What Is This Place?
Gamcheon Culture Village is uniquely positioned to spark connection, and not just because of its wow-factor aesthetics. The neighborhood of Gamcheon once served as the mainstay diaspora for North Korean refugees fleeing from civil warfare (the 1950s byproduct of the Cold War also involving the UN, the US, China, and the Soviet Union), and formed a district in exile on the slopes of seaport city Busan in southern Korea. What was once a poverty-stricken area has been revitalized via Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism into a beautiful community showcasing art, performance, and dining. Around 4,500 families actually live in the steep hills of rainbow-painted houses, so visitors are requested to keep a respectful volume and stay out of restricted areas.
How to Have a Perfect Date
It’s impossible to wander the twisty streets and climb the wonky steps of Gamcheon Culture Village without reaching out for a steady hand. Let the salty sea breeze mingle with whiffs of fried street food and trigger your appetite, then sample bite-sized delectables and refreshing libations, served by friendly vendors eager to facilitate your conversation (and give you something to talk about after). Admire the incredible creativity of the art installations as well as the beauty of the homes. Capture the view or snap a selfie, and hold the moment in time. You won’t forget it, but later, you’ll be glad you caught it on film.
Get Lost Together
The refugees who settled in Gamcheon adhered to the Taegeukdo religion, which is associated with Korean Taoism, and where the red and blue yin-yang on the Korean flag owes its roots. In adherence to ideology, Gamcheon was meticulously planned in tiers so that no house blocks the view of any behind it, honoring the principle that all community members should prosper. This beautiful sentiment is a gateway to a twisting labyrinth of stairways, alleys, and rooftops, as well as plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. The charming way to follow the suggested path: follow the fish. Painted schools “swim” through the village, pointing visitors to intriguing street art, hidden views, cozy cafes, and eventually, the exit.
Admire the Aesthetics
Art installations abound in the village, with various degrees of interaction encouraged. Follow the potted pants–not a typo–to the top of the hill. Ponder the view with a life-sized Le Petite Prince, the eponymous protagonist of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s magnum opus, and search for hidden literary odes from Harry Potter to Dostoyevsky. Step inside “Saekjeuksigong,” a giant sideways milk carton that serves as both an art gallery and residency for artists. The village of Gamcheon serves as inspiration, workshop, and venue for artists, with creatives taking up residences in the houses and studios. Take advantage of the free access and admire the beauty.If the whimsy of the art doesn’t charm you, the view, including the incredible sunsets over the technicolor village and into the harbor, probably will. What’s more romantic than twilight?
Yooran Park | Dreamstime.com
Gamcheon encourages visitors to engage in a scavenger hunt disguised as a stamp collecting game. Purchase a guide map from the community center, which serves as your direction to treasures along the way. Stamps are located at the Village’s “can’t miss” sites, so by collecting all of the stamps, you’ve hit all the recommended stops. In some instances, you’ll also be rewarded with postcards, but you’re in for the journey, not the win.
Sweeten the Pot
The best thing to do when you’re hanging with your honey is sweeten the pot with delicious treats. A plethora of vendors line the alleys, offering a wide variety of delectables: fried meats, sweet desserts, carnival-style snacks, and a million different beverages. Some of the best? Patbingsu, or red beans on shaved ice with condensed milk; ssiathotteok, a fried pastry stuffed with honey and nuts, or try the Korean spin on churros. There are plenty of coffee shops along the way to keep you caffeinated and on for your date, and complement those sweet treats oh so well. Don’t worry, there are savory snacks to sample as well–try fried chicken or the many flavors of rice cakes, including Busan’s famous fish cake.Feeling like you want to sit down for a while? Try the British inspired menu (fish and chips, bangers and mash) at The Plate, and stay to admire the view. Still hungry? Finish it up with some red bean mochi.
Capture the Moment
The photo ops are not only aplenty but encouraged. Selfies with art installations designed for this exact purpose–from oversized rain boots to angel wings–are made for playful shooting opportunities. Pose inside the “lighthouse” and hug the Little Prince. Play with the friendly neighborhood kitties looking for treats and ask to make a peace sign with the resident hal-moni, the grandmas who carry giant baskets of vegetables. Take pictures for the many other couples too, and they’ll return the favor.
As on any date, you’re going to want to look great, but there’s a lot to consider when going out for a spin around Gamcheon Culture Village. First and foremost, comfy shoes! There’s going to be a lot of walking (especially if the date is going well–this place affords hours of time to explore), especially up and down hills and steep steps. Because you aren’t guaranteed shaded coverage, slap on a little sunscreen before you go. But there’s so much more than just the necessities when it comes to what to wear because Gamcheon Culture Village is the spot to pair up in the Korean custom of matching outfits, also known as “couples costumes.”Maybe it feels a little cheesy, but you’ll see plenty of pairs participating in the fun. Some outfits are exact, others more complementary, but with couples costumes, you can always tell who’s together. Not only are they taking the best photos in their matchy-matchy getups, but everyone else is crushed with envy about how in looooove they must be. Do yourself a favor and at least attempt to coordinate with your date.
Wish for the Future
Remember all those postcards you had so much fun collecting? Don’t forget to send one while you’re here. The special red postbox offers “slow mail service,” ensuring that your recipient (perhaps your date?) will receive the note approximately one year from the mailed day.
How to Get There
Busan is just a short (2.5-hour) bullet train ride on the KTX from Seoul. Plan a day trip at the very least–this seaport city has beaches, street fairs, fresh seafood markets, an international film festival, and so much more.If you aren’t taking public transportation in South Korea, you’re missing out on a connective experience in itself. The urban rail system, Busan Metro, is clean, affordable, convenient, and easy to use. All directional signs are in both Korean and English, and announcements are given in Korean, English, Japanese, and Mandarin. All the stations are numbered, and the numerous exits are as well, so it’s easy to figure out where to exit or return to the subway! You’ll feel like a genius as you show off your savvy ridership skills. Seamlessly transfer from the KTX to Busan Metro.Take the subway (Busan Metro line No. 1) to Toseong Station. Leave the station via Exit 6 (walk straight and turn right). Outside the station is Pusan National University Hospital building (Block C, Cancer Centre, aka the PNU Cancer Centre), where you’ll find a small bus station in front. Hop on the market village bus en route to Gamcheon Culture Village (the 2 or 2-2 minibus). An English announcement will let you know when you have arrived. Have fun on the world’s best date!
Isarint Sangmanee | Dreamstime.com