Whenever I am faced with a handful of days unspoiled by work, my mind immediately vaults into travel mode. I go through the list of places that I would like to visit and figure out how much I can fit into my limited amount of freedom.
This year, Korea celebrated lunar new year (설날) with a 5 day holiday; if you understand Korean vacations then you will be aware that this is potentially the longest you will go without working in this diligent country. The wanderer within me got incredibly itchy feet just thinking about this stretch of liberation. However, this is the most congested travel period worldwide, so each time I looked at flights or ferries to visit new exotic places I was faced with extortionate prices that were steadily increasing. It got so expensive that I decided to focus purely on Korea, a place that I probably haven’t explored enough in my 18 months of calling it my home.
My research led me to Andong (안동), a small agricultural city north of Daegu. It stood in direct opposition to Ulsan, or as it is affectionately termed ‘the industrial armpit’. Instead Andong promised an insight into a somewhat more traditional Korea. The city birthed two impressive recipes which have spread across the nation; Andong soju (안동 소주) and jjimdak (찜닭). After numerous incidents with copious amounts of soju, I have opted to stay well away from this rice liquor, but I did buy a bottle of the good stuff (which boasts a remarkable 40% proof) for a friend. However, I am a massive fan of jjimdak, so one of the first things I did upon arriving in Andong was source out the acclaimed dish. Nestled in the market centre of the city was a whole street dedicated to this dish. Every restaurant on this miraculous road sold the food that made Andong famous. My appetite was satisfied with the immense platter of braised chicken, vegetables and glass noodles in a succulent sweet and spicy soy based sauce.
Due to the cities small size and aging population there wasn’t much on offer in terms of nightlife, but it certainly exceeded itself in other respects. In the area neighbouring the train station (신세동 벽화마을) there is an array of sweet if somewhat amateur street art that brightens up the dull exterior walls of various buildings. Also, you can take a pleasant river walk east of the city towards Wollyeongo Bridge (월령교).
The fundamental attraction of Andong is Hahoe folk village (하회마을). The village is a 40 minute bus ride out of the centre on the number 46; this bus only runs 10 times a day between 6.20 and 18.20. Hahoe was established in the 16th century and many of the buildings from that time have been sustained. The traditional homes are enveloped by the Nakdong river which winds its way round the enclosure. In order to get there before the swarms, I caught an early bus. The village exuded a sleepy mysticalness in the tranquil morning and the lack of human activity transported me back to a Korea gone by.
The village neighbours Hahoe Mask Museum which is worth a look. Also in this area are an array of restaurants, built in the folk style, that offer food from the region which mostly consists of jjimdak and salty mackerel.
The focal point of the trip was that I had the pleasure of staying in a traditional Korean house. There are some available in Hahoe, but I opted for one in central Andong. It was such a charming little place that I felt wistful about Korea’s history.