There have been many wonderful places we’ve seen in our 3+ years in South Korea. While we’ve enjoyed many, there is only one that we can call our favorite Korean getaway: Andong. As one of our first places to visit outside of Seoul, Andong represents one of our first tastes of traditional Korea and the spectrum of culture present in this country. Since that first real cross-country adventure after leaving America, we have returned to this rural city on an almost yearly basis. There is quite the debate now about which is our favorite season to visit this charming village in Gyeonsangbukdo, but we’ll show you the facts and let you decide!
Our first few visits to Andong were during the winter months. On our most recent trip, however, we made our yearly pilgrimage during summer. Just like in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps into a world of Technicolor, everything about the Hahoe Village changed. What was once a sepia-toned portal to a bygone era transformed into a living village of flowers and tree-lined paths.
This last trip was with our good friends Scott and Megan as a “Bucket List” trip before they leave Korea. We had planned to be tour guides since we’ve been to Andong several times before, but the change in season from our normal visits meant that we felt as if we were seeing the Hahoe Village for the first time right alongside our good friends. While we knew the best places to eat jjimdalk and where our favorite alleys to photograph were, but it seemed like a new place entirely. The tree-lined walkways that bud cherry blossoms every spring were lush green and offered a much needed shade from the heat of the day.Where once we’d found picturesque landscapes with exposed neighborhood, now we found living trees obstructing our voyeuristic views of people’s property. The greenery and flowers reminded us that this is a functioning neighborhood with children and bus routes and not just a cultural village filled with intrusive amateur photographers.
Our first two visits to Andong were during the frigid months of February and December. Taking full advantage of long weekends and Seollal (Lunar New Year), we have pilgrimaged to this remote area twice to enjoy its charm, culture, and (not a surprise) food. In winter months the Hahoe Village has a certain tint that pervades both soil and sky. The walls the run through the village along pathways and property lines emit a sepia tone that resonates with the straw that thatches many of the roofs in the area. On overcast days, this yellow-brown tone reflects in the sky creating an atmosphere very similar to that found in old photographs. This might have been what originally cemented our love for Andong on that first visit: the surreal wave of sepia that transported us to different time before digital and Instagram filters. We didn’t notice at the time, but Hahoe’s lack of trees also allowed for unobstructed views and more photo opportunities of the color-graded village.
Pros and Cons
Since we have now visited Andong in both the winter and summer, we are left with a list of things that we thought were better / worse in each season. We still can’t quite agree on which season we prefer exploring the area, so we will let you decide for yourself! Here’s our list of pros and cons for both seasons.
We were pretty mesmerized by all the color in the village. The village is surrounded by mountains and all that green up against the summer sky was simply gorgeous. This is also the peak tourism time for the area, so all of the gift shops, guesthouses, restaurants, and cafes were open for business and offered great respite from the heat. We were able to duck into many new stores that were never opened during the winter and enjoy iced coffees, frozen treats, and souvenirs.
The sun was blazing while we were there and the temperatures were unforgiving. We had to walk from shadow to shadow in order to keep out of the worst of it. After walking around for a while, we noticed Stephanie’s face getting really red and she seemed pretty out of it. We headed back to our little hanokstay guesthouse located in the outskirts of the village to chill out in the air conditioner. Stephanie was in the middle of some pretty intense heat exhaustion and it took her a while to recover. If you do travel here during the summertime, be sure to tour the village in the morning and then duck into a cafe or restaurant to get out of the heat of the day.
The village is basically empty the entire time you are there leaving you feeling like you have stepped through time. This is the low season for most tourism in Korea and can be the best time to check out new places if you are willing to risk the cold. We loved walking through the village and enjoyed having the peaceful and quiet setting all to ourselves. Plus, no risk of heat stroke! Hurray!
It is cold. Not unbearably cold, but you are going to be outside in the elements for the entire time you are there, so bring some hotpacks and coffee with you to help keep you warm. Also, most of the gift shops, stores, cafes, and restaurants inside the village are closed for the season, so plan accordingly. To get here, you need to be dropped off at the ticket office and then take a bus into the village. Near the ticket office, there are plenty of stores and restaurants that will be open during this time, so it’s not a total bummer!
We have stayed in two different hanokstay guesthouses both in the winter and in the summertime. Even though these houses offer little in the way of modern conveniences, ie
chairs beds furniture, we still highly recommend trying it out! Be open minded as these are traditional houses and you are going for the experience. Here’s what we thought of both our summertime and wintertime hanokstay.
There is nothing better than a weekend getaway during the Korean winters to a hanokstay guesthouse. The ondol floor heating system will keep you toasty warm all night long inside your little hut. The owner will diligently shovel in coal briquettes into a furnace and passages that run underneath the floor boards will be heated by the smoke which will transfer the heat to the floor. Your bedding, which is on the floor, will then be perfectly warm throughout the night. The heat on your back will relax your muscles and then you are off to dreamland.
We opted to stay inside the Hahoe Village during our recent trip. It was the right move. After walking around all day getting hot and tired, we were just a few steps away from our hanokstay guesthouse which offered fans and air conditioning. We were feeling a bit bummed out about missing out on exploring the village, but the next morning, we were able to wake up and be right there and ready to go.
Our Favorite Place in Korea?
It’d be incredibly difficult to make this claim since we have so many fond memories in so many places. Andong, though, gun to our head- would probably be the first city we blurted out. It’s certainly not exciting and activity-loaded like many places we explore, but it has something that we’ve never really been able to pin down with precise words. We were overjoyed to visit the Hahoe Village with our friends and share this place that has, so many times, captured our imagination. We aren’t sure how long we will stay in Korea, but we’re fairly certain that a minimum of one more trip to Andong will be in the works. Who knows, maybe fall?!