If it’s not the clash of the clean cut businessmen hurrying to work, or the cries of the late night socialites stammering home at 7am that wakes you, then it’s more than likely the thick Korean humidity ever present in your presumably miniscule accommodation. You’ve got 24 hours in Seoul, a lot of time in this Neon Labyrinth.
Seoul is the kind of city where you can live whatever life you want if you’re not Korean. With the rising sun there’s a variety of Breakfast spots in any district ranging from workers Cafes serving traditional Korean Soup to Ornate themed restaurants to a Burger King breakfast. Expect to pay around £3 for something to keep you going for the day.
From there you’ve got options. That’s what Seoul truly offers: options. If you want History and culture then head to Anguk. Once you’ve worked out the surprisingly easy and comprehensive subway of course. In Anguk you can find Gyeongbokgung palace that was once home to Sejong the Great and a winding sprawling complex of buildings and courts. Here you’ll also find sights like Bukchon village, a perfectly preserved medieval neighbourhood with winding streets filled with museums and cultural artefacts. You can get lost in Anguk in the kind of way that makes you excited, in a way that around each corner there’ll be something you haven’t seen before. Even if it is an old woman running a stall that only sells calendars of K-Pop stars.
Temples like Jogyesa, also in Anguk, offer a respite from the unending movement of seoul. These places are steeped in folklore and spiritualism that permeates the gold and stone pagodas that stand over the high-rise flats like monuments to Koreas past. Jogyesa itself is one of the most interesting and probably tourist friendly. The temple adheres to a strict itinerary making catching the prayers and lantern making all the more easier. But now its lunch time, and if you’ve seen the sights and brought your ornamental fans, paintings and letter openers it’s time to move on.
Street food is a passion of Seoul. On every street, square and crossing there’s a little old Agima with her cart dishing out fried goods, fish pancakes and soup to anyone for less than the price off a happy meal, sans toy. You’ll often find the little old ladies running these sit-down stalls to be more than friendly. You’ll make light conversation, practice your Korean as she practices her English and hopefully come away feeling satisfied, like a short burst of eating lunch with a loving grandmother. Albeit minus the common language.
If shopping is your thing you should head to Myeongdong, the streets fill up with thousands upon thousands of people seeking anything they can get their hands on. There is a market, district and mall for anything you can dream of, all for cheap, all to be bartered and fought over. Myeongdong is one of the most populous and contemporary with a bustling market stall selling every variety of sock playing neighbour to a body shop or KFC. Bartering is not as strong a tradition as it is in other parts of Asia, but with a little coercion and a modicum of shouting you can get the genuine Roldexx watch or Louis Viccon shoes you’re after.
As the evening draws in you’ll get to try one of the culinary highlights of Korea, the Korean Barbeque. You’ll sit at a round table with a stove in the centre and an extraction fan dangling overhead. The waiter will bring out slabs and chunks of beef and pork of all kinds, vegetables and Kimchi. A word on Kimchi: it’s a spicy fermented cabbage meal that is served with literally everything, regardless. Pizza? Kimchi. Fried Chicken? Have some Kimchi. As your pick bits of beef off the grill and fill yourself on sides and beer you’ll feel the descent into revelry that comes over the business class of Korea at night.
As evening ends and night begins, all of a sudden BAM two shots of cherry Soju right to the neck. Drinking in Korea comes in many flavours, some more savoury to the western perspective than others. Seoul comes to life at night. The Neon celebration is out in full swing as the dressed up populous stagger down streets from one brightly lit activity to another. If you’re in the student district of Sinchon then you’ll find the back streets lined with bar after bar. Some are alcohol buffets in a literal sense. Pay roughly £10 and it’s all you can drink all night. Some are bizarre themed bars or arcades that allow you to drink whilst demeaning yourself with some kind of amusement. If you have absolutely no shame there are Norebangs (Kareoke rooms) where for about £5 you and all your friends can sing from a catalogue of songs in the safety and comfort of a somewhat soundproof private room, or like much of the populace; you can slum it and take up one of the tables and chairs outside a corner shop and drink a beer and Soju as you watch the revellers trip over their own good time.
Night life in Seoul never stops. In fact it seems that to some of the populous it can never stop. Social events and special nights roll on night after night after night. If clubbing is your thing there’s no better place to be. If you’re thinking budget then head to Hongdae along with the rest of Seoul students. However, if its class you’re looking for and you’ve got a few friends and some money to blow heading to the now infamous Gangnam is well worth your time.
The thing is with Seoul, it can’t stop, and it won’t stop. Seoul is officially going on forever. In the time you spend here as the sun rises over your drunken stagger home, singing Hooked at a feeling with your new American friend slumped on your shoulder, you’ll realise that Seoul is a city with no real limitations. The only problem is how much do you think you can fit in?