It’s 1am on a Wednesday morning, you climb the endless escalators out of the subway and you are immediately knocked over by the unmistakable smells of kimchi, garlic and soju. They might not smell too flash, but they certainly taste alright.
The city is still alive with the noise of students on coffee dates, business colleagues closing deals over one more drink and mopeds whizzing between crowds of pedestrians to deliver anything from a Big Mac to succulent roast duck.
It’s safe to say that Seoul is the city to test all of your senses—you’re going to need them.
Sight: Saying that Seoul is overwhelming is an understatement. Finding a restaurant sometimes means that you may need to look up, look up a little bit further, or if you still can’t find it, lay on the ground and try to peer even higher at the mass of neon lights on the towers above. Crossing a road is another challenge. Even on a green light you’ll need to look left, right and behind you. Traffic signals mean little—local taxi drivers don’t have time for rules. Once you get exhausted of the streets, head to one of 37 mountains within the city limits. Spot cute chipmunks, hikers and view the never-ending city below.
Smell: You could navigate Seoul with your eyes closed—simply follow the scents. Smell roasting silkworms? You’re at a festival. Is the aroma of coffee wafting through the air? You’ve probably stumbled upon one of over 20,000 coffee shops within the city limits. Is something burning? Nope, you’ve just discovered another incredible charcoal-red Korean barbecue joint. Does the air smell fresh? You’ve left Seoul.
Taste: With the freshest fish and the crispiest pork, there is certainly something for everyone. The good news is, no part of the animal goes to waste, meaning you’ll finally have the chance to try intestines and hooves. Don’t judge too quickly, they’re good. If you’re not a meat-atarian though, get down to your local supermarket and try the strawberries—they’re sweeter than a vodka cruiser with added sugar. I’ll leave you to suss out the local alcohol for yourselves. You’re sure to have a night to remember or to be reminded of.
Hearing: The only time the city is quiet is when a winter snowstorm stops the traffic. Even among the roar, there’s sure to be a few things you’ll hear again and again.
The sound of ‘jjang’ (Korean for cheers) as another shot of soju gets tipped back, the clicking of old ladies popping their bubble gum, the distant metallic boinks of the neighbourhood batting cages and the deafeningly loud spruiking of sales people down every aisle of the supermarket.
Touch: There is no better feeling than jumping on crunchy autumn leaves and creating a leaf angel, although heading down to a public spa (jimjilbang) and having your back scrubbed so clean that it sparkles comes close. If you want the touching to be a little more animalistic though, head down to a cat, dog or even raccoon café and stay ‘til you’ve been cuddled to death or perhaps visit Doctor Fish where you can stick your feet in a tank and let the fish get to work.
Words by Joseph Nes