More expats living in traditional hanok homes in Seoul

The Dong-a Ilbo, April 2 2012

"So beautiful! Fantastic!"

This is what foreign visitors said while visiting the Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional Korean village in central Seoul`s Gahoe-dong neighborhood, as they took pictures of traditional Korean houses lined up along the streets.

A British national said, "Before coming to Korea, I heard that hanok (a traditional Korean home) villages are one of the main travel courses in Seoul. I`m really impressed how beautiful Korea's traditional houses are."

Gahoe-dong and Samcheong-dong, the two neighborhoods in central Seoul where hanoks are concentrated, have grown into a major venue for foreign tourists and a popular residential area among expats in Seoul. Some have moved into hanoks there while others are staying at hanok guesthouses to experience the traditional Korean lifestyle. This is because of the unique dwelling environment that hanoks offer, especially the inclusion of family and nature under a single roof.

According to Seoul`s Jongno district Sunday, a combined 318 expats lived in Gahoe-dong and Samcheong-dong as of March, with 20-30 percent living in hanoks. French and American workers were the most numerous, having bought hanoks ranging in price from 40 million (35,335 U.S. dollars) to 50 million won (44,169 dollars) per 3.3 square meters.

According to the hanok culture department of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, seven non-nationals owned hanoks in the two neighborhoods.

A real estate agency in Gahoe-dong said, "A French man in his 50s sold a hanok for 900 million won (795,053 dollars) to move to a bigger hanok worth more than 2 billion won (1.77 million dollars). In other cases, three to four foreigners rent one hanok to share rooms."

Remodeling a hanok to embrace more modern features is also gaining popularity among expats. A residence complex for diplomats with 15 hanok units in Gahoe-dong is a case in point, being a luxury residential area for expats given its location at the upper part of the Bukchon Hanok Village.

A complex employee said, "People living here are mainly foreign diplomats and corporate executives. Though the complex is located in a main tourist area, foreigners are very satisfied due to the quiet atmosphere."

A source at a company providing housing services for expats said, "Foreign corporate executives are showing increased interest in hanok. More people are also looking for a fusion-style home that maintains hanok features with increased living convenience."

A personal note: My wife and I bought our hanok in 1988 which has been our home in Gahoe-dong ever since. David Kilburn

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