When South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was elected president in early 2008, he moved out of the house he and his wife had been renting for nearly two years and the home’s owner, Lee Sook-hee, had trouble finding new tenants.
After trying — but failing — for several months to find a new renter, Ms. Lee decided to change course and do something she had long dreamed of: building a hanok hotel.
Hanok are traditional Korean courtyard homes with wooden lattice windows and tiled roof. Though hanok can still occasionally be found throughout the country as private homes, there are few hanok hotels.
But that number is gradually increasing, with places like Ms. Lee’s 4,000-square-foot Chi Woon Jung, a boutique hanok hotel that opened this month in Bukchon, a quiet neighborhood in northern Seoul.
“I made up my mind a long time ago that I would do this one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen just like that,” said Ms. Lee, who has also operated a Korean restaurant in Insadong for more than 20 years.
When she renovated the house, Ms. Lee said she put great emphasis on independent space, maximizing privacy in each room and fitting them with an adequate soundproof system. She also took much care in installing windows in every room.
“Visitors should be able to enjoy nature through windows even if what they see is only a clump of grass,” she said.
Bukchon is one of the few neighborhoods in which the old face of Seoul remains relatively intact. More than 1,400 traditional houses are clustered on the hillside overlooking Gyeongbok Palace, the country’s most prominent palace, and Changdeok Palace, known for its Secret Garden. Though it is still largely a residential area, Bukchon is only a few minutes’ walk from downtown Seoul.
Since regulations on the lodging business were loosened in October 2009, the area has also been experiencing a bit of a revival.
“The neighborhood is enjoying renewed attention lately, which in turn leads to the construction of more accommodations,” Ms. Lee said.
In 2008, there were only four guest houses. Now there are 10 guest houses and 35 places for homestay in Bukchon, according to the Jongro-gu Office, which has jurisdiction over the neighborhood.
“One of the appeals is that this neighborhood was not artificially built for tourist attractions. It has natural beauty in it,” said Yang Yong-hoon, an official at the office.
Published in The Wall St Journal Korea Realtime, September 23, 2011,
More about the Hotel (Korean article from ShinDonga magazine)
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