October 30, 2017
From Haeundae Beach area, Joy and I rode the subway to Seomyeon station. It underground station is intersection of Busan Subway Lines 1 and 2 and is connected to underground shopping malls such as the Lotte World Underground Shopping Center of Busan and Seomyeon Underground Shopping Center. The area surrounding the station is also the main commercial center of Busan. Shopping stores, restaurants, movie theaters and other commercial establishments can be found all over the area.
As Seomyeon is also renowned for its food alley, Joy and I decided to have our lunch in the area. Shortly after checking out the underground shopping malls, we walked around the area to look for a restaurant. We chose an open restaurant serving mainly chicken dishes; we heard that chicken is a must try in the area. There were only two of us but we ordered a whole chicken. The chicken was fried in the open air which might seem unsanitary to others. Despite our concerns, we nevertheless feasted on the whole chicken. Up until now I couldn’t fathom how we were able to devour an entire chicken; it is more than enough to support us for the rest of the day.
We were very full so we took our time before standing up and proceeding to our next destination – Gamcheon Cultural Village. To get there, we returned to Seomyeon Subway Station. We rode the Subway Line 1 and alighted at Toseong Station. We exited through Exit 6 and took the local bus. There are three bus lines plying the route: Saha 1-1, Seogu 2 or Seugu 2-2. As the village is located on a hill, the bus zigzagged on the narrow roads going up to the village. We alighted at Gamcheon Elementary School Bus stop. From the bus stop, we walked to the tourist information center.
There are two ways to explore the village – unassisted or guided by the stamp map. The stamp map concept is similar to Gyeongju’s Historical Stamp Tour. The Gamcheon Cultural Village stamp map can be availed at the tourist information center and costs 2,000 Won. There are 12 primary stops in the stamp map, and when one completes all stamps, a prize awaits at the last stop. Although the map serves as a guide to the main tourist spots, one is still free to explore the area in any way one wants to.
Our first stop is the Small Museum, which is a couple of meters away from the tourist information center. It is where we were also able to collect our first of twelve stamps. The literally “small” museum also gave us a peek into the history of the village. During the Korean War, Korean refugees flocked to Busan for safety. The refugees built makeshift houses on the hills. Eventually, the population grew and the village became a disorganized collection of slums similar to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
In 2009, local artists and residents launched the Village Age Project to revive what was once a dying village. The concrete alleys came alive with lively colors. Some residential houses were opened to the public and transformed into exhibits. The once bleak village on the hill metamorphosed into an artsy attraction. To ensure maintenance of the the area, the Dreaming Busan’s Machu Picchu and MiroMiro Alley projects were launched. Gamcheon’s fairy tale story reminded me of a famous African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” In the same manner, “it takes a visionary to transform a village.”
Exploring the village is quite easy because of the map; unfortunately, as of October 2017, the stamp map didn’t come in English so we had to rely on the numbers to guide us. Every major establishment has been assigned a number. Each individual number corresponds to the numbered establishments indicated in the map.
Moreover, there is one major thoroughfare that the visitors have to follow so it wasn’t much of a challenge. The main street is propped with cafes and art shops. It could be very tempting to purchase one of those handcrafted mugs, refrigerator magnets or post cards. According to the proprietors, these items were especially handmade by Gamcheon Village locals.
Fun tidbit: The picturesque village was used as a filming location for top-rating Korean TV shows like Running Man, We Got Married and The Return of Superman (Lee Hwijae with Seoeon and Seojun).
Some of the stamp areas are located deep in the village requiring us to navigate the narrow, winding alleys. Wanting to complete all 12 stamps, we lost our way and got confused numerous times; only my sense of direction saved us. But if there is one thing, other than arts preservation, that this village was built upon it would be the concept of “getting lost”. Gamcheon Cultural Village isn’t about blazing through the trails to complete the main tasks but rather it is about breathing in the place, experiencing its beauty in a slow, pleasurable pace.
Guided by this principle, Joy and I took our time in exploring the area. We even stopped on one of the cafes to rest our exhausted legs which had to endure very long walks so far this day. Aside from the cafes and art shops, we have also been to the house of illusions and physics. There are many idyllic spots in the village but the best parts are the stops which gives free postcards; there were three of them. You can even mail them, for a fee I guess. The highlight of the tour is taking a picture at the sculpture of the Little Prince. It is the village’s more renowned spots so do expect a long queue.
After following the winding street and scouring every alley, Joy and I were finally able to collect all stamps. It took us about four hours but it could have been shorter; it was just that we were enjoying ourselves too much. Our prize for completing all 12 stamps is a free drink at the last stop. Please note that the last stop closes at 5 PM. Moreover, I would like to remind everyone to keep their noise levels down when walking the village as it is, first and foremost, a residential area.
There is a bus stop near the traditional market where the last stamp stop is located. You can also ask for directions from the locals as they are all warm and hospitable; an ahjussi directed us to the bus stop although I did ignore him at first. From Gamcheon Cultural Village, we made our way to Gwangalli Beach to see the bright lights of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge which can be viewed across the horizon. For those who want to spend a romantic evening, you can just stroll in the area and try one of the cafes or restaurants aligning the beachfront.
As the autumn breeze was literally biting into my skin, we took a quick tour of the area before returning to the subway station. Thankfully, Gwangalli and Haeundae station are on the same line. So that was how we spent our first day in Busan! Do look forward to our second day adventures.