In the middle of a metropolitan area of twenty million, Seoul's historic Bukchon neighborhood has kept a traditional village feel. "Hanok"—traditional courtyard houses, with upswept tile roofs and latticed sliding doors—line the hilly streets. Some of them have been opened as small guesthouses.
After a trans-Pacific flight, and then a bus ride into the city (from the new airport, built on reclaimed land in the Yellow Sea), I walked a few blocks up narrow lanes and through a wooden gate. I felt as if I'd stepped back into the Korean countryside of a century ago. A rooster and a rabbit shared the courtyard, filled with hydrangeas and herbs. A persimmon tree towered overhead. My room had sliding papered doors; a simple low bed and table; no TV...but free Wi-Fi! The friendly owner, whose family lives in one wing of the house, showed me the hot water machine where I could make instant ginseng tea and "ko-pi" (coffee).
Not all hanok lodgings are so spartan. Behind the main courtyard of this house, a "sarang-chae" is also available—it's like a mini-house (or casita), with its own private garden: rustic luxury.
While staying here, I met an Israeli man and his Japanese wife on their way back to the Middle East, as well as a couple of professors of Indian languages from Seattle on their way to New Delhi. Bukchon is becoming more widely known as one of Asia's urban gems.
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