Tips For Gay Travellers In Seoul
On the surface, Seoul may not seem to have a whole lot to offer gay travellers. Scratch below the surface, and you’ll find the same. The South Korean capital isn’t a gay destination like, say, Bangkok, or Taipei, or Hong Kong. Gay men don’t flock there for the nightlife, or open attitudes, but rather to absorb the culture, history, and a whole lot of delicious food – Korean BBQ or bibimbap, anyone? But, that’s not to say that Seoul has absolutely nothing to offer gay travellers: you just have to know where to look. So, if you’re a gay traveller heading for Seoul, where should you head to to make the most out of your time in the Korean capital?
Bar Hopping Mayhem: Homo Hill, Itaewon
I kid you not, the centre of gay nightlife in Seoul is called Homo Hill, and it’s located right next to Hooker Hill, in the Itaewon neighbourhood. Homo Hill is exactly as it sounds – a hill flanked by a few gay bars, and it can get pretty crowded at the weekends. Queen is often packed with guys shuffling awkwardly on the dancefloor – expect to literally have to push people out of the way to get to the bar. Soho plays good music, but the lingering staff who will hover mere inches from you until you order a drink (or if you need a refill) can make things uncomfortable. Keep dancing and you won’t get bothered. Eat Me is a great little place for a more relaxed atmosphere, ditto Always Homme. The crowd is a good mix of foreigners and locals, and if you’re a non-Asian looking to meet a guy, this is the area you need to head to. Show up after you’ve already had a drink or two, and you should be able to handle the assault on your senses that some bars dish out.
A Closeted Reality: Jongno 3-Ga
Jongno 3-Ga is Seoul’s other gay neighbourhood, and things are a lot more low-key than in Homo Hill. Bars have blacked out windows, and you wouldn’t know that most of them are gay bars if you walked past them – but that’s how the people who frequent those bars like it. Mainly for Korean men who are attracted to other Koreans and Asian guys, non-Asian foreigners aren’t likely to get lucky in these bars. Then again, there’s no dancing, and most of the bars are sit-down places where you order food with friends, or sing karaoke, but it does offer a glimpse into what life is like for Korea’s mostly closeted gay population. Be aware that a lot of the guys who go to the Jongno 3-Ga neighbourhood are married, so make sure you check the ring finger before chatting someone up. Keep it classy.
Open Minds and Open Bars: Hongdae
Not a gay neighbourhood per se, Hongdae (short for Hongik Daehakgyo, or Hongik University) is a hip district full of artists, musicians, students and cool kids who are more open-minded than your average Seoulite. If hitting the gay bars isn’t your thing, then make sure you check out the cafes and street food in the neighbourhood, and check out Club FF for their live bands and the free drink hour. Yes you read that right. And no, FF doesn’t stand for what you’re thinking of.
Women’s U, Men’s Fashion: I-Dae
Pronounced “ee-day”, this neighbourhood is located in the vicinity of Ewha Women’s University. What would gay men want with an all-female university, though? One word: shopping. Sure, Myeongdong might be the main shopping district, but it’s just chain stores that you’ll find in any country in the world, all the while being jabbed by the elbows of swarms of shoppers. Instead, head to I-Dae, where you can check out Korean fashion and haggle with the stall owners. There are plenty of menswear shops, plus great snacks to be had if you need a break between bargaining. Head straight out of Ewha Women’s University subway exit one (it’s on line 2) and keep an eye for a market area on your right.
Pyeongchang-dong: Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous
A little-visited neighbourhood in Seoul, yet one for those that like a taste of the high-life, Pyeongchang-dong is home to the richest and most famous citizens of the Korean capital, something that is evident in the grand western-style mansions – some of the homes look like they came straight out of Beverly Hills. The setting for many Korean dramas, the area is also home to art galleries, boutiques and luxurious cafes. Walk around and try and guess who lives in which home – you may even catch a quick glimpse of an idol getting hustled into a chauffeur-driven car.