A Weekend in Seoul and Tokyo
I just spent 2.5 days in Seoul and 1.5 days in Tokyo. It was the time of my life, and way too short of a vacation. Watch the Youtube video here.
Seoul, South Korea
I stayed 30 minutes outside of Seoul. Prior to arrival, I imagined the neighborhood being similar to the (boring) suburbs I grew up in, but it was totally different. All the apartments were high-rises in brand new buildings, and everything was very close together and walkable. Unlike American suburbia where you need to drive a car 5 minutes to get to the nearest convenience store, everything including the downtown area was highly walkable. There were beautiful walkways and parks along the river that light up at night, and a lot of people were out on the Friday night I was there.
Here are my impressions of Seoul:
- City, buildings, and subway feel brand new and modern, almost futuristic. The DDP building in Dongdaemun looks like something straight out of the future. Everything is very clean.
- The subway in particular is amazing and nothing like anything I’ve seen in the U.S. Clean, air-conditioned, the platforms are walled off so nobody can fall into the tracks, WiFi on the trains (probably fast as hell given that South Korea has the fastest internet in the world), TVs in the train, and when you wait for your train the TVs at the station show you exactly where the train is in real-time on a map.
- Huge. When half of the 50 million people in your country live in or around its capital city, of course its going to be massive. Seoul is the second largest metropolitan area in the world (1st is Tokyo). NYC kind of feels small by comparison.
- Not once did I ever have to sign a paper receipt when paying by card. Signing is done electronically with a stylus. And there’s no need to tap a “confirm” button after your done, putting the stylus back in its slot automatically confirms your signature.
- Hongdae was my favorite area. It’s a hip spot with tons of young people and street performers, most of who appear to be high school and college students. Lots of aspiring singers, rappers, and dancers.
- Myeong-Dong was also fun. It was similar but more laidback and upscale.
- Gangnam believe it or not didn’t really impress me. That being said, I only spent about an hour there on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently it’s pretty poppin at night.
- Gwangjang market is a nice bustling place for cheap street food.
- Definitely climb up the mountain that the Seoul Tower is on. The mountain is in the center of the city, so you get an amazing view of the city. You don’t even have to go up the actual tower. We had to wait like an hour to go up the tower, and then another 30 minutes or so to get down, and I didn’t even think the view from the tower was any better than from the mountain.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace is definitely worth visiting if you want to see some history
- That multilevel market in Insadong is cool (there’s a sick dessert place near there, but can’t remember the name)
- Banpo Bridge is a nice area to relax. There’s a cool water fountain show and some colorfully lit buildings.
I only had 1.5 days here and spent most of it with my family, so I didn’t get to see much of the city. That being said, I was completely blown away and have vowed to live here at some in the not too distant future. Keep in mind that I’m biased because I can speak the language (not very well, but enough to get around).
The first night I stayed at the Tokyo Station Hotel, courtesy of my Japanese grandfather. It was pretty amazing and world class. We were escorted to our rooms by two employees who gave us a tour of our room. The best part of the room was the bathroom, which had a bathtub and separate shower (standard in Japanese/Korean homes). Anytime I’d walk by a hotel worker in the hallway, they’d literally stop and bow to me. The hotel breakfast from 6:30–10:30am was top notch and had pretty much everything.
- Everyone is extremely polite. I don’t think there’s any other country out their who’s people are as polite as the Japanese. Compared to America, you’re treated like royalty. Your servers are 100x more kind and helpful, yet you don’t have to tip.
- Fashion — They say NYC is the fashion capital of the world. Bullshit. I’ve never in my life seen such a wide variety of creative, unique, and outright crazy clothing and hairstyles being worn on people. This is particularly true in areas like Roppongi. Yes all the salarymen dress exactly the same (black pants, white shirt), but aside from that there is so much character in the way people dress, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.
- Massive. Larger than Seoul, and much much larger than NYC. Often the buildings are multi-floor with different establishments on each floor. I’m not used to looking “up” when scouting for venues.
- Like Seoul, it’s truly a late night city, and stuff is always going on at all times on every day of the week. Most venues seem to remain open much later than in NYC.
- Quirky. When going to the Roppongi Tower, there were a ton of Doraemon statues outside. We went to the top of the tower for the view, but were also greeted by a fairly large exhibition dedicated to a JPop girl group called Momoiro Clover Z. The exhibition was ridiculous, over the top, weird, and even creepy. But I find it hilarious and love that quirkiness and personality that’s so prevalent in Japanese culture.
All in all it was an amazing trip, and I felt like I visited an alternate universe. Unlike Europe, Asia is just so totally different from the U.S., and Tokyo and Seoul are true megacities that make NYC look almost like a 2nd tier city in comparison. I will definitely spend some time living in Tokyo as soon as that becomes a possibility (probably not for a Japanese company though, the salaryman lifestyle does not suit me) .