Seoul, officially Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest city of South Korea, with population of over 10 million, and is the world’s second largest metropolitan area with about 25 million people.
Located on the Han River, Seoul has been a major settlement for over 2,000 years and is home to several UNESCO heritage sites. Today, Seoul is one of the world’s leading financial and commercial centres with a highly advanced infrastructure and the world’s fastest broadband network.
The general age of consent in South Korea is 13. Although homosexual activity is legal, the LGBT community still face legal challenges. Same-sex marriage is not socially and culturally recognized. Many prefer not to reveal their gay identity to their family, friends or co-workers. But as in many countries, the society is becoming more accepting of gays and lesbians.
Transgender people are allowed to have sex change surgery in Korea after age 20 and can change their gender information on official documents.
Seoul remains South Korea’s most gay-oriented city with an international, foreigner-friendly gay scene. A number of well-established gay bars are located in the lively Itaewon area, particularly on the so-called “Homo Hill”. Nearby, there a few popular gay dance clubs that get busy late into the night.
Gay saunas in Seoul are rather small, though they can be found all around the city, especially in popular areas like Itaewon, Jongno and Gangnam. These venues usually stay open 24 hours and can get pretty wild on the weekend.
For a more ‘local’ gay scene, check out Jongno. This area in central Seoul is home to dozens of gay-popular hangouts, karaoke bars and restaurants. Take the subway to Jongno 3-ga station and take Exit 5.
In the evening, The Coffee Bean café at Fraser Suites Insadong hotel is packed with gay customers. The guys come in various ages, shapes and ethnicities. Popular for pre-clubbing, this is the place to see and be seen.
Most visitors arrive via the Incheon International Airport (ICN) located on Yeongjong Island in the neighboring city of Incheon. The closer but older Gimpo Airport handles most domestic flights as well as shuttle services to Tokyo, Osaka and Shanghai.
The A’REX train, which connects the airport to Seoul Station, operates from 5:20am until midnight. There are two versions – the Express leaves every half hour and takes about 40 minutes, while the commuter train leaves every 6 minutes and takes about 50 minutes.
The most convenient way to commute in Seoul. You can visit most places via the subway. There are currently nine numbered lines plus a few suburban lines, all differentiated by colors. All signs in the subway system are in Korean and English.
Seoul also has an extensive bus service. There are four different kinds: yellow, green, blue, and red. Yellow buses have a short circuit usually around tourist areas. Green buses travel around neighborhoods and connect with the subway. Blue buses go across town, while red buses are intercity buses. Buses will only stop at designated stops and will not wait for indecisive travelers.
There are two kinds of taxis. Deluxe taxis are black with a yellow sign and are more expensive but provide more comfortable service. Regular taxis are silver, and most have leather interiors. It is easy to hail a taxi any time of the day or night along any relatively major Seoul street.
Renting a car is possible but not advisable as traffic is usually bad and parking is extremely difficult to find.
Since Seoul is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, walking around in the city can be confusing. Most people will try to help you find your way around but often won’t know themselves. The best thing to do is to familiarize yourself with some landmarks and the nearest subway stations.
If you want to stay close to the gay scene and nightlife, an excellent range of Mid-Range and Budget Hotels are available near the gay-popular Itaewon and Jongno areas. More Luxury Hotel options can be found in the Central District.
National Museum of Korea – the largest museum in Korea with six permanent exhibition galleries.
Namdaemun – the largest traditional street market in Korea.
Myeongdong NANTA Theatre – 90-min world-famous non-verbal performance with audience participation.
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art – located in Itaewon and showcases beautiful Korean and international art collection.
Samcheong-dong Bukchon – neighbourhood with interesting coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores and galleries.
Changdeokgung Palace – this UNESCO world heritage site is a 15th century palace with quiet, natural surroundings.
Namsan Park – a great place to walk and exercise offering beautiful views and an outdoor gym; home of the Seoul Tower.
Insadong – historic neighbourhood with a nice collection of shops and restaurants.
Gyeongbokgung Palace – built six centuries ago and home to The National Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum.
Yongsan Electronics Market – huge shopping mall with two floors full of electronics.
Korea has four seasons and experiences harsh winters and hot, humid and rainy summers. The best time to visit Seoul is in Spring (late March – beginning of June) or Autumn (mid September – November).
Most countries have joined a visa waiver agreement with the Republic of Korea and are allowed to enter Korea without a visa for the purpose of tourism and travel.
Another visa agreement is the designated visa-free entry. The length of stay depends on the agreement made between South Korea and your country (usually 3 months).
The currency in South Korea is the South Korean Won (KRW). The won currency deals with high numbers. A restaurant meal could cost KRW50,000. Get to know the currency before you arrive.