It’s Saturday night. The sun is beginning to go down. Two foreigners are speed-walking through Seoul to try and make it to the Bukchon Hanok Village in time to see the sunset. In a cycle of frantic map checking and street sign scanning, they arrive at what they believe to be their destination. The area looks familiar but they aren’t certain yet. They continue up a large hill, checking every alleyway for a path to the heart of the village. The houses are looking older and older, and alas they spot some of the traditional Korean garb often sported by visitors and locals at common tourist attractions around the city. They know they’re in the right place.
While the hill was steep, the rewards made it worth it. We found ourselves in the centre of the village, one of the few parts of Seoul that has retained its traditional aesthetic through ancient, original architecture. The entire area is situated on a slope, with winding streets, brick walls and large wooden doors at every turn. As the sky got darker and darker, we walked faster and faster to try and find the beautiful lookout we’d read about prior to our visit.
Just as we were about to call it a day, we turned up a street and saw a small white sign on a stick. “Observatory this way” was pasted on a white arrow, which we of course followed. The signs were few and far between, but we managed to follow the route they had outlined for us, which ended at a dimly lit staircase in a little house. Tired and hopeful, we climbed two flights of stairs and arrived at what looked to be someone’s apartment. An old man emerged, and for 3,000 Won each, we were granted access to his deck. From the deck we could see for miles. It was a perfect panoramic view of Seoul, with the village fading out into the urban landscape.
We arrived just in time for the sun to set, and enjoyed the view over some orange juice that the man offered us upon our arrival. I don’t know if it was our fatigue from walking up those hills, the fact that we were hot and sweaty and hadn’t had a drink in hours, or maybe the orange juice honestly was a sweet nectar sent from the gods, but we enjoyed that orange juice so much we actually scoured our neighbourhood convenience stores the next day looking for it.
We thanked the old man, walked back down through the other side of the village (which was full of restaurants and shops), and found ourselves at a BBQ restaurant in Insadong. We filled up on beer, soju and pork belly and recuperated from our grand search.