A visit to Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

One of the highlights of Busan is Gamcheon Culture Village. In recent years, artists & residents have turned what was once a hilltop slum into a beautiful lively neighborhood. Gamcheon is located outside of central Busan, but it’s fairly easily accessed by the city’s metro system.

I took the Metro south from Beomnaegol station, which is where I was staying in a love hotel, to Toseong station. One cool aspect of South Korea’s technological leadership is that the same electronic travel card from Seoul also works in Busan. I wish more places would be in sync like this so everyone doesn’t have to keep buying separate cards everywhere they go. From Exit 6  or 8 from the metro station, there are plenty of signs directing you to Gamcheon Culture Village. You can either follow the main streets called Kkachigogae-ro & Okcheon-ro to the village, or you can find a less-trodden (and steeper) route through the hills. There are also local buses, if you want to save your hill walking energy.

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I followed the main road for a bit, but then took a stairway straight up into the neighborhood. This are isn’t officially part of Gamcheon Culture Village, but some houses are still painted colorfully. There was also this tiled mural bus stop.

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After my nice steep walk through the town, I reached the bridge over the road that signifies the entrance to Gamcheon Culture Village.

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Here I found this somewhat-creepy museum that stated “we inform you that there is a plan to build memorial place in the future after collecting the tombstones scattered all over the place.”

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Considering I had just arrived & had not encountered anything other than a normal town, I was left with many questions.

It’s here that my trip took an unintended diversion. The bridge over the road looks like an entrance, and so I walked up to the top of it & picked one of the two directions to go, expecting to find Gamcheon. I chose wrong, but what I found is a nice walk to include as part of your visit to the area. If you head south, there is a large park with views looking out over the city.

I kept walking up hill towards a green area, ending up at Cheonmasan Sculpture Park. The park is huge, heading south for several kilometers south of Gamcheon. I walked for a while, though not through the entire thing, since the park is so large. There is a service road as well as several hiking trails. I followed the service road up for a while, hoping for a clear view, but instead just seeing lots of trees. Whatever the case, it’s a nice escape from the city below. Occasionally, I could see the buildings in between the forested areas.

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I realized I was near the top of the hill, so I kept going up some stairs. There was an outdoor gym here where several older men were working out among the trees. Here I was along the ridgeline, so I could now see down through the trees in both directions. Continuing along this ridgeline, I eventually found myself at a viewing platform with this amazing panoramic view of Busan.

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While I had gotten lost while trying to find Gamcheon Culture Village, I was glad that I had found this view. It was worth the climb to get to the top of the hill. As nice as the view was, it would be even more amazing on a sunny, clear day. On the day I visited, grey clouds were building across Busan.

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Heading back to the bridge, I finally found Gamcheon Culture Village. The village is actually on the north side of the bridged street, past the bridge, though the signs don’t quite make this clear. Once I realized where I had gone wrong, I found it easily. At the entrance to the village, there is a tourist information center that sells maps of the neighborhood for 2000 won. If you skip it, there are still plenty of signs & maps along the way.

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Just inside Gamcheon there is a series of important signs that you should take the time to read. While the neighborhood has become a tourist destination, it’s important to realize that this is still an area where people live and work, so follow the etiquette guide and be sure to take care to not intrude on the locals. They’re not zoo animals to be gawked at, as pretty as the neighborhood itself now is.

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My first stop was a little museum with history about the area. Most of it was in Korean, but the old photos of the neighborhood didn’t need translating.

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The main path through Gamcheon Culture Village is easy to follow. Even though it may not feel like it, this is still an active street, so watch out for cars. The walls lining it are covered with murals & other art.

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This main road is also dotted with food stands & tourist shops. You can make your own postcards & art. There was a gift shop that had items that have been made in the village. Another was selling traditional Korean paper art.

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Alleyways branch off of the main street, leading to shops & viewpoints. There are also small museums and art galleries along the way. One had photos of locals. Another was this dark room with coiled walls.

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Above this, there was an observation deck that had great views over the entire village. Unfortunately, it was overcast, so the colorful buildings were a bit hard to capture in their full glory, but you can still get a sense of how vibrant the neighborhood is.

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Winding my way along the main road once again, I passed food stands selling fried dough, grilled seafood, fish cakes, and more.

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At one point, I veered off, following signs for a temple that was up a hill on a side street. Unfortunately, it was closed, but someone was walking out of it with a dog, then other dogs tagged along.

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The main road continues its circle above the valley. This main path is relatively flat for most of the way around. There are more viewpoints here that allow for even better photos of Gamcheon Culture Village, since the sunlight will be at your back.

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One of these viewpoints was a small tower called the Tower of the Pleasing Loneliness. Up a set of narrow stairs, there’s a nice view of the village through some slats.

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Another interesting stop was called the Grand Budapest Doll Hotel. It’s nice how local residents have embraced what their neighborhood has become, adding quirky sights into the mix. I did wonder if there are people who live there who are less enthusiastic about how Gamcheon is now a destination. On the whole, the changes seem to be positively received. This article does address both sides of the issue.

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This stretch of the main road has other unique buildings. One was shaped like a teacup, with a handle on the side. Another had a lighthouse on the top.

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Down a side staircase was one of the highlights of Gamcheon Culture Village. Here you will find Cheon Deok Su’s wishing well, which is surrounded by beautiful murals, including these bookshelves.

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Beyond here, it starts to get a bit quieter, though heading downhill, it becomes a wind tunnel. The wind was really starting to pick up.

At the House of Peace, visitors can write a message of peace on the wall. I think the wall is broken, since mine didn’t work.

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I continued following the main road down the hill, a bit too far I had found. There’s not much in this area. In fact, I should have continued along the path at the House of Peace, rather than doubling back. The map was a little bit unclear on this. Eventually, I found myself in another small history museum. The museum had old photos of the Gamcheon from the 40s & 50s. It was interesting to see how much it has changed during the interim, from the Korean War to its modern status as Gamcheon Culture Village.

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From there, I headed back to the main entrance to Gamcheon. I then went back to the Toseong area of Busan, which has a few craft beer bars. While I was drinking, I received an emergency alert. I’d seen one on my phone earlier, but it was entirely in Korean, and I had no way of translating it. I somehow managed to figure out that the warnings were for a super typhoon that was about to hit Busan around 3am. That’s why it was so overcast all day, and why the wind had been growing increasingly stronger. Despite this, people in Toseong & Jagalchi were out having a good time as if a deadly storm wasn’t arriving in a few hours. I stayed out for a while longer, then went to Paris Baguette for some storm provisions, then headed back to my hotel to ride out the storm.

Gamcheon Culture Village is one of the highlights of Busan. Despite the coming storm, I had an enjoyable day hiking around the nearby parks, as well as exploring the village itself. While not everyone may agree, Gamcheon is a shining example of how a neighborhood can turn itself around & become something beautiful that benefits its residents.

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