Pro Tips: An After Hours Triathlon in Seoul

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For the After Hours Athlete in Seoul, it's not a sprint--it's a triathlon.

For the night owl in Seoul, an important decision must be made shortly after the stroke of midnight: When the subway shuts down between 00:30 and 5:30, do you call it a night and hop on the last train home, or double down and make it until dawn?

If you’re a fearless After Hours Athlete and choose to stay in the game for the long haul, we’ve got tips from the pros in Seoul that can keep you going until the sun comes up (or the trains start running).

Stop #1: Drinks
As all too many Koreans are aware, the workday here often ends as late as 20:00 or 21:00, at which point it’s time to grab drinks with co-workers or friends. This phase of the night is an opportunity to get together over a meal and cocktails or soju (a traditional rice-based alcohol). Seoul is an international city, and we have the food scene to prove it, with cuisines from all corners of the globe spread across our 25 districts.

Koong in Insadong is tucked away in an alley off of a one-way street, and it features legendary rice cake and dumpling soup served in the North Korean tradition. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the unassuming entrance when you spot a large photo of an elderly woman and her granddaughter--the former having smuggled her dumpling recipes out of wartime North Korea in the 1950s.

If you find her story inspiring and are inclined to do some “smuggling” of your own, Vinyl in Hongdae is your next stop. This tiny bar, shaped like 15-foot robot from the outside, has the notable feature of offering takeout cocktails. Walk right up to the window and order yourself a beer or a mixed drink--served in a convenient plastic baggie with a straw--and enjoy it along the way to your next destination. (Our legal team would like to remind you that this particular move might be of dubious legality on your home turf.) For even more options, check out the well-known food blog Seoul Eats.

Tip #1: Like any athlete, nutrition is fundamental to achieving your maximum performance. When the drinks start flowing, get some food in your stomach for the long night ahead.

Stop #2: Entertainment
After you and your teammates have established a solid base of food and libations, you might want to seek out some entertainment to pass a couple of hours.

For competitive types, four-ball pool (or sagu) is popular in Seoul. To those who are more familiar playing 10-ball pool (“stripes and solids”), the biggest distinguishing feature of this game is that the table has no pockets. Places to find a table in Itaewon include Jester’s Pub, a small pool hall, and The Metro, a little-known dive bar notable for its random assortment of music videos on constant rotation. If the line for a table at either one is too long--and you’re feeling brave--you might try Woodstock, also in Itaewon. What it lacks in cleanliness, it makes up for in short lines and live music.

For the less competitive and (optionally) musically talented, noraebang (or karaoke, as it’s known elsewhere) is another common after-hours activity. It’s almost always performed in small private rooms for 8-10 people. Think you’ve got the talent to be the next K-Pop superstar? Round up the team and head over to Luxury Noraebang in the Mapo district, a hard to miss two-story building adorned with bright, colourful lights surrounding the entrance, or Prince Edward Noraebang in Hongdae. Prince Edward is something of a landmark--a white, multi-story modern temple devoted to the sport of noraebang.

Tip #2: Everyone needs a sleeper skill. You may not be able to count cards in Monte Carlo, but your friends and teammates will be impressed when you strike a double-bull at 04:00 for the win.

Stop #3: Late-night Food
It’s 03:30. You’ve sung your heart out, ending in a rousing finale of Girls’ Generation’s Gee. (OK, maybe not.) You’ve put in an epic evening already, but it’s not over yet. To get you through to sunrise, you’ll need some sustenance. This means heading to Kwangjang Market, the oldest covered market in Seoul. Much of the market is open until 05:00, with some vendors open 24 hours. The food counters here will provide various Korean street food staples such as bindaeduk, a flatbread-like snack made from mung beans.

Tip #3: There’s always something open. Give yourself the energy to get across the finish line.

Bonus Tip: Keeping It Together
The creed of the After Hours Athlete demands that no teammate be left behind. Communication is critical to the success of a big night out. Here in Korea, smartphones are ubiquitous, and the group chat app KakaoTalk is extremely popular. Other apps such as Kik Messenger, iMessage and Blackberry Messenger (BBM) will help your team stay in touch as you make moves.

What are your tricks for staying in the “game” until the last last call? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: "Seoul Rebel" (c) 2009 Justin Ornellas and made available under a creative commons license.