Nagan Folk Village is the only remaining Joseon-era fortress town in Jeollanam. It is a World Heritage Candidate. I also think it’s one of the most satisfying tourist attractions in the southern part of South Korea.
Nagan Folk Village is located in the eastern part of Suncheon.
Since there are no direct buses from Gwangju to Nagan, I took a bus to Beolgyo, and at Beolgyo transferred to a local bus passing by Nagan.
I think Beolgyo offered my most unvarnished look at rural South Korea. Beolgyo itself doesn’t have any tourist attractions, and most tourists go to Nagan Village via Suncheon. As soon as I arrive in Beolgyo bus station, I could already feel that it was more run-down that any other South Korean bus station I had been to. The toilets inside the bus station were broken. The waiting area seemed particularly sparse, and many things looked worn out. The local buses looked like (and probably were) the oldest buses I saw in South Korea – they weren’t just used, they looked like they had a simpler design, from back when South Korea’s automobile manufacturing industry was less sophisticated.
The other passengers were just a couple of old women carrying agricultural produce. The driver had an argument with one of them. As I looked out the window, I could see the people in this area have less in the way of material means than many Koreans who live near tourist attractions.
It reminded me of some of the remoter, rural regions of Taiwan – particularly in the mountains of Taiwan – where a high percentage of the population is Hakka and/or indigenous, and people make do with cars and trucks which have broken seats or some other problem because they still run and they can’t afford new vehicles.
I lived in Taiwan, whereas I have only travelled in South Korea (and never got too far off the beaten track), so I had more opportunities to get to know the less accessible and less tidied-up-for-appearances parts of Taiwan than I ever did in South Korea.
Of course, since Nagan Folk Village is one of the major tourism attractions in the area, it has been tidied up for appearances, and as soon as I stepped off the bus I felt like I was back in the affluent part of South Korea.
After entering the village, and wandering around a little, it became clear to me that the thing to do is to get onto the fortress wall, walk on it, and see the village from above.
I’ve always like getting to a high spot and spying what is in people’s backyards – trees, gardens, recreation decks, weeds, whatever it is. So of course, I liked looking down at the villagers yards and gardens from the fortress walls.
I also passed by all of the gates.
I also noticed that one thatched-roof house has melons growing on top of it.
In the photo below, you can see some thatched-roof houses on the left which are outside the wall, and on the right you can see the steepest section of the wall (which is practically a staircase) amid some bamboo.
The top of that steep section offers some of the best views of the village (such as the photo at the top of this post). Since I went around counter-clockwise, I went down, not up, at the steep section.
I like basically all of the folk villages I visited in South Korea, and I suppose that Hahoe Folk Village is actually more beautiful than Nagan … but I feel that Nagan is in some way more charming that the other folk villages. Maybe it’s just that I was there when the weather was so nice.
In fact, I liked this village so much (and want to share so many photos with you) that there will be a Part 2! Whereas in this part I focused on the way the village looks day, in the next part I will discuss the village’s history and it’s ‘museum’ qualities.