A trip to the Gamcheon Culture Village was one of the stranger excursions we’ve undertaken during our time in South Korea. This neighborhood in the west of Busan has dedicated itself to art, with murals, sculptures and installations that occupy entire houses. Visitors are taken on a tour which snakes through narrow alleys and ends at an observation deck with an amazing view over the city.
During our day in Gamcheon, we felt transported back to our months in South America. Walking through this section of town, which is set high on a hill overlooking the city, reminded us of exploring La Paz, in Bolivia. The steep inclines, humble housing, complicated and constricted alleys, and gangs of noisy kids monitoring us… yeah, this could have been the La Paz neighborhood of J’acha Kollo.
One big difference between Gamcheon and La Paz was the colorfully painted houses and community emphasis on art. In this aspect, it was reminiscent of La Boca, in Buenos Aires: another rough-and-tumble neighborhood which turned itself into a sort of open-air art installation. La Boca was a heavily immigrant community, while Gamcheon was populated with refugees from the Korean War. In both cases, historically marginalized groups came together to improve their lot through art.
Furthering the South American connection, Gamcheon Culture Village has decided to refer to itself as the Machu Picchu of Busan. The similarities to La Paz and Boca were clear enough, but Machu Picchu? I didn’t see that at all.
The artwork in Gamcheon interesting, if a little too modern… the rooms of the Light House, for example, are full of stuffed animals which represent (I’m paraphrasing from memory, here) “the birth of man and his continuing journey surrounded by family, and dreams”. Something like that. But I really liked the Mirror Wall, which is a mural that reflects the other side of the street. When you stand in the right spot, it’s like holding a mirror up to the city.
Upon arriving, we were met by a neighborhood representative who provided us with a map and a mission: collect seven stamps from the various installations, to win a couple free postcards. Arrows painted on the sides of the houses led us through Gamcheon, past embankments which boasted incredible views over the port, and into the art houses. Honestly, the artwork was secondary; we had a blast just walking around.
If you’re looking for something different to do in Busan, you can’t go wrong with Gamcheon Culture Village. To get there, take the Orange Line to Toseong-Dong, then grab Bus 1-1, 2, or 2-1 in front of the Busan Cancer Clinic. Regardless of how much you appreciate modern art, the neighborhood is worth a look.