I’ve seen ― and learned ― so much about this city from the windows of buses. They’ve shown me the hillside urban villages normally blocked from view by high-street towers; the less-developed and lower-key but nevertheless fascinating urban spaces between well-known districts like Hongdae and Insadong, Myeongdong and Itaewon (all filled with tourists who seldom stray outside their boundaries); and the veritable hidden labyrinth of covered market streets threaded through the neighborhoods between where I live in Sinchon and downtown.
Soon after I first came to Korea, I made the effort to better understand the nature of Seoul’s distinctive and ever-changing urban fabric by avoiding the subway whenever possible ― no matter how much I admire it.
Veteran subway riders may know the subway map intimately, but that hardly translates to knowing the city itself; they may grow familiar with many individual neighborhoods, but without much understanding of how those neighborhoods connect to one another and what lies between them.
The seeming complexity of the Seoul bus system, in not just its extent but variety of routes and the shapes, sizes and colors of the vehicles that run them, can intimidate potential riders, especially foreign ones. But even a basic understanding of how the buses work enables ― for tourists and longtime residents alike ― the discovery of Seoul, not in fragments, but as a whole.