Seoul Most Favored Travel Destination: Seoul City

A couple of weeks ago, Seoul City announced that the results of a straw poll that suggested that Seoul was Asians’ most favored travel destination:

Seoul is the preferred travel destination of Chinese, Japanese and Thai tourists. According to a straw poll of 800 Chinese, 500 Japanese, and 300 Thais in their respective countries in December, 11.4 percent, 9.8 percent and 20 percent said Seoul is a city they want to visit within the year, the Seoul city government said Wednesday.

Regardless of actual travel plans, the largest percentage or 14.3 percent of Thais chose Seoul as their favorite city, while the second largest proportion, or 7 percent of Japanese respondents picked Seoul after Honolulu (8 percent). Seoul was the third favorite city of Chinese people with 7.3 percent after Paris and Tokyo.

Unsurprisingly, some sectors of the Chinese netizen community couldn’t leave it at that.

Anyway, on the Seoul tourism front, the Lonely Planet’s Simon Richmond — a.k.a. the Guy Who Is Actually Writing the Next Edition of the LP’s Seoul Guide — penned a piece on learning to Love Seoul:

An old Korean proverb goes, ‘Even if you have to crawl on your knees, get yourself to Seoul!’ It’s a view that the New York Times recently concurred with by tipping the South Korean city – which in January assumed the mantle of World Design Capital – as one of its top places to visit for 2010.

And yet on this website recently one reader hazed Seoul for being an ‘appallingly repetitive sprawl of freeways and Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings, horribly polluted, with no heart or spirit to it.’ What gives?

Like any booming metropolis, Seoul sure ain’t perfect. But, as I discovered researching the new edition of Lonely Planet’s Korea, there are plenty more reasons to embrace rather than reject one of Asia’s most underrated and unjustly maligned cities. The following ten, presented in no particular order, will set you on the fast track to loving Seoul.

Read the rest on your own.

(HT to reader)

  • Granfalloon

    Those Chinese netizens remind me of a couple of Japanese nationals (students) my brother lived with. I sent him some pictures of the Korean uni campus where I worked. Looking over his shoulder at the computer screen, the Japanese students remarked about how beautiful it was. They asked my brother where the pics were taken. When my brother told them it was Korea, their tone very quickly changed. “Oh, it’s not all that nice.” “Those flowers aren’t as beautiful as the ones at Tokyo University.”

  • keith

    I find it hard to believe those poll results. There are many things about Seoul that are very good, but I find it hard to believe it would rank as a top destination in Asia. The weather isn’t very good (winter is too cold, summer is too humid, spring and autumn are wonderful), there is litter everywhere (the pictures of the homeless and ‘ubiquitous’ litter are accurate in many parts of Seoul), the food is dreadful compared to such culinary ‘hubs’ as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong or Hanoi. It is quite expensive. There are some positive points, but not enough to make it an Asian tourist hotspot. My parents had a great time when they came over, as we were able to guide them around some of the ‘diamonds in the dust’ that Seoul possesses, without us helping them I don’t think they would have been too impressed. My father couldn’t believe that it took him an hour just to change a travellers cheque! When I was last in the UK, Vietnam or Istanbul it took me about 30 seconds, Korea is simply not tourist friendly.

    Those Chinese nutizens remind me of deranged nutizens everywhere (full of nationalistic nonsense). The Uni I was working at last year had what could be a very nice campus, but was utterly ruined by students’ social clubs, churches and other groups plastering ugly and garish advertising over every wall, tree or surface.

    There are positive points to Seoul, but compared to many places it just doesn’t compete.

  • pawikirogii

    keith, are you asian? the food’s bad? i don’t think large numbers asians would think so. that’s why iit’s so popular in japan.

    any proof the survey is bogus?

  • Granfalloon

    It’s a “straw poll,” which is pretty informal and non-scientific. Yes, the results certainly could have been skewed. Maybe the poll was conducted face-to-face by cute girls giving out lollipops and wearing shirts that said “Seoul is great!” Or maybe not. No information given.

    I find it more interesting that the different nationalities would go to Seoul for different reasons. Thais see Seoul as traditional, whereas Japanese see it as good for shopping.

  • cmm

    Word, Pawi, word. The food is great, and other Asians dig it. Perhaps Keith hasn’t picked up that Asia is where the 한류 has had an effect in creating soft power for Korea.

  • keith


    Pawi, I’m not Asian, but I adore a lot of Asian food. I’ve had incredible meals in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, I love Asian food. Of all the Asian food I’ve eaten Korea is pretty much at the bottom of the list (Filipino food is pretty rank generally, though they do non Filipino food well and have wonderful tropical fruit).

    I really like Kalbi, Hamul Pajeon, some Kimchi and a few other dishes in Korea, but generally eating out is disappointing here. I regularly cook Thai, Chinese, Indian food. I rarely cook Korean, it simply doesn’t inspire me.

    Some Korean food is OK, but a lot of it is rubbish.

  • Maekchu

    Seoul…..Fart of Asia.

  • DLBarch

    I gotta say, I’ve never been a big fan of Seoul, and I certainly don’t think of it as a particularly “great” city, but it’s certainly not some god-awful terrible place to avoid. I’d rank it a “7” personally, and am glad that Richmond seems to be ready to temper some of the hyper-criticism of the place in LP’s next edition.


  • WangKon936

    I’d rank it a 7 as well…

  • DLBarch

    Ah, yes, great minds, great minds….

    On the other hand, why do I think Robert’s ranking would depend on how many red brick buildings Seoul had left standing that particular week?


  • pawikirogii

    the poll was conducted by ac nielsen so it doesn’t seem to be made up by koreans as some imply.


    keith, your perspective is western. we’re talking about asians who, in my mind, would have a much better time in korea. as for your comments on korean food, your perspective is again western. i think large numbers of asians either like or would like korean food as we can see with the example of japan. going a bit further, western people say french food is world class but i don’t think asians would say the same. in fact, many asians dislike french food because of the heavy use of creme, cheese, and butter. did you know a lot of asian folk think cheese smells like a foot? it’s all perspective. one last thing, about 2 months ago, i met these two thai ladies who started gushing about seoul when i told them i was korean. they kept talking about some seasoned crab they ate there and how they’d like to go back.


    could soembody tell me in a nutshell why there are so many chinese who despise koreans? what did koreans ever do to them?

  • Robert Koehler

    On the other hand, why do I think Robert’s ranking would depend on how many red brick buildings Seoul had left standing that particular week?

    True, but really, who amongst us doesn’t enjoy good Victorian red brickwork?

  • keith

    @11, there might be something in that.

    I like some Korean food, but a lot of it is very unpalatable to many people from Europe and the west. When I was in Turkey a tour guide upon hearing I live in Seoul launched into a pretty bitter diatribe about Korean customers. How they would only eat Korea food (which he said was absolutely revolting) so he would have to find them Korean restaurants despite Istanbul having some of the best food in the world! How none of them could speak English, how rude they were and how they were completely unlike the Japanese who he loved dealing with. I found it quite amusing that he would have such a strong opinion of Koreans.

    Cheese smelling like feet is weird, my Korean wife loves cheese and French food and there are many fine French restaurants in Japan and globally French food (like Italian) is popular globally. Quality cheese is even available in convenience stores in Tokyo. In my opinion most Koreans who say, and I have heard some say it, they hate cheese haven’t really had cheese. They’ve only had the nasty plastic stuff that passes for cheese in Korea, also many Koreans eat pizza which is decidedly cheesy.

    I think the Korean governments to ‘globalise’ Korean food is pretty stupid. Promoting the export of locally made product is fine (NZ Lamb, Aussie beef, French Pork all do well in Korea), Korea could do well in promoting some of their products like fish, vinegars, sauces, fruit etc. Promoting bibimbap and other nonsense is just dumb. People will eat what they want to eat, it doesn’t need to be promoted. Why is the ‘kebab revolution’ taking place in Seoul? Turkish and Greek governments have nothing to do with it! It’s down to a few individual businessmen who have found a niche in the market for a popular snack. They’re even turning Koreans onto to eating lamb!

  • WangKon936

    Who is this keith guy? Classic misokorean/japanophile pattern:

    1) Say something shitty about Koreans or aspect of Koreans. Attribute it to the anecdotal musing your employee, security guard, stranger, bellhop, appropriate random stranger, etc. (However, it’s abundantly clear that it’s really what you think about Koreans, but plausible deniability is sought)

    2) Talk about how you have a Korean wife… so you certainly can’t be racist, right?

    3) Talk about “The Koreans” as if they are one big giant monolithic blob.

    4) Always compare the Japanese with the Koreans… negatively, but again, attribute it to the anecdotal musing of an innocent bystander!

  • pawikirogii

    i’m sure there are fancy french restaurants in tokyo and in other asian capitols but that doesn’t change what i wrote. i don’t think most asians consider french food as world class. i’ll bet my bottom dollar that if you gave asian folk a choice between eating korean food for a month and french food for a month, most would choose the korean food. again, it’s all about perspective.

    as for cheese smelling like feet, i’ve heard that mostly from chinese and vietnamese people and here again, just because you can find some of it in tokyo doesn’t change what i wrote. most asians don’t care for cheese as we know it.

    about your encounter with some turkish guy, so what? he probably sensed that korean rudeness is an indication that koreans don’t really give a toot about what turks think about them.

    lastly, if you think the japanese didn’t work on promoting japanese food in america, perhaps you weren’t around in the 70s. indeed, the japanese government has had quite a big hand in promoting things japanese. the koreans aren’t really doing anything different though in my mind their focus is all wrong. they should be concentrating on asians but have a psychological need to have western praise which i find simply ridiculous.
    westerners aren’t special anymore. sooner or later, the koreans will see that.

  • pawikirogii

    ‘westerners aren’t special anymore.’

    i don’t mean anything disrespectful about that. it’s just that i see the west really is in decline. that scares me since i live in the west.