Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ant Village 개미마을

'개미마을' translates into English as 'Ant Village'. This cluster of homes at the base of Inwangsan mountain (인왕산) in Seoul seems altogether rather shabby and drab, except for one thing that makes it special. Just like Suamgol in Chucheongbuk-do, this village has been brightened by the brushes of artists, who, at some point, decided to come along and paint all over the walls of the houses.

Looking around you can see various different styles of artwork, all in colourful contrast to the grey stone walls and concrete. Around every corner bold flowers bloom and happy faces smile, and wandering visitors take pictures of them with their cameras.

Despite being in the middle of the city, the Ant Village is a far cry from Seoul's more common sights: high-rises, crowds and flashing lights. It's a peaceful escape from all of that, and a very unique area to explore. Don't be fooled into thinking it's all rustic charm and delight, however; despite the paintings this is a poor and neglected neighbourhood, with little else to offer tourists. Piles of garbage clutter the streets, and feral cats mew from makeshift corrugated rooftops.

I recommend 개미마을 as an afternoon trip, or as a starting point for a further hike up Inwangsan. I did find a hiking trail from here, but didn't go far because it's quite easy to get lost if you don't know the mountain well. Even hiking a short distance, though, I was rewarded with some fantastic views:

To get to 개미마을, take subway line 3 to Hongje Station, exit 1. As you exit, do a U-turn and walk to the bus stop. Take bus number 7 to the end of the line. The last stop is 'Gaemi Maeul', and you will see the painted walls. It's a cute mini green bus that goes up to the top of the ant village and back down again to the subway station. As the village is built on the slope of the mountain, be prepared for walking as it is a little steep. If you'd like to hike the mountain, follow the steps towards the water fountain, and find the entrance to the trail just past the water, to the left of the outdoor gym.

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