When looking for flights home from Southeast Asia, we spotted a good price with Asiana, a Korean airline. Upon realizing we could stopover in Seoul for no additional charge, we decided to check out this buzzing city as a final stop on our round-the-world trip. While it was never really on our radar, this turned out to be a happy accident. Seoul rocks!
Upon first landing in Seoul we were immediately impressed with how clean and modern everything was. On the train into town from Incheon airport, every single person – young and old – seemed to be using a smartphone or tablet and there was even free WIFI. We felt like we had taken a time machine into the future.
We booked a hostel in the Hongdae area of Seoul – an area close to the Hongik University which is famed for its cafes, bars, music, and restaurants. This turned out to be a great choice as we were right in the middle of all the action. Just walking through the streets we were excited by the youthful and energetic vibe here.
Unfortunately, we found it a little difficult to get past the language barrier here – more so than in many other countries we have visited. Despite the fact that many Koreans learn English in school, many don’t seem to be able to answer even the simplest questions. We found ourselves resorting to a lot of hand signals and gesturing.
Luckily, we bumped into a group of English teachers from the US and UK in a convenience store. They took us under their wing and invited us out to a noraebang for some karaoke. We had a great time with our new friends and learned a lot about life in Korea.
Teaching English seems like a great gig – you really don’t need any qualifications besides being a native speaker and you will be taken care of by your school. There is even the opportunity to do private tutoring on the side and save up a decent chunk of change (South Korea is fairly cheap by Western standards).
I always assumed New York, with most bars open until 4am, was the nightlife capital of the world. But after seeing Seoul, I’ve changed my mind. Here, there is no last call and many bars and restaurants will stay open until the last patron is ready to leave. Walking through the narrow, bar-lined streets of Hongdae, the energy is contagious.
Every night feels like New Years Eve – even Sunday nights! People buy drinks “to go”, the streets are littered with debris, and food vendors are dishing out greasy snacks to keep the crowd going. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Of course, there is a darker side to this. Our English Teacher friends told us how people are expected and encouraged to drink and get drunk, even at work functions. And with a culture so accepting of alcohol consumption, problems follow. South Koreans have a very high rate of alcohol-related health conditions and increasing problems with violence.