Monday, April 05, 2010

Ask a Korean! Wiki: Can I Haz Some Solitude?

Dear Korean,

Do you have any advice as to where to find solitude in a country as crowded as Korea? As new citizens of this great country we are disturbed by the lack of privacy. Our apartment building is a constant hum of activity, i.e. residents coming and going, school children going to/from school, a nosy security guard watching the strange white people's every move. We live near a mountain and assumed that we could go hiking and escape the ever watchful eyes of an entire country that seems amazed by the presence of Americans. We were mistaken as the mountain was as crowded as the city streets. Entire groups of outdoor buffs fell over each other pointing and staring at the Americans. Some even literally stumbled and fell as they struggled to crane their necks to see us.

So, if we can't go to nature for solitude.....where do we go?

Agoraphobically Yours,


Dear Jason,

The Korean's recommendation would be one of the numerous small islands around Korea, which has nothing to see but nature and the ocean. The point is to visit an island that is NOT known as a tourist attraction. (In other words, places like Jeju-do or Ganghwa-do would not qualify.)

Readers, do you have any recommendations?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email at


  1. In Seoul, residential areas, and Han River Park at 3am are close.

    COEX, Samsung station: watch a late movie; when it gets out at 1or 130am, you'll find the whole mall closed and locked up, but you and walk the hallways to reach the exit you want.

    See if you can get access to the roof of your building.

  2. Anywhere in the wilderness where you can't find a well-worn path, or touristy places in the off-season.

  3. I highly recommend the islands off Incheon. Get to the Incheon port and choose an island to go to. I had a nice time on Deokjeokdo- stayed in a little minbak (inn) with some friends and used their bicycles to lazily pedal around the island. To get somewhere farther afield go to Baekryongdo, an island closer to North Korea than south. Only some random South Korean soldiers and old residents will keep you company. (I might wait until the current political situation- the sunken navy ship there- calms down, though).

  4. In Seoul, the Chongmyo/Piwon complex is surprisingly quiet and serene.

    During the 1998 financial crisis, the Marks & Spencer store that had just opened in Myongdong was also a nice place to go to get away from the madding crowd.

  5. Seonyudo (not the Seoul one) is a small island off the coast of Gunsan. You must take a ferry to get there and it can be busy in July because of the beaches, but any other time of the year it is essentially a ghost town.

  6. I like the non-touristy countryside. Have a Korean friend take you to the family farm.

  7. Bigeumdo 비금도 or any of the smaller islands off the coast of Mokpo 목포 are beautiful and the vast majority are completely empty on all but summer holiday weekends and even then I'm sure they're not crowded by any means. You can be in Mokpo from Seoul in just a few hours via KTX and on a ferry shortly after that.

  8. Sokcho on a working day, when I went there last year in the middle of the week it was totally abandoned.

  9. Top of Sorak mountatin. 설악산, but not in autumn.

    Go up there in monsoon season for example, it is dead quiet.

  10. my "getaway" in Seoul in Yangjae-cheon~~ its beautiful, has long tracks for cycling or running/walking, and... the best part is it is really not crowded~ even on weekends. Especially if you go AWAY from the Han river, up to the end of Yangjae-cheon!!!

  11. What Roboseyo said: get up early or go to the river.

    Neighborhoods that see a lot of crowds at night are completely abandoned in the AM. Myeongdong or Hongdae at 8:00AM is something to be seen.

    The river at night is quite peaceful, especially now as the weather isn't quite there yet. Once summer rolls in it will cease to be peaceful during regular hours but right now, once the sun goes down, the river is as good as the moon.

  12. I thought of another one, in Hongdae there is a bar called Subzero, on weekdays it is pretty much abandoned (it is pretty much a meat locker with a bar inside it).

    The local Koreans tended not to stay in there very long, but me and Kim (from Washington state born) stayed in there all day during the burningly hot post rain season of Seoul.

    We were sat in there in T-shirt and shorts, for about 7 hours even the barman vanishes off outside to man the desk now and again. This place is absolutely dead from 2pm when it opens till about 11pm.

    It might be a bit cold for some people though, but I run hot anyway.

  13. Define solitude: the ability to let out a blood-curdling scream and not have the cops called on you.

    If my personal definition is worth following, consider almost any of the national parks (Seoraksan is on my to-visit-list). Once you're out of the city and hiking a trail, it's a lot easier to get away from the crowd.

  14. I will advocate for my former home: Jindo, off the southern coast of Jeollanamdo. It's easy to get to from Mokpo because there's a bridge, but it is still not very popular for some reason. There are several beaches, and even more on other islands that are reachable by ferries from Jindo.

  15. Within Seoul, 경희궁 is relatively quiet.

  16. Jason,

    I feel your pain. As a tall African-American, privacy for me is almost nonexistent. After three and a half years here, I've accepted that I will never fully enjoy the same amount of privacy that I did back in the U.S.

    That said, going out during the off hours (as others have said here) are really the best solution. Not sure what your schedule allows, but the Han River (Roboseyo beat me to it) has always been my favorite getaway. Having a bicycle has allowed me unlimited access to anywhere around there I want to go, but even before buying my bike there were several good spots I was able to reach by subway, taxi or jogging. After 10 or 11, it becomes surprisingly peaceful.

    As far as the mountains, going on a weekday may be a little better than weekends...although keep in mind that hiking (if you haven't already discovered) is a huge pastime for older Koreans. As far as the staring, I find that going with a Korean friend decreases (although not eliminate completely) the attention.

    If the weather is not so good, I recommend some of the local cafes (not the franchises like Starbucks or Caffe Pascucci) around Hongdae, Daehangno (Hyehwa) and Sookmyung Women's Uniiversity. These places generally have a nice, laid-back vibe...I often go to such places to read, study or even to do grading or lesson planning.

    Some university campuses can also be good for solitude. Even when there are a lot of people, there will be less staring because many people will assume you're an exchange student. Korea University's campus is my favorite. Yonsei is also popular.

    All the best in your search...

  17. If that's what you're getting in Seoul (?), then I don't think going somewhere far away is going to help. So if being stared at or people doing a double take really bothers you, I recommend you go somewhere where you can enjoy racial transparency.

    On the other hand, you could just chalk it up to the experience of living somewhere as a visible minority and not let it bother you. I mean, people aren't physically assaulting you, are they? They just seem to be staring, right? You can't just tune that out?

    But if it's just the crowds themselves, and not the "ever watchful eyes" that are really bugging you, then yeah, go to an island somewhere.

  18. This is something that old people do and younger people do not do.

    You chose to participate in a pastime that old people enjoy. Young white people in a group stick out like a sore thumb.

    I reccomend going to a non-touristy spot that isn't listed in guidebooks. It's best to ask your Korean friends about where to go. If I had to reccomend a specific place, then anywhere that isn't Seoul on a weekday.

  19. Speaking of Islands, ever consider Dokdo?
    I used to go to a public library in Namsan. They had good selections of english books. Seoul Cinemateque in Insadong was another place i would go to for escape. They showcased many Art house cinema. I once went to see "Taxi Driver" there and it was almost empty.


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