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Korea, Seoul – Experiencing Korean homestay at Namhyundang Hanok 南岘堂

Namhyundang_01One of the best ways to experience a foreign culture is to live and eat like a local. On my first trip to Korea, I chose to ditch the modern hotel room to stay in a traditional Korean ‘hanok’ in Seoul. Referred to as living museums, hanoks contain in their layout and structure the history of ancient Korean architecture and society, and the warm hospitality of a Korean family that I experienced at Namhyundang.Namhyundang_02Hanoks are gaining in popularity both as day-trip photo-ops or actual accommodation. Usually located near cultural attractions, traditional hanoks are great places to stay if you are planning to visit the palaces or museums. Namhyundang is located in the Anguk area near Exit 5 of Anguk train station. Namhyundang_03Tucked away in a quiet alley of the neighborhood of Gyeongun-dong just beside Kyodong Elementary School, Namhyundang is well-placed for an exploration of traditional Korean culture – it’s a mere 10 minutes’ walk from the neighbourhood of Insadong (the very heart of traditional Korean culture) and close to several palaces and shrines including the main Gyeongbuk-gung and Changdeok-gung, Unhyeongung (which Namhyundang was named after) and Cheondogyo Temple. Food is aplenty, and 경동시장 Kyungdong Market is also nearby.Namhyundang_04There are two Korean restaurants conveniently located along the same alley as Namhyundang, so no worries about satisfying hunger pangs.Namhyundang_05We met a dour-faced kitty on the way…oopsie, sorry to disturb your nap :p Namhyundang HanokNamhyundang’s owner Mr Lee Sang-Am welcomed us warmly. He took the effort to chat with us so as to get to know his guests better, and shared with us a bit more about the history of the hanok we will be staying in. We were relieved that he speaks good English and understands Chinese and German (he even taught me how to pronounce my name in Korean!).
Namhyundang_06aLook at all the lovely messages sent by his previous guests!Namhyundang_06A typical hanok is characterized by wooden pillars, mud walls, paper-pasted windows, a daecheongmaru (wooden floor) for temperature control during different seasons, and a courtyard/garden. Namhyundang is a typical hanok built over a hundred years ago, and recently renovated in 2011 into a traditional homestay. Guests can choose from the 5 rooms available (yes, only 5 so book early).Namhyundang HanokTraditionally, only nobles (yangban) were allowed to use clay tiles for their roofs, while the rest of the population had to make do with thatch.Namhyundang HanokWhat a cool-looking sewing machine!Namhyundang HanokThe homestay is suitable for all types of travellers from single travellers to small families. The courtyard can be used for a cosy family meal. (Photo from Namhyundang)  
Namhyundang Hanok
Here’s what a typical hanok room looks like. My first thoughts were – where’s the cupboard and TV? LOL. It was quite amazing how our Korean ancestors managed to live so simply, and it made me think what I have been taking for granted. Thankfully, modern ‘necessities’ such as electrical sockets, air-conditioning and wifi have been added for the convenience of today’s guests.Namhyundang HanokExcited to play Korean for the week :) We had the slightly larger family room for the first night, courtesy of Mr Lee who extended his kindness to upgrade us who arrived exhausted and pretty late in the night.
Namhyundang HanokWalkway to the bathroom…will I have to dig my own poophole and boil my own bath water?Namhyundang HanokThe bathroom was clean with all the modern amenities you can think of – heater, washing machine (free for guests to use), hot shower, and even a toilet seat warmer! Woohoo!Namhyundang HanokThe kitchen is also available for guests to use. The owner has also thoughtfully stuck the contacts of nearby takeaways for guests who want to order in. Keep the Korean fried chicken takeaway away from me, temptation!Namhyundang HanokCock-a-doodle-doo! Namhyundang HanokA simple breakfast of boiled eggs, bread and yoghurt, which is included in the room rate, is served daily in the main living hall. We were rushing out one morning and didn’t have time for breakfast, so Mr Lee packed some milk and bananas for us to eat on the go. It was a small gesture, but I was touched.

Mr Lee and his wife were amazingly kind hosts – they let us leave part of our luggage at the hanok when we went away to Jeju (not that the hanok was THAT huge to afford much space), and on the day that we left, Mr Lee made us tea and even drove us to our next destination nearby. Namhyundang felt safe and comfortable like family, and I would visit Namhyundang on my next trip to Seoul.
Namhyundang HanokI enjoyed my initial experience with a Korean homestay, and would highly encourage you to stay in a hanok on your next trip to Korea.

A key part of Korean culture, hanoks today are preserved in hanok villages (hanokmaeul), with famous ones being Jirye Art Village, Yangsajae, Jeonju Hanok Village, Rakkojae, and Bukchon Hanok Village. With affluent neighborhoods like Bukchon, it’s hard to believe that hanoks were once a sign of poverty, considered old-fashioned and uncomfortable. For the ultimate hanok indulgence, stay at RakKoJae in Seoul – a night’s stay at the hanok starts from 180,000 won to more than 400,000 won.

When choosing your homestay, in addition to room size and rate, you can also consider its proximity to nearby attractions, availability of Korean-style meals (and modern amenities just in case some can’t live without a television or air-conditioning) and if they offer cultural activities such as tea ceremonies, pottery making and traditional Korean folk games. A number of Korean homestay website listings are available, and do check out reviews on Tripadvisor to make sure you know what you are in for – it may not come with chairs, televisions or beds, but it sure comes with warm Korean hospitality and the opportunity to experience a piece of Korean history :)

Namhyundang 남현당
Address: 446-15, Samil-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone: +82 2 2659 8788 (Look for Mr Lee Sang-Am )
Email: salami44@naver.com
Website: www.namhyundang.co.kr
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Namhyundang
Languages spoken: Korean, English, German

Getting there:
BUS: Take the Airport Limousine bus (No. 6011) at Incheon International Airport to Anguk Subway Station (around 60 minutes; slightly more expensive but you do not need to change train lines and can snooze all the way).
OR
SUBWAY: Alight at ANGUK STATION
Depending on which subway line you take, exit at:
Line 1 Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Station. Exit 5 OR Line 3 Anguk Stn. Exit 4. (transfer from Incheon Airport)
Line 5 Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Station. Exit 5 (transfer from Gimpo Airport)

At Anguk Station, walk towards Unhyeongung (small palace about 3 minutes’ walk away), and you will shortly reach the main entrance of Kyodong Elementary School. Turn left into the small alley and you will pass by a restaurant and bookstore on the right. Namhyundang is on the left side at the end of the alley. See here for detailed directions with photos.

Room Rates (Subject to change, check with owner for latest rates)
Single room : 70,000 Won (breakfast inc)
Double room : 90,000 – 100,000 Won (breakfast inc)
Triple Room : 110,000 -130,000 Won (breakfast inc)
Surcharge : per additional person 20,000 Won
Photos of Rooms
Booking Information
Nearby attractions

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Taiwan – Living in History at 銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

欢迎来到銃樓民宿 Welcome to Chong Lou Minsu!

When visiting heritage-rich Kinmen, there is nowhere better to stay than a historical resident house. These traditional southern Fujianese 闽南 buildings often came with a rich history and heartening stories as Kinmen was the site of fierce fighting between Communist and Nationalist forces when the latter withdrew from the mainland in 1949. I stayed at Chong Lou Minsu 銃樓民宿 located in the Shuitou village cluster.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

One of the most distinguishing cultural characteristics of Kinmen would be the red-bricked Min-Nan style architecture and villages, mirroring those found in Zhangzhou and Quanzhou where most Kinmenese immigrants came from.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Shuitou in Jinchen Town was a community inhabited mostly by the Huang clan. The 18-house complex of the Huang clan, constructed during the Qian-lung reign is characterized by its lower gates and walls, wide roofs, smooth and flat stone plates in the yards, and alleys between houses leading to narrow passes.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Spotting the signage for our minsu

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Chong Lou Minsu was the movie setting for a Taiwanese idol drama Summer Fever 戀夏38℃. It was the home of the main actor Ah Kuan 阿宽。This signage at the entrance was left untouched after the movie was completed. It’s also easier for us to identify which is our minsu out of the umpteen houses along the row!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Poster of Summer Fever proudly displayed in the minsu

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

这不是阿宽,是阿凯 This is not Ah Kuan, but Ah Kai who loves to get into my camera frame lol. Scoot! :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Looking at the western-style Quanzhou white stone wall house built in 1934, I felt like I stepped back into history. Nice.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Shuitou villagers mostly engaged in agriculture or fishery, which may explain the use of fishes to adorn the house exterior. Fishes also mean abundance “鱼=余” in Chinese so it’s a prosperity symbol.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

OMG, this is the first time I am seeing a hand-drawn well pump, and it works! Someone quick pass me a bucket of clothes to wash haha!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

I may be living in history, but I still have wifi to link me back to civilization! Phew, and I was just about to hunt for carrier pigeons ☺

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

An air of serenity greeted me at Kinmen; everything just slowed down and bade me to enjoy the calmness…a hard-earned one considering the years of war the island had gone through.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Say ni hao to the minsu owner Sister Li. She is a burst of energy and so friendly! She used to drive a 小蜜蜂 or Little Bee, which is a truck selling snacks and everything you can think of to the army boys around Kinmen. Maybe that’s why she has a motherly feel about her, and very huggable haha!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The main hall of the minsu decorated with cultural momentos and memorabilia

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The wind-lion god 風獅爺 is something very symbolic of Kinmen. Seen here as part of a chess set.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Side hall

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Little courtyard perfect for a little chat or intimate meal gatherings

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Kitchen

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Chong Lou has rooms that can accommodate 1 to 8 people. They come with the essential basic amenities such as air-con, TV, wifi and ensuite bathroom.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Exploring the rooms upstairs

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Large enough for the whole family or a group of friends

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

I was intrigued by the stairwell with an iron grille. In the past, residents would lock up this stairwell when they slept at night to prevent pirates from sneaking in and kidnapping them. Of course, there is no need for that now.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

And here’s my cosy little room! Shucks I should have brought my cheongsam to match the ambience lol

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Toilet equipped with bath towels and shampoo/bath gel. And flushing system :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

It’s a nice, sunny day to explore Chong Lou’s surroundings!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Most of the Min Nan style houses here are relatively well-preserved. I was soaking in the atmosphere with much enthusiasm, and couldn’t stop taking photos.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Jinshui Elementary School
The building of Jinshui Elementary School in 1931 at the sponsorship of overseas Shuitou natives marked the beginning of new-style school architecture in Kinmen. During the Japanese occupation, the school had served as a wartime makeshift hospital. It was later transformed into an elementary school.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

A very important place to note just opposite the school – food! :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Look what I spotted growing just beside Deyue Tower 得月楼 – a tree full of longans! Yumz!!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

All in a day’s work

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The minsu provides a hearty breakfast. Just come eat with the rest of the guests at the communal dining hall, very village-feeling indeed. And a great way to make friends :)

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

This Cantonese porridge, a Kinmen delicacy, was chockful of ingredients and delish to the max! And I am still thinking of it…

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Bon Appetite!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

A group photo of us all from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore
We may come from different parts of Asia, but we are one happy big family in Kinmen!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

And the 2 monkeys showing how much they enjoyed Kinmen :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu
金門鎮金城鎮前水頭84號
Tel: 0980 988 077 / 0919 761 231 (Look for 李碧玉 Li-jie/Sister Li)
Website: www.5657.com.tw/baewan
Email: libe03@yahoo.com.tw

Getting to Kinmen
You can reach Kinmen by domestic flight in approximately 1 hour. Flights are aplenty daily from 3 domestic carriers from Kao Hsiung, Taipei, Taichung or Tainan. You will fly to Kinmen Airport金門尚義機場。

Another way to get to Kinmen is via Xiamen International Ferry Terminal or just from Wutong port which is close to Xiamen airport (around 30 mins). Another way is from Quanzhou Shijin port which takes about one hour (Taiwan passport only).

When to go Kinmen?
Kinmen worth visiting all year round. The annual average temperature is around 21 degrees Celsius, though it can get quite hot in summer (hats and sunscreen are a must unless you are aiming for aboriginal-worthy tan skin). There are northeasterly winds during the winter and the rainy season runs from April through to September. Travel between Taiwan and Kinmen is often affected by heavy fog during early Spring.

In spring, admire the golden sea of rapeseed flowers. In summer, hang out on the beach. Autumn is the best season to feast on fat yellow fish and crabs. Come winter, migratory birds make for an impressive sight.

Map of Kinmen: bit.ly/KinmenMap

Getting to Chong Lou Minsu
Map:
http://www.5657.com.tw/baewan/p04.htm
Public Transport: Take the public bus from Kinmen Shang Yi airport to Jincheng Bus Station金城車站, change to Bus 7 towards Shuitou Village水頭村莊. Alight at Li Gong Suo Zhan 里公所站, turn left and walk 1 minute to the minsu.

Pick-up from airport or car rental (with GPS navigation) can be arranged by the minsu, contact Sister Li via mobile or email for more details. You can ask the minsu to help arrange for sight-seeing activities as well. I would recommend getting a driver/self-drive if you can so as to save travelling time and see more attractions. It’s pretty affordable.

Read more posts on Kinmen
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