5 reasons to visit Paju Book City

5 reasons to visit Paju Book City

Books far outnumber humans in this esoteric book-obsessed neighborhood
Book City Culture Foundation
Gateway to bookworm heaven.

To some urban dwellers, the ascetic minimalism of Paju Book City may make it seem like a stylish but sterile place without much to do. But to the bibliophiles, cinephiles, and design enthusiasts, Paju Book City offers more substantial pleasures than just exclusivity. 

Instead of department stores and Internet cafés, there are art galleries and book cafés, and bookstores loaded with books in Korean, Japanese or English. 

There is no heavy traffic, and the widely spaced buildings and lack of taxis force you to walk along artfully unkempt strip of wetland that runs through the neighborhood. 

Sounds intriguing? Here are five reasons to check out Paju Book City. 

1. Used bookstores 

As the name suggests, Paju Book City is a city of books. Books outnumber people by a ratio of 20-to-1. Although -- like most statistics -- these numbers are based largely on approximations rather than hard research, they’re not too hard to believe. 

The buildings that dominate most of the area house the offices of mainstream Korean publishers, who usually sell discounted books directly from the ground floor. 

The best finds, however, are tucked away in the used bookstores.

paju book city Like what you see? Unfortunately, most of these books have probably gone by now.

The most popular of these is Bomulseom, a second-hand bookstore run by charity organization Beautiful Store. 

Despite its relatively compact size, Bomulseom carries a quality selection of Korean, English, and Japanese books, as well as magazines and music.  

Their selection changes frequently, so be warned: do not leave a good find for next time. Previous finds include hardcover Nancy Drew books for 2,500 a piece and a collection of Seamus Heaney’s poetry for ₩3,000 -- all in excellent condition. 

Bomulseom, 2/F Asian Publication Culture Information Center, Paju Book City, 524-3 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 524-3 파주출판도시 아시아출판문화정센터 2층); +82 31 955 0077 

Paju Book City A tent full of books is the closest these bookworms will get to camping.

Not all of the used bookstores are so user-friendly. Ega Old Bookstore in particular requires more exertion on the part of the booklover. 

Here, the books reside not in shelves but in large piles on the floor, and the bookstore itself is not in a proper building but a white tent. 

Also offering a broad selection of books in various languages, Ega's books can be as affordable as 1,000, but the rarer volumes can set you back as much as 100,000.

"We have about 100,000 books," says Lee Hye-jung, who runs the bookstore with her husband. "Of those, I would say about 2,000 to 3,000 are in English." 

Not all of the books are for sale however. Ega also has a display of Korean textbooks and record sleeves from the 1960s and 1970s. 

Previous finds include a hardcover Henry James novel from Vintage Books for 7,000, and an erotic paperback for 1,000. 

EgaPaju Book City, 520-8 Mulbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do  (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 520-8 파주출판단지); +82 31 955 1499 

2. Art galleries with a twist 

Paju Book City may be more about architecture than art, but the art that is available is characterized by tactility and practicality.

paju book city Gallery Pakyoung.

Gallery Pakyoung
, run by Korean publishing house Pakyoungsa, is home to both permanent and temporary exhibitions, featuring clever and likable pieces. 

But the gallery is most notable for its artist residency program. One floor above the Gallery Pakyoung is the Studio Pakyoung, where the artists currently on exhibit work and live. Visitors can thus view both the artwork and the artist at work. 

Gallery PakyoungPaju Book City, 526-6 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 526-6  파주출판단지 내); 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; +82 31 955 4071

Then there is Story of Africa, self-described café and gallery. With its sunny and spacious interior, unaffectedly intriguing paintings, and the quality Arabica coffee, it’s simply too pleasant a place to dismiss as a mere gimmick, despite the fact that it is themed. 

Paju book city Story of Africa.

If you have already purchased a drink, for 2,000 extra you can gain entrance into Story of Africa’s back gallery: an adjacent room with more paintings. 

Story of AfricaPaju Book City, 500-8 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 500-8); 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 

3. Book café

The difficulty about writing about book cafés in Paju Book City is that there are so damn many of them. 

Every publisher with a percolator prints out a menu and thinks that they are on their way to becoming excellent book cafés. 

The problem is that they are. 

Every single one of them. 

Yet equally excellent does not mean identical. All of the book cafés have some unique quirk of their own, and fill a specific niche, just like their publishing companies.

Oullim Book Café, run by Hyewon Publishers, for example, is one of the more family-friendly places, with a generous selection of children’s books. 

"We carry almost 50,000 books from 34 different publishing houses," says owner Lee Young-ha, 50. "They are mostly books that have been returned to the publishing houses."

Unfortunately, there are no English books available. 

Oullim Book CaféPaju Book City, Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 507-8); 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; +82 31 955 6451  

4. Jijihyang guesthouse 

Paju Book CityJijihyang Guesthouse.

At the end of a long day in Paju Book City, smelling like books and coffee, you can unwind in a room at the Jijihyang Guesthouse.

Jijihyang’s decor is unadorned and basic. In keeping with this theme -- black and white in terms of color, and environmentally green in terms of principles -- Jijihyang also does not place TV sets in guest suites. 

Visitors are encouraged to look out the windows instead. Or, maybe, read a book. 

Jijihyang, Paju Book City, 524-3 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 524-3 파주출판단지 내); +82 31 955 0090 

5. Specialized exhibition spaces 

As if Paju Book City itself doesn’t make books enough of a fetish, Doosung Paper Gallery promotes the stuff books are made of. The gallery is run by Doosung Paper Company, which supplies more than 3,500 companies in printing and advertising industries, as well as 2,500 stationery shops.  

Doosung Paper Gallery, Paju Book City, 499-1 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 499-1 파주출판단지); 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; +82 31 955 1483

Naby Nara Museum.

The Naby Nara Museum celebrates butterflies -- both dead and living. With a butterfly conservatory and a permanent exhibition of actual butterflies on the second floor, a butterfly-themed gift shop on the first floor, and a constant rotation of butterfly art exhibits and relevant workshops, the Naby Nara Museum is kid-friendly but not kid-exclusive. Pop in on a weekday afternoon to avoid the crowds.   

Naby Nara MuseumPaju Book City, 500-8 Munbal-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do (경기도 파주시 교하읍 문발리 500-8 파주출판도시); 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; +82 31 955 3727 

Violet Kim is a freelance writer for CNN Travel.

Find her online @pomography.

Read more about Violet Kim