Life in a Thatched Roof Village

Chogajib — Korean for a thatched roof house.

It’s a rare find in Korea nowadays (or many other countries for that matter), especially since being destroyed during the Japanese colonization and later, being devoured by rapid urbanization after the Korean War.

Amazingly enough, not much has changed in this magical village at a remote corner of the Korean Peninsula called Naganepseong, other than the roofs having to be re-thatched every year.

It’s a very quaint and quiet little village where the old world is kept alive in today’s modern era. Time slows down when you enter through the large doors of the fortress walls as you enter the village. It’s a completely different vibe from the bustling streets of Korea’s cities.

History

Naganepseong a medieval walled village with countless thatched roofs from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea.

This walled town was built out of soil to protect the Japanese invasion of Joseon. This was because of the frequent aggressions at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea.

It was built in 1397 under the instruction of King Taejo at the start of the Joseon Dynasty. This fortress was built to protect the area from their ongoing troubles with Japanese soldiers or pirates.

The fortress has been rebuilt and expanded many times as the years have gone by.

About 200 locals still live in the some hundred houses that remain, for the most part, in their original condition. In these charming huts of mud and wood, some of these people are even from centuries-old clans dating back several hundred years ago.

Why It’s Different

This was the most charming hanok village in Korea— and I’ve been to a few!

In Korea, you can find many hanok style houses, but these ones are distinguishable from the other historical villages because of their straw roofs, clay rooms, and Korean style verandas. The other difference is that this village was occupied by regular people, not by the aristocrats, which is what we often experience while travelling or learning history.

This village is a valuable glimpse of local architecture of the South Jeolla region during the Joseon period. We often learn and visit those sites where the nobility lived. The history or daily life of the commoners is often left out.

This hanok shows the more rural, middle/lower class historical way of life. If you’re interested in the higher class or aristocratic style of historic life in the Joseon period, this is not it. You can head to the Jeonju hanoks for that as well as the hanok villages in Seoul.

Traditional Arts

These tall wooden creatures are called jangseung. They are located all around the entrances of the village as in the past, their job was to ward off evil spirits. This comes from Korea’s shamanistic past and a few of the elders in the village continue to skillfully craft this folk art.

This village, among others in Korea, keeps the traditional rituals and folk arts (such as ceramics) alive. The traditional aspects of the village have been preserved.

This village is well known for Pansori art (traditional musical monodrama) and there was a famous performer who actually lived in the village and taught his protégés.

Naganepseong is a walled fortress village and it is highly valued as a historical and cultural resource for studying traditional folk customs.

What to do

  1. Overnight Stay

Many of the thatched huts operate as guesthouses for those who want to truly immerse themselves in the daily experience of life in the village.

I stayed overnight in one of the thatched houses. The elder lady who I was staying with was very accommodating and sweet. The bathroom was in an outhouse, but other than that, it was equipped with modern amenities such as air conditioning to accommodate to those foreigners who are interesting in staying.

2. Walking Tour

Take a slow, leisurely walk around the fortress. The entire fortress is easily walkable and the village is worth a visit to just wander around. The walk around the charming village was pleasant as it was quiet and peaceful compared to other hanok villages in the country.

If you’re up for it, there’s a good little hike as well.

Make sure to take a stroll to the top of the simple stone walls for the overall view of the village and the gorgeous mountain backdrop.

It took me a good amount of the afternoon to walk through and explore each part of the village. Don’t forget to take a swing! They have two huge long swings in the square playground.

3. Eat

There are a few traditional eats offered by the locals there. Inside the village, there’s some great bibimbap and pajeon.

There are also traditional Korean sweets available. Or, if you’re not feeling like local food, they also have some ice cream or other modern snacks for tourists.

4. Shop

You can buy ceramics hand-made by the local villagers. There are multiple quaint boutique and souvenir shops.

Many of the locals are eager to show you their crafts.

My friend bought a nice sturdy mug made from bamboo.

5. Interact With Locals

One of the nicest things I found about this hanok village that separated it from the other ones I visited in Korea was because of the locals that live there. It is a living village which makes it authentic.

As you walk through the village, the elders greet you with a warm smile. They live there and work hard to keep many traditions alive.

If your Korean is alright, you can talk to the locals. They love talking to the foreigners and offer information about their life there or the history of the village.

Some of them will even invite you into their homes for a little tour!

6. Find K-Drama Sites

If you’re into Korean dramas, there were quite a few historical dramas set in this village. All around the village, they have poles with pictures in multiple locations and you can take pictures where these dramas were shot.

7. Take Part in the Interactive Activities

There are a lot of interactive features that teach you about the history. There are many informational stops inside the village and do a good job of offering basic information which is fine for the average foreigner visiting.

When I went, there were:

  • ladies playing the drums in front of a house
  • flute makers giving lessons
  • traditional games going on in the open square
  • people flying kites
  • master calligraphers who wrote your name in Hangul
  • dance performances
  • women dyeing cloth
  • live folk music in the square
  • men making pottery

Most of the activities are in Korean, so the information and activities are a bit more accessible if you can read, speak, or understand some Korean, but you can get by with English as well.

8. Visit the Prison

There are many historical sites like shrines, but there is also a prison you can visit and see how the incarceration system worked during the Joseon Dynasty period. Here, you can learn the ways the civilians were punished as you explore the inside of the cells. They even have life-size dolls dressed in prisoner clothes inside the cells to depict a proper image for the daily life of a prisoner who was chained to the walls.

9. Have a Photoshoot

A photographer’s dream location, really.

No matter which angle you look at it from, it’s really superb and picturesque since it’s surrounded by fields and mountains.

Inside the village, there’s a small shop to rent a hanbok. Normally, Koreans dress up in hanboks and take pictures around the village as it’s beautiful with the high paths made of stacked stones and rocks. The village is quite unique and makes for a unique photoshoot.

There are many beautiful gardens that are full of character. I went during the cherry blossom season, so I experienced the gorgeous buds against the backdrop of the mountains. You can see some plants being cultivated in the gardens as well.

10. Find the Museums

There are a few free museums that highlight the history through paintings and artifacts. You have the chance to explore the traditional folk heritage items with them. Not only are the items rich in history, but they are also well preserved, just like the rest of the village.

There are some olden Korean houses that have displays of artifacts like the governor’s house and court house.

Conclusion

This village was a pleasant surprise. A trip here transported me back into time. It’s like a living museum equipped with modern amenities like power for those still living there.

Naganeupseong is one of the only remaining fortresses that has been well-maintained that realistically shows the proper glimpse of the lifestyle and culture from the early Joseon period.

This village continues to fly under the radar for many foreigners in the country, but I recommend it to anyone who loves history (It’s a must go for history buffs!) or off-the-beaten-track gems.

If you happen to be in the area, there’s also other sites to see such as Seonamsa Temple or the famous Boseong Green Tea Fields.

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If you would like information about this experience, click here.

To learn even more about the compelling culture of Korea and to start planning a trip over, go to the Visit Korea website.

Want to hear more about my travel experiences and stay updated on my future posts?

Follow me on my travel Instagram at @theplanetcompass.

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