Last week I took an impromptu but much-needed holiday to South Korea. While I hadn’t expected to return to Korea this year the time and price were right so I decided to go for it and took a midnight flight from Hong Kong to Seoul arriving 5am in driving rain. Not the best start perhaps but from there on in things went decidedly uphill…

Hakindang Hanok

After stopping off in Seoul for a shower and a tasty breakfast I met up with some friends and we took a bus south to the city of Jeonju (in Jeollabuk-do province) famous for its historic buildings and food culture. The journey took about 3 hours on a comfortable coach which luckily saw the rain steadily turn to sunshine.

Main House

After arriving in Jeonju we immediately took a taxi to our accommodation which turned out to be one of the main highlights of the trip – a beautiful Hanok (traditional Korean house) in the peaceful surroundings of a small village filled with other traditional buildings (old and new).

Hanok Chimney

We were welcomed by the kindly proprietor, a descendant of the original owner, who showed us to our room and introduced the area. This particular Hanok, named Hakindang, built in 1905 clearly had some interesting history behind it and is one of the oldest in the village.

Oven Under House

Despite the site being about 1/4 the size it was originally the buildings retain many of their original features such as direct heat transfer under-floor heating (ondol) and outside ovens built into the space below the raised wooden floors.

Beautiful Garden

The garden was especially beautiful with a rockery, pond and various small bonsai-like trees all artfully arranged within the courtyard between the main gate and the internal buildings. I was longing for somewhere to relax and at that moment in time it felt pretty much like heaven.

Natural Kimchi Fridge

Next to the pond was a deeply recessed natural cave which had been used for decades to naturally refrigerate kimchi (a fermented cabbage side-dish served with almost everything in Korea). I took a look inside but it turned out to also be home to a large population of spiders so I didn’t stick around!

Hanok Bedroom

The rooms were simply furnished with a thin futon mattress to sleep on. If you’re not used to sleeping on hard surfaces then you may find this a bit uncomfortable to begin with but it’s something you soon get used to and is apparently very good for your back! Rooms start at 60,000 WON (£35) per night making it quite affordable.

Hanji Door

The doors, windows and walls were lined with Hanji (Korean traditional paper) which is lubricated with bean oil making it waterproof and breathable (as well as aesthetically pleasing). Hanji craftwork is a local speciality in Jeonju which I’ll talk more about in a later post.

Hanok Main Entrance

The large main hall building in the center of the grounds is where the owner lives and she was kind enough to show us around inside – a huge treat.

Hanok Proprietor

Above is the main room which was traditionally used for entertainment performances but is today used for holding tea ceremonies and other cultural activities. The walls and furniture are all beautifully hand-made from natural materials with many period pieces of furniture.

Nacre Lacquerware

Especially impressive was this Korean lacquerware cupboard inlaid with mother-of-pearl (nacre) which is world-renowned for its ingenuity to retrieve the iridescent color from abalone shells to create such exquisite motifs on the surface of hard wood. Such pieces, known as “najeon chilgi“, have long been regarded as a luxurious items symbolising wealth and nobility.

Tea Ceremony Room

Apparently during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910 – 1945) richer families who lived in houses like this were spared the harsher treatment others received due to their higher position in society and the Japanese desire to gain their cooperation.

Victrola Phonograph

Among many of the interesting items in the house was this early Victor Phonograph from the US made around 1910 which amazingly still in working order. I managed to take the short video above which can give you some idea how it sounds today – sorry for the rather poor quality.

Victrola

Unique for its time the Victrola had an internal horn with doors which could be opened and closed in order to increase or decrease the volume. I particularly liked the classic manufactures logo on the underside of the top lid featuring a dog peering into the horn.

Hanok Attic

We were also taken into the spacious attic which was also filled with many curious objects from times past including her grandfathers possessions and text books from when he studied in Japan. The house is a veritable treasure trove of the last 100 years of Korean history.

Attic View

I enjoyed my visit here so much that it almost feels like something I want to keep secret but at the same time glad to be sharing it and hopefully giving some inspiration for those considering their own visit. I’ll be posting a lot more about Jeonju in the coming days.

Comments

  1. Stevo says:

    Wow. That looks like sweet digs. I’m envious. I haven’t made it to Korea yet, but it’s on the list.

  2. Drury says:

    I also stay at hanok whenever I get the chance, but I haven’t seen a hanok guesthouse this big and spacious before. How did you find it? Their website seems to not have any English.

  3. Linda says:

    Hi David,

    May I know, how to get to this particular Hanok ?
    You mentioned you took a bus. From where ? and what’s the bus number ? Most likely I will be setting off at Seoul.

    And also, I heard alot of people cant sleep well after a night, cos of the hard surfaces, can we request for a mattress ?

    My friend told me its not easy to go on your own if you are not a korean.

    Appreciate your advise.
    Ling

    • David says:

      Hi Linda,

      Getting there shouldn’t be difficult even if you don’t speak Korean. Here are some brief instructions how you could get there from Seoul:

      1. Go to Nambu Bus Terminal (on line 3 of the subway) in Seoul and buy a bus ticket to Jeonju. I’m not sure if there’s a number but just show your ticket to an attendant and they will show you the way.

      2. When you arrive at Jeonju bus station go out the main entrance onto the street and turn right. Walk along the road about 400m till you see the tourist information booth on the left side of the pavement.

      3. Ask for a map and get them to circle/mark the Hanok (학인당) on it for you.

      4. Hail a taxi and show them the highlighted map. The journey should take no more than about 10 minutes. If they don’t drop you directly outside the Hanok you can just ask someone on the street to point you in the right direction.

      I don’t think you will be able to request a mattress but honestly I don’t think you will have any trouble and it all adds to the experience 🙂

      Hope this helps.

  4. Linda says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your detailed explaination. I got it it sounds easy. I’ll be there for Christmas eve.

    One last question.
    Our schedule is abit tight so we were thinking of staying 1 night, do you think its enough ?

    Cheers.

    • David says:

      Yes 1 night should be enough to have a good wander around the village although if you like it as much as I did you may end up wanting to stay longer!

      Hope you have a good Christmas there!

  5. Shinno says:

    Hi,
    I would also like to stay in a Hanok for one night at end of feb 2011.. Initially i thought of staying at Jeonju Hanok Living Experience Center but this one that you have introduced looks good too! i could not find any site that i can make a reservation. can i make a reservation when i reach seoul?
    Appreciate your advice 🙂

    • David says:

      Hi Shinno – their official website is http://cafe.naver.com/hakindang but it’s all in Korean so may not be useful to you.

      I suggest you try emailing them – [email protected] – if you know someone who can read/write Korean then even better since I’m not sure if they can speak English.

      It’s definitely worth booking in advance if you can. Let me know how you get on!

  6. Hi David,

    This was a wonderful stumble. I’m writing an ebook on Korea work and travel, and was looking for an accommodation suggestion for my Jeonju section. I’m definitely putting this one on the list!

    Really awed by the phonograph too, very transporting to hear a record from 1910.

  7. Felix says:

    Hi David,

    I also interesting to stay here (Hakindang), but i tried to sent email but no reply.
    Any idea how to book a room in Hakindang ?

    Thanks

    • David says:

      Hi Felix – looking at their website it says reservation is possible only by phone (063-284-9929) and other inquiries by email ([email protected]).

      If you or a friend speak Korean my best recommendation would be to call them (I don’t think they speak English). Failing that you might want to try Google Translating another email!

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