I’m going to be perfectly honest. What drew me to Korea as a high school senior was K-pop. The bubblegum pop, the pretty faces, the over the top glitz… I ate it all up. I spent my first summer in Seoul indulging in all the food, attempting drinking soju, trying to run into Kpop celebrities, and getting caught up in the cheap shopping life. I never learned about traditional Korea and never even made it to Gyeonkbokgung in the six weeks I was here.
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When I came back to teach, my main concern was making sure I was far out of the city. I didn’t want to get caught up in a very specific version of Korea that reflects only a small percentage of its culture. Since then, I’ve spent time getting to know a more traditional Korea, one that gets shuffled in the mix of soju, Gangnam, and K-pop. It’s easily my favorite part of this country, and I’m sure you’ll fall a little in love after seeing these pictures.
1. Hanboks at Gyeongbokgung
Hanboks are a traditional form of Korean dress. Koreans wear them for special holidays, but you can also rent one to wear around in many of the big traditional areas. I believe you even get into Gyeongbokgung for free if you’re wearing one! I just love the contrast between this girl’s pretty hanbok and her very modern sneakers.
2. Shrine to Yi Sun Shin at Hansando, Tongyeong
Yi Sun Shin is a major Korean war hero, and Hansado in Tongyeong was one of his important bases.
3. Burial Mounds in Gyeongju
Though they look like giant hills, they’re actually burial tombs from the Silla dynasty. You can climb up some of the free tombs outside of the main park to get a beautiful view of Gyeongju.
Fun fact, the waters around Hansando are actually known as one of Tongyeong’s most beautiful views.
5. Ceiling Details
Look at any traditional structure in Korea, and look up at the ceiling. You’ll be impressed every time.
6. Drying Dyed Scarves in Hanbol
One of the very random work trips I have taken in my time here is out to Hanbol, a small literary village in Namwon. We dyed some silk scarves and learned about one of Namwon’s more traditional areas.
7. The Real Palace Not to Miss
Shhh, don’t tell Gyeongbokgung, but Changdeokgung is easily the prettier palace, especially if we add its secret garden.
8. In Damyang’s Bamboo Forest
If you’re ever down south, definitely make Damyang a part of your trip. It has a beautiful bamboo forest and in the back, it opens up to a little village area filled with traditional houses.
9. A Couple Dressed in Hanbok
How cute is this couple? I do think the hanboks are such cute outfits, and I love seeing couples wearing them together. Plus, with the modern buildings in the background, it kind of looks like they’re walking towards their future together!
10. Actual Secret Garden Vibes
Huwon is Changdeokgung’s massive garden. They call it a “secret garden,” but obviously it’s not very secret or private anymore. However, because they regulate who can come in and out, it’s still quite peaceful.
Is anyone else a little obsessed with capturing reflections? I just think they’re so interesting.
I do kind of wonder where that door leads to now….
13. Gwanghallu in Winter
My favorite photo from Korea, this is of Gwanghallu, which is my town’s pride and joy. One of our half days during winter, friends and I decided to take advantage of the giant storm we had and capture Gwanghallu with all the freshly fallen snow.
14. Korea’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Chunhyang and Mongryong
Looking for a good story from traditional Korea? Look no farther than the love story of Chunhyang and Mongryeong. Actually, if you look up the story, it’s just called “Chunhyang” or “Chunhyangjeon” since it’s really more about her than them
15. Nestled in Naejang Mountain
I’m not 100% what this area is, but I think it’s a Buddhist temple area. We saw it when we took a cable car up to the peak at Naejangsan. Side note: how gorgeous is that fall foliage?
16. Sunset Over Jeonju Hanok Village
I should mention hanok means “Korean House,” and it’s used to describe the traditional style of housing compared to the looming apartment buildings we get now. Jeonju’s Hanok Village is easily the most famous (though Bukchon is a good alternative if you’re not leaving Seoul). It’s actually a bit criminal that I’ve only been here twice given how often I go to Jeonju…
17. Early Spring
If you can, early spring in Korea is gorgeous. The cherry blossoms are out and everything is beginning to bloom, but winter still lingers in the barren trees and cold weather.
18. Corner Details in Gyeongju
The details, I’m tellin’ ya!
19. Cheomseongdae Observatory
This guy is going to be much smaller than you expect, but that doesn’t make its long history any less impressive. It’s been around since the 7th century!
20. Hyangwongjeong Pavilion
One of the most Gyeongbokgung’s most famous images, this beautiful pavilion is in a pond surrounded by lily pads.
So, are you in love yet? I have so many more photos, so definitely look out for a part two later this year ;) I’ll probably make it when I’m back in the States and missing all this architecture.