Monday Travel Memories: Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, South Korea.
Welcome to a new series on my blog called Monday Travel Memories where I flip through old travel photos taken before I started my blog or photos that have never been used on the blog before (be prepared to see a lot of Asia). I’ll talk a bit about the location (or what I can remember) and share some tips about costs, how to get there and what to do.
Stay tuned for the next Monday Travel Memories post. See you on Monday but not every Monday.
Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan, South Korea
Gamcheon Cultural Village, a quirky and artsy village in Busan, South Korea, is a lot more colourful now than what it used to be in the 1950s when Korean refugees fled for safety to Busan (the only place in Korean peninsula that was war-free). The small population of the hillside- and coastal village quickly grew as makeshift houses from wood, rocks and corrugated iron popped up everywhere. Over the years – post-war – as the rest of Busan grew with the times with its high-rise buildings, Gamcheon stayed behind and remained a poorer and more underdeveloped area compared to the rest of Busan with hardships from the past ever-present in its little alleyways.
While the village always had a hint of colour of its own thanks to the pastel-hue-houses, it was in 2009 when the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism called on artists to decorate the village in an effort to give it a happier atmosphere. The project was called, Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan and instead of redeveloping the area, murals, sculptures and other artworks were added to give the village colour in 2009 (more pieces were added in 2012).
Nowadays tourists, as well as Koreans, flock to Busan to see the colourful streets and alleyways of the village and to ‘follow the fish’, a recurring sight you can see throughout the village that serves as some sort of route marker.
But regardless of these fish markers, you are bound to get lost in the village (and that is the best way to get a bit off the beaten fish track).
Find “The Little Prince” sitting alongside his fox looking out over the ocean, and the bird-sculptures on the roofs. Find the old sauna (jjimjjilbang) with the naked man, the giant coffee cup building and the big fish made up of Korean letter-mirrors from the Hangul alphabet.
Besides being known as the Machu Picchu of South Korea, Gamcheon Cultural Village is also called an Open Art Museum as well as the Santorini of South Korea (if you are wondering why exactly they went with the Machu Picchu comparison, your guess is as good as mine).
And it is not unusual to see squid drying on the washing line in South Korea. Strange but true.
It is completely free to stroll around the village, but close to the bus stop (or where the taxi will most likely drop you off) is the Tourist Information Centre where you can purchase a map for KRW 2000. The map also encourages visitors to collect stamps along the way in various spots. Apparently you receive post cards upon completion; I got lost and enjoyed the lostness too much so abandoned the search for the stamps.
Gamcheon has a story similar to many villages around the world that was once (and still is in some places) poor and underdeveloped and originated due to political decisions/changes/orders/friction.
Nowadays, these spots – much like Bo-Kaap in Cape Town or Kampung Pelangi in Indonesia – are frequently visited by tourists thanks to the artistic and colour flair of the settlements. Unfortunately, intrusiveness is one of the downsides locals have to live with and it is of utmost importance to respect those living there, to keep quiet and to keep your camera out of strangers’ faces.
Things to do at Gamcheon Cultural Village
- Stroll around the streets (get a bit lost) and appreciate the street art and sculptures.
- Visit the Little Museum.
- Support local vendors and indulge in street food or try one of the coffee shops.
- Buy souvenirs.
- Visit the nearby Jagalchi Seafood Market.
How to get to Gamcheon Cultural Village
Firstly, get yourself to Busan. You can take the slow train, or the fast train (KTX), a bus or a domestic flight.
When in Busan, take the subway to Toseong Station, take exit 6 and turn right until you see the bus stop in front of the hospital. Look out for bus number 2 or 2-2 (clearly marked “Gamcheon Village” in English on the side) and get off at the Gamcheon Cultural Village/ Gamcheon Elementary School.
If you don’t want to figure out the bus, hop in a taxi from the subway stop and ask the driver to take you to Gamcheon Elementary School.
Want to go? Pin this image for later.
A few more photos:
Do you remember the song, Little boxes on the hillside?
Another fish and another one.
Even some pavements have colour.