A Lost Seoul

A Lost Seoul

My trip to South Korea began with a weekend in Seoul. Researching where to stay in Seoul quickly revealed Seoul as a very huge and confusing city. With no previous point of reference as to where anything of interest or importance was, my eyes glazed over the sprawling and winding map in front of me.

Of course, I turned to my usual method of just putting everything into Google maps as a point of reference. But even Google was confused! This is never good.

Exploring Seoul!

You see, addresses don’t mean much in Seoul. The city is divided into 25 administrative districts, or “gu”. The name of an administrative district always ends in a –gu (Jongno-gu, Dongjak-gu). Those 25 gu are divided into neighborhoods, or “dong”. The address for a teashop in the interesting Insadong neighborhood area might just be #54, Insadong, Jongno-gu, meaning building #54 in the Insadong neighborhood, within the Jongno district.

Usually, the idea of an address is that you can use it to find the exact location of that building. NOPE, not in Seoul. The buildings are numbered, but they are assigned numbers in the order they are built, not according to their relationship with other buildings on the street. Therefore, these numbers are pretty much useless except for the postal service.

This means that even local Koreans have an extremely hard time finding a place if you give them the address. The system revolves around using landmarks and directions. Most hotels and guesthouses have a card that they will give you, which has a map and directions on it. That way, you can hand it to a taxi driver to help them take you back. Almost all directions that I found about Seoul gave me directions based on landmarks (no street names, no building numbers). They always included a sentence at the bottom saying, if you don’t find it, ask a Korean to use their phone to call this number, and we will come get you!

I took a taxi from my meeting back to my guesthouse. Our partners wrote instructions in Korean on a piece of paper for me (since most taxi drivers speak little to no English). The driver had to pull over to the side of the road, where he sat muttering to himself for a few minutes. I tried throwing out helpful hints: (Bukchon? Anguk station?). Eventually, after a couple of phone calls and the help of his GPS, he got me pretty darn close.

To make matters even more confusing, since Koreans use Hangeul alphabet, they use romanisation so that foreigners can read the words. However, in 2000, the government switched their method of romanisation. This resulted in most places having two different names, which change depending on who you are talking to or what you are reading. Some maps use the old system, and some the new. This is why you’ll hear Busan referred to as Pusan, or Jeju as Chechu. Those are easy enough, but when you get to the names like the province Chungcheongnam-do, things can get pretty confusing!

All of these things initially make the idea of getting around South Korea feel pretty daunting. But, once you understand the points above, it will make things much easier! With the use of maps, gestures, and a sincere attempt to pronounce the Korean words, you’ll get by juuuust fine.


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One thought on "A Lost Seoul"

  1. World Tours says:

    very good information about the South Korea.

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