Dal Dongnae – The Moon Villages of South Korea

If you’ve ever glanced upon the pastel coloured beauty of the rainbow houses of Notting Hill and sighed “I wish I could afford a place like that” then look no further, I may have found a solution for you…
Welcome to Gamcheon Art Village in Busan, South Korea!

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Located in the hills of Busan, these brightly coloured houses look almost like blocks of lego stacked on top of each other.

Now drawing the attention of many of those who decide to pay a visit to Busan, the streets of Gamcheon see a constant hustle and bustle; their businesses and coffee shops a continual stream of patrons; however this has not always been the case…

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Gamcheon is one of Korea’s few remaining “Dal Dongnae” or “Moon Villages” – once housing some of the country’s poorest people – providing a home to refugees following North Korea’s invasion into the South in the 1950s.
When you think of Korea, you think of high-rises and busy city business districts, so these ‘slums’ provide such an interesting contrast in architecture.

An unsightly shanty town for many years, it wasn’t until 2009 when the Korean ministry of culture, sports and tourism intervened for Gamcheon to pull its unsightly socks up that it became the artistic, street-art  village that it is today.

Gamcheon Boy Mural
Korea’s banksy?

Upon entry to the village, you can buy a map for 2000 KRW.. Being a stingy cow I decided not to buy this but it could have later proved useful as the village is rather expansive and it’s easy to find yourself more lost than Alice in the Queen of Hearts maze – However fear not, you will find a tourist guide every few blocks along able to point you back in the right direction.

The Gamcheon map also doubles as a “scavenger hunt” showing the path to some of the key sights of the village; You will stumble across eccentric shaped buildings hosting free and quirky art exhibits. Once you find one of the key pieces, you can stamp your map and take a postcard to show that you’ve discovered the place – cute huh?

Gamcheon ClockFrom Toseong Station (Exit 6, Line 1), take a Right turn at the intersection and take either the number 2 or 2.2  bus from outside the hospital. 

The Ihwa Mural Art Village in Seoul… once at risk of being demolished, is one of Seoul’s best kept secrets.
Much smaller than Gamcheon, Ihwa is easier to navigate and feels somewhat more rewarding to explore – as you take a turn to a seemingly dead end street and spot an empty staircase decorated with a beautiful aquatic scene or you reach the end of a cul-de-sac and see sheds and outhouses dressed up as though they are post offices and businesses for tiny people, dolls sitting at an outside table in the sun enjoying their cups of tea.

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Ihwa
If you’re skipping Namsan Mountain, it’s worth coming up here if only for the great views of Seoul.

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It takes a fair few steps and an uphill walk (good for your calves!) to get here so kick off your heels, don your comfiest shoes and take subway line 4 to Hyehwa station.  (Ihwa is about 500M away from the subway station. You will note there are markers to guide the way. Hyehwa station area is also nice to explore if you have time ).

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