Before I went to Seongeup Folk village, I found some very mixed reviews. Some people said it was a totally authentic, traditional village, and that it was free and relatively non-touristy (for a tourist attraction on Jeju Island), and other reviews said the opposite.
First of all, I reached the village by one of the ‘inter-village’ buses. Jeju island has many, many villages, and some are not on the main bus lines. Thus, there are ‘inter-village’ every hour or two during daylight hours which connect all of the villages in the vicinity so that all villages on the island have some kind of public transportation. Of course, since the purpose of the bus is to connect as many villages as possible, it takes a slow and indirect route.
I don’t remember how we managed it, but despite the fact that I don’t speak Korean, and the aged driver doesn’t speak English, we had a lively conversation. I remember there was a Teresa Teng song playing on the bus, and I mentioned that it was a Taiwanese song, and the driver insisted it was a Korean song even though a) I recognized Teresa Teng’s voice and b) the lyrics were in Mandarin.
Even though it took a really long time, I thought riding the inter-village bus was cool. I had just arrived in Jeju island, and aside from the outskirts of Gyeongju, I hadn’t seen any of rural South Korea yet.
When I arrived in the village, I figured out why different reviewers had drastically different opinions. There is a ‘tourist trap’ section in the village, which has buildings which look old and traditional, yet look fairly monotonous as well. It has a bunch of demo areas, and I saw a few Mandarin-speaking groups go through the ‘village’, and people persuading the Mandarin-speaking tourists to buy stuff. I understand Mandarin, but the villagers who specialize in extracting money from Mandarin-speaking tourists didn’t know that, so they left me alone.
While in Jeju, I heard some of the local people complain about the Chinese. Jeju is a self-governing province, and as such has much more flexible rules for foreigners than other parts of South Korea. For example, passport holders of many countries can enter Jeju island visa-free, even though they would require a visa to visit mainland South Korea (the two largest countries this applies to are China and India). Furthermore, anyone who makes an investment above a certain amount of money – and even buying an expensive home would count as an ‘investment’ – is granted permanent residency status on Jeju island. Many wealthy Chinese people are taking advantage of this and buying expensive homes on Jeju island, driving up the cost of property on Jeju. As the person who told me about this said, ‘the Chinese don’t want to stay in their own country, so they are buying Jeju island’.
Anyway, I found the real folk village (as in, it existed before the 20th century) when I reached one of the old gates.
By the way, all of the pictures in this post depict the village found inside the village wall – I didn’t think the photos of the tourist trap section were interesting enough to post here.
Inside the village is an old Confucian academy from the Joseon Dynasty.
The village also has a well-preserved Joseon dynasty government office.
This village was once the capital (as in, it had the central, highest-level government) of Jeju Island.
The Joseon dynasty had put the government of Jeju Island in Seongsan village (next to Seongsan Ilchulbong) on the eastern coast of the island, but Seongsan village kept on being attacked by typhoons and Japanese pirates.
Therefore, the Joseon government moved the administration of Jeju Island inland to Seongeup village, which was less vulnerable to typhoons and pirates, and then they put a wall around the village to keep it extra-safe.
Apparently, most of the people living inside the walled village belong to families who have been living in the village for centuries.
A few houses are no longer occupied by their owners, and are open to the public (I this this specific housing compound was built in the early 20th century).
The houses in the village exemplify traditional Jeju architecture, with thatched roofs, and lots of lava rock. It felt a bit like Penghu to me (in some ways, the Penghu archipelago is to Taiwan what Jeju island is to South Korea).
The village has lots of vegetable fields, often with barriers made of lava rock. Vegetable-fields-surrounded-by lava rock, I would find, is a very common sight on Jeju island.
The village has an old well, again, constructed from porous lava rock.
Finally, I made my exit by what apparently is the main gate.