Hidden away in Cheongju city, Chucheongbuk-do, is a painted village where every wall is an artwork. This is Suamgol (수암골), a run-down area of town that was given a new lease of life in 2008 by a posse of painters and art students who banded together to bring colour and charm to the neighborhood.
Originally home to war refugees in the 1950s, the buildings were re-built in the 1970s but the area remained slum-like and poor, with its small homes crammed along tiny alleys climbing the hillside. This is a place that may have been flattened for modern re-development by now, if it wasn't for the media and tourist attention generated in part by the paintings themselves, and also by the area's role as a filming location for two popular dramas, Bread, Love, and Dreams and Cain and Abel.
Central to Suamgol is Palbong Bakery (팔봉제빵집), the coffee shop featured in Bread, Love and Dreams. From there, follow the narrow streets around and explore every corner of this unique village. Some of the homes are still inhabited by people, others are left empty. Marigolds, cabbages and sunflowers fill the gaps between the buildings. On my visit, a friend I was traveling with started chatting to a fellow tourist. She told us how she used to live in the area when she was a child, and had come back to see how the place had changed. I wonder how her memory of the area compares to its current form.
Suamgol attracts quite a few camera-snapping visitors on weekends, mostly Korean, but it is not crowded at all and is still virtually unknown by foreign tourists. It offers not only a unique photo opportunity, but also a glimpse into the past of post-war, pre-economic boom South Korea.