Staycation’s popularity has peaked worldwide after the pandemic began. In South Korea, we see an ‘Oak-cance‘ trend (옥캉스) emerge since the pandemic. The word ‘옥캉스’ is derived from the word ‘Ho-cance‘ (호캉스). 호 is from 호텔 (hotel) and 캉스 is from 바캉스 (vacance). 호캉스 means a vacation in a hotel, a ‘staycation’.
Since domestic travel is the only option for the locals during the pandemic, a short vacation in a traditional Korean house call Hanok (한옥) is very well received in the local market. As the vacation takes place in a Hanok, there comes the word ‘Oak-cance‘ (옥캉스).
I have always wanted a staycation in a real Hanok. While many aesthetically pleasing Hanoks in the country are equally attractive, I wanted to experience staying in a living monument that pays tribute to the history, a traditional Korean home that wasn’t built just because it became trendy. And during my recent Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) Trip to Korea, I had the opportunity to stay at Rakkojae 락고재 樂古齋, a boutique hanok hotel built in the 19th century.
In the metropolitan city of Seoul, there is a cluster of black tile roof houses at Bukchon Hanok Village offering visitors a glimpse into the life of a bygone Joseon era. Enveloped in this neighbourhood that used to be the residence area of Yangban, the upper-class aristocrat, Rakkojae emerged as one of the most charming properties that stood the test of time and war.
This 130-year-old property is located in the vicinity of the quaint Bukchon Hanok Village. Within a short stroll from the hotel, you’ll find time-honoured traditional restaurants, flamboyant cafes & bars, trendy brunch restaurants and elegant gift & handcraft studios.
Tucked in the alleys of the charming Gahoe-dong was this beautiful property with the snow-covered stone pavement. Upon arrival at the wooden main gate, I was already soaking up the atmosphere and envisioning what life may have been like more than a century ago in this neighbourhood.
Stepping into Rakkojae was like a breath of fresh air in a busy, humming city. The property embraced its rich history dating back 130 years and was painstakingly preserved and restored by South Korea’s Human National Treasure — the renowned carpenter Mr Young Jin Chung in 2003.
A hanok is a traditional Korean home that was built with careful considerations to blend seamlessly with the natural environment. It typically consists of ondol flooring that keeps the house warm in winter while the pillars, rafters, doors and window frames are made of wood and tree pulp for better air circulations during hot summers. At Bukchon Hanok Village, you’ll see the tile-roofed hanoks which indicates that the houses were noblemen residences.
The hotel’s general manager, Michael Kim gave us a warm welcome and a mini-guided tour in English around the property. We learnt so much about the typical hanok architecture in which the inner courtyard is protected by a ‘ㄷ’ shaped Anchae. And according to Michael, it is pretty rare to see a ‘ㄷ’ shaped Anchae around the area that has essentially remained unchanged through the years.
Another fun element in the property was their century-old furnitures. You should interact with the staff if you are interested in learning more about hanok and Korea’s culture, wisdom and philosophy.
The Patio Room
We stayed in the Patio room which features natural jade ondol flooring, a modern bathroom and a traditional-styled patio. It is the only room in the property that comes with a private patio overlooking the inner courtyard. Sitting at the patio is like time travel to the past. I can totally imagine scholars reciting and writing poems at the patio while birds chirping on the gnarled pine tree in the courtyard… so calm and serene.
The bathroom was equipped with modern faucets, toilets, sinks and a bidet. If you have a penchant for luxe bath amenities, you’ll be pleased as the bath amenities are from London-based Aromatherapy Associates.
Our stay commenced in end-December where the temperature can drop to -18°C at night but the ondol kept the room so warm and fuzzy throughout the night. Sleeping on the hard flooring was our concern but the two traditional styled mattresses were thick and comfortable enough to sleep in. I like that the hotel strived to merge modern day comfort while retaining the authentic hanok experiences for their guests.
Of course, we enjoyed our welcome tea at the patio overlooking the quaint courtyard garden.
Jjimjilbang (찜질방), the public bathhouse is an essential part of South Korean Culture. As the COVID situation persists, it is almost impossible for us to visit one during our VTL trip with peace of mind. We are happy that there is a Hwangto Jjimjilbang (황토 찜질방), or yellow soil sauna room right within the property for complimentary use. Sitting in a heated room made of yellow soil has proven to promote blood circulation, increase metabolism, release stress, backache and chronic fatigue. It is also very effective in expelling impurities from our skin and body too.
As part of the property’s COVID-19 measurements, guests who are not from the same room are not allowed to use the sauna room at the same time if they’re not travelling together. We had the Jjimjilbang all to ourselves during our stay and it was nice to be able to let go of our worries and enjoy ourselves in the sauna room.
Each night’s stay at Rakkojae comes with a complimentary breakfast. You can choose between Korean and Western-style dishes and of course, we chose Korean. It comes with a soup, a main, rice and several banchans (side dishes). The dishes are filled in brass tableware that added a sense of ritual to the simple yet hearty breakfast.
Waking up to birds chirping in the garden and the sounds of bamboo swaying in the wind was already a blessing. And the yummy breakfast at our very own patio was the icing on the cake. I have also created an IG reel about the breakfast at Rakkojae here below, do check it out!
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Writer’s Note: I have stayed in a few Hanoks in South Korea through the years but hanok stay at Rakkojae went above and beyond my expectations. The time-honoured property itself is a beauty of its own. Sitting at main hanok built with the dark-coloured solid wood that weathered through the years and listening to the calming sounds of Bukchon Hanok Village was truly magical and therapeutic.
The best thing to do here is to do nothing. Listening to the sound of melting snow, bird chirps and the wind blows while the lovely scent of quince from the garden enliven my senses was truly an unforgettable experience. I am grateful for the chance to unwind and see things we can only see when we slow down. While a stay in a boutique hanok hotel would cost a little more than normal, the experience is truly exceptional. If you are looking to include a hanok stay in Seoul or seeking a hanok hotel in Bukchon Hanok Village, I would highly recommend Rakkojae. We checked out feeling recharged and refreshed and I believe you would too!
Disclaimer: This hanok stay is sponsored by Rakkojae Seoul. However, the opinions are my own.