This is what all the blog posts say: “Hongdae is lively,” “It’s where the night life is at,” “It’s cool and hip,” etc. This is what they don’t say: Hongdae smells like garbage.
The first thing I noticed when I left through exit 6 of Hongik University station (the station where “Hongdae” is located) was the bad smell. Then it was the heaps of garbage around street corners. Neatly packed in long and narrow white garbage bags, they were piled up at every intersection. And there are a lot of intersections in Hongdae.
Granted, there are parts of Hongdae that don’t smell, which kind of made it worse. The smell would hit you when you least expect it. There were times when I’ve taken strong whiffs of the scent coming from a restaurant, basking in it, then the next second I was smelling garbage. Not the most pleasant surprise.
However, I digress.
Before coming to Hongdae I would strongly suggest you download the Naver Map app on your phone. Google Maps doesn’t work perfectly in Korea, especially not for an area like Hongdae where the streets form an intricate web. You will notice that even native Korean people will use this app to navigate the area.
The impossibly difficult to navigate streets give way to an immense number of restaurants lining every alley. Not only that, it’s also common for restaurants to be located on the third or fourth floor of a building. There are loads of signs and banners on the streets, and visitors have to match the banners on the streets to the actual location of the restaurant (usually not on ground level). Coming from a place like Markham where I have a total of five restaurants that I go to, Hongdae’s options were overwhelming to say the least.
On our first night in Hongdae, my friend and I sat down for some street food. Food stalls are everywhere in Hongdae, the hard part is choosing one because they all sell the same food at comparable prices. We shared ddeokbokki, kimbap, and odeng. While I can take a bit of spice, the ddeokbokki was way out of my range.
After we finished eating, while we had no intentions on wandering in the neighbourhood, we did that exact thing because we could not find our way back to the Airbnb. Somewhere in there we took a wrong turn down an alley, and we couldn’t find our way back. Although there was wifi on the streets, we weren’t able to stay connected as we moved. We ended up walking around for a whole hour before we found our way.
That night had the perfect weather for a stroll, thankfully. The weather at night in late May had a strange way of being warm enough to wear a skirt even with a breeze. Couples and groups of friends strolled the streets, some with a purpose and others just enjoying the night. It was busy and I felt very safe. It still smelled like garbage, but I mean, at least I didn’t feel like I was being watched by lurking strangers like I did in that strange part of Incheon.
- Download the Naver map app (it’s in Korean, but it’s still a map)
- Every time you turn a corner, take note of what you see and if you made a left or right turn
- Cashiers at convenience stores are always happy to help you if you want help with directions, and lots of people speak English around Hongdae.
Hongdae (홍대) is named as such because the nearest university is “Hongik University”. “Dae” (대) is the first character in the word university (대학교 – “dae-hak-gyo”). The station name in Korean is “홍대입구” (Hong-dae Ip-gu), meaning something along the lines of “the entrance to Hongik University”.