Closing the loop on my travels around South Korea, I ended up a few hours south of Seoul in a town called Buyeo. I arrived in the evening and on the way to my hostel I walked through the empty streets of the town.

The next day was rather cold, rainy and grim, but that created a nice atmosphere for discovering the The Baekje Cultural Complex. As it was low season I was the only guest in the hostel, but my host made me a nice breakfast and offered to give me a lift to the complex.

Cold rainy morning leaves water drops on the trees.
Buyeo is a ghost town, just like Casper – small, cute, long dead but its spirit still soars through the air.

In ancient times the Korean peninsula was ruled by three kingdoms; the Baekje, the Goguryeo, and the Silla Dynasties. Buyeo was the capital of the Baekje Dynasty until 660 AD. Following its collapse all trace of the capital city, which also goes by the name of Sabi, was wiped from the face of the earth, leaving behind only a few historical documents.

Following further archaeological discoveries (another way of saying they were randomly digging in the dirt and got lucky) in the region, the Korean government made a plan of massive proportions. With a descent budget of half a billion dollars, they proposed to rebuild Sabi, but this time on the outskirts of the site it used to stand on 1500 years ago.

Baekje Cultural Land took five years of planning and twelve years to build, eventually opening in 2010. The Cultural Land reflects the history and culture of the capital as it used to be. The whole complex is rather large and you can certainly tell that a lot of work was put into making the land historically accurate.

Sabigung Palace.
Sabigung Palace.

Straight after I bought my entry ticket I was followed by a guide, who happily explained the purpose of the complex and its historical significance.

It’s considered to be a historical theme-park, which I believe is an interesting concept, however nothing here is actually from the real site. Several times a year, they put on cultural reenactments and provide historical tours. However, it is also attached to a very large shopping mall, so those who aren’t into the history thing, can get their luxury shopping on instead.

The site is spread out over three square kilometers, and filled with traces of Baekje culture. Sabigung Palace is a reproduction of the scenery of the royal palace during the Three Kingdoms period, and Neungsa Temple, a royal temple representative of Baekje, has been recreated according to the real size at the historic site in Neungsan-ri, Buyeo.

Historic site reproduction.
Historic site reproduction.

The reproduction site contains houses, playgrounds, cultural centres, public kitchens and cowsheds with live animals.

Goat drinking water off the fence.
Goat drinking water off the fence.

The place also has fake camera/lamp trees and speaker stones that play music as visitors wander around.

Outside the fake historical complex there is a fancy golf club from which I was asked to leave.

So I returned to town on the bus, with me as the sole passenger. I was told about a place called Nakhwaam on Mt. Buso and very much hoped it was worth seeing. Buso means pine tree in the Baekje language (yes, the people here have their own language) and its known for its beauty and history, where ‘far-from-being-a-mountain’ it used to act as the Baekje Palace backyard. During the war it was the location of the dynasty’s last capital, Sabi.

Two words, utterly disappointing. The fortress is pretty much raised dirt on a hill and lacking in very much imagination. It’s just a nice walk really, not something worth travelling to.

Nakhwaam is the place where the royal court women of Baekje jumped off to kill themselves when the kingdom of Baekje was defeated during the invasion by the Shilla-Tang Alliance. The rock was later called Nakhwaam, which literally means “the cliff of falling flowers”. Which has now became a tourist attraction.

View from the rock.
View from the cliff.

When I was leaving Buyeo to go to the airport, the miniature town, that looks like an American town, left me with a little sadness, like my whole experience in Korea. I hope one day when I come back to similar looking cities, filled with grey block buildings, and their very conservative, inward-looking, nationalistic, working-their-ass-off people, that they will have changed for the better.