In the heart of Jongno-gu, just east of Gyeongbokgung Palace, lies the quaint hillside neighborhood of Samcheong-dong, well-known for its abundance of chic cafes and small gift shops.
From offering simple one-room hanok stays to the more sophisticated options of established hanok boutique hotels ― such as the Cheong Yeon Jae Hanok Hotel or the Haeinjung Boutique Hanok Hotel ― this area has been a magnet for tourists looking to regale in the out-of-the-box lodging experience and a taste of past-time Korean architecture.
Amid a tourism boom and a diversifying lodging demand, hanok hotels are emerging not just in Seoul, but across the country, as the local hospitality sector sees a large flux of boutique and nontraditional hotels.
On May 7, hanok hotels in Korea reached unprecedented heights as the Ambassador Group opened the country's largest hanok hotel smack dab in the heart of Songdo's Central Park in Incheon.
"This is the first-ever hanok hotel to be opened by a world-class hotel group," said Joe Dal, general manager of Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Incheon.
"It combines the sheer beauty of a hanok while also allowing guests to experience the high-quality standards and services of a luxury hotel," he added.
Prior to its grand opening, most of the country's hanok hotels were independently run and very small in scale ― typically featuring less than 10 guest rooms and nowhere near met the quality and customer service offerings of a luxury hotel.
But the newly established Gyeongwonjae Ambassador is the epitome of where traditional architecture meets all the conveniences and perks of 21st century living. Surrounded by a sea of skyscrapers and modern facilities, the stunningly chic yet old-fashioned vibe of the hotel adds to the country's latest trend in offering one-of-a-kind hotel experience.
Unlike most hanok stays where guests are forced to sleep on the floor, the new luxury hotel highlights traditional dcor while offering modern furnishing including plush beds, flat screen TVs and high speed Internet. Some of the suites even offer guests their own private sauna.
The hotel currently features 30 hanoks stretched across nearly 7 acres, including five quaint, open-air garden areas.
"We have tried to create an oasis-like environment where people can escape their busy lives and just relax in the clean and meditative airspace," said Dal. "Now as Korea's representative hanok hotel, we are looking to show off the beauty of hanok and our traditional culture."
Despite it obvious appeals to nonlocal tourists, hanok hotels are not solely seen as a means of catering to international visitors looking for a short-term taste of traditional Korean culture. Rather, the rise of hanok hotels is also thought to further add to the country's cultural heritage.
"Compared to economic benefits of hanok hotels, I believe the emphasis should be on the cultural value that hanok hotels provide," said Kwon Dae-wook, chief representative of Accor Ambassador Korea Hotel Management.
"Despite having limited rooms compared to most large hotels, the added cultural importance will be a source of business in and of itself," he added.
"Hanok hotels are not merely geared toward attracting international visitors; we truly believe that locals will also come to appreciate the traditional-meets-modern atmosphere."