Destination: Yangdong Village (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

One place where the 1% lived during the Joseon Dynasty.

Yangdong Village (양동마을 or 양동민속마을) is where a number of the yangban (aristocratic class) lived during the Joseon Dynasty. It was founded in the 15th century by the Yeogang Lee and Wolseong Son clans. It’s a chance to see what some Joseon Dynasty houses looked like. Much like the rest of Gyeongju, it’s much like a time machine into the past. As of July 31, 2010, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage, along with relatively close Hahoe Village. Where Hahoe Village had more government officials living there, Yangdong Village had more seonbi, or gentlemen scholars who studied the Confucian classic books.

OK, that’s enough of the official story. It’s beautiful, legitimately old, but to the layman it might be an exercise in frustration. While Hahoe is used to seeing plenty of tourists – and has the infrastructure to support them – Yangdong has little. It’s remoteness brings fewer people, and there’s less interactivity in the site itself. That might be part of the fun for some – getting off the beaten path to see what few other people do is plenty of fun for me.

Built to honor Son Jong-ro (1598-1636) and his servant Eokbu, who died fighting for Korea during the Manchu invasion in 1636. Their bodies were never found, so they used remains of their clothes to hold the funerals.

Just one of the picturesque scenes found – the trick is keeping some of the more modern elements out of the frame.

Gwangajeong (광아정) – built by Son Jung-don around the year 1500. The house’s name literally means ‘to see the harvest’, and from its elevated position you can see the entire city. You’ll note the larger-than-normal center hall, which was used for ancestral rites. The sign also explains that a gate to a shrine was constructed in 1931, which implies not everything is as old as it seems.

Although there’s no sign to confirm it, I suspect the tree is as old (or even older) than the house.

The Confucian hierarchy is fairly obvious – the more elaborate homes rest higher up the mountain, while a number of simpler homes were used by the farmers and servants, featuring straw or thatched roofs. With over 150 well-preserved homes in the area, most are at least 200 years old, and a couple are over 500 years old.

심수정 (shim-su-jeong) – built in 1560 to honor the memory of Yi Eon Gwal (이언괄), who decided to stay at home with his aging mother instead of serving a public office. While I personally enjoyed the trees, the wooden veranda looks out over the plains. This is the largest of the pavilions within the village, though like most of them there’s no way to look inside. The house was rebuilt in 1917 after having burned down.

이향정 (i-hyang-jeong) – built by Yi Beom-jung around 1695, the house’s name is the same as the man’s pen name. As this is one of the few houses that appears lived in, one can’t help but notice the modern touches. The large courtyard suggests a wealthy landlord, as does the grain storage spaces.

Ultimately, this village is nice to look at from the outside, but being private houses also means the majority of them are locked from viewing. A few enterprising people have small restaurants or minbak (mom-and-pop style hotels), but for the most part you’re left admiring the architecture from the outside – or what you can see peering over the gate. It’s a long way to go for a minor but serene sight, considering Gyeongju has so many other sights worthy of enjoying.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks – How do I rate destinations?):

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Directions: Get to Gyeongju by express bus or train. From Gyeongju’s Express Bus Terminal, turn right, then curve around to the right, passing a tourist information booth to the city bus terminal (시위버스터미널). Take bus 200~208, 212, or 217 from Gyeongju Bus Terminal or Gyeongju Station to Yangdong Village (양동마을 or 양동민속마을). These buses may be parked along the street, as the bus terminal is woefully inadequate for the buses that need to park here. Just keep your eyes open and look for one of the buses starting up and getting ready to leave. The buses stop by the entrance, which is a 2 kilometer walk from the bus stop. If that makes your feet begin to whimper, hop on bus 203. It comes infrequently (about every 90 minutes), but takes you within a couple hundred meters of where the action happens. Free admission, open 9:30am-5:30pm. For more information, check out one official, but old, website, or the official KTO’s page.