There’s nothing quite like a hanok village to get your trip around Korea started. And while Seoul boasts several of these villages, and Jeonju holds the title for the most famous, the sleepy town of Gongju is a unique option for those looking to travel off the beaten track. With its stunning woodwork and open-door opportunities, Gongju Hanok Village (공주한옥마을) offers an up-close experience not easily found in other parts of Korea.
An Introduction to the Village
Gongju Hanok Village first opened in September 2010 in honor of the Great Baekje World Festival. The Baekje Kingdom (백제) is said to have lasted from around 18 BCE – 660 CE and was part of the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, neighboring the Goguryeo (고구려) and Silla (신라) kingdoms.
Although hanok didn’t appear until the 14th century in the Joseon kingdom (조선), these elegant buildings represent the feeling of a Korea long gone. Gongju Hanok Village thereby demonstrates the perfect blend of the ancient and the modern, with its location fittingly tucked between the Gongju National Museum and the ancient tomb of King Muryeong (r. 501-23 CE).
The hanok homes, while newly built, are designed in traditional style. Most notable are their towering stone chimneys, which help push the smoke out from underfloor heating, known in Korean as ondol (온돌). The wood used in construction came from Korean pine and Japanese cedar, both durable and long-lasting materials. And while the outside facades echo of a long-gone era, the interiors are fitted with modern appliances and comfortable living quarters.
Gongju Hanok Village consists of various group accommodations (37 rooms), individual accommodations (23 rooms), 4 campsites, 9 outdoor kitchens, 1 multi-purpose room, as well as a small shopping center and convenience store. It’s a fantastic destination for solo, student, family, or group travelers. To check the availability of renting a hanok, click here.
The village itself shouldn’t take any longer than 20-30 minutes to stroll around, but that doesn’t mean you should hurry off.
Take your time to really explore these homes. Note their slight differences, the craftsmanship that went into every roof tile, and the occasional artwork on the walls. Be sure to sit down in the community garden and soak in the peaceful sounds of local residents preparing their next meal. This sort of thing is the key to really experiencing this incredible place.
One of my favorite parts about the village is that many of the homes open their doors to visitors and curious onlookers. Just make sure to check the doors for the ‘open for viewing’ and ‘closed for viewing’ signs. If you can’t read Korean, just be mindful of if it seems to be welcoming or more closed off.
In a city with this kind of history, we should expect nothing less than tradition. That’s exactly what Gongju offers. There are numerous experiences to try during your visit, both in and outside of the village. Here are a few of the best options.
Go for a Stroll
Back in the day, if you weren’t working, you were probably walking! There wasn’t much else to keep you entertained in the countryside, after all. Now we have the chance to follow in the footsteps of Baekje heroes with the numerous scenic treks that Gongju City offers, such as the Gongju Fortress Loop.
Enjoy a Cup of Tea
Do you remember cozying up with a hot chocolate and listening to a story around the fireplace? We can do that here, but with local herbal teas and chestnut cookies in one of the hanok cafes located on the grounds or beside the Gongsanseong Fortress.
Learn Something New
For those with a thirst for knowledge, be sure to search for any upcoming lectures or educational events offered at the Gongju National Museum or the Baekje Culture Center next to the village.
Want to bind a book as they did in Baekje? Want to wield your own weapons or even make them yourself? Have you ever wanted to dabble in the art of Hanji craft? All of these options (and more!) are available through the city’s fantastic craft programs. Check out a tourist map with a list of craftwork stores here.
Self Care in Gongju
One of my favorite stops in the village is the Foot Bath Spa, which costs a measly 1,000 won to get inside. Choose to lounge at one of their private tables, or join the communal foot bath inside.
Appreciate the Arts
With its large outdoor courtyards, Gongju Hanok Village really has the space to put on a show. In fact, the whole town does! For more information about traditional plays and musical performances that are sure to entertain the whole group, click here.
Ancient Koreans loved to play games, just like us! There are plenty of activities scattered around that you can give a try for free! Attempt to roll a metal hoop with a stick, play some ancient board games, chuck some arrows into a bucket, go for a race, and many more…!
How to Get There
FROM SEOUL BY BUS (Allie’s Choice!)
Take the bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Gongju Bus Terminal. It takes 1.5 hours. Upon arriving in Gongju, take the green bus 101 to Culture Art Hall (11 stop, 20 minutes). The total journey will cost around 15,000 won.
FROM SEOUL BY CAR (Allie’s Choice!)
To avoid traffic, try leaving in the late afternoon or very early morning on Saturday. Come back late Sunday night or early Sunday morning. With mild traffic, the trip will take around 2-2.5 hours. Expect around 20-30,000 won in gas bills and about 15,000 in tolls each way.
FROM SEOUL BY TRAIN
From Seoul Station, head to Gwangmyeong Station and then head towards Gongju. Next, take a 20-minute taxi costing around 20,000 won. It takes around 2 hours on the train and costs 45,000 won each way.
From Seoul Station, head to Onsong Station. From here, transfer to Cheongju Express Terminal. Head to Gongju Station from here. The entire journey takes around 3 hours and costs 20-25,000 won each way.
FROM BUS BY TRAIN
Take the train from Busan Station to Osong Station. From here, head to Gongju Station. One way costs around 45,000 won and takes around 3 hours.
FROM BUSAN BY BUS
From Busan Central Bus Terminal, head over to Cheongju Express Bus Terminal. Once here, take a new bus to Gongju Bus Terminal. It takes 1.5 hours. Upon arriving in Gongju, take the green bus 101 to Culture Art Hall (11 stop, 20 minutes). The entire trip will take around 4.5 hours and cost around 30,000 won.
Gongju is a city not often given the honor of a top spot of bucket lists. And yet, it’s a countryside haven that boasts stories of great kings and queens, hardworking citizens, and mythical legends. It’s the land of roasted chestnuts and crumbling fortresses, of modern hanok homes and towering grassy tombs. And no matter what reason you choose to come here for, we strongly suggest you do.