Hanok hunt: Where to find traditional Korean houses in Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul. Source: Shutterstock

IN Seoul, hanok can be found all over the city; some are even set in the most modern corners of the bustling metropolitan.

Hanok is a quaint traditional house built from natural materials such as wood and earth.

It generally comprises a wooden frame structure and constructed in accordance with the laws of nature.

Most are energy-efficient and use only sustainable materials. As a way to honor the gifts from nature, locals usually hold ceremonies such as Gaetoje (rite of opening the earth) and Sangnyangsik (putting up the ridge beam) during construction to respectfully “ask” nature to welcome and bless the building’s human inhabitants.

While you can check out these little houses at popular tourist spots like Bukchon Hanok Village and Namsangol Hanok, there are many hanok homestays available for you to experience.

Due to the increasing demand for hanok, some hotels have also adopted its design and concept.

Hanok villages

Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul. Source: Nghia Khanh/Shutterstock

The Bukchon Hanok Village is a cultural hub housing hundreds of these traditional abodes.

Many of the hanok here are mostly art and culture centers, tea houses and commercial shops that offer tourists the opportunity to experience and learn Korean traditions.

Tucked between the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, the houses in this village date back to the Joseon Dynasty.

Adjacent to Bukchon Village is Samcheongdong where the hanok are transformed into chic galleries and cafes.

Aside from Bukcho, there are many other hanok villages throughout Seoul, each with its own unique offerings.

For example, the Namsangol Hanok Village features five restored traditional Korean houses while the Jeonju Hanok Village is well-known for its traditional dish bibimbap.

Hanok homestay programs

Locals can open up their hanok for overnight stays. Source: Haobo Wang/Shutterstock

As a way to meet the high demand for hanok experiences, the Hanok Homestay program has been established by the Jongno District in May 2010. Locals can sign up to open their houses to guests for overnight stays.

Other than being popular with international tourists, especially those from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, there are also many Korean families who bring along their young children to stay in a hanok to immerse them in such traditional experience.

Many hanok hosts also offer cultural programs such as making kimchi, learning Korean musical instruments and calligraphy, putting on traditional hanbok clothes and other traditional art forms.

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Family-run guesthouses

The charming Bukchon Maru is a favorite among tourists. Source: Bukchon Maru

For a truly authentic experience, visit hanok guesthouses owned and run by families.

Hosts, who usually stay in the same house, can offer a wonderful first-hand experience of the Korean lifestyle.

Some of the most popular hosted hanok homes include Gowoondang, a charming century-old dwelling situated in a cozy nook within Seochon’s alleys.

It is run by a couple and their son who are members of the Hanok Homestay program.

Another guesthouse favored by travelers is the Bukchon Maru, located in the Bukchon Hanok Village.

Featuring an elegant exterior constructed from wood, the hanok has three rooms.

Korean breakfast is served and there are cultural activities for guests to choose from, such as kimchi-making.

Luxury hanok hotels

If you are looking for a combination of five-star facilities within a hanok residence, there are many luxury hanok hotels to opt for.

Featuring contemporary spaces done up in traditional hanok style, the Chiwoonjung boutique hotel is located in a restored hanok up on a hill at Jongro, which looks out to lush green views and the vibrant rooftops of Bukchon Hanok Village.

Previously the residence of former South Korean president Lee Myung Bak, this hotel comprises a shared kitchen as well as a hot spring bath and botanical garden.

Topping the list is the Rakkojae Seoul, situated in a 130 year-old hanok masterfully restored by the South Korean’s Human National Treasure’s expert carpenter Young Jin Chung.

This hanok boasts jade stone ondol flooring and a pine tree and bamboo garden.

Yellow mud sauna therapies are offered along with cultural immersion classes like tea ceremony lessons, trying on royal costumes and cooking traditional Korean dishes.

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