Gamcheon Culture Village is one of the top things to do in Busan. It’s a colorful village built into a mountainside with a history just as colorful. Here’s what to expect at Busan’s Gamcheon.
When we were researching things to do in Busan and found Gamcheon Culture Village I immediately wanted to visit. It’s unique, it’s colorful, it’s artistic, it’s walkable… basically everything we look for. Read on to learn the history of this cool place, how to get there, what to do, and whether it lived up to our expectations!
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Gamcheon Culture Village!
The History of Gamcheon Culture Village
Gamcheon Culture Village has been labeled the “Santorini of Korea” or the “Machu Picchu of Korea” due to the colorful houses built around the foothills of Saha-gu mountain. The village portrays a colorful, vibrant view from higher points of Busan which rivals those neighborhoods around the world.
While Gamcheon currently hosts thousands of eager amateur photographers from around the world, it was not-so-recently known as a slum of Busan.
The mountainside was not considered a hospitable location to build, and was left as the last remaining affordable location to thousands of refugees from the Korean War. The population swelled in the 1950’s as Koreans fled to Busan to escape fighting around the country. They quickly and eagerly built mis-matched shanty homes into the side of the mountain from whatever material they could find.
Over the last few decades support filtered to the Gamcheon residents mainly from Chol-je Cho, the founder of the Taegukdo religion, after moving his church headquarters to Gamcheon. The community had been reinforced and stabilized by the 1990’s, but it wasn’t until 2009 that it received any national attention.
In 2009 the Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan Project commenced. Between it and the subsequent Miro Miro (meaning “maze”) project the Gamcheon neighborhood was given a significant facelift. Over the course of 2 years artist were brought in to paint homes, roofs, and wall murals. 22 statues and pieces of artwork were installed.
It seems as though all of the hard work and investment from the local government, artists, and residents has paid off. Gamcheon Culture Village was named the 2012 UN-HABITAT Asian Townscape Award winner and also the Cultural Excellence Award from Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
How to Get to Gamcheon Culture Village:
- Set Kakao Maps Address to 203, Gamnae 2-ro, Saha-gu, Busan.
- Park in the large parking garage to the left beside the Gamcheon Culture Village entrance.
- Parking costs around 1,000 won/ hour
- Take Orange Line 1 to Toseong Station. Come out via Exit 6.
- Turn right on the street until you see a hospital on you right.
- Wait for bus 2 or 2-2, which will take you straight to the village.
Food at Gamcheon Culture Village
Like every other tourist spot Busan’s colorful village is full of street vendors offering sweet treats!
You’ll find vendors offering ice cream, popsicles, fruit drink slushies, hoettoek (Korean pancake filled with a sweet sauce), and other street snacks.
The best thing we ate in the Village was a jelly blob we were told was made from seaweed. It came in original, cherry, or green tea. We chose the original, which didn’t have any flavor. The street vendor added two fruit syrups and a sweet powder to our jelly blob plate which we were told to mix with bites of the jelly blob. It was fun and usual and perfect for such a colorful, vibrant place! The jelly blob cost us 3,000 won, which seemed a tiny bit high but reasonable.
You will also find a few small restaurants there, particularly along the side streets by the entrance. Just outside of the entrance you’ll find even more restaurants and even some convenience stores.
Bring some cash if you’re interested in sweets vendors while walking around or more money for a full meal just outside of Gamcheon!
Village Entrance Fee
Luckily Gamcheon Culture Village does not require an entrance fee!
You will find an information station on the right of the village’s main road. Inside the station you can ask questions about the village and see a map, but don’t expect to get one for free.
Information stations are common in tourist destinations around Korea, and most give away their information and their maps for free. This was the first tourist spot we visited which did not offer a tourist map for free.
Maps cost around 2,000 won.
The Little Prince
“Don’t miss Gamcheon’s Little Prince!” people say.
What they are referring to is a wall mural of the Little Prince on a building beside small statues of The Little Prince and his pet. The Little Prince statue is placed facing an overlook of Gamcheon Culture Village; gazing at the colors and ocean below him.
Both the wall mural and statues are available for free pictures. They are unusual and beautiful, but not without a price. As the Little Prince is the most popular thing to see in Gamcheon Culture Village there will be a line to get to him. Prepare to wait in line for your chance to sit between The Little Prince and his pet for your chance to have a picture of your back taken. Also bring a photographer; one is not provided!
Our Experience at Gamcheon Culture Village:
I broke my cardinal rule of traveling when visiting Gamcheon Culture Village: TO KEEP EXPECTATIONS LOW. Unfortunately my expectations were not low. They were actually quite high.
For one, I love that it’s called a “Culture Village”. Doesn’t that sound like it should be historical in some way? Or have something culturally significant to provide? For two, I had heard it was the “Machu Picchu of Busan” and so on, which made it sound drop dead gorgeous. A colorful colony of homes build into a mountain? Yes, please!
It’s my own fault for being disappointed, really.
Our one-hour visit to the village started with me really needing to use the bathroom. We hurriedly parked at the parking garage across the street from the village entrance and found the information station. Information stations are common around Korea and most have a bathroom, but Gamcheon instead directed me to a public bathroom next door. It required payment for toilet paper or soap. These materials are kept behind glass and lock in a small booth outside of the bathroom and were unmanned when I visited. Luckily I keep tissues and antibacterial hand gel in my bag!
When I met back up with Ben at the information station he informed me that they charge for village maps, also!
First impression: Wow. This place is all about the moolah.
We took our chances without a map and made our way uphill on the main road. I was immediately impressed with the street art we saw. We were greeted by statues and wall murals, which I loved!
Ok, maybe this place is going to be good.
Unfortunately the level of artwork seemed to deteriorate as we made our way up the hill. We still saw plenty of interesting murals and street art, but we also saw lots of chipped walls and run-down houses. Not the uniformly colorful village we expected.
I’m happy to say that Gamcheon Culture Village wasn’t packed with other tourists, at least! We made our way around the sites we wanted to see and easily avoided the lines for photo stops most people were stuck in.
Honestly, knowing the Gamcheon Culture Village history lowers the experience for me. I preferred my bubble of ignorance when I assumed the down-on-their-luck residents pooled leftover paint to brighten their community and lives. Knowing that the government stepped in to fund a project specifically meant to commercialize the area just feels strange.
We definitely think Gamcheon is worth visiting. It’s not as crowded with paintings and artwork as I was hoping to see or as authentic, but you will find enough random cool stuff to make a short trip worth it!
If you are in Busan and visit the Gamcheon Culture Village we want to hear about your experience!