Underground Seoul – Korean World Beneath Your Feet

South Korea was such an amazing country to visit.

The Seoul subway system and more. I loved it. I know this is a little weird and I’m not sure if it is a leftover from those days when I used to build underground forts and secretly explore abandoned California goldmines with my childhood friends, but the scale and the well, majesty of the underground world in Seoul blew my mind.

And then there’s the fact that I love trains. A subway is, after all, a train. So, maybe that’s a part of it too.If you want a bit of help getting around you might want to get Frommers Seoul By Day Guide

All I know is that from the moment I went down to the subway at Incheon, I knew that I was experiencing something awesome. Down, down, down and then not just a city commute but a commute from another city in a mostly underground tunnel with a super cool system of giving a card but charging a deposit of 500 won and then returning the deposit when you arrive at your destination.

As you go down to the subways in Seoul, you go down these massive escalators and truly burrow into the bowels of the earth. The thing is, you find more than just trains down there. At Seoul Station you find an underground museum and at Gyeongbokgong you find a massive underground complex of culture – and at Namdaemun and Dongdaemun there are actually two underground shopping areas- one with bargain shops and one with modern luxury goods…and let me just say, both areas are far bigger than any walmart. I’m not talking about some little caves with shops in them or even big tunnels, I’m talking about an entire city that exists underneath Seoul.

Here are just a few of the things I experienced underground in Seoul —
restaurants,bathhouses (Jingjaebongs), movie theaters, book stores, swap meets, museuems, bars, karaoke, barber shops, and dentists.

I don’t want to mislead you- there are plenty of things above ground in Seoul and the high rises are filled with beautiful examples of modern architecture, ultra modern shopping malls, and ultra modern museums, and more than a few incredible Seoul Hotels . But there is just something very cool about the fact that an entire second city lies hidden beneath the surface and is connected by trains you don’t see above. It’s amazing to watch hordes of commuters, students, and families pouring into and out of the ground like ants. And when you are down there, waiting at the platform – there are the vending machines. Ten types of hot coffee, plenty of cold drinks, snacks you’ve never heard of, things that look sort of familiar but taste completely different.

Seoul Subway ShopsThere are thirteen lines and the entire subway system provides more than 8 million trips per day!The system serves not just Seoul but also the surrounding areas of Incheon, Gyenggi-ddo, Gangwan-do, and Chungceongnam-do. There is nearly a thousand kilometers of track in the system and 70% + of it is underground.

Every station has restrooms that are clean and immaculate and in some cases incredibly ornate. Seriously, I went in one and felt like I was in the restroom at a five star hotel. In addition, some of the stations have ‘library’ waiting rooms where you can sit and read or wait for friends. Some of them were decorated with gorgeous art and I saw a couple of carefully tended fish tanks as well.

In fact, so much of Seoul is underground that planners are also planning an underground highway system to take care of traffic problems above ground.The city plans to build 150 km of underground highways as the first phase and more to come.

So, if you go to Seoul- be sure not to miss what’s underneath your feet.

Korean Bathhouses – The Wonderful World of Jjimjilbang

On my first trip to South Korea, back in 2012, I found many wonders. I disocvered the joys of the Penis Park and the value of Love Motels as well as visiting the DMZ and exploring Seoul, Busan, and Samcheok. All of that was spectacular, but the thing I loved most were the Korean bathhouses , jjimjilbang. 

Korean Bath HouseMy favorite thing about Korea is the jinjabongs. I know, best is a word that one shouldn’t really use when writing about world travel since it’s such a subjective word, but here it applies. Korea is filled with wonderful things but the jingabongs (or jjimjilbangs) are the most wonderful.
So, what are they? Well, unlike Hamams in Morocco or Turkey, these are not just places for bathing and massage. These are full blown social zones. The thrid place extraordinaire. As you can see, I’ve become a bit of a bathhouse aficionado (okay, how gay does that sound?) and I found these to be without compare.

So, once again, what is a jingabong? Okay, it is a bathing place, and it’s a place you can get a massage…and more. Let me just describe the process. I didn’t take any pictures but found a few on the web to show you. Plus, a Vagobond reader provided these links which are the jjimjilbang I went to in Hondae
http://www.vesta.co.kr/ and the other in the area which is the www.hotelnongshim.com/.

JjimjilbangFor usually less than 10 Euros you can check into a jingabong for 12-16 hours. They are open 24 hours. When you check in they will give you jingabong clothes. Usually simple shorts and blouse, sometimes colored white for me and pink for women. You will also be given a locker key. Go in, take of your shoes, find your locker, grab a towel, and take off all your clothes (no room for modesty here, but I should point out that the locker and bath rooms are segregated by sex.)

Once you are nude along with all the other guys or girls, head into the bath room. First of all, you should make sure to shower in the stalls first. No one wants to share a bath with the backpacker grime that has accumulated all over you. After washing, you have a choice of a number of tubs ranging from cold to very very hot.

Jump in, soak, try not to be bothered by the fact that you are the hairiest person anyone there has ever seen. In fact, aside from there being tubs and steam rooms, an assortment of yellowmud, pine, charcoal, or salt saunas, a cold room and an oxygen room and a few special rooms where you can choose to get a massage, it’s not so different from locker rooms all over the world. So, that’s it?

JjimjilbangNope. This is where it gets really cool. You finish your bath and maybe you chill out in the massage chairs or get some electrolyte drinks from the vending machine. Then you throw on your ‘jingabong clothes’ and lock your stuff up in your locker. Don’t forget to bring money with you, you’ll want it.

You will now enter the area where the sexes meet. You’ll find that there are mats and pillows, plenty of space to lie down on the floor, multiple TV rooms, extensive manga libraries, video games, a restaurant, more massage areas, private rooms, and excercise areas just for men and for women. So, you can grab a meal, enjoy some tea, grab a mat and take a nap….

In fact, you can have a beer, go to the cinema room, go to the smoking room, or do just about anything you can do in the outside world but in a nice, safe, quiet little cave complex where stress seems to disappear. You can nap (but do be careful of your key while you nap since your valuables are presumably in your locker.)

JjimjilbangWait a minute…if it’s open 24 hours and you can shower, sleep, stash your things in a locker, drink, and eat there and you are allowed to stay there 12 hours or more, why don’t people use it as a hotel?

Ah-ha! Now you have it. Show up at night, have a nice shower and a relaxing bath, enjoy dinner, watch some television, lay down on a mat, sleep, and wake up for another shower in the morning. In fact, the facilities are better than most hostels or one or two star hotels and you are paying around $10. Not to mention the food is good, it’s easy to make friends, and you leave feeling completely refreshed.

My only regret is that I didn’t discover jingabongs until near the end of my time in South Korea. I should have avoided most of the time I stayed in hostels or love motels and just stayed in the jingabong. In Busan, there is even a view of the sea from the baths of the jingabong.

I love jingabongs. In fact, I love all kinds of bath houses. I can’t believe I just said that….

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