More and more older residents of the Bukchon Hanok Village, nestled between Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces, are fleeing the area because of the constant stream of tourists they say has turned their home into a zoo.
Along with the village's growing fame came noise and littering, and many long-time residents complain about rude tourists who simply wander into their homes with no respect for private property.
The Jongno district office has now sought the help of Prof. Lee Hoon of Hanyang University to figure out what can be done. Lee warned that "touristification" of the neighborhood threatens to drive out the very residents who gave it its authentic character in the first place.
Based on mobile phone roaming data, he found that an average of 280,000 foreigners visited Bukchon Hanok Village every month, but the number of residents in the village fell 14.7 percent in the last five years from 8,719 to 7,438.
Invasions of privacy, littering and noise were the main reasons that drove long-term residents out of their narrow lanes.
Chung Ok-sun (54), said, "I posted a sign on my doorstep saying this is private property, but tourists still walked into my yard to take pictures." Another resident in Gahoe-dong (60) said, "There are no public toilets since this is a residential area, so some tourists just relieve themselves in the alleys."
Locals have put up red signs throughout the neighborhood complaining about the noise and littering.
Another complaint of the locals is that the shops catering to their daily necessities are being driven out by souvenir shops and greedy landlords.
One estate agent in the area said, "There are no beauty salons or public baths in Samcheong-dong. Those kinds of shops are disappearing." The main reason is soaring rents as tourist traffic puts dollar signs in landlords' eyes, prompting dry cleaners and other small neighborhood businesses to move out. The inconvenience means that locals soon follow.
City officials cannot bar tourists from visiting. In an alley with painted murals in Ihwa-dong, which had grown extremely popular among tourists, angry locals simply painted over the murals in April 2016 because the crowds became insufferable, and rents soon came back down to normal.
But Lee said such extreme measures are counterproductive. "We need to do something, maybe capping tourist numbers on certain days of the week or times of day, so that locals and visitors can coexist."
Visitors pass a banner reading "Residents here also want to live in a decent environment," at the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul on Sunday.