On my most recent visit to Seoul, I decided to spend a long weekend there – and what better part of the city than in hipster Hongdae!
I spent 4 nights over the weekend at a great hostel called KPOPSTAY. It is an award-winning hostel, which is themed very intricately to KPOP (the term for Korean Pop Music), yet you don’t have to be an expert on KPOP to stay there – you’re money is as good as anyone’s! It was only my second time in a so-called ‘Pod Hostel’ (think a better version of Japan’s capsule hotels), and I think KPOPSTAY would have to be the best hostel I have ever stayed in. I won’t go on about the hostel here, but you can check out their website if you’re thinking of staying in Seoul.
Previously, I had stayed in the Myeongdong area of Seoul, which is fantastic in its own right, but I feel that there’s a much more hipster vibe in Hongdae, which is conveniently located near the Hongik University (one of the top universities in Asia), so the bars, cafés, and entertainment in the vicinity is decidedly cheap. So, where there’s students, there’s backpackers! This is a good general rule to follow if you’re wondering whereabouts to stay in a city when you start backpacking there.
In Hongdae, there are 3 main things that you notice immediately and cannot ignore throughout your time here: students, food, and street art! There are nearby street vendors that sell traditional Korean snack foods like Potato Hot Dog and Korean Spicy Rice Cake. The Hot Dog Potatoes were among my favourite street food that I’ve tried in Asia, and this is basically a sausage covered in French fries and can be covered in sauce or mustard. Devouring these is a great way to chill and eat on the move (despite it being very, very high in cholesterol, I presume).
Although I found street food to be of higher quality and quantity in Myeongdong, cafés and other little shops and pubs in Hongdae are there to cater for the student crowd, so there will always be many offers and specials advertised in the window (usually in English as well as in Korean). From mandu to bibimbap to kimbap to patbingsu, you can find any kind of Korean snacks or desserts around here, not to mention western fare. Oh, and drinks. Lots of them.
I never got the chance to do much real shopping, as I was trying to save my Won, but the crowds in Hongdae (and Seoul in general) are mad for a bit of retail therapy. Queues as far as the eye could see were evident on some days, and even though was a weekend, it was still a surprise to see so many retail revellers!
I had a great few nights out in Hongdae, and there is no other place I can recommend in Seoul for a night out with friends. Myeongdong is a little too touristy to be truly a reflection of Korean youth culture these days, whereas south of the river at Gangnam it’s simply too expensive for backpackers anyway! As the weekend passed, it was time for me to once again re-pack the backpack and head back to Seoul Incheon Airport. But I will always remember the crazy few days I had in Hongdae!