What is wrong with Seoul? I definitely think there is more that is ‘right’ in Seoul than wrong with it, but nowhere is perfect. I love Seoul and I love living here, however, there are some downsides that often come up in day to day life. There are also a few that usually stand out to foreigners as soon as they come here.
As I mentioned above, Seoul is a great place and somewhere that everyone should visit at least once. It isn’t for everyone, but everyone should at least visit! I am writing this post because a lot of people have asked me to talk about a few downsides to Korea, and what I don’t like about Seoul. As a blogger that I hope people can trust, I think it is important to cover both the positive and negative, and that is why I write this post now. This original article comes from a Quora post that I was asked to answer. So this is my answer to the question ‘what is wrong with Seoul?’
- The general stress. Many large cities are always in a rush, however Seoul is a leader within stressful cities. From a crazy education culture (with many students studying for 14 hours a day) to bad work ethics, Korea is highly stressful overall, and Seoul is the pinnacle. If you want a calm life in Seoul, you will either have to avoid a lot of jobs/education opportunities, or avoid it all together. I believe that this is the biggest problem with Seoul personally.
- The city is massive. I know a lot of cities are just as big or possibly bigger, but if you aren’t used to large cities then this is definitely an issue. Don’t be surprised if you spend two hours on the subway going somewhere and coming back. For me to get to any of the ‘party’ areas of Seoul it takes about 40–60 minutes. That’s at least an hour and a half travelling just to go out for the night. However, on the flip side, the public transport is amazing and clean. Travel times are long, but it isn’t painful. I don’t really consider this a problem in day to day life. It is definitely a problem with Seoul though if you travel lots.
- Korea, and Seoul, can be racist and discriminatory. Depending on how long you stay, this may not happen to you as I’ve found it quite rare. However, there will be times when taxi drivers reject you (because you are a foreigner), or you are not allowed to enter a restaurant because you are a foreigner (or a bar or club). I’ve had both happen, and yes, it was because I was a foreigner. I was literally told that. These are very rare occasions though, and in general the people and experiences here are positive.
- Taxi drivers! Public transport is great in Seoul, we all know that. As are taxis. However, taxi drivers can be frustrating to deal with! Sometimes they will reject you because you aren’t going in the convenient direction, or maybe because you aren’t going far enough! It is worth noting, that it is illegal for them to refuse you though. However, unless your Korean is good or you really want a conflict, this knowledge won’t do you any good. When it will help you however, is if you are ever in trouble. If you MUST take that taxi due to danger or an emergency, you can threaten to report the driver, they only have three strikes and they will be angry, but they will listen. However, this is only for absolutely necessary situations and if you just want to take a taxi for a normal situation, just hope out and wait for another.
- The number of people. While I haven’t noticed this to be too much of a problem in the usual places I spend time, this is definitely a factor if you visit areas that are more populated. Myeongdong, Hongdae, Gangnam and Jamsil are all very very busy and if you don’t like crowded areas you will hate these places.
Hongdae on a Friday night. It can get quite crowded!
- This isn’t so much something that is ‘wrong’ (the native language is Korean after all!), however, it is something that you may possibly have trouble with. As a foreigner looking at moving to Korea, I remember hearing that a lot of people here spoke English. However, this is not my experience at all, and depending on where you are and what you are doing you may have trouble with communication as not many people speak (good) English here. Once again, this isn’t something that is wrong by any means, it’s just something that you may have trouble with. A lot of people know English words, however not many people can hold a basic conversation. Just be weary.
- The climate. It was 40.5 degrees here a few weeks ago! It was unbearably hot when coupled with the incredibly high humidity. Winter, on the other hand, can easily be -15 degrees and very dry. Spring also brings a lot of dust. This means that wearing a mask is essential if you want to maintain your health. Weather in Korea has some pretty crazy extremes. If you plan on visiting Korea, make sure you check the forecast! As weather patterns change this problem with Seoul will also become greater.
- Watch out for bad drivers! The rush that everyone is in, coupled with bad driving in general means that many drives here wouldn’t be allowed to drive in other countries. Scooters on the footpath (be careful), cars driving through red lights, people not stopping at pedestrian crossings, you name it. Always keep an eye out when on the streets (and footpaths) of Seoul. If something happens from their bad driving it’s their fault, but you are the person who will be harmed. Even when crossing at green lights you should be careful here. Admittedly I am from New Zealand which has very strict driving laws, so maybe you won’t feel the same way as me.
- Rubbish (trash). I feel like a lot of people will disagree with this because so many people say they are amazed at how clean it is. Uh, what? Once again, maybe I have a different opinion because I am from New Zealand, but Seoul is not clean by any means. I’m sure it’s cleaner than many cities, but it doesn’t even compare to other big cities I have visited. Coffee cups will be left on the street (people will just leave their cups wherever they want), rubbish upon rubbish on the side of the street. Not only that, but finding vomit in the streets isn’t uncommon on Friday or Saturday nights. In many places, you can smell sewage. Seoul is beautiful in many ways, but it isn’t clean. However, as I said earlier, the public transport is exceptionally clean. As a reader on Quora mentioned in the comments, it is also true that this rubbish is always cleaned up within the day. Vomit is also not a general occurrence, but rather an uncommon sight. So while the city is very dirty at times, it is promptly cleaned and the rubbish disposal system is very efficient.
- A complete lack of rubbish bins (trash cans)! If you EVER have a look at r/Korea you will find someone complaining about the lack of rubbish bins. This is probably the cause of the above problem, and apparently it is this way because people dumped their household rubbish in them. However, this lack of bins makes people place their rubbish elsewhere on the streets.
If you are considering visiting Korea you may also find these books helpful.
Lonely Planet Korea – Lonely Planet is known for being one of the best guide book creators out there. I have to agree as I think this book is great for anyone considering coming to Korea.
Lonely Planet Seoul – Lonely Planet once again, this time the book just focuses on Seoul though. Definitely worth it if you are only visiting Seoul.
Insight Guides Korea – Another very helpful guide that is useful to anyone visiting Korea. This is less of a book about places to stay and things to do (Lonely Planet is better). Instead this covers a lot of the background of Korea and certain locations.
These are affiliate links and purchasing these books via the links will provide me with a share of the purchase. This comes at no extra cost to you and supports me at the same time.
Once again, I love Seoul and there are far more good things to balance out the bad. However, no-where is perfect.I f you are interested in reading about some of the good (and great) things about Seoul and Korea check out these two articles: