Andong and Hahoe

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November 26th 2012
Published: November 29th 2012
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25 - 27thNovember 2012 Andong

Taxis are a frustrating thing here. Its not that they hassle us as we go anywhere, in fact we have only been asked a couple of times if we needed a taxi. And they are nice new cars. Its just that they run on LPG, which makes sense for economy, but they have retrofitted the tanks in the boot leaving little room for bags. So each time we take a taxi anywhere, we are having to squeeze bags onto the back seat with us. And generally on our own as the drivers are reluctant to get out into the cold. Leaving Andong this morning (the bus station is quite a way from the town centre where we were staying), the hotel insisted on calling a taxi for us rather than us wave one down outside. If I was running that hotel, I'd change taxi companies as it took ages for it to arrive, then the driver left us to get our bags and the kids into his taxi. The little display inside told us it was -1C outside, no wonder he preferred to sit inside and watch TV on his GPS unit! At least the taxis we have used so far have been honest and used their meter, the guidebook gave the usual warning about scammers targeting foreigners.

Driving here is an experience too, though we have seen way worse. Lane markings are guidelines only and what we'd have as a one way street with no parking is two way with parking on one or other, or both, sides. “Zebra” crossings are indications of where to cross and pedestrians do not have any right of way. There are crossings with red and green men and pedestrians do seems to have right of way on the green man.

Intercity driving is similar. The lane changing isn't so frantic and constant but it seems people here are also born without an indicator finger! For a mountainous country, the motorways and expressways are very flat. It seems the Koreans took the option of going straight through the hills – there are a lot of tunnels – and over the valleys – also a lot of viaducts. It makes for fast, easy driving, no winding up and over hills. And on the whole, the roads are in good condition.

Most of the flat land here is either taken up by cities or agriculture. Only the hills are tree clad. Not a lot is growing at the moment, the wheat fields and rice paddies are lying fallow and the long plastic green houses are empty. A lot of the spare land in the cities too is taken up by agriculture, lots of lines of cabbages and spring onions. We haven't seen much in the way of animal farming, just a few barns full of cattle. While not quite factory farmed, there isn't a lot of green field for them to graze. I imagine it would be the same – if not worse – for chickens.

But back to Andong. We actually took the train from Gyeongju to Andong, it was quicker and cheaper, as well as being a different experience for Samara. It also meant that Samara could get up and walk around if she wanted rather than being confined to a bus seat. This was just a regular train, not the fast KTX which we really wanted to try (but probably wont get the chance) and was just as we expected, clean, fast, and on time.

The tourist office was just outside the train station in Andong and we got some recommendations for hotels from them. Apparently there are no hostels and the only guest house was full. Motels / hotels tend to be about the same price as hostels and guest houses if we go for 2-3 star ones. You do need to be careful with motels as they are often 'by the hour' places or overnight for the same reason. Its not sleazy in the slightest, unless you pick a real dodgy one, its kinda normal here. I guess the sleazier ones are by the hour and the others are overnight, but like the one we stayed in, they leave condoms discretely in the room and there are plenty of porn channels along with “normal” tv channels. Now I'm sure the grandparents are worrying what we are introducing their grandkids too, but please don't worry, we do pick the nicer places, in fact the one we were in has just undergone a refurbishment and is now trying to sell as a hotel. They are good and cheap though, we bargained our triple room down from 60,000KRW to 50,000, cheaper than the guest house / back packers we stayed at in Jeonju. I guess its more of a case that younger people cant afford their own places and live with parents even after marriage and so need somewhere to get some time to themselves. We've met the same thing in other countries too. You've got to love the mood lighting in some of them!

The first afternoon we just had a wander round the city centre. Andong was not what we expected. We both thought it would be, maybe not smaller, but quieter, with less shops, maybe more like a smaller Gyeongju. But just up the road from the hotel was a big HomePlus supermarket/department store and there were streets of high end shops nearby too, selling all the good labelled hiking gear and clothing. Koreans take their hiking etc very seriously and go well kitted out.

We did the cultural experience of HomePlus. Samara loved the escalators (slopes not stairs) so we went up and down a few times. There was a kids club there but it was going to cost about 7000KRW to get her in and it was aimed at bigger and older children. Hence the trips up and down the escalators. We checked out the toys and clothes and things are very similar in price to NZ and the UK. In fact, HomePlus sells a lot of Tesco branded items. The supermarket was a frustrating experience though, the fruit and veggies not only came in pre packed sizes that were too big for us for a couple of days, they were also pretty expensive. If this keeps up, we;ll be desperate for fresh things when we get to the UK. And decent dairy products. We did get some bread and jam for breakfast and some processed cheese slices for lunch, just in case we couldn’t find much at the Hahoe village the next day.

The main reason for coming to Andong was to visit Hahoe. There were a couple of other places we wanted to see too, but bus times worked against us. As it was, we missed the first bus out to Hahoe and had to wait till 10.30am, worrying that we wouldn't have time or would get back late. The buses were not very frequent. It turned out that this raved about must see UNESCO world heritage sight is barely worth visiting in winter. It didn't help that it was really cold and everything to look at was outside. Anything that vaguely looked like a cafe in the village itself was very shut. Even the restaurants back at the Mask Museum and village ticket office were closed. There were a few more places further up the road by the car park, but we didn't walk that far to see if they were open. We ate our cheese sammies inside the mask museum instead.

Hahoe village is one of the traditional pastoral villages that Korea has preserved as the rest of the country goes through rapid economic growth. Unlike some that are purely for show, Hahoe is still a fully functioning community, albeit one where life dawdles slowly in front of tourists. The guidebooks all say this is one of the best to visit. “A charming mesh of over a hundred traditional countryside houses nestling in the gentle embrace of an idle river. This charming mix of mud walls, thatched roofs and dusty trails is no mere tourist construct but a village with a history stretching back centuries”.

It certainly has a history, though many of the buildings do not look old enough. Some have been rebuilt numerous times due to fires etc. Hahoe is the village that the Ryu family originated from. Two well known Ryu brothers, Ryu Unryong and Ryu Sengryong, were born there. The former was a grat Confucian scholar from the Joseon dynasty and the latter was prime minister during the period of the Japanese Invasion (1592 to 1598). Ryu family members have lived in Hahoe for 600 years in its tile and straw roofed houses. The name Hahoe comes from Ha meaning river and hoe meaning turning around, the Nakdong river flows around the village in an S shape.

We were given a map and guide at the entrance with the main places of interest on, and we roughly followed it for a pleasant, though very cold, couple of hours. To our architecturally untrained eyes, the buildings were all of a similar style, but they are mainly in two styles from the Goryeo and Joseon eras. Many of the houses had male and female living areas separate, even with small walls between so they couldn’t be seen from the other area. Its easier to let the photos explain the buildings!

We hardly saw anyone else there apart from a few other tourists and some builders. So much for a fully functioning community! Everyone was hiding inside from the cold. It was hard as there was no where we could feed the kids or change nappies, and we certainly weren't sitting outside. It was an interesting place to walk around, but we wouldn't recommend it in winter! And to think we even thought about staying a night there in one of the guest houses. At least we would have had somewhere inside, and hopefully warm, to hang out! In a warmer season, it would be much better.

From Andong, we headed further north to Sokcho and the Seoraksan National Park – and snow. But that is for the next blog. Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Additional photos below
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29th November 2012

Brave souls
Grace cannot believe that you would go touring in Korea in the winter.

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