year-old zelkova tree called Samsindang. This great arbour towers over the village like a guardian, and — true to Hahoe’s shamanisti­c roots — is said to be home to the goddess Samsin.

But Hahoe is not just a museum piece. This is a place where history comes to life through local celebratio­ns and performanc­es. Seonyu Julbul Nori is a biannual festival where visitors can marvel at a firework display over the languid flow of the Nakdong River, while Byeolsingu­t Tal Nori is a ribald mask drama that’s a thrilling mixture of ritual, opera and pantomime.

YANGDONG FOLK VILLAGE, GYEONGJU

With more than 160 homes spread out among the rises and valleys, UNESCO-listed Yangdong Folk Village is the largest Joseonera village in the country. Here, visitors can experience all the components synonymous with a traditiona­l Korean clan village including a jeongsa (study hall), a jeongja (pavilion), a seowon (Confucian academy), and a seodang (village school), as well as many spiritual heritages, including plays, artworks, and rituals.

Like most Korean villages, Yangdong was designed and built to exist in harmony with its environmen­t, which consists of a river in front of the village and a mountain behind. Yangdong, which is nestled against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Seolchangs­an and surrounded by arable fields, keeps optimally cool during Korea’s sultry summers and cosy come the harsh winters.

 ?? ?? British Airways offers regular non-stop flights to Seoul’s Incheon Airport. From there, transfers to both villages are within easy driving or bus distance.
British Airways offers regular non-stop flights to Seoul’s Incheon Airport. From there, transfers to both villages are within easy driving or bus distance.

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