Tourist Tips: One Day in Gangnam – An Introduction

I recently wrote a nice blog post for the team at Trazy! Trazy is a wildly popular travel services site for Seoul. They offer any and everything – private cars from the airport, tickets to Nanta, day trips to the countryside and ski resorts…even entry passes to Club Octagon!

Since I focus on tours in the Gangnam area, I wrote up some information about Gangnam, the history, the neighborhoods, transportation etc.

I always recommend visitors enjoy the Gangnam or Jamsil area for the day before our meetup. There are many things to do for the entire afternoon…and then stroll on over to Sinnonhyeon to meet me for dinner!

So this post is kind of shameless. Just copy and pasted with some links for you to get more info on the places…..here goes!

What Is Gangnam?

Anyone that comes to Seoul is already familiar with Gangnam, thanks to the suuuuuuuuper popular song from 2012, Gangnam Style:

Yes, it’s home to wealthy people, fancy cars, and celebrities, but that’s just one tiny pocket of Gangnam. Gangnam literally means “South of the River” and encompasses basically the entire southeastern region of Seoul including Seocho and Jamsil, not just Gangnam Station area. Gangnam was actually farm land until the 1970s or so and did not really become fully developed until the 80s (or later, depending on your definition of developed). So everything you see in Gangnam is “new” by Korean standards.

Gangnam itself is divided into several main areas (dong means neighborhood in Korean):

Cheongdam-dong : True Gangnam Style, home to all the celebrities, fancy cafes, expensive cars.

Nonhyeon-dong: Standard Gangnam. Offices on the main roads and tons of quiet neighborhoods, residences and local restaurants/bars on the back streets.

Sinsa-dong: Home to plastic surgery clinics, more businesses, more residences. Also home to Garosu-gil.

Samseong-dong: Another residential area of Gangnam. Home to COEX, Bongeunsa Temple.

Seocho-gu (Gu Means District): Standard Gangnam. Home to many businesses and high rise apartments.

Fun fact. Gangnam-daero (Road) is actually the dividing line between Seocho and Gangnam Districts. The average visitor won’t notice a difference, but for residents it’s a matter of where you pay your taxes and who provides services.

Songpa-gu: Songpa is actually a huge district that is considered Gangnam, but it spreads east verrrrrry far. Many, many, maaaaaaaaaaany high rise apartments. Also home to Jamsil Station and Lotte World.

Hotspots & Places of Interest

***The bold titles of each section are also links to Google searches for more information, pictures, etc.***

Gangnam Station:  Gangnam Station is actually the busiest subway station in Seoul and has a huge underground shopping center. Great for cheap women’s clothes and accessories!

Gangnam Station Exit 9 and 10: Major shopping street. Every major Korean and foreign brand AND a GIANT Kakao Friends store!

Gangnam Station Exit 11 and 12 (behind the main road): Looooooooooooong alleyways with TONS of restaurants, bars and cafes!

Garosu-gil (Sinsa Station Exit 8): Garosu-gil means “Tree Lined Street.” The main street is home to more Korean and international brands. Also home to Korea’s only Apple Store. The highlight of Garosu-gil is actually off the main road – there are TONS of dessert cafes, tiny restaurants, cute bars, and more to explore!

Hallyu K Star Road (Apgujeong Rodeo Station Exit 2): Also home to the Galleria Department Store and Apgujeong Rodeo Shopping/Nightlife Area, this road features many of Korea’s fanciest luxury brands. Fun Fact: This neighborhood is SO fancy, all of these luxury brands have giant stand alone stores here AND even a store right down the street inside the Galleria Dept. Store…..which makes you wonder, WHO buys all this stuff!?  But, K Star Road features many cute character statues for your favorite K Pop groups. If you’re wanting to find a celebrity, it would be here. They live and shop in this area.

Seonjeongneung Tombs: (Seonjeongneung Station Exit 3 / Seolleung Station Exit 8): Home to two sets of tombs, this is actually a very beautifully landscaped and relaxing park.

Bongeunsa Temple (Bongeunsa Station Exit 1): A traditional Korean temple right in the middle of the city. Great contrast between past and present, traditional and modern!

COEX (Bongeunsa Station Exit 7 / Samseong Station Exit 5 or 6): The world’s largest underground shopping mall! Home to a giant Megabox movie theater, tons of shopping and food, Kimchi Museum, Aquarium…even a Convention Center, TWO Intercontinental Hotels, a Casino….and even the City Airport Terminal that offers Check In, Immigration, and Bag Drop for your flight.

Jamsil Station: The area around Jamsil Station is often called Lotte Town by locals. It’s home to Lotte World, the amusement park, as well as Lotte World Tower, the123 floor skyscraper. Lotte World Tower features not only a giant shopping mall with duty free shops, restaurants, an aquarium….but a luxury hotel, residences, and the observatory at the top.  There is also a Lotte Hotel next door and TWO Lotte Department Stores literally across the street from each other. The CEO of Lotte Group lives in Lotte Tower and the company has all of various HQs in buildings surrounding the entire station.

Gangnam – Transportation & Getting Around

Traffic in Gangnam can be quite brutal. Gangnam is the business hub of Seoul, so many people from all over Seoul and the suburbs come here for work. There are buses available to literally every corner of Seoul and the surrounding area (and buses to other cities at Express Bus Terminal). The subway lines in Gangnam run east to west, so it’s easier to pick a subway line and walk the remaining distance north or south. Don’t really try to transfer in Gangnam subways as you’ll go out of your way. You’ll spend more time changing lines than if you just walked.

Subway Line 9 is perhaps the best part about Gangnam. It has an Express train that can take you all the way across to Gimpo Airport in roughly 30 minutes…but it is PACKED at rush hour! You can then just cross the platform at Gimpo Airport to change to the AREX and be at Incheon Airport in another 40 minutes.  There are many airport limousine buses to Gangnam, but be warned in bad traffic it can take almost 90 minutes!

Where to Stay

Most people that stay in Gangnam are business travelers for work. I strongly believe Gangnam is the best neighborhood to live in (infrastructure, neighborhood cleanliness, services offered, etc.), but perhaps not the best for a tourist.  As a tourist, you’ll be hopping around all day and it’s at least 40 minutes to Myeongdong and central Seoul, and 45 mins – 1 hr to the other side and Hongdae depending on where you are going.

BUT if you stay near Subway Line 9, it is very easy to transfer to other subway lines by Express train. You can be at Seoul Station in 15-20 minutes, Hongdae in 40, and so on.

Try to stay near Subway Line 9 and an Express Stop (Sinnonhyeon Station, Sonjeongneung Station, Bongeunsa Station).  Most of the action (shopping, nightlife, 24 hour vibe, busy streets and activity) is around Sinnonhyeon Station.

 

 

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Tourist Tips: From The Airport to Seoul (and Back) + Other Areas in Korea

For part two of my tourist tips, I’m going to tackle the various transportation options for Seoul. There are two main airports in Seoul, Gimpo and Incheon.

Looking for where to stay in Seoul? What to do on a short layover? Click those links.

Gimpo Airport is the domestic airport with 100+ flights per day to Jeju alone, as well as other cities in Korea. Note that with travel to cities like Busan, it’s almost easier to just take the KTX since you have to arrive early to the airport AND the main tourist areas are further away from the airport.

Gimpo Airport also has international flights to/from Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. If you’re flying internationally, you’re in for one of the easiest, pain free experiences of your life.

Incheon is the main international gateway and definitely the shining star. It’s roughly one hour from Seoul. I could write a whole post on Incheon airport amenities….but, later! There are some domestic flights from Gimpo, BUT they are only available for connecting passengers from other countries and must be bought together. You cannot fly from Incheon to Jeju at this time.

Gimpo Airport

Gimpo Airport has literally five gates in the international terminal and barely any traffic. While there may even be a wait at immigration, it takes longer to get your bags :-). When departing from Gimpo Airport, DO NOT arrive two hours early. You will be so damn bored. Gimpo only has a few flights a day, so you can show up right before check in closing (I always say 1 hr and 15 mins), have no wait for check in and security….and STILL have 20 minutes to sit and wait. I’ve shown up 1 hr and 5 mins before departure…no wait…no stress from the staff either. Totally relaxed. There are really no big facilities inside the airport…but there is a recent renovation with new paid Sky Hub lounge if you need it.

Gimpo is very well connected by subway, but has very few limousine buses. Perhaps the best connection is Subway Line 9 with the Express train…you can be in Gangnam in 30 minutes! Subway Line 5 and the AREX All Stop trains also stop at Gimpo. To navigate the subway from Gimpo Airport, download Kakao Metro. It is the BEST subway app – tells you exactly which car and door to use so that you can be nearest your exact exit number or transfer direction….that way you walk less with bags inside some of the larger stations!

Going to Jeju? You’ll leave and arrive from Gimpo. Domestic terminal is separate, but generally just as easy to navigate. It’s busier as there are 100+ flights to Jeju a day alone, but you can arrive as late as 20 minutes before departure and check in

Incheon Airport

Which Terminal?

There are two terminals at Incheon Airport.

When departing from Incheon, pay attention carefully!

Terminal 1 = ALL airlines (Gates 1-50 or so)

EXCEPT

Terminal 2 = Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM  ONLY (Gates 200 and up)

Flights also arrive at the Concourse Terminal (Gates 100-130 or so)…..The Concourse Terminal is home to foreign LCC budget airlines, some Korean LCCs, and Chinese/other SkyTeam airlines (to be close to T2).

If you arrive at the Concourse Terminal, you will take a train to Terminal 1 and arrive there for Immigration, Baggage Claim, Customs and transportation to Seoul.

You cannot freely switch between T1 / Concourse / T2. If you are transiting to other airlines, you must have a boarding pass and scan through a security gate (or have itinerary to show staff at transfer desks).

If you are departing and go to the wrong terminal, you can take a free shuttle bus between the two, approximately 20 minutes one way.

How Much Time To Get To Seoul?

My experiences are only with Terminal 1 (Gates 1-50 or so) and the attached Concourse (Gates 100-130 or so) you reach by train from T1. I have not yet used Terminal 2 (Gates in the 200s) home to Korean Air, Delta, Air France, and KLM)…but I have heard and seen that it is an empty, easy to use terminal since only four airlines are there!

As everyone arrives at different times throughout the day, it’d take years to explain and provide the best advice. But plan it this way:

Arrival time is when you touch the ground at the airport. Plan for 30 minutes to get to the gate, get off the plane, and walk/train to immigration depending on where you are.

Immigration lines can vary wildly. There’s really no good guess, just only knowledge of the busy times which are: super early morning 5-7 AM when many flights from SE Asia arrive and late afternoon 3-5 PM when alllllll the flights from Europe and America arrive. I have Smart Entry Service, so I use the automated kiosks, but I’ve seen lines with no one and lines with TONS of people at all times over the years. So to be safe, plan for 15 -30 minutes in line at the worst.

That’s because you’ll have to get bags. Even if there is no immigration line, by the time you get out to collect bags…and wait for them…it will still be 15-30 minutes until you’re out the door.

At the simplest: if you arrive at 6 PM, expect to be out of the airport with bags by 7 PM, and into Seoul by 8 PM. So, plan for two hours from the time your plane lands until you arrive in central Seoul.

How to Get to Seoul?

Terminal 2 has its own access with limousine buses to the entire city and train. Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 are six minutes apart by train. So just take AREX train from Terminal 2. Express train stops only at T2 and T1 and then are nonstop to Seoul Station.

If you want to go to any other station OR transfer on the AREX line, take the All Stop Train.  There are many limousine buses based on your exact destination, so check them carefully with your hotel. You do NOT have go to T1 if you are at T2 to take any buses/trains (or vice-versa).

For those on a short layover in the same day, I ALWAYS recommend taking the AREX train to avoid any surprises with traffic.

I also only recommend the bus in the early morning (before 8 AM), after rush hour (10 AM – 12 PM), and mid-afternoon (3-5 PM).  Rush hour traffic can be toooooooooooo messssy and unpredictable and you could really be screwed and wasting time.

Staying in a Myeongdong/Central Seoul hotel? There are MANY MANY limousine buses. Check with your hotel directly. They will know the best way. There can be many small changes to limo bus routes/schedules that I don’t know about, so I’m certainly not going to write a Bible about all the buses here.

Limousine Bus vs. Train?

I always prefer to take the train TO Incheon Airport since I am always departing during rush hour. The roads during rush hour, particularly the expressway, can be VERY clogged. On a good journey you can be at Incheon in 40-45 mins, but a bad one? 90+ minutes.

I also take a lot of weekend trips, so I do not have many big bags….

BUT

If you have large bags, I always recommend the limousine bus over the train. The train stations do have escalators and elevators, but they’re not always right where you need them to be. That means carrying large luggage around.

Also, the train station at Incheon Airport is about a 10 minute walk from arrivals to the platform. The limousine buses are literally right outside the door. You can take a luggage cart to the bus. The staff will load your bags onto the bus with a luggage tag to check.

The limousine bus has very wide, spacious seats. Very easy to nap as it’s pin drop quiet on the bus. On the AREX Express train, you are guaranteed a seat….All Stop is like a normal subway, so don’t expect a seat.

AREX –  Express vs. All Stop Train?

The Express train leaves from one side of Incheon Airport Train Terminal building, with the All Stop train on the other side.

From KTO: AREX Time/Price Details

The Express train is priced around 9,000W (1,000W = 1 US $ roughly). Takes around 50 minutes or so. It is a proper train with proper seats and free wi-fi. It ONLY goes to Seoul Station and nowhere else. You cannot transfer at any other station to subway EXCEPT from Seoul Station.

The All Stop train is around 4,000W and takes around 60 minutes. You can transfer at many stations and get off at places like Hongik Univ. Station.

The Express train only comes every 20 minutes – check the timetable carefully when you arrive. If you wait more than 10 minutes for the Express train, you’ve lost the time savings compared to All Stop and are essentially wasting the extra cash.

Late Night / Midnight Arrivals and Departures

The last train from Incheon Airport to Seoul is at 11:40 PM. BUT don’t worry! There is a Midnight bus to Seoul. There are two that leave every hour, one to Gangnam and the next one the next hour to Seoul Station.

Don’t wait two hours for the Seoul Station bus. Go to Express Bus Terminal and take a taxi from there. Just around 8-10,000W from Gangnam to Central Seoul area hotels.

Details about the late night bus times and destination can be found here.

The last BUS FROM Seoul to the airport is around 8 PM.

The last TRAIN is around 11:40 PM.

Late at night, the airport is DEAD. You absolutely don’t need to go 3 hours early because there’s nothing to do.

Airport Sleeping Options / Overnight Accommodations

Some people prefer to stay in the airport or nearby.  To be honest, I personally wouldn’t do this.

If you have a SUPER early flight, there’s always a bus to take if you want to stay out. If you are going to get accommodation, ok sure. Staying near the airport can be simpler. But I know most want to enjoy everything to the last minute!

There are three options inside the airport

  • Transit Hotel – located airside near the gate, don’t need to exit the airport…can just follow transit signs
  • Capsule Hotel – in the train terminal building – you must clear immigration to get here so be careful about visas
  • Spa on Air – Traditional Korean Sauna in Basement Level of Terminal 1 ONLY

If you are looking outside the airport, check the area around Unseo Station on the AREX line. Many hotels also offer free shuttles to the airport.

Taxis/Private Car

For many large families visiting, a taxi or private car is simply the best way to go.

You can get a Jumbo Van directly at the airport when you arrive. ALWAYS USE THE COUNTER. DO NOT EVER EVER EVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR take a taxi or ride from anyone walking around the terminal that stops you randomly. DO NOT.

If you have a problem with your taxi driver or feel you were cheated/ripped off, ALWAYS get a receipt and call 1330 IMMEDIATELY. This is the tourist help line. They can report and investigate. They take it seriously. Any cab driver who is found to have done wrong pays like 300,000W fine and will lose their license after three violations.

The safest way is to use the government sponsored International Taxi for a flate rate. Click here for the rates and details.

If you want a private driver on your own, there are MANY companies like Korea Travel Easy and Trazy that offer their own drivers and arrangements. Prices vary based on size and needs. Click here for Korea Travel Easy’s page to see an estimate of price.

How to Get to Busan/Gyeongju/Other Cities?

There are buses available to EVERYWHERE in Korea. Check the airport website for your terminal and timetable and destination…..

You can also take the AREX train to Seoul Station and catch a KTX high speed train from there if you like. Tickets are available here.

 

 

 

Bongeunsa Temple + Biking on the Han River

Bongeunsa Temple is a famous temple in Gangnam since it’s traditional, yet smack in the middle of the city. Skyscrapers and traffic surround it, yet it maintains a quiet, peaceful atmosphere and is the real deal as any other temple. It’s also right next door to COEX Mall.

 

I’ve lived in Gangnam for almost two and a half years. I’ve passed this temple about 100 times, but FINALLY went last weekend!

After a nice brunch at NY Burger & Bagel in Hannam with my friend Gemma (Creator of A Fat Girl’s Food Guide),  I met another friend at Hannam Station (Google Map) for a bike ride at the Han River.

The City of Seoul offers a public bike sharing service called Seoul Bike. It’s available for both residents and tourists! The cost is dirt cheap, at 1,000W for an hour. You can return these bikes at any other docking station. If the other station is full, you can even hook it up to another bike that’s already there and return it that way. Follow the above link for detailed instructions, how to register, and to download the app.

It’s a very convenient way to get around, but the app does take some effort as the process can be confusing or difficult for visitors. Even for me, I had to try it a few times before I got the hang of it!

Since I can speak Korean, I used the best map app for bikes. ***A quick word about Map services.**  Google Maps does not work well in Korea. The government and Google don’t play nice. It has very basic functionality for public transit, but does not offer walking or biking directions.  I would recommend Kakao Map. It offers English support. You can also copy and paste Korean addresses and names and get the best directions that way if you’re comfortable.

Kakao Map is great since it shows which roads have bike lanes, how long it will take, even the expected and highest inclines of the journey. A PSA: even if it says there is a bike lane, 99.99% of people will walk in the bike lane and all over the sidewalk, so prepare to ring that bell and go around and zig zag.

Biking across the Han River is absolutely one of the best things to do in Seoul. After six years in Korea, every time I cross the river, I can’t help but stare and stare and stare and stare……………………………..

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That wind was no joke….still cute, though!

 

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View of Seoul from the Yeongdong Han River Bridge at Sunset

The Han River bisects Seoul. Along the banks of the river, essentially is one giant network of parks, bike lanes, exercise areas, walking paths, swimming pools (opening dates vary yearly), picnic spots, rock climbing walls, festival areas, night markets…….

If you don’t want to hassle with the Seoul Bikes app, there are many small bike rental stands available along the river. This link mentions their locations as well as bike paths, rules, etc.

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Biking along the Han River at Sunset

 

So we made it to the Bongeunsa area and returned our bikes. Below are some shots of the area and the temple. It is a nice, quick visit for an hour or so. I’m also not religious  and have seen maaaaaaaaaany temples in my time around Asia.

At sunset, there was the bell/drum ceremony with foreigners participating. You can even do a Temple Stay!

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Map/Brochure with Chinese, Japanese, and English
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Jongru Bell Pavillion
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Seonbuldang, with the Million Dollar Samseong-dong iPark Apartments in the Background

 

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Maitreya Buddha Statue
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The Dharma Hall (Main Entrance)

After our bike ride, we walked the short ten minutes to my house and got ready for a night out………

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Korean Beef BBQ Spot near Sinnonhyeon

Up next, I’ll FINALLY spill some tea on my neighborhood bars and restaurants….

That Gangnam Life

Since the blog is fresh, I wanted to take the time to share a little bit more about myself, my social life, etc.  As I mentioned, I live and work in Gangnam near Seonjeongneung Station. I work as an after school English teacher at a nearby school in the afternoons. It’s a nice 20 minute walk to work.

Gangnam literally means “South of the River,” the River being the Han River that divides Seoul. The northern part of the river is older Seoul, where everything began. Gangnam development only really began in the 1970s (ish) as it was allllllllllllllllllll farm land then. It was developed specifically to be the new business area.  Gangnam is technically Gangnam-gu (gu = District), Seocho-gu, and even Songpa-gu, so what Seoulites consider Gangnam is quite large.

Gangnam itself is about 1-1.5 hrs from Incheon Airport depending on traffic/where you’re coming from. To Myeongdong it’s about 40 minutes by bus. To Hongdae, 45 minutes by subway. Gangnam is in the Southeastern area of Seoul.

The best part? You can literally get ANYWHERE in Korea from Gangnam. Well, except Jeju. Express Bus Terminal is in Gangnam, offering buses to other cities like Busan, Gyeongju, and Daegu.  The SRT high speed train also opened recently at Suseo Station, allowing us to get to the same cities by high speed train. It’s closer than KTX for us and even slightly cheaper.  Gimpo Airport is only 30 minutes by Line 9 Express, but bring your patience, because Line 9 is craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy crowded.

Allllllllll the major businesses are here, so it’s teeming with office workers during the day. It’s also known as the place for THE best education in Korea, so there are many families packed into high-rise apartment complexes and small apartments surrounding the schools.

Gangnam is viewed as the “fancy, super expensive” neighborhood, which it can be, but that is not my Gangnam! I happen to think of my neighborhood as VERY normal, but better in some ways. It’s extremely clean with Nazi-like trash men, street sweepers, trash trucks, all that stuff.  Not only do the trash men sort the household trash for collection, they even go as far to sweep the streets of leaves and general debris every morning!

Here are a few shots of my hood. The main streets around it are covered in offices, businesses, traffic. What you’d expect as it’s the newer part of Seoul.

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Sunny Afternoon in the ‘hood!

When you move off the main street, you find tons of residences all around you.  The giant apartment towers/family complexes are self serving with everything in one central location. Most single people live in small buildings with several one room apartments. The streets are narrow and dense with buildings and car traffic.

Somehow, despite all of this, my neighborhood is PIN DROP quiet. Like I still don’t know how it manages to be this quiet. People are all around, but you wouldn’t know it!

 

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Typical Gangnam Neighborhood Street (Not Sure Who Put Up the Soju Cut Out, But I Love Them)

There are several meat restaurants, izakayas and Korean style bars in my neighborhood. I stay around my house when I want a quiet night out. Fried chicken, meat, seafood, it can all be had within a short walk.

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My Neighborhood Pork Place

 

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Moksal, Pork Neck, which has a nice, crispy fatty edge. Perfect with just a dash of salt! Real meat needs nothing else!

And below are just two of my favorite Japanese places nearby. Yes, I know, it’s Korea, but Japanese bars and food are verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry popular. The first place is a nearby izakaya that nails the decor!

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100 for Authentic Vibe!
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Nagasaki Jjampong – The broth is similar to Japanese Pork Ramen, but it’s full of seafood, noodles and DELICIOUSNESS.

Below is a Japanese “fish cake” bar. This place is always so busy I couldn’t get a seat for almost two years….only ten seats in total! By cake, I mean they form fish and flour together. In Japan, they call it kamaboko. In Korea, we call it Odeng or Uh-Mook.

 

 

BUT for true nightlife, I head just one (express) subway stop away to Sinnonhyeon Station. THIS is real Gangnam nightlife. And not douchey club Gangnam. Normal Koreans, meeting friends, eating, drinking, singing the night away.

My next post will be devoted to my home away from home (and where I do most meetups and tours), Sinnonhyeon Station!