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TravelAccommodation
Hanok housingOld-fashioned hospitality
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승인 2010.03.15  17:02:38
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▲ Ragung, a five-star resort in Gyeongju, recreates the luxurious ambience of a hanok residence for royalty or nobles from the time of the Shilla Dynasty. Photo courtesy Ragung

Chateaus and castles, aged estates of the privileged few have been turned into luxury hotels in Europe throughout the 20th century, attracting tourists who hope to relive the nights of past opulence and glory.

So popular is the trend that a plan by Salzburg city to run a hotel out of a former home of the von Trapp family, which was immortalized in the movie “The Sound of Music,” triggered fierce resistance from neighbors.

Compared to the precedents set by the European hospitality sector, the commercial exploitation of hanok, the Korean traditional style of house, house has been rather a non-issue here. As the relatively cheap won has drawn tens of thousands of tourists to Seoul and other major cities recently, hanok-style housing has finally shattered the long indifference of Koreans and started to gain interest among travelers from both home and abroad.

From a simple hanok home in Samcheong-dong redesigned as a wine bistro to a five-star hotel, the commercial development of hanok is in such full swing that even a mediocre hanok home can easily fetch double or even triple the price it would sell for a few years ago. Some Korean homebuilders have recently started to promote the hanok-inspired interiors of their new apartments to capitalize on this hanok “fever.”

▲ Ragung, a five-star resort in Gyeongju, recreates the luxurious ambience of a hanok residence for royalty or nobles from the time of the Shilla Dynasty. Photo courtesy Ragung

The modern-day rediscovery of the potential commercial value of hanok was pioneered by Jeonju, the culinary capital of Korea famous for bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetables) and the birthplace of the Yi Dynasty of Chosun.

Jeonju officials have been brainstorming since early 2000 over candidates other than bibimbap that would enhance the attraction of their city to tourists, when they turned their attention to nearly 700 hanok homes preserved by presidential order but left alone for several decades, languishing in the strict restriction of commercial development within the district.

Jeonju first built a couple of model hanok that would showcase the city's architectural heritage and traditional ways of life. It then subsidized the renovation of scores of existing hanok homes owned by local residents. Its most popular project with tourists, however, was a hanok hostel that opened before the 2002 World Cup, where tourists can experience the authentic traditional life of a Korean home, complete with a Korean breakfast.

Jeonju’s hanok experiment soon spawned copycat projects by other local governments. Jeju, Korea’s favorite honeymoon destination, also has its own hanok hotel and other hostels inspired by the islanders’ traditional residences. The culmination of the hanok renaissance, however, can be found at Ragung, a five-star hanok resort hotel in Gyeongju.

Roughly translated as the Palace of Shilla, Ragung attempts to recreate the luxurious ambience of a hanok residence from the Shilla Dynasty that kings and nobles would call home, but without sacrificing the modern-day amenities that today’s hotel guests with discerning taste expect from a five-star estate. Ragung last year enjoyed renewed publicity after the hit Korean drama “Boys over Flowers” was filmed there.

▲ Hanok housing in Jeonju City. Photo courtesy Jeonju City Hall

A breakthrough made by Ragung’s designer was to build using modular wooden beams, bricks and other devices rather than the conventional practices of traditional carpenters, who relied on components custom-made for each new hanok. The standardization of hanok building invited criticism from some purists but the innovation greatly improved the efficiency of the construction process and reduced the total man-hours, helping to further
spread hanok fever among layman fans.

There might be concern that Ragung’s innovations could signal the end of the hanok as a rare Korean experience in the future if the current buzz about the style continues to spread at this rate. But until then, one can continue to enjoy this unique Korean hospitality.


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