Morning arrives in Hahoe Village.
It’s just after 5am, and there’s still not much sign of life in this village near the city of Andong in Gyeongsangbuk-do. Gates are closed, and the streets are empty.
Hahoe Village is hundreds of years old, with homes like Bukchondaek pictured below which was constructed in 1862.
Many of the structures are authentic. Here are some of the original roof tiles from Bukchondaek.
Although restoration work has been done here and there, you can still find building materials older than the Republic of Korea, lending a certain beauty you don’t see in newly renovated buildings.
But unlike most other folk villages you’ll find across Korea, Hahoe is still inhabited.
Hahoe is has a lived-in feel, and you’ll see traditional structures alongside anachronistic modern conveniences.
Out in the countryside, it’s still an agricultural community, despite its recognition by UNESCO and popularity as a tourist resort.
But right now, most of the tourists still haven’t gotten out of bed.
Many of the homes here have been turned into guesthouses for visitors. Staying overnight in Hahoe allows you to experience the village before the droves of tourists arrive.
The tourists begin to arrive in late morning, and many of the historic buildings open their gates for visitors to get a look.
One of Andong’s most famous cultural products is Andong Soju, which is made using traditional methods and fresh ingredients.
Hahoe is built inside a curve of the Nakdong River. Across the way looms Buyongdae, a tall cliff. The quickest way to get there is by a small ferry.
The view from the cliff is breathtaking.
The majestic tile-roofed homes once belonged to aristocrats of the Joseon Dynasty, known as yangban. The straw-thatched homes belonged to their servants. Today, the descendants of many of them still live here.
Mr Ryu, the current resident of Bukchondaek, is a descendant of the Pungsan Ryu clan.
He has entertained many VIP guests, such as Lee Cham, the head of the KTO.
And then-President Roh Moo-hyun.
One of the popular sights in Hahoe is Samshindang, a 600-year-old tree said to be inhabited by a goddess. After walking around the tree three times, visitors are invited to leave messages hanging from somewhere around the tree.
One of the things that Hahoe is best known for are the Hahoe masks, which are available for purchase in stores.
Hahoe is where these masks originated. Next to the road into the village, you can see what looks like a graveyard of masks carved into the wood.
Further up the road is the Hahoe Mask Museum, which tells the story behind the Hahoe masks, as well as all other types of Korean masks. The narratives of the maskdances read like a particularly salacious edition of a modern celebrity tabloid.
The museum also has an impressive collection of masks from around the world, ranging from Asia and Africa to modern American Halloween masks. And before you think that Dracula and Frankenstein masks don’t belong in a museum with cultural heritage like the above and below, think about it really deeply.
And of course the maskdances are still performed. Throughout the warm seasons plays are staged in Hahoe on certain days.
In the Baekjeong Madang maskdance, a baekjeong (butcher, derived from the name for Joseon’s untouchable caste) slaughters a bull and offers its heart and testicles to the audience.
In Pagyeseung Madang, a wandering monk tries to have his way with a young woman after spying on her urinating.
The yangban is depicted with a dignity and smugness, and the moving jaw allows for many facial expressions.
With these characters, it is no surprise that the buffoonish imae (village idiot) comes across as one of the more sympathetic characters.
The gakshi (bride) mask is used for the role of local goddess. Wooden Hahoe masks were considered sacred, unlike other Korean masks which were made out of paper and burned after performances.
Andong and Hahoe become the greatest attractions of Korea for a week in the fall, when the Maskdance Festival is held. This year’s festival is from September 28 to October 7.
As night approaches, the tourists board buses out of the village, and it once again becomes peaceful.
The night is especially quiet out here, disturbed only by the night insects and the occasional crackle of a bug zapper.
Without a selection of bars or restaurants, night falls fast, and people take to their rooms, where most will sleep on a traditional ondol, which is much more comfortable than you’d expect.
It’s time to turn out the lights, because tomorrow starts early again.
For more about Hahoe Village, visit this site.