Thursday, January 5, 2017

Masks and fireworks in Andong Hanok Village

A traditional home in Hahoe Folk Village

Last summer I went to stay in the Hahoe folk village near Andong, and it was one of the best things I've done in Korea so far. The city of Andong is about an hour north and inland from Pohang. You can get a bus there from the Pohang intercity bus terminal and the ride out there is actually pretty scenic, passing through valleys full of rice fields and mountains. From the Andong bus terminal, catch another local bus into the Hahoe village.

The village is on a round piece of land like a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by rivers. The first thing you'll see when you arrive is the Hahoe mask museum. It is absolutely worth your time.

Hahoe hand-carved wooden masks

Models of Hahoe mask dance performers

Hahoe village is famous for the carved wooden masks that have been made there for centuries. They are similar in some ways to Kyogen masks from Japan, in that they are meant to be satirical caricatures of the most common people in society. They are used in traditional folk dances which are funny, crude and playful. The dances make social commentary and feature archetypal characters like "the maiden", "the farmer/peasant", "the youth/scholar", "the drunkard", "the government official", etc.

I visited Hahoe with Anna's brother, Will. We made the museum our first stop on arriving in town and were really impressed by the collection. It houses a lot of beautiful masks made in the village and in Korea on the first floor, and on the second has an extensive collection of masks from around the world. 


Japanese Noh and Kyogen masks

Oni (top) and different styles of Tengu (Japan)

Sri Lanka


Unfortunately, I don't remember where this was from, but it's amazing!


Inuit masks from North America

A lot of people visit Hahoe as a day trip from Andong city, but I think it's a lot more fun to stay in the village. We rented a room in a traditional house in Hahoe, which wasn't expensive and gave us the chance to try living like a local. Our room had sleeping mats (like futon), blankets, an air conditioner (very important in July), and was actually really comfortable. 

House where we stayed

Our room

We spent the next day wandering through the village, checking out all the old houses. I've been to Hanok villages before, but this one somehow felt more authentic; it's location in the countryside and the fact that people are still living there makes it feel like living history. Many of the Korean tourists rented these little scooters to get around town, but the scooters didn't do well on hills - not really sure that's worth your money.

Gardens next to the village

An old church in a Korean-style building

Chili peppers

Playing on old-fashioned Korean swings

Get some kimchi with your soda

Walking along the edge of the village

Pretty much all of the restaurants were located over by the mask museum, slightly outside the village. They close early in the day, so be sure to eat early or bring extra food if you plan to be there in the evening. We had some great local food over by the museum.

One of the traditional homes in the village

House with a Korean-style thatched roof

A sacred tree

A more secluded home

Village guardians

The weekend we went just happened to be during a theater performance in the village. A big stage had been built floating over the river, right across from a cliff on the opposite side. We got the last pair of free tickets and got lucky with front row seats. The show was in Korean, so I didn't understand everything that was happening, but it was surprisingly entertaining. There was a big fan that sprayed water from the river up behind the stage, which they projected things like tigers and dragons onto, and the local kids were recruited to walk around in cute costumes carrying lanterns and singing. At the end of the show there was a fireworks display, and overall, the whole thing was really fun.

The floating stage on the river

Spray of water behind the stage, because where else would you project a big tiger's head?

The grand finale

On our last day, we caught a little ferry boat across the river near where the stage had been to the other side. There was a temple there and a trail that leads up to the top of the cliff. It's a quick hike up, probably about ten minutes, and from the top you get a great view of the entire village surrounded by the river.

On the ferry

Small temple across the river
View of Hahoe Village from the cliff top

Looking out across the valley

Next we went to see a mask dance. If you've ever heard traditional Asian music, you might describe it as "shrill" - it does take a little getting used to. There were a few musicians playing old-fashioned instruments like Korean drums, flutes, and cymbals, and the sound is very percussive and high-pitched. Someone was singing or chanting in Korean, probably describing the setting of the scene. There were a few dances depicting satirical situations, like a monk chasing after an attractive maiden, a farmer trying to sell meat to the audience, and government officials arguing over something. The actors frequently interacted with the audience during the performance, something I wasn't expecting.

Here is a video I took of the performance (be warned, the music is very high-pitched.) The characters in the performance are: two government officials, a young maiden (in bright clothes), an old woman (in a mid-riff baring shirt, presumably because she was out working in a field or something you typically see old women doing in Korea), a young scholar (the guy in the black coat) and the one who comes out later carrying a hammer and basket is a farmer/peasant.

Before heading back to Andong bus terminal, one of the local buses leaving Hahoe village goes around to the other side of the valley where you can see an old Confucian school. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get over there, then you have about a half an hour to look around before the bus leaves. There is also a hiking trail that will take you to the school from Hahoe Village, but we didn't have much time so we caught the bus. The school is well-preserved and has a beautiful garden around it, so if you have the extra time it's worth seeing.

Entrance to the Confucian School

A pavilion inside the school

Little pond

One of the main buildings


Hahoe was amazing - would love to go back again one day

I really loved Hahoe Village. Even if you're on a short trip to Korea and don't have much time, you should still try and squeeze it in. It's an amazing, living part of Korean history, art and culture.

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