Perched on a hillside in Busan, South Korea, this once colorless neighborhood is now a colorful tourist attraction known as Gamcheon Culture Village (부산 감천문화마을). Although it resembles the colorful favelas of Rio de Janeiro upon first glance, explore within and you quickly realize that color is the only thing the two have in common. Gamcheon is not a slum but rather a vibrant, artistic community with an interesting history.
Ten years ago Gamcheon was a poor, colorless Busan neighborhood with nothing particularly special about it except for how it was founded. Then in 2009 like many other villages (neighborhoods) in South Korea, Gamcheon-dong opted to receive government funds to revitalize their village in exchange for opening the neighborhood up as a tourist attraction.
Gamcheon Culture Village History
Gamcheon was founded in the 1950’s by people who fled to the area to escape the Korean war. Living through such turmoil turned the entire village into a very close-knit community, and some of the houses still belong to the same families. Over the decades as Busan has grown into Korea’s second largest metropolis and home to nearly 4 million people, the village has been swallowed up by the city and is now part of southern Busan.
Beginning in 2009 the buildings were painted vibrant colors and many of the homes had solar panels attached to the roof after receiving government funds for urban regeneration. Artwork and exhibits continues to pop up across the neighborhood in the form of multiple projects ever since then — more photos and details of the individual exhibits further below. In addition, a handful of art studios, boutique cafes, bakeries, restaurants and shops have also opened up along the primary roads of Gamcheon Culture Village and nestled on the alleys in between the old homes. Some of the art studios even offer workshops, both short ones and/or long-term live-in programs.
Artists find inspiration in unique live-in workshops
Busan’s most colorful and artistic area.
Gamcheon Culture Village Map
Although dozens of small alleys and countless staircases form a web through Gamcheon, one main road runs through the middle of it that is large enough for both motorcycles and small vehicles. There is also a second vehicle-friendly road circling the neighborhood.
Gamcheon Culture Village Attractions
I watched one couple get off the bus stop, walk 10 steps to the scenic lookout, spend 10 minutes snapping a few photos and selfies, then walk right back to the bus stop and leave just as fast as they arrived. DO NOT BE LIKE THEM. Take your time exploring Gamcheon Culture Village and the many unique sights and attractions within. At least a minimum of one hour is needed to walk through here, but you can easily spend three hours or more if you take a lot photos or stop in the shops/restaurants.
Photos below from the Wriggling Village are near the red marker on the map and the blue/purple line represents the Stairs To See Stars
The houses of Gamcheon village are packed so closely that they seem to be uncomfortable. However, they look as if comforting each other and living a happy life in harmony. This work expresses the landscape of the village as a living organism which gets along with each other.
— Plaque inscription plus a few grammatical corrections 😉
This piece of art was created in 2012 by Jin Yeongseop during the “Renaissance Project of Sanbok Road”
Stairs To See Stars
AKA “148 Stairs”
Although narrow alleys and staircases weave throughout Gamcheon Village, the largest of these is known as the Stairs To See Stars. The name originated because people get dizzy and see stars while climbing up these 148 steep steps, especially if they were carrying heavy loads. Since no vehicles can traverse the steep steps of the neighborhood’s inner alleys, everything must be delivered by hand ― from mail to basic supplies to furniture and everything in between. (Imagine moving…..screw that!)
Where is Gamcheon Culture Village?
In Korean 부산 감천문화마을
There is a bus stop directly in front of Gamcheon village that makes it is remarkably easy to visit — just check the nearest bus routes using KakaoMap. (That is the national map of Korea because Google maps don’t work there…but that is a long story which I am saving for another blog post. And no that does not mean go and Google the answer right now. Just be patient and wait for my “20 Things You Don’t Know About Korea” post.) 😉
Government-Funded Korean Tourist Villages
Gamcheon Culture Village may have found success after accepting government funds to renovate their village and turn it into a tourist destination, however not all other villages have had similar results. Check out this sign I found posted on the main road at the entrance to one village:
— Derek Freal (@the_HoliDaze) September 23, 2018