Gay Seoul Travel Guide
Seoul, the buzzing hard-working, heaving drinking capital of South Korea. For an energetic city break Seoul offers so much, from street markets, palaces, temples to skyscrapers and slick shopping. Seoul is a hub of energy & enterprise with over 20 million people busy at work.
Gay Seoul has two main areas, Itaewon district’s adeptly named ‘Homo Hill’, a foreigner friendly entertainment district and ‘Jongro-3, an almost exclusive gay Korean party street. Expect the parties to start late and finish even later, most guys head out after 11 pm and many of the clubs don’t start to empty 5-6 am.
Gay Seoul’s Nightlife
For a mega city, Seoul’s gay nightlife scene is relatively small but it’s make up for this with packed gay bars and after party clubs.
For gay nightlife, Itaewon is the favorite among visitors. Homo Hill refers to the collection of gay bars and clubs which are in Itaewon district. Itaewon is also the international hub of Seoul home to many expats so its hardly surprising that the gay area is also international.
On the other side of town, Jongro-3 is comparably tame compared to the nightlife in Homo Hill. The smoky bars are filled with local Korean’s drinking peacefully late into the night.
Sauna Action in Gay Seoul
Seoul’s sauna and cruise club scene is relatively small and while most are open 24 hours most saunas are busy from early evening until the small hours.
Most of the saunas and cruise clubs are located in the two main gay nightlife hubs, Itaewon’s Homo Hill and Jongro-3. Similar to nightlife most of Seoul’s gay saunas don’t get busy until late around 2-3 am when the guys start to leaving the clubs.
It is common place for gay saunas in Seoul to restrict access based on age, race, fitness and general ‘hotness’.
Accommodation in Gay Seoul
Many gay travelers who want to party choose to stay in Itaewon, the center of gay Seoul. With the subway closing around midnight and taxis, while reliable available are relatively expensive, this areas offers a great level of convenience. Itaewon is also well connected with easy MRT access, a very central location and many great options for eating both high end and budget food.
Next to Itaewon are the areas of Yeouido and Myeong-dong both of which are also great locations to stay. Myeong-dong is the historic center of Seoul with many famous landmarks while Yeouido is the financial and business capital of the city.
Gangnam, is another a great option although further from the gay nightlife this areas offer great shopping, world class restaurants and are well connected with the MRT.
Area’s of Seoul
A short guide to the main areas of interest for LGBT tourists when visiting Seoul.
Itaewon – This is the gay heart of Seoul for most visitors. Itaewon is known as the foreigners’ district of Seoul and home to the aptly named Homo Hill. The area is next to the large American military base and previously was a red-light district. Itaewon has now become one of the main nightlife, restaurants and general entertainment zones in Seoul. With many high quality international restaurants, clubs and bars all popular with tourists, expats and Koreans. Many boutiques small shops have popped up here great for unique items made in South Korea.
Jongno 3-ga – Center of gay Seoul for local Koreans, a relaxed village of small gay bars, located in the Seoul’s old town. The area is packed with small back allies of shabby traditional buildings. Hip restaurants sit next to, music shops, backpacker hostels and ever popular BBQ restaurants. Locals estimate there are around 70 ever changing gay bars and business in Jongno 3-ga catering to an almost exclusively to gay Koreans.
Gangnam – Big business, international shopping and high end clubbing. Gangam is modern and affluent area of Seoul, home to office from Samsung and the big banks.
Hongdae-ap – If your a students or backpacker who loves late night, cheap parties, this is the place for you. Hong-ik University and Ewha University takes up most of neighborhood and whats not campus is built for students. Packed with cafes, bars, clubs, late-night clubs and plenty of shopping, this is the young fun and pretty straight part of town.
Getting around Seoul is pretty easy and simple. With an extensive train network of underground and overground trains, frequent and reliable bus network plus a mass of reliable taxis.
Taxis – are available 24 hours a day. In Seoul there are three different classes of taxis indicated by the color. Orange taxis are the cheapest, with silver in the middle and black being the premium. Each color has a different starting rate and is based on quality of car and the drivers experience. Taxis display a red light in the front windscreen when they are available for hire. Local tip – Keep a note of your destination in Korean on your phone, makes the language barrier easy. Screenshot your destination on google maps is a simple trick to ensure a smooth taxi ride. Uber Black is operating in Seoul.
MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) – Seoul has an extensive network of underground trains. Easy for visitors to use and run until 12 pm (each station has a slightly different closing time). Local tip – If you plan on spending a couple or more days in Seoul get a City Pass Card to save time and money.
Bus – Seoul has a large and frequent bus network. With the use of Google Maps navigating the bus network can be realtivlity simple. Google maps will load the fastest bus journey to your destination, including bus number and number of stops until your destination. Bus stops are clearly marked around the city.
Airport – Seoul is served by two airports; Incheon Airport, the new larger airport which handles nearly all of the international flights and; Gimpo Airport, the centrally located airport for domestic flights plus a small number regional flights from Japan and China. Both airports have English information for passenger arriving and are linked by train to the city as well has a range of express and public buses. Gimpo Airport is easily reached on subway Line 5 (around 50 minutes to downtown). The train ride from Incheon Airport takes 43 mins express train and 60 mins for the all stop train with both finishing at Seoul Station around 20 MRT transfer to Itaewon.
Gays and The Law
South Korea in general is a sexually conservative society. While Korea has never had laws against homosexuality, it dose not mean it’s a sign of tolerance or acceptance. Like many countries, attitudes are changing, especially within cities and among young people. Many gay Koreans choose not to reveal their sexual identity to colleagues and to family members. Equally, same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not entitled to the same legal protections available to heterosexuals.
All male citizens of South Korea must complete two years of mandatory military service. Upon joining the military men take a “psychology test” which includes questions regarding sexual preferences. Recruits who are homosexual can be classed as having a “personality disorder” which can result in being institutionalized (a person who becomes a long-term patient or prisoner of the government) or dishonorably discharged. In 2010 the issue has been appealed to Korea’s constitutional court, as of 2016 no final decision has been made by the court.
Getting Tested in Seoul
The one stop shop for getting tested as a visitor or expat in Seoul is the Korea Federation for HIV/AIDS Prevention (KHAP). With an English language website and brochures in many south east Asian languages, there is no need to worry about language difficulties. The test is free, anonymous and rapid but reservation is required, contact info on KHAP’s Website. The clinic is located near to Gireum Station on line 4.
There is also an international clinic in Itaewon, which conducts full anonymous HIV and STI testing. Full services start from 100,000 won ($90 USD). Additionally, most of Seoul’s hospitals can provide testing for HIV & STIs however the process may not be anonymous and local media reports suggest that even some of South Korea’s health professionals are still discriminating against HIV-positive patients.
The Kimchi Queen – An English language blog about gay life and culture in Seoul and South Korea.
Korea Queer Festival – The Seoul celebration of all things rainbow. Takes place in mid-June.
Korea Exposed – An online magazine detailing “South Korea as it really is”. With a few detailed article about gay life in South Korea by Korean nationals.