Life in Seoul is incredible. You can hop on the subway with no set plans and will absolutely always find something to do. The possibilities as to what you will find in this massive city are endless. Seoul is dynamic, it's fast-paced, but, to be honest, life in the city is downright hectic at times. Sometimes, this Carolina girl needs to escape the can of sardines that is Seoul to get some much needed breathing room. Thankfully, Korea’s many mountains and affordable public transportation make it easy and cheap to take a break from the city.
Here's a handful of my favorite quick escapes. They’re the quirkiest, quietest, (and creepiest) places I’ve been when I needed to take a breather, and just cool places to go if you’re looking for something different to do.
1. Up a mountain. Any Mountain
For several reasons, this is my favorite way to escape the city. There are so many mountains and trails to choose from, so, even if you do go up the same one twice, every hike feels different. My personal favorite is Gwanaksan, which is conveniently just around the corner from my apartment. A short walk there, an hour or so hike up, and I can be at the top in time to enjoy the sun rise.
There is something about hiking to the top of a mountain that just provides a renewed sense of clarity. You're so relieved to make it to the summit that whatever problems you were stressing over before or during your climb up seem so small. If you go early enough and beat the crowd of ajummas and ajussis, it's also DEAD quiet... which is a rare find in Seoul... Not to mention the added bonuses that hiking is both a killer workout and totally free.
A close second to a weekend hike is Korea’s glamorous version of camping. A couple girlfriends and I, with four bottles of champagne, face masks, and a family size container of cheese balls in tow, headed to Banu, a glamping site in Hongcheon.
With two full size beds, a loft, full kitchen, and an indoor bathroom, these “camping” pods were nicer than our apartments in Seoul. We played around in the grass in our barefoot (a luxury you will miss more than you think if you were raised in the country), roasted hot dogs over the fire pit on the deck, played with the camp site owner's puppy, and, when the mosquitos eating us alive got to be too much, went inside our trendy pod to play cards and watch old N*Sync music videos (while wearing our hilarious Shrek and Kung Fu Panda face masks).
The next morning, my friends awoke to the sound of me popping our last two bottles of champagne – (What can I say? Life is meant to be celebrated). We finished off our goods, and very reluctantly, (when the cleaning staff came knocking on our door), vacated our Banu home away from home.
If you need a quick escape from Seoul, I would highly recommend glamping. There are SO many glamping sites to choose from, but I found Banu to be really easy and convenient. It’s just an hour bus ride away, and you can book a pod on AirBnb!
3. Yongma Land
In the suburbs of north eastern Seoul lies an abandoned, supposedly haunted amusement park. The whole place and it’s run down rides had a really creepy vibe… that is up until a band of Korean models showed up with their camera men and boom boxes blasting K-pop in tow. By the time I left, the creepiest thing about the place was me – the lone foreigner, wearing all black, hanging out on all the rides and slinking about the place. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
To get to Yongma Land, go to Mangu Station and take exit 1. After walking around for a bit I decided to just get a cab. I had no trouble finding my way back to the station from Yongma Land, but, for some reason, finding my way there was tough. After walking around for a bit I decided to just get a cab (and since it only costs a few bucks, it’s the most time and cost effective way to go).
4. Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital
If you're into abandoned and/or supposedly haunted places, you should also check out Gonjiam Psychiactric Hospital in Gwangju-si. Mental illness was, and is, really taboo in Korea, so this place is really out in the middle of nowhere. There's a big gate out front that says "Do Not Enter," but we crawled under and explored the old asylum anyway. (We later discovered that we could have just walked around the gate instead of crawling under it... don't make this mistake).
Gonjiam was more interesting than creepy. There were so many rooms filled with old calendars, tables, chairs, beds, and other random personal items that had just been left behind. The walls were covered in graffiti, and several empty cans of Cass, left behind by fellow trespassers, were scattered around the various deteriorating floors. The scariest part about this place was not knowing whether or not we'd get caught here... and the funniest part was hiding and scaring a Korean couple who wandered in after us. Weird way to spend a Saturday... but a cool one nonetheless.
My time in Korea is beginning to come to an end, and, with just nine more weekends left before I leave the country, I want to cram them with as many good times and funky places as possible. What are your recommendations for a quick and quirky escape from the concrete jungle that is Seoul? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!