Tucked away against a mountain in the coastal town of Busan is the colourful Gamcheon Culture Village. Once a ramshackle area home to refugees after the Korean War, in 2009, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism gentrified the village into a creative community in an attempt to uplift the area and attract tourists. Today, it’s a labyrinth of pastel-coloured buildings, covered in fun and impressive street art. Here are some fun things to do if ever you visit Gamcheon Culture Village:
Go on a treasure hunt
The Hanuel Maru Tourist Information Centre and Observatory sells maps for KRW2,000 (approximately USD1.70) that’ll show you different routes to see the highlights of Gamcheon. Eight of these destinations give out ink stamps that you can collect. Once you’ve collected all of them, you can return them with your map to the information centre and collect a prize! Okay, the prize is two postcards from the Gamcheon Culture Village, but come on, who doesn’t want to go on a bit of a treasure hunt? The information centre is near the bus stop at the entrance of the village. Examples of the treasure map can be seen in this entry on The Google Girl Blog.
You can collect stamps from the following places:
· Little Museum
· Haneul Maru
· Astroid B612 Souvenir Shop
· Ocean Photo Zone
· House of Peace
· Modern Man
· House of Hope II
· Gamnae Eoulteo
· House with Puppies
· Happy Power Station
· Gamcheon Loess Salt Company
· Message of Hope
Street art in Gamcheon
In 2009, sculptors and artists were invited to decorate the village with the theme: Dreaming of Busan Machu Picchu. Murals, sculptures, and other pieces of art – there were more added in 2012 – have turned the village into a massive art gallery.
Eat all the things!
The city is famous for its ssiat hotteok – a pastry filled with sugar, honey, nuts, and sunflower seeds. Or try the raindrop cake that’s essentially a surreally clear jelly. You can also snack on grilled seafood, fish cakes, and even fried dough. Go on and indulge in the local eats, you’ll burn the calories off exploring the village anyway!
Soak up the culture
Gamcheon Culture Village is such a unique little place, with many artists in residence. There are plenty of galleries, museums and cafes to visit. Instead of just looking at and buying art made by others, consider making your own unique creation too.
To get a glimpse of what life was once like in Busan, the Little Museum has over 70 pieces of traditional household items that have been donated by residents. There are also replicas of the shanties that local people used to live in, originally built from wood, rocks and corrugated iron.
Other quirky places to visit:
· The Stairs to See Stars – Gamcheon is full of narrow alleyways and stairs, but the largest of these is a flight of 148 steps. It was named aptly because locals used to get dizzy and ‘see stars’ when climbing this staircase.
· Mini Library/Harry Potter stairs – a colourful stairway that can be found on the way to Cheondeoksu Well.
· Gamcheon Culture Station – a pink house where you can make your own artwork.
· House of Light – to see a house with a lighthouse on top and another shaped like a teapot.
· Busanfornia Panorama – for a panoramic view of Gamcheon Culture Village.
· The House of Peace – a place where you can write a message of peace on the wall!
Need to know
While there are a few entrances to the Gamcheon Culture Village, the one near the Tourist Information Centre is at the top of the hill, allowing gravity to work in your favour as you wind your way through this colourful village. This vantage point also gives you a bunch of opportunities to stop and take in the view. Or you can head over to Gamnae 2-ro street for even more impressive views!
There are no official opening hours – it is a public space after all. However, most shops, cafes, and restaurants are open between 9AM and 6PM.
The Gamcheon Culture Village can get very busy during the day – plus it is super-hot around mid-day in summer. To avoid the crowds and the heat, head over to explore the village in the morning or evening.
Around two to three hours is enough to see the village, but if you want to stop for something to eat or drink, or to try your hand at something arty, your stay here will easily be longer than that.
Some tips for visiting Gamcheon Culture Village:
· Wear comfortable shoes. As I said, it’s a labyrinth of alleyways and stairs waiting for you to explore them. This will take a lot of walking, so be prepared!
· Buy the map. Even if you get distracted while exploring, it’s still fun to collect those ink stamps.
· Keep the noise down. While the residents are used to tourists in the area, this is still their home, so be respectful and don’t be too noisy. Also, ask whether it’s okay to take pictures.
Gamcheon Culture Village is a wonderful space to get lost in for a day. All the beautifully-decorated nooks and crannies seem as if they’d been especially created for you… and in a way they were.