Photos are provided by Tom Go and originally appeared on his website at Tom-go.com.
I first wrote about Nagan Folk Village during a time when I was approaching burnout and felt it was unnecessary to summarize every place we visit. Tucking it away as a memory that would never resurface, I thought we’d only visit once and am truly happy to have made a return, which leads me to say that there’s certainly a story waiting to be told about this special place. Thankfully we came back when a friend wanted a look at Yeosu during a hot summer weekend. Pictures are courtesy of Tom Go, a pretty awesome photographer who also doubles as a father of two. Check out his website after reading through this story that I hope you enjoy. Take Care.
Nagan Folk Village with a Photographer
After a day showing Tom the highlights of Yeosu, we meet him in Yeocheon the next morning for Round 2 and head towards Suncheon. Driving out-of-town at 9am on a weekend is about as peaceful as a drive can get in Korea. We beat the inevitable traffic crunch for the most part, though some stragglers have made it out on this Sunday morning. Being the middle of summer, most people will be waking up soon and heading the opposite direction towards the beaches along the south coast.
The clouds are moving out of the way for the powerful sun to do its work so far this morning. Light and beautiful blue skies will rule this part of the day and that becomes clear as we arrive at an empty parking lot near the Nagan Folk Village’s front entrance. Tour buses will be here in an hour or so and tons of eager visitors will be looking to mark the place off their bucket lists. We step out of the air-conditioned car and immediately meet with the uncovered sun. Some dabs of sunscreen and a chug of water later, and it’s time to walk inside the village.
A stone wall surrounds the village and doubles as a walkway. Now more a novelty than anything, it once served as a watchtower for invaders. We cut through the village towards its rear entrance, where a view from that section of wall perfectly captures everything. It’s quiet right now and clearly too early for the crowds but vendors are getting ready for it. Some are dressed in normal clothes and others in traditional hanboks, as there’s no code or uniformity between these families. Some tourists are getting in and out of those colorful dresses as part of a program that’s started in the village.
I bet some people think it’s tacky to recreate declining traditions but I honestly love these types of places, and am happy that people are here trying to make it work. Over 100 families call Nagan Folk Village home and are trying to keep things going no matter the time of year. The day reminds me of our visit to the Goesi Traditional Village in Gyeongsang Province during the previous Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok), where a family let us into their home for part of the morning. The powerful sun quickly reminds me that we’re nowhere near fall and I focus back on our path towards the wall.
Traditional music plays in the background and I notice the distant smell of wood burning for some unknown purpose. We walk past stalls housing see bowls full of homemade makgeolli and jars of rice. Souvenir shops have just opened up and don’t seem too bothered with the people who are there now. Perhaps they’re saving up all that energy for the tour buses? Singers perform long forgotten traditional songs and a crowd forms around them near the rear entrance and just before the wall. We stop and watch for a minute but use a momentary pause to head up the stairs onto the wall’s pathway. It’s amazing just how huge the town looks from above.
Overlooking the entire village, the scene is just as beautiful as I remember before. Smoke rises from a wood fire inside and I’m instantly reminded of home and winter at home, with West Virginia’s Monroe County particularly in mind. The sun is getting higher and in lieu of umbrellas, we dash to shops and trees in between. The history-loving nerd in me is screaming celebratory obscenities but on the outside, I’m just trying to hold back a huge smile. Sweat starts pouring from my forehand and gets my attention once it reaches my chin. Of course, walking around a sparsely shaded village in the middle of Korean Summer is probably why it’s still not too crowded.
Wonderful colors are within every angle of sight and the fully green ginkgo trees stand still and wait for a breeze to move their branches around. Kids and families are inside the recreated town square that depicts corporal punishment but the sun is too hot for us to stop there. We’re more interested in finding some pineapple or orange juice to battle the building heat. Clouds occasionally help but not enough against the July sun. If not for a couple of other stops requiring our attention on this day, I imagine we could spend the whole morning here. We head towards the front entrance and back to the car.
I realize that this will be the last bit of traditional Korea we will likely see. I’m happy there are places like Nagan Folk Village and hope the country continues to support the idea. Korea is on a continuous move away from all this and it’s a good reminder of how they once lived. I’m also grateful for this weekend with our friend Tom and hope that he’s satisfied with the “Yeosu VIP Tour” that I jokingly promised. Having always envied those lucky enough to have family or friends visit from elsewhere, I’m happy that we got to show this wonderful place off to someone.
From here, we move on to other spots in Suncheon before bidding farewell to each other. Tom will be driving back to Busan today and doesn’t worry about leaving late in the afternoon. I hope that he comes away with a sense that life is a little bit different on this side of the small country. This weekend was about showing a friend around but I think it was also about showing our home to someone else. Having friends come to see your home puts it into a different perspective, especially if it’s such a beautiful place like Jeolla Province. For some strange reason, that’s what I needed to put a ribbon on top of the gift that was our life in Korea. After this weekend, I can say that it’s okay to leave the country. All I had to do was show it to a friend who happened to be a photographer before I was happy with leaving it.
Have you ever felt that way? How have you felt about showing friends or family your home? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
Getting To Nagan Folk Village Best Times to Visit
Courtesy of Korea Tourism
If leaving from Seoul, you can catch an bus from Dong Seoul Terminal or Seoul Central City Bus Terminal. From Suncheon Bus Terminal, walk across Suncheon3 – Gil (순천3길) and walk along Palmaro (팔마로) to the nearest bus stop. From there, buses 61, 63 or 68 will get you to Nagan Folk Village. Confirm by asking if the bus goes here (낙안읍성). It’s about an hour to the village so prepare for a fun, hour-long ride! The train is also an option from Seoul and you can book train tickets at Yongsan station or the KTX Website. Buses 63 and 68 will get you from the Train Station to the Folk Village. That journey will take about an hour as well so pack a book if you think a trip in the beautiful countryside is boring.
Best Times to Visit
If wood fires and festive atmosphere are more your thing, then I absolutely recommend visiting Nagan in the colder months with fall being the best time. I say that because the foliage around the village is some of the best I’ve found outside of a national park. Summer is fun as well but seriously, make it to Nagan Folk Village during the colder months and you’ll be very happy.