The Traditional Houses in This Centuries-old Village Are Beautifully Preserved — and You Can Stay in Some of the Estates

Author and writer Frances Cha returns home to South Korea with her aunt to explore Hahoe Village, just outside Seoul.

Pair of photos show a woman at a tea house, and a tree growing at a Korean estate
From left: Cho So-soon, the owner of Geumguk Gukwacha, a café widely known for its chrysanthemum tea; a centuries-old tree at Bukchondaek mimics the shape of the Nakdong River, which curves around Hahoe Village. Photo: Yousun Moon

It was nightfall in Hahoe Village. We sat on the intricate wooden terrace of Bukchondaek (; doubles from $325), an estate composed of three traditional houses, or "hanok," where we were spending the night. We looked out in wonder at the expanse of dark-tiled, curved rooftops. My aunt, the photojournalist Yousun Moon, and I had reached this 600-year-old neighborhood in the Korean city of Andong by taking a new high-speed train from Seoul.

From our perch at Bukchondaek, we could see the same view villagers would have had several centuries ago — one almost nonexistent in larger, skyscraper-filled Korean cities. To our left were a few more estates of the Pungsan Ryu clan, an aristocratic family that rose to prominence in the late 16th century. To our right was a group of straw-thatched smaller houses called "chogajip," where the tenant workers of the estates lived.

View of a terrace at Chunghyodang, in Hahoe Village, South Korea
The terrace of Chunghyodang, in Hahoe Village, South Korea. Yousun Moon

Dating from 1797, Bukchondaek has been preserved in its original form, from the long water trough for horses to the "ondol" convection system used to heat the floors of the home. The structure has been passed down through seven generations. The current owner, Ryu Se-Ho, oversees everything.

Hahoe Village is famous for being one of the few preserved traditional communities left in the country. Bukchondaek is not the oldest estate there, but it is arguably the most luxurious, or as luxurious as an understated hanok-style dwelling can be, and is still occupied by Ryu and his wife.

Bukchondaek, along with other legacy estates, has opened its doors to guests to help fund its conservation. The only slight modernization has been the addition of an external bathroom, built across a courtyard from the main house because the owners wanted to preserve the original architecture. Guests sleep on traditional "yo" — thick mats that are folded and put away during the day — and are served a traditional breakfast of side dishes, like "gogijeon," savory pancakes made with beef; "miyeokguk," a seaweed soup; and "saengseonjorim," a dish of braised fish.

A sampling of breakfast dishes at Bukchondaek, a hanok in Hahoe Village, South Korea
Breakfast at Bukchondaek, a hanok in Hahoe Village now open to guests. Yousun Moon

Walking us through the different buildings of the estate, Ryu demonstrated how each wall — interior and exterior — can be collapsed into panels. Each panel is rigged with ropes so it can be lifted and rearranged to create different room configurations.

Not long ago, the idea of opening their homes to paying guests would have been unthinkable to the owners of these estates. But this is the new way for them to afford the high cost of maintaining these properties. For a hanok to continue its life, it has to be lived in, and fire in the "agungi," an outdoor oven, must be lit to heat the "ondol." This not only preserves the spirit of the home but also prevents structural damage.

Ryu explained why: "There is an incredible science behind ondol — it is crucial for protection against humidity, insects, and mold." Ryu lights the fire every two weeks, whether he has guests or not, and the wood is expensive.

We walked the narrow village paths and peered over the walls at the hanok roofs before visiting Chunghyodang, an estate built by the descendants of Ryu Seong-ryong, who was prime minister during the Japanese invasion of 1592. It has a museum of artifacts dedicated to him. A fir tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II during her 1999 visit to the village stands in front of the entrance.

The owners of the Bukcondaek estate in South Korean sitting in front of their property
Bukchondaek owner and host Ryu Se-Ho and his wife at the estate. Yousun Moon

In addition to Hahoe Village, the main sights in Andong are the seowon — private Confucian academies that, for nearly 400 years, educated the aristocracy and prepared scholars for the civil service. The academies are now open to the public for guided tours. Byeongsanseowon ( is a 12-minute drive east from Hahoe Village. When we walked up to the entrance, a light rain began to fall, adding a mist that contributed to the otherworldly ambience. My aunt told me that summer was her favorite time to visit, as the baerongnamu flowers were in full bloom. A second Confucian school from the same period, Dosanseowon (, is about an hour's drive north. It was built in 1574 by Yi Hwang, one of the most renowned philosophers and scholars of the Joseon dynasty. After touring the libraries, we sat on wooden maru floors and admired the stunning view of the academy grounds, the surrounding mountains, and the Nakdong River below.

Unlike the academies, the Buddhist temples in the area are still very much in use, and we saw several resident monks and lay practitioners at Bongjeongsa, a monastery on Andong's Mount Cheondeung that dates back to 672. The 15-minute trek up to the temple was worth the journey for the fascinating ancient art on the walls.

A bookstore housed in a converted hanok, in Andong, Korea
Gail Bookshelf, a century-old hanok converted into a café and bookstore, in Andong. Yousun Moon

One of Andong's most charming venues is Gail Bookshelf (, a 100-year-old hanok a short drive north of Hahoe Village that has been converted into a coffee shop and bookstore. The owner, Lee Garam, has implemented a delightful requirement that each patron must buy a book if they wish to buy a drink.

Having spent a large part of my life in Korea, I've eaten at many restaurants specializing in "Andong jjimdak" — a braised chicken dish — and Andong salted mackerel. Our best meal was at Andong Charm Good Hanwoo (; entrées $9 – $20), a casual restaurant serving hanwoo beef barbecue and stews. Several other diners — all locals — were clad in traditional hanbok clothing, as if starring in a period drama.

A nighttime view of the Bukchondaek estate in South Korea
Nightfall at Bukchondaek. Yousun Moon

For our final stop, we visited Geumguk Gukwacha (, a café whose charismatic owner, Cho So-soon, is known as much for her unofficial fortune-telling services as she is for her tea. She told me, among other predictions, that wearing bright crimson would bring me good luck.

"I think in my past life, I must have lived here," said my aunt. "It's like coming home, a place of quiet and beauty and rest." How many more generations will willingly take on the labor of conservation, though? Now that they have opened their doors to travelers, there is, at least, hope.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Homeward Bound.

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