Recently I got to visit Andong Hahoe Folk Village which is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Korea. It’s probably best known amongst foreigners for hahoe byeolsingut mask dance plays and as a great spot to witness traditional mask dances or even just see traditional masks. The mask play in Andong are done in hopes of peace and prosperity for the village. The performance tends to be a drama and satire broken up into different unconnected scenes with some dancing and music accompaniment. The type of dance and play performed around Korea changes based on location, the one in Andong is called byeolsingut talnori. Most performances have at least a chapter that criticizes the yangban or nobility, monks who’ve given up their religion pagyeseung and to shame husbands who have left their elderly wife (miyalhalmi) in search of a younger woman or concubine.
The best way to get to the Folk Village without a car is by taking the number 46 bus. I went with a friend who enjoys driving so we drove instead. From the parking lot we visited a couple of shops near the parking area and then visited the information center where they have staff who speak English and will happily give you a map of the village (which is somewhat large) and circle a path to follow as well as highlights you should visit. We were also told about when the mask festival was going (it had already started when we arrived) and the ways we could take to get there. I suggest taking the shuttle bus, even if it’s crowded, they come often enough that you shouldn’t have to wait long to go up the hill. Instead we walked along the road and through a pretty wooded but steep path, only to find it full of bugs and retreat back to the sidewalk along the road. The shuttle bus is easier on all accounts.
From the drop off we hurried off to the catch the performance. We weren’t on time but luckily the story isn’t continual. We found open spaces (there are mats near the entrance so you don’t have to sit in the dirt/dust) and watched the show, sadly without much context or knowledge beyond survival Korean I wasn’t able to understand most of the show. But it was still fun to watch. The set up of the performance is interactive, so that the performers ad lib or change the way they speak depending on the crowd and will converse with them as well, even pulling some up with them to dance. At the end of the performance everyone is welcome to join in on the dance and take pictures with the performers.
After the show we wandered around the village, through the dusty roads and enjoyed views of the mountains and river as well as the traditional houses with thatched roofs. We visited a museum that talked about the history of the Ryu family who originated in the village (one of whose shoes were inexplicably gigantic that we believed must have been a joke). One downfall is that it seems you can rent scooters or golf cart style vehicles to drive around the village which kicks up a lot of dust and clogs up the paths. There is also very little to no shade so make sure you bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and water. I ended up buying a parasol at one of the shops near the parking lot so that I could be lazy and not reapply sunscreen/forget and burn.
Beyond the mask festival there are a variety of other things to do, such as witnessing a traditional funeral ceremony and traditional wedding ceremony, straw crafts, a world heritage class, learning about the traditional way of life, tea ceremony, writing family mottos, a mask puppet show, and many many other seasonal activities. We went during Buddha’s birthday and a lot of these seemed to be closed or not happening on the day we went. We did pass people painting masks and writing family mottos, so it’s possible we just didn’t stumble upon it. Before we left we made sure to visit the 600 year old zelkova tree or 느티나무 tree called Samsindang (shrine forthree gods) which is home to a Samsindang (삼신 할머니), goddess of life and childbirth and patron of midwives.
The Andong Hahoe folk village is 3,000 won per adult.