As soon as we emerged from Jongno-3ga station’s Exit 7 we felt an enormous sense of relief, it had stopped raining! It was almost 10 pm and we were anxious to get to our place for the night. Before our trip to Seoul, I downloaded the comprehensive itinerary that I planned on to my phone, and I was now worried that we couldn’t follow the directions given because the pictures were taken in daylight and we’re walking late at night in a mostly deserted street. In fact we only passed by one or two people during our ten minute walk to Haemil Guesthouse.
Haemil Guesthouse is a Hanok located near the Jongmyo Shrine and Changdeokgung Palace. Situated in a place steeped with tradition and culture, Haemil Guesthouse is a traditional Korean house. The Hanok most people are familiar with are the tile-roofed houses we see in Korean dramas. But actually Hanok refers to the Korean traditional architectural style. Aside from roofs made of tile some Hanoks have rook styles with thatches or shingles.
What’s interesting about the structure of a Hanok is that it’s eco-friendly and despite being “traditional” the heating system (ondol) is still effective until today. The houses are also designed to “breathe” during summer by having less walls and more sliding doors that can act as walls. I’m so fascinated by how the old can blend with the new that’s why I decided to spend one night at a Hanok.
Walking further into a narrow alley I was thankful for the cold autumn night air, I wasn’t peaked as I would have been considering we’ve been walking the whole day. Our confidence didn’t wane even as we turned into an even narrower corner. Finally, to our relief we saw THE LIGHT!
We were greeted by the Lucy the sweet and very pretty owner. It didn’t take long for us to settle down as we just brought an overnight bag and had eaten our dinner already. We took the Baram room, which is good for two people. What I liked about Baram is that it had an en suite bathroom. I’m really very particular about having an en suite bathroom because when I stay away from home I become even more of a cleanliness freak. The bathroom though small was clean and had shampoo and body wash. There were also towels provided but I always bring my own towels so I wasn’t hung up on that. The toilet was also modern! Although I am not a stranger to outhouses I do love my comforts.
What I love about Korean houses is the floor. Yes, the floor. When I was new to watching Korean shows I kept wondering why people loved to lie down on the floor. I didn’t understand how anyone would prefer to sleep on the floor, because when I was younger I slept on the floor instead of on the bed. It wasn’t a pleasant experience that’s why now I prefer soft and firm mattresses on four poster beds thank you very much! But Koreans even have short foldable tables so that they can sit down on the floor and have their meals there. For someone who’s been raised to avoid the floor since it was “dirty” I was just amazed.
Then I came to Seoul and realized the floors were kept clean (no shoes allowed inside the house) and that the ondol system was in place. The ondol heating system made sure the floor was warm and toasty. I appreciated the ondol. Imagine at the end of a long day of sightseeing you step in to your apartment, your cold and tired feet won’t appreciate a chilly floor. That’s what ondol is for. I remember after one long day of walking I just collapsed on the well heated floor and it was as good as getting a massage.No wonder the stars of the Korean variety show 2D1N liked to laze around on the floor with just a thin quilt instead of a mattress.
We waited for the ondol at Haemil Guesthouse too warm up by going out again and buying snacks from GS25 we saw while looking for the guesthouse. Although we successfully found the original hyped about Honey Butter Chip at a supermarket near my Korean friend’s house we never saw it again, not even at Lotte Supermarket much more at any GS25 or 7-Eleven. We settled for the much loved banana milk and some prawn crackers.
Although Haemil Guesthouse is a traditional Hanok the amenities were very much 21st century. We watched a bit of TV as we munched on our late night snacks. Yes, we do not understand Korean but we could somehow make out what was going on in the dramas. During my stay the drama She Was Pretty was airing, it seemed surreal that I was watching a drama I enjoyed in real time in Seoul.
Surprisingly, I had a good night’s sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed. What’s nice is that Lucy also prepared a traditional breakfast of Bibimbap (rice with seasoned vegetables and red pepper sauce) with the staple side dishes of kimchi and anchovies. I think it was the healthiest breakfast I’ve had in Seoul.
We were reluctant leave the warm confines our room when we noticed that it started raining again. But we had no choice but to say goodbye because we needed to return to our apartment and prepare for our return flight to Singapore.
I left Haemil Guesthouse with not just an appreciation for Korean architecture but also completely falling for the charm of a traditional house. I also left thinking of arranging a longer Hanok homestay during my next trip to South Korea.