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 arrrive 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 theatres, 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.
There are thirteen lines and the entire subway system privides 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 fishtanks 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 misss what’s underneath your feet.