The Korean Folk Village in Suwon: It's About Time

Guardian deities at the village entrance.  Yes, I must have one to take back with me to the US.

Since MsCaroline works on her own quirky timetable, it will come as no surprise to anyone that she, as a foreigner, has lived in Seoul for over a year without visiting the Korean Folk Village in Suwon. Turns out it's an extremely popular attraction for tourists and people new to Seoul, and actually is one of the first tour-type things that many people do.  Naturally, it took MsCaroline 14 months to get herself there, but in her defense, there were a lot of typhoons in August.

Eventually, though, "Korean Folk Village' worked its way to the top of my list, and my friend L and I made arrangements to go on one of my days off from work.  I don't know if it it was just this particular Tuesday, but the crowd was extremely light (at least by Seoul standards) and L and I found ourselves pretty much on our own with the exception of a number of school field trips and a largeish tour group of International Women In Engineering (or something along those lines.)  The point is, it was delightful.

School groups left their backpacks and mats in neat little circles in the entrance courtyard. Naturally, there was no concern about anything being taken or damaged : another thing I love about Korea- honesty.

In fact, I wish I'd gone much sooner, because if I had, I would have already been back several times to enjoy it again - yes, it was that nice.

 As you enter the village, you find a huge rock pile covered in what looks like ropes covered with tiny ribbons.

Our guide explained that villagers traditionally wrote wishes for health/happiness/luck on small pieces of a tough cloth-like paper and then tied them to the ropes covering these rocks.  The village had provided pieces of this paper and pens, and L and I added our wishes to the hundreds (thousands?) that were already there:

The Folk Village was established in the 1970s as Korea began to emerge as a growing economic force in Asia and began a period of rapid development.  Due to the devastation of the Korean war, very few historic or traditional buildings were still standing, and there was a desire to preserve Korean traditional and cultural history and lifestyles even as Korea barreled forward into the technological age.

This pagoda was built up on a hill to take advantage of the shade and the breezes.

  The Folk Village is really more of a living history museum (a la Colonial Williamsburg,) complete with authentic traditional buildings, a working rice paddy, herb gardens, and a certain amount of domestic livestock.

The cow in question seemed perfectly placid, but we avoided surprising her, just in case.  

 Traditionally-dressed 'residents' of the village can be seen going about their daily business, from weaving to harvesting herbs to sweeping the courtyards.  It has been built with painstaking attention to detail, and many traditional Korean TV dramas set in the past are filmed there.  From what I understand, filming frequently takes place even when visitors are in the village, and there's always a chance you'll get to see a scene being shot (we did not.)

On the walls at the entrance to the village are numerous banners advertising a number of the dramas that are filmed there.  Since I don't speak Korean, I don't watch the dramas, but I had to ask our guide about this one, featuring characters in traditional dress surrounding a single man dressed in modern clothing:

She explained that this show was about a man who traveled through time and space to different places and different eras.  His name?  Dr. Jin.   Remind you of anyone? I didn't see a Tardis(or the Korean equivalent thereof), and it was unclear whether or not Dr. Jin traveled anywhere in space and time besides the Korean folk village, but I took a photo for Son#2 anyway, who is a huge fan of Dr. Who.

Anyway - back to the village.

The village has examples of many types of authentic Korean buildings and dwellings, from humble peasants' houses to a typical governor's residence - and just about everything in between.

 The only way the village diverts from scrupulous authenticity is the fact that typical dwellings from all parts of Korea are represented, which means that you will find a typical northern-style dwelling just down the road from the type of home typically seen on the semitropical southern island of Jeju:
Typical dwelling from Jeju island:  the roof is lashed down to withstand prevailing ocean winds and storms, and the exterior features local volcanic rock.

This geographical inaccuracy notwithstanding, the overall effect (at least to my untrained Western eyes) is wonderful.

The houses were furnished and decorated in the way that they would have been hundreds of years ago,  such as this house, whose string of red chili peppers tells the neighbors that a baby boy has been born ( no peppers if you had a girl):

One of my favorite sections of the village was the expansive herb garden and nearby apothecary and healer's buildings, where you could find herbs, teas, and - of course - ginseng for sale:

  Herbs were gathered, dried, and hung outside of buildings:

Once dried, herbs were sorted, labeled, and hung in bags from the ceiling rafters,

Or labeled for sale in bins:

In addition to the actual buildings, the village also features a marketplace and gift shop where visitors can buy jewelry, ceramics, wood carvings, and other typical Korean souvenirs, most of which are actually available for purchase  - at a significantly cheaper price - in many of the markets in and around Seoul, but this isn't any different from virtually every tourist attraction in any country I've ever visited .  There is also a sort of outdoor food court where guests can order from a menu of traditional Korean meals ( a bit pricey as you'd expect at a place like this.) I ordered bipimbap ( rice/meat/vegetable dish served in a hot bowl) -usually a favorite of mine - and it was OK, but nothing to write home about.  L had the foresight to pack a lunch and probably enjoyed it much more than I'd enjoyed mine.  The marketplace and the food court - while providing a little taste of traditional Korean food and handicrafts - are probably best enjoyed by tourists spending a short time in Korea.  If you are a resident, you will have doubtless already experienced most of them - and at much cheaper prices.

Part of the admission fee to the folk village includes traditional Korean music, dance, and acrobatic performances:

Audience participation is encouraged:

Visitors also have the option of viewing a traditional Korean wedding ceremony.  Since the actual spoken part of the ceremony is in traditional Chinese (used for formal and/or official occasions for many years even after King Sejong developed the Hangul alphabet,) the wedding ceremony was read in Chinese, then translated into Korean - but not English.  This didn't seem to matter much, since the costumes and 'props' were so visually interesting:  the brightly colored robes of the bride, groom,and their attendants, as well as the various items used in the ceremony.  Part of the traditional ceremony also included the bride and groom doing shots drinking a serving of liquor out of small cups.  Given the fact that the bride and groom did not actually meet until the wedding ceremony, inserting a social lubricant directly into the proceedings seemed like a practical step to me.  Unfortunately, due to the crowded venue and the presence of an Annoying Professional Photographer who positioned himself smack in the middle of every photograph and blocked the bride and groom, I have no photos to show you of the ceremony.  Here is, however, the wedding canopy,the traditional stacks of wedding foods, and the Professional Photographer, as well as a group of schoolchildren visiting on a class trip:

We finished up our trip by walking through the small folk museum on the village grounds, which is organized around the theme of the typical year in the life of a traditional village, including holidays, important events (weddings, funerals, a child's first birthday), and traditional handicrafts as well as such household chores as grinding meal or making kimchi. All of the displays (including the buildings in the village) had English signs and good English descriptions, which meant you didn't really need a guide to appreciate it.  I took this photo of a class of preschoolers who were watching with fascination as an animatronic figure ground grain with a traditional grinding stone.  They were mesmerized:

The village covers quite a large area, and is surrounded by tree-covered mountains - on a gorgeous fall day, it was a beautiful place to be.  As a resident of Korea, I was already familiar with much of the architecture and many of the customs, but I still found the tour to be interesting and informative.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it was absolutely lovely.  For visitors who have only a short time to spend in Korea, the Village provides an excellent overview of many Korean traditional and cultural practices, as well as examples of traditional Korean architecture in a variety of building types.  The Folk Village is in Suwon, a bustling suburb of Seoul, but when you walk through the gates, it's hard to believe you aren't in a rural village out in the country.  And, yes - I'll be back.

Directions, maps, prices and general information can be found here.


BavarianSojourn said…
What an AMAZING place. It sounds and looks wonderful, and your pictures are fabulous too! I especially love the first one of the Pagoda. Just beautiful! :)
Stacy said…
I feel like I have just been there! Thoroughly enjoyed the visit too. Thank you for sharing!

MsCaroline said…
Emma - thank you! I will take that as a HUGE compliment coming from someone whose photographs I regularly drool over!

MsCaroline said…
Stacy - thank you! I just can't believe it's taken me so long to go and visit - wish I hadn't waited so long...
Michelloui said…
I really enjoyed this--particularly because I know so little about Korea. Your Gangnam Style post was the thing that first started opening my eyes and now this. I love these kinds of 'experiences' anyway in other cultures, especially (only?) if they're done well and this looks amazing. And your review/report of the place made it particularly interesting. Wow! Anyway, I've linked to Asia Vu today in my post, wanting to share it all with my readers who may not have come here yet. :)
MsCaroline said…
Michelloui-So glad you stopped by, and thank you Very much for the link! I knew next to nothing about Korea when we took this post in Spring 2011- my only frame of reference was a few old M.A.S.H. episodes! I am not sure what I was expecting, but I have definitely loved living here and am really enjoying learning about the country and its culture. I am so happy to be able to share what I'm learning!
Trish said…
To think of some of the odd places you have visited and yet you left this for so long! It's such an interesting place and I love all the extra detail, such as the peppers only for baby boys.
MsCaroline said…
@Trish - yes, I'm still kicking myself that I waited! Hindsight.... the chili pepper story was a little funny; our guide told us that the string of red chilis was put out to notify neighbors of the birth of a boy, so I asked what was put out for a girl - she said 'nothing.' Then she added that if you knew a baby had been born and didn't see the string of chilis, it was better not to even ask because you knew that something awful had happened, like a stillbirth or a girl being born! So glad I live in the 21st century!
Trish said…
Ms. Caroline should not feel too bad...Six In Seoul lived here for 2 years, has been back for over 3 months and we still have not visited AND we have been to Suwon couple of times. I love the details you provided. This is at the top of my list this time around.... :) Trish
MsCaroline said…
@Trish@6inSeoul: Well, I feel a little better now - we will be at the 2 year mark in June and I realized just the other day how many places still remain on the to-do list! I will say, though, if you have done all the other 'typical' tourist things in Seoul, most of it will not be particularly new to you. The charm (at least for me) was in the fact that you really did get the sense of being in a small village, even though you knew it was all 'staged.' The landscaping, surroundings, and sense of peace were also incredible. If I had out-of-town guests with only a short time for visiting, I would probably put this on the itinerary - but I can't recommend the food! This was pretty much the only place I have eaten in Korea where the food was anything less than great. When you go - pack a lunch!
Looks fascinating. I love the herbs hanging in their bags and the strings of chillis. Fabulous.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - the herb and vegetable gardens were my absolute favorites - and I loved the hanging bags, too! The other favorite was all of the thatched-roof (and some shingled) houses that had squash vines growing on them. I'm still not clear whether they plant them in the thatch up there or if they're what I call 'volunteers' - dropped there by birds or wind.
Anonymous said…
The place looks beautiful and your post was very informative. I haven't ever thought about visiting Korea before but I certainly will now. Thank you.
BlackSesame said…
Looks like a place I should visit if I have a chance to go to Korea! Thanks for sharing! ^^
I watched two dramas that featured there! ^^
MsCaroline said…
2217- Thanks for stopping by! I didn't know anything about Korea before I moved here, and am constantly amazed by all the beautiful things here.
MsCaroline said…
BlackSesame - Thanks for visiting and commenting - I have never watched any K-dramas, but after my visit, I am definitely going to watch some - 'Dr. Jin' is the first one on my list!

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