It was just one of those days.
A day when you just want to slow things down a little after all the frenzied sightseeing around Seoul. A day when the initial adrenaline rush of arriving in a new city has died down. A day when you just want to walk around and sip some good coffee and read a book, preferably far from the maddening crowd.
And that was how I ended up in the little artsy village of Heyri one cold October morning.
Paju’s Heyri, is a collection of art galleries, workshops, studios, book shops, trinket stores and cafés, hidden away in an idyllic town just an hour’s drive north of Seoul. Along with nearby Paju Book City, Heyri is an experiment in ecologically friendly architecture, design and urban planning, made all the more amazing or surreal by its location just a river’s width away from North Korea.
There are enough outdoor and indoor exhibits and cafés to keep you occupied for the day and I had a good time just roaming around and slipping in and out of book stores (even though I can’t read Korean and could only appreciate the book covers) and quirky galleries.
The one hour bus ride from Seoul to Heyri took me past miles of barbed wire and several South Korean military watchtowers, a constant grave reminder of the ongoing animosity between the North and the South. The art village, a symbol of peace and sustainability, is located just at the end of the Imjingang River that separates the divided factions of the land.
Every building in Heyri is unique and reflects the style of the architect and designer. No structure is over three storeys and the various designs aim to complement the natural surroundings of the area instead of being obstrusive.There are also plenty of art installations around the village for selfie-lovers to take copious ‘selcas’ to their hearts’ content. I took a look inside a retro museum to find out how Korea looked like in the 1920s and 30s and had a good cup of syphon coffee (finally!) at a book cafe.
The day trip ended with a bus ride back to Hapjeong station along the same barbed wire defence that had many ROK soldiers armed with rifles and peering out of binoculars. It felt almost unreal to be back in the bright lights and loud sounds of Hongdae, knowing that you were just a few miles away from one of the world’s most isolated, and perhaps desolated nations.
- Getting to Heyri – Take Bus 2200 from Exit 2, Hapjeong Station, Line 2 and get off at Heyri Art Valley (50 min)
- Getting around – Walk or rent a bike (think it’s about 6000won for 2 hours)
- Admission – Free for the village but the galleries require admission fees