Forgive me for being a bit outside of my normal topic of language, but I thought it necessary to dispense some of my travel experience…
If you ever go to South Korea, check out the city of Andong. If you ever go to Andong, heed my advice. I traveled to there with weeks of preparation and phone calls under my belt…but of course~things went wrong. Here is what I learned and what you must see if you are ever so fortunate as to have the opportunity to experience “The Capital of The Korean Spirit”: Andong City.
Situated in the center of South Korea (and a bit to the East) is the city of Andong.
How To: Get There
By no means impossible to get to, Andong’s recent popularity boom has made it quite accessible by both bus and train. Though the train may be novel, the bus is most definitely the way to travel. The bus is fast (1~3 hours faster), cheap (about 15,000won or roughly $12), and very comfortable thanks to its plush, wide seats.
Directions: Go to Dongbu Seoul Bus Terminal (on subway line 2)and from there hop on one of the Andong-bound buses that depart every 20 minutes. This will take you right to the Andong Intercity Bus Terminal in the center of the city.
Distances to Attractions: WARNING!
Though advertised by their website as all easily accessible via the Andong Intercity Bus Terminal, DO NOT BE FOOLED! Though every tourist site in the city is technically on one bus line or another, the locations are far and the buses are few. Not knowing this, I was in for a real headache. This is my only warning: Planning your Andong trip with the idea of getting from place to place via bus will frustrate and exhaust you!
So, how do you resolve this problem? Simple: Rent-a-Car**. If I ever go back to Andong in the future, I will not think twice about this! This is my one strong suggestion. Renting a car in Andong will save your mind, body, and soul as you come to realize the distances you must travel even by bus to get to some of the more amazing attractions. **I have just been informed those in the business of renting out cars in Andong will not rent out to anyone without sufficient Korean language skills!! Taxis may be the next best thing. **
The Amazing Attractions
When they say that Andong is the center of tradition and culture of Korea, they are not lying. Within a one-hour radius of the center of the city are a dozen treasures (some literally are national treasures!) that are completely unique and breathtaking. Here is a list of the places I went to see and can personally attest to their existence and worth.
Located about 40 minutes away from the intercity bus terminal in Andong, this academy offers insight into the lifestyle of a culture that still lives on in subtle ways in modern Korea: Confucianism. A beautiful location full of wonderful photo opportunities, be sure to get on a bus that gets you right to the entrance (and not just to the main gate) Of course, I do not at all recommend the bus system as you will likely have to wait an hour for the return bus. Per my above advice: Rent-a-Car
Things to know:
Established between 1561 and 1574 during the reign of King Myeongjong, Dosan Academy is composed of roughly a dozen individual buildings including the main academy building (도산서당), dormitories(농운정사), lecture hall(전교당), main shrine(상덕사), and library(광명실). Legend has it that the Academy was first established by one of Korea’s greatest Confucian scholars: Toegye Yi Hwang. Due to the economic and tourist boom in Korea at the time, Dosan Academy was repaired to its present state in 1970.
Easily one of the more amazing and off-the-beaten-trail sites in Andong is Bongjeong-sa. Home to the the oldest wooden structure in all of Korea and nestled in the side of a hill, take a few hours (or an overnight stay!) to just relax and listen to the chanting. I’ll admit, the reason I came to Andong was to stay at a temple and experience the Buddhist way of life firsthand. Note: for those of you wishing to try a templestay here or anywhere else in Korea for that matter, please visit www.templestay.com.
What I got was a bit more and a bit less that what I expected. The communication was difficult (as their English was poor and my Korean was worse), but we managed. My accommodations were exceptional though far from traditional as they were under construction. Seeing as construction is only a temporary thing, your stay at Bongjeong Temple will undoubtedly be better than mine. Still, for 50,000won I got three meals, a bed for the night, clothes to wear throughout the day, I got to chant alongside the monks at 3am, chatted with monks in training over morning tea, and was even given a parting gift of some of the finest Chrysanthemum tea in Korea.
Things to Know :
The website. The phone number: 054-853-4181. The bus in the city is #51 and takes about
25minutes. Again, please note that the buses only come about once every hour. The building to see is called GeukNakjeon because it is the oldest wooden structure in Korea dating back to roughly 1360 in a style typical of the Silla Kindom which existed for roughly 1,000 years. What you may not get a chance to see (because few know of its existence) is the temple that is located about 200meters higher into the hillside and, when visited at the right time of the day, is shrouded in mist and mystery.
Legend has it that as the founder of Bongjeongsa sat meditating in a cave known as Cheondeung high in the hills nearby, he had a revelation and flew a paper phoenix from the cave and where it landed…there he built Bong (Pheonix) jeong (stay)-sa (Temple).
After spending my night at Bonjeongsa I headed out to the city of Andong once more and made my way to see the largest and tallest brick pagoda in Korea. Standing 17meters tall and dating back to at least 900A.D., it was quite a sight. Unfortunately, it was not getting the attention nor the respect that I thought such a historic site would deserve. Not only was I one of only 2 people there, but racing by–and no more than 5 meters away from–the pagoda was the express train and the main Andong expressway! In fact, if the pagoda were to fall just right, it would fall right on over the train tracks!
If there was an unexpected gem in my trip to Andong, Jirye would be it. Though the name is deceiving (for it is neither a village nor is it exclusively for artists) the experience is as good as gold. Built in the 18th century, the “village” is actually an assortment of lecture halls, a shrine, school, and more all put together and owned exclusively by the head of the Kim Banggeol Family (even to this day!) It is a fantastic place to go to relax and unwind and I’ll say right-off-the-bat that one ought not stay there any less than 2 nights in order to fully feel the effects that such a place can have on the peace of your body, mind, and soul.
What makes this place so special? To start, if you make a reservation to stay the night you will not only be provided with a FREE pick-up service but Mr.Kim–the current head of the Kim family–will pick you up personally! Amiable and enthusiastic to serve, full of stories and past accomplishments but reserved and unimposing on you the guest, Mr. Kim is a delight. What’s more, stay the night at the Kim Family household and you will be given the chance to dine on some of the finest home-cooking that side of the Han River (and for only 7,000won!)
Things to Know:
The trip to Jirye Artist Colony takes no less than one hour. Therefore, it is pivotal that you make a reservation before departing to Andong (unless you rent-a-car) in order to make the most out of your time there. Go to http://www.chirye.com or call them at +82-54-822-2590. Mr. Kim speaks darn good English and will be happy to answer any questions for you (or read you some of his poetry, for that matter!) Lodging is 20,000won If you come in a group of 2 or more; 40,000won if you arrive solo.
Hahoe, partly encircled by Nakdong River, was so named because of it’s geographical location.: “Ha” means “water”, and “hoe” means “circle”. It is considered one of the best folk villages in Korea and has preserved a number of cultural traditions…including a traditional Korean maskdance and traditional Korean fireworks. It has served as the home for the descendants of the Pungsan line of Andong’s Ryu family for over 600 years.
My final day was spent in the Village of Hahoe. It was a rainy day but tourists still flocked to the scene. In fact, if there was one place in all of Andong which I could call crowded Hahoe would be it. By far the most famous of all tourist attractions that Andong has to offer, it is no wonder that it was chosen by Queen Elizabeth II herself as the site of her 79th birthday! To me, the hype of the Queen’s visit is a bit blown out of proportion but who am I to judge~ it is quite an honor!
Like the excerpt I nabbed from my Andong pamphlet (above), the village is still fully functional and the families that have lived there in the past are still living out their lives there today. Make no mistake, it is the real deal! Some of the existing homes even date back to the 16th century. While you are there please do not hesitate to drop 20~40,000won for a couple of the exquisite masks for which they are so famous. If not, you will likely pay close to 100,000won for the same product back in Seoul. Definitely worth their weight in Andong.
While you wander, be sure to marvel at the 600-year old Zelkova tree located in the center of the village. Fabled to be the dwelling place of the goddess Samshin of fertility, it is as impressive as it is aged.
Things to Know:
If you missed Hahoe, you missed Andong. Go to their website for more information so you get there at the right time of year (October would be ideal). You can also call the Tourist Information Center: 82-54-854-3669, or the Andong Festival Tourism Foundation: 82-54-856-3013 if you would prefer.
|Individual||2,000 won||1,000 won||700 won|
|Groups (over 30 persons)||1,700 won||800 won||600 won|
* Groups are applicable to over 30 persons
* Over 65 & Under 6 : Free
Buses come only eight times a day and irregularly at that, so–as before–I STRONGLY recommend renting a car. Should you still prefer to ride the bus, have some cash handy as the bus costs 1,100won both ways. You will be dropped off at the entrance to the Mask Museum and Folk Market but still about 3oo meters away from the village itself. You must take the shuttle to the village: +1,000won both ways.
A Note from my Stomach: There are NO places to eat in Hahoe Village! Please do yourself a favor and pack something light. I was very hungry but managed to find some delectable Heotjesa-bap at the restaurant adjacent to the Mask Museum and Shuttle Bus Stop. Top-notch place.
The last place I went to visit was the Andong Soju Museum. Like Pisco is to Chile and Peru, Sake is to Japan, or Vodka is to Russia, Soju is to Korea. It is the people’s drink. Now, if the people were to tell you where to get the best Soju, then they would tell you Andong. It is still brewed by the master brewer Ok-Hwa Cho whose recipe has been handed down since the 14th century, making her knowledge the 12th most important intangible cultural asset in all of Korea!
Things to Know:
Do NOT travel there by bus! There is only one bus going there per hour and there are NO buses going back. It is only a 5-minute taxi ride so it won’t cost you more than 5,000won each way (which isn’t that bad). Once there, take a few minutes to wander the museum and see all the displays. Good luck if you don’t understand Korean though, for most of the descriptions are only written in Korean. The staff there is very friendly. The cheapest bottle of soju there runs for about 20,000won but you can order double that for only about 38,000won (including a beautiful wooden travel case). Andong Soju is 90-proof~ and the flavor “continues to improve with age”
For a lot more information and to continue to plan your own tour to Andong (or join one of their pre-arranged tours of the city) please refer to one of these three excellent websites:
- The Official Site of Korean Tourism: Andong
- Tour Andong: The Official Guide to Korea’s Spiritual Capital (my favorite)
- The Official Webpage of the City of Andong
- Also be sure to check out my ESL Korea page for some more pictures and videos