Visit This Traditional Korean Tea House With a Conscience

Korean tea house owner.Hong Yongchee.

One of the most beautiful things about Seon Byeong-guk House is one of the owners — Hong Yongchee. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

At the base of Songnisan Mountain, about a 3.5-hour journey from Seoul, South Korea, lies a very unique, traditional Korean tea house. It was built in the 1920s during the Joseon Dynasty by Seon Byeongguk.

The building lies in the middle of Sanmgacheon Stream, which flows from Songnisan Mountain, and is surrounded by farmlands and the peaceful Songnisan National Park.

The layout of the building resembles a lotus flower floating on water, and it is known to have incredible feng shui. It is perfect for a day trip, but you also have the option of spending the night there too. If you are looking to escape technology and experience a taste of what traditional life was like in the past — this place is for you.

The layout is a lotus flower floating on water, which, according to Korean geomancy, symbolizes fertility, prosperity, and longevity for the occupants of the house.
The layout is a lotus flower floating on water, which, according to Korean geomancy, symbolizes fertility, prosperity, and longevity for the occupants of the house. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

The Korean government has registered this Korean tea house as “Important Folklore Material No. 134,” and it was also considered, at one point, as a potential house of parliament.

The most famous tea served at the Korean tea house is jujube tea — a tea made out of dates. And on special occasions, lotus tea is served — a tea made from real lotus flowers soaked overnight.

Inside the main house, a pair of massive horizontal tree trunks support the roof. The twisting tree trunks are polished to show the beauty of the wood and are said to resemble two oriental dragons.

Cat resting inside the 1920s Joseon Dynasty Tea House.
Cat resting inside the 1920s Joseon Dynasty Korean tea house. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

Yongchee runs the Korean tea house — which is her husband’s ancestral home — and has never lived in a modern house.

She dresses in Hanbok (traditional Korean clothes), keeps a vegetable garden that feeds everyone, and practices Falun Gong — an ancient Chinese qigong practice that follows the three principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance. She practices the gentle exercises every morning.

Yonghee practices the Falun Gong exercises there is a tree behind her and she wears a yellow jacket
Every morning Yonghee practices the Falun Gong exercises. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

This Korean tea house has a conscience

The featured video, by filmmaker and photographer Jarrod Hall, is about her life caring for this traditional building, and how she is an advocate for human rights issues in China. She reaches hundreds of travelers from all over the world each day, letting them know about Falun Gong and the human rights abuses against its practitioners in China.

One hundred million people used to practice Falun Gong in China, until 1999 when the Chinese Communist Party became fearful of the number of people practicing. This is when they started the brutal persecution of the practice.

Some Chinese tourists try to avoid her when they see the flyers about Falun Gong, as some of them think that they will get into trouble for reading one. But Hong Yongchee approaches them individually to let them know about the truth of the situation happening in China.

visitor to tea house, woman, black hair, gentle features, light blue top
Choi Heesu, a visitor to the Korean tea house. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

Choi Heesu, a tea house visitor, said after learning the truth from her visit to the tea house:

“It’s so terrible, it reminds me of awful atrocities committed in the past. We never hear about this persecution on the TV news, or in the newspapers. Why isn’t it being reported more widely? When I heard about the persecution of Falun Gong, that was my first thought — I just couldn’t believe it.”

Tea house owner crouched down working in garden wears white purple flowers and tea house in background
Hong Yonghee working in her garden. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

The video ends with some final words from the Korean tea house owner, Hong Yongchee:

“I want everybody in the world to know the truth, I want everyone to join the campaign to stop the persecution of Falun Gong. If a person is not allowed to practice truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance — what is left?”

Seon Byeong-guk House with Yongshee's yellow flowers in the foreground.
Seon Byeong-guk House with Yongshee’s garden in the foreground. (Image: Jarrod Hall via Vimeo)

To visit Seon Byeong-guk House:

  • Go to Dong Seoul Terminal 동서울종합버스터미널 located near Gangbyeon station, Subway Line 2.
  • Catch an intercity bus to Songnisan from 07:30 – 18:30. Buses depart every hour, and it takes around 3.5 hours
  • Catch a taxi to Seon Byeong-guk House 선병국 가옥
  • Or from the Boeun Bus Terminal, catch a local bus going to Sangju (상주) and get off at Jangan (장안). The house is a 5-min walk from the bus stop.

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China’s Most Beautiful Town, Ancient Fenghuang

Ancient Fenghuang

Ancient Fenghuang (image: nspirement)

Ancient Fenghuang is an exceptionally well-preserved town and sits on the western border of Hunan Province. It is in an area with exceptional natural beauty where mountains, water, and blue skies prevail. Upon arrival, you will be captivated by its air of mystery, elegance, and primitive simplicity.

Located on the banks of the Tuojiang River (Tuojiang, 沱江) this old town has kept its original appearance from the Qing Dynasty 300 years ago. The bridges that sit over the water, along with the unique houses built on stilts, display a harmony that is often portrayed in traditional Chinese paintings.

stone castle in fenghuang
The ancient town of Fenghuang has over 300 culture heritages spanning 1300 years, such as Huang Si Qiao Castle, the best-preserved stone castle which was built in Tang Dynasty (year 687). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Ancient Fenghuang is legendary for its unique ethnic languages (more than half the population belong to the Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities), customs, and arts, and also because of its distinctive Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty architecture. When the early morning mist arrives, it’s not hard to see why the claim of being the most beautiful town in the whole of China is more than justified.

chinese farmer carrying straw on his back inbetween mountains
The town was the only path between Huahua, Jishou (Hunan Province), and Tongren (Guizhou Province) once making it a rallying point for politicos, warlords, bandits, and the local Miao minority people in its ancient history. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Ancient Fenghuang can be divided into two parts. One is the old town, while the other one is the new town. The old one leans against hills and faces the crystal-clear Tuojiang River flowing through the city, and it is the main tourist area in the county. The new town is the normal residential area for local people.

Why Phoenix?

“Fenghuang” is Chinese for “Phoenix,” the mythical bird of good fortune and longevity. It is said that the Phoenix set itself on fire when it was 500 years old. However, it was reborn from the ashes and is now immortal.

Phoenix statue. A park south of the city. Nanning, Guangxi.
The Chinese phoenix did not always look like the colorful firebird that we all recognize. (Image: krun via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

As for how the ancient town got its name, legend has it that two of these magnificent birds flew over it and found the town so beautiful they hovered there, reluctant to leave.

How to get to ancient Fenghuang

Ancient Fenghuang is located in the southwest of Hunan Province, bordering the cities of Huaihua to the southeast and Tongren (Guizhou) to the west. It is 37 km away from the nearest city, which is Jishou.

night scene in the center of the ancient city
The center of the ancient city was built in the year 1704 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty, with the Tuo River dividing it. It was originally called Zhen’gan until 1913 when it was re-named Fenghuang. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

To travel to Ancient Fenghuang, you can take a train from the Shanghai South Railway station to Jishou, and then take a bus to the ancient town, or travel by plane from Guiyang (Guizhou Province) to the Tongren Fenghuang Airport.

fenghuang old lady
Don’t accept the free services or gifts. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Travel tips

  1. Never open your umbrella while in local peoples’ houses
  2. Don’t step on the door sills of a house owned by a local family
  3. Male and female cannot sleep in the same room when staying overnight as guests
  4. Don’t whistle in the residential area of Miao Nationally and Tujia Nationality, as locals believe it’s the sound for calling ghosts together
  5. Before you enter the ancient town, make sure you have plenty of paper money, because in the ancient town of Fenghuang, coins are unpopular
  6. Never touch or get too close to married women in the residential area

houses by river fenghuang china
There are a number of remarkable old gardens as well as distinctive residential buildings, elegant bridges, and mysterious towers and pagodas. These architectural delights date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Be aware of traps

  1. Take care for the butter-tonsiled drivers and service suppliers
  2. Never trust someone selling cheap tickets or “perfect extra itineraries”
  3. Don’t accept free services or gifts (like the joss sticks and candles burning at a temple), as you will end up paying more for it

women in traditional outfits fenghuang
Fenghuang ancient town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008, in the Cultural category. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

From April to late October is the best time to visit; November to March is quite cold. There are a lot of choices for accommodation in Ancient Fenghuang, from well-equipped hotels to economic hostels.

If you are looking for well-equipped hotels, you can find them around the ancient town’s scenic area, within walking distance of the ancient town. If you want to save money and stay inside the ancient town scenic area, you can book a hostel inside the ancient town that is operated by local residents.

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