I took a big hiatus in posting about this trip due to some personal matters and life transitions. I also had to wrap my head around just how much we did when we were there. It was such a jam-packed two weeks across South Korea and Japan. Now that all of Seoul has been taken care of, we’re moving on to other cities in Korea (and eventually Japan). The smaller cities in South Korea were definitely a highlight of our trip. They are full of culture and tradition. Their houses echo the influence of the Japanese occupation. But their food is so uniquely Korean, pungent, biting, and full of texture. It’s truly an experience to behold.
The first smaller city we traveled to was Andong. We traveled by bus from Seoul; it was only about a 3-hour ride. Before we got there we assumed that the city was pretty small. However, once we arrived, we found that it was much bigger than we had anticipated. The population is actually around 180k (my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan is somewhere in the 77k range for reference). In my post-trip research, I found that Andong is actually the capital of the North Gyeongsang Province. The Nakdong River flows through the city making it a hub for agriculture based business in the surrounding areas to converge.We stopped here for the specific purpose of visiting the Hahoe Folk Village. This is a traditional village from the Joseon Dynasty. The ‘ha’ is short for river and ‘hoe’ means to ‘turn around’, ‘return’, ‘come back’. It was given this name because the Nakdong River flows around the village in an S shape. Members of the Ryu family have lived here together (and still do today) for over 600 years. The village has preserved many of its original structures (such as the village Confucian school) and maintains folk arts such as the Hahae Mask Dance Drama which is a shamanist rite honoring the communal spirits of the village. Fields of rice stretch out for miles on the drive up to the village. The cramped urban landscape of Seoul fades away into agriculture and farming on every surface that is habitable against the mountainous landscape of the peninsula.
The village is fully operational with residents that reside there full time. They are still building more houses, trying to attract people to live here, and preserving the culture and traditions that Hohoe Folk Village protects. There are areas of the village that are supportive of specific crafts that residents hone, a traditional Korean playground complete with Nol-Ttwigi boards (like a seesaw that used to be used by Korean girls to see over the walls of their family homes/courtyards), and agriculture to support the community. There are river and hiking tours too, in case you want to further explore the land around the village.
In the village center is a 600-year-old Zelkova tree called Samsindang. People visit this tree and tie strips of paper with prayers or well wishes to the fence surrounding it. This tree was truly something to behold. Massive and sprawling with branches stretching out in every direction, it is worshiped as a village spirit. We all tied something around the ropes to leave our mark on the village.We probably had our best meal of the trip in Andong. We were staying in a “love hotel” (a hotel where many couples take a night away from the close family confines of their homes for privacy) that opened up to a strip of shops and restaurants. We had an amazing BBQ style Korean meal with galbi, shiso leaves, tofu, a cold egg/omlete-like dish that was spongey and divine, various pickled vegetables, soju, and some beef and seafood stew at the end that was to die for. I regret that I don’t have more photos of this meal but we crushed it (as you can see from the aftermath below). We had Baskin Robbins afterward which was a little taste of home but not left without it’s Korean flair. The place was peppered with silly posters, imagery far too sexual for a family ice cream shop, and some new Korean flavors. We walked around and looked at various pieces of street art to round out our one day in Andong.
Finally, we had these waffle batter like desserts with peanuts or almond paste in the middle. I took a timelapse of the process (below). You got so many for just $2. I could have had those every day. These were definitely at the top of the list for street food for our trip.
Andong was a pleasant surprise of a city. We didn’t expect the city to be the size that it was with the attractions it held. Our stay was short but the perfect mix of history and modern. It was a great stop between Seoul and Gyeongju.
In case you missed it:
On deck: Gyeongju, Busan, Kyoto, and Tokyo.