Great Hostel in Seoul, South Korea – Kimchi Hongdai Hostel

Travel has changed a lot since I began to roam around the world back in the 1990’s. For one thing, the internet was new back then. Most businesses didn’t have websites, there were no blogs to speak of, and certainly there was no Facebook, or Trip Adviser.

hostel in Seoul, South KoreaEven the things we looked for in a hotel, guest house, or hostel were different back then. To find a hostel we could look in a Lonely Planet (if there was one for that country or region) or more likely we would pay to get a Youth Hostel Association membership and then go to the hostels they had listed in their book. Yes, in their book. No kindles, no laptops on the road, no pdfs, or websites.
These days, finding a hostel is easy. You can simply search for hostel and the city name and a list will come up.

kimchi hostel SeoulEven better though is that you can come to Vagobond and see if we have a personal recommendation for a hostel. For example, if you are heading to Seoul, South Korea and you want to stay in a friendly, clean, safe, and centrally located hostel. I fully recommend that you stay in the Kimchi Hongdai Hostel.

This is another hostel that I found through my social network. I made contact with the owner, David who opened the hostel just a few weeks before I visited. David is a Canadian of Korean descent who has come back to Korea where he and his brother are running a couple of hostels based on their successful guesthouse in Vancouver, Canada.
I’ve said it before, but the key to a great hostel is to have a great owner who is involved, hires a great staff, and interacts with the guests. Actually, it’s the key to having any great business from hotels to blogs. David is a great example.

It’s easy to see that his number one passion is making friends with the many guests he hosts. He doesn’t do this in an intrusive way, but in an inclusive way, such as organizing outings and if he sees someone asking them if they want to come along. He’s also readily available for offering tips of where to go and what to do. His staff, Jun and Steven are also both the same way.

best hostel in Seoul, South KoreaKimchi hostel is new and developing in all the right ways. I stayed in both the mixed dorms and in a a private room. There is wifi throughout and the signal is strong on all floors. There are plenty of bathrooms, showers with hot water which are kept clean and tidy, and the lots of slippers to make the typical Korean ‘leave your shoes at the door’ policy comfortable.

There is a small TV area, free computers for guests without laptops to surf the net, a washer and dryer (coin operated), a small kitchen, and free tea, coffee, and water available all day. My only complaints (and this is a new hostel, so it’s possible these things will have changed by the time you get there) were that there was no free breakfast and in fact, not really any decent place to take your meals aside from the TV room. David told me that the hostel is expanding into some neighboring apartments, so I’m sure there will be more space in the future. Probably, the computers and reception will move out of the kitchen and some tables and chairs will move in.

The Kimchi Hostel was five minutes from the subway and David’s directions were crystal clear. I arrived at around 11pm and had no problems finding it.

best hostel in South KoreaThis was a quiet, clean, newly furnished, friendly, and centrally located place. There are convenience stores very nearby along with banks, ATMs, tons of cafes and bars, easy access to the airport by bus or subway within 5 minutes walking, the popular Hongdae clubbing area five minutes away, plus movie theatres, parks, and the many universities located nearby. No extra charge for towels, linens, or wifi and a great staff with plenty of information. In addition there are guidebooks available for those who don’t have one to use.
Kimchi Hostel gets my highest recommendation. Great job David! Thanks.

Kimchi Hongdai Hostel.
Seoul, Mapo-gu, Yeonnam-dong, 570-16
Tel: 82-2-6082-6059 / 82-10-6315-6696

Originally published in 2012.

My Favorite Travel Adventures of 2011 – Flashback to A Wonderful Year of Travel

2011 was a great year for me in terms of travel, family, and work. While this was yet another year that I didn’t make it home to Hawaii or the USA, it was certainly a busy year. While there were a huge number of experiences to choose from, here are my top ten favorite adventures that came from this incredible year. I’m hoping that the coming year 2021, will be another one to remember.

volos1) Sailing in Greece was the highlight of my year. The food, the boat, the swimming. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

 

 

 

travel in Turkey 2) Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey was one of those oddities that while not being the coolest thing of the year, was certainly one that will never leave me.

 

 

 

korean ceremony 3) Jingabongs in South Korea are my favorite discovery of 2011. Who knew that Korean bathhouses would be so awesome?

 

 

 

DMZ trip 4) Hitching to the DMZ and seeing North Korea for the first time was one of those adventures that I used to read about and dream of doing.

 

 

 

Paris street 5) Whiskey in Montmarte, Paris. Can there really be much better than carousing with strangers, drinking whiskey in the streets, and finding great hole in the wall jazz bars? Only if you do it in Paris.

 

 

 

6) Sleeper train from Istanbul, Turkey to Sofia, Bulgaria. I love train travel and this trip was the first that I’ve shelled out the dough for a sleeper. Everything about this trip was great – until I decided to leave Bulgaria and go to Serbia.

 

 

Switzerland wildlife
7) Eating horse for lunch in Switzerland. Not all trips have to be long – sometimes just the flavor can make a memory.

 

 

 

istanbul walks 8) Istanbul walks were among my favorite travel moments of 2011. Having the chance to live in Istanbul and simply take huge meandering walks in the many neighborhoods including ferry rides, trams, and more. Yes, I miss Istanbul.

 

 

Rome artwork
9) The angry dudes and sexy nudes of the Vatican Museum in Rome were the top museum highlight of 2011.

 

 

 

adventures in Malaysia 10) Finally, I totally enjoyed the weird adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The city was not what I expected at all and well worth a visit.

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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