The brightly coloured buildings of Gamcheon Culture Village are situated in the port city of Busan in South Korea.
The village is hidden within a valley near the coast and is such a good secret that some people living in Busan don’t even know it’s there (I know this because I talked to someone who lived in Busan for over a year and they were completely unaware of its existence)!
Busan Metropolitan City as it is officially known, is the second largest city in South Korea after Seoul. It is home to the largest port in the country and also serves as a gateway for Japan which can be reached by ferry from Busan. However, there is a lot more to this great city than meets the eye and with a convenient rail link to Seoul, makes an excellent destination for anyone visiting the country.
What is Gamcheon Culture Village?
One of the highlights of Busan is Gamcheon Culture Village; a collection of brightly coloured houses nestled on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Japan. The houses are built in step formation with tiny alleyways and steep staircases replete with murals, paintings, carvings and other artistic touches; many created by locals from the village.
Gamcheon is a photographer’s paradise and a wonderful place to lose yourself in the winding alleys, stairways and streets which are alive with colour. It’s not uncommon to see beautiful Korean ladies in traditional dress seemingly floating through the streets in billowing pastel dresses.
Upon first entering Gamcheon you might be mistaken for thinking that you are in Rio De Janeiro amongst the favelas that cling to the hillside or that you have been transported onto the set of a Disney movie, but far from being a dangerous slum or fairytale town, this jewel of South Korea is a vibrant art-village populated by everyday Koreans. Gamcheon has even earned the nickname “Machu Pichu of the East” for its resemblance to the Peruvian site.
A Magical Village
When you get off the bus at the main entrance to the village you can buy a map at the Tourist Information Centre for 2,000 won ($1.75) and collect stamps from various establishments along the way. If you collect all eight then you can win a prize back at the tourist information centre.
One of the best ways to explore Gamcheon is to simply lose yourself in the winding streets and alleys. There are plenty of streetside cafes with exceptional views across the pastel blue and green rooftops as well as stands selling refreshments along the way.
The main thoroughfare can get a little crowded with parties of Korean schoolchildren (the village is used as an example of successful urban redevelopment in school textbooks) but you can soon separate yourself from the crowds as you explore the area.
History of Busan Gamcheon Culture Village
Up until 2009 Gamcheon was more like the favelas and slums of South America than South Korea and was home to refugees who lost their homes during the Korean war. The transformation was the work of various government agencies who encouraged an initiative for local artists to transform the area into an artistic enclave.
It’s important to remember that Gamcheon is a real village with residents trying to go about their daily lives, so be respectful and try and avoid being too intrusive. You can tour the village year round, but its advised that tourists only occupy the area between 09:00 and 18:00 (17:00 in winter).
How to get to Busan Gamcheon Culture Village
Take Metro Line 1 (orange) to Jagalchi. Take exit 3 and walk around the corner to the bus stop in front of a small supermarket. From there you can take bus 1-1, 2 or 2-2. The journey time is about 15 minutes and costs 1,500 won.
Address: Busan Gamcheon Culture Village, 203 Gamnae 2(i)-ro, Gamcheon 2(i)-dong, Saha-gu,
Address in Korean: 부산광역시
Getting to Busan:
Busan is easily reachable from the rest of South Korea and is only 3.5 hours from Seoul by high speed train. The bus is a much cheaper option and takes only an additional 1.5 hours.
Train: The KTX train from Seoul Station to Busan Station takes 1hr 40m. For up to date departures and fares, visit the Korail website.
Bus: Buses from Incheon International Airport take 5 hours to reach Busan and cost 46,000 won.
Ferry: JR Beetle run a Hydrofoil service between Fukuoka in Japan and Busan. Journey time is 3.5 hours and a ticket costs 14,000 yen if you buy at the port or you can get a discounted price by booking online with Direct Ferries.
If you are travelling onward to Japan, be sure to check out the incredible Yakushima Island.
Need somewhere to stay while visiting Busan Gamcheon Culture Village? See Booking.com for hostels and hotels in the area.
Looking for more to see in Busan?
The city has many other attractions including the Beomeosa and Yonggungsa temples which represent fine examples of Buddhist architecture.
There are many museums including the modern history museum and museum of art.
If you have more time consider a trip to the city’s beaches and wildlife areas such as the bird sanctuary on the Nakdong River Estuary or Dongbaek Island.