Daejeon: The little Seoul
January 1, 1970
by Alessandra Haji
Daejeon. When you are asked to mention a few Korean cities, probably this one doesn’t ring a bell. And makes sense. Daejeon is a small city in the central region of South Korea, located 50min away by train from the capital. It is considered the 5th largest metropolis in the country and serves as a hub for bus and train intercity trips. It only hosts about 1.5 million people but in spite of its size, Daejeon has a lot more to offer than you think.
Why did I decide to visit Daejeon?
I had the opportunity to take part in an exchange program last fall semester, in Hannam University, and Daejeon was my home for five beautiful and memorable months. When choosing the universities I wanted to apply to, I actually wanted one located in Seoul. Because, that’s where all the cool places are, right? Or at least I thought so. Turns out, the universities in Seoul had already closed their applications and the only one I had left was Hannam. During that time, I was pretty desperate to just take a break and get away from my city… So I applied and got in the program.
And I’m so glad I did! Because Daejeon is so different from what I was expecting. The vibe is very distinct from Seoul (that I also was able to visit several times throughout the semester), much slow-paced and quiet than the capital. I am a “capital girl” (born and raised in Lima, Peru), so being able to take a break from the traffic, tourists and rush from a big metropolis felt amazing.
Living in Korea was indeed a whole new experience that made me grow as a person. It was a different culture, different language, different people, different continent. Everything was new to me, and I felt so amazed and terrified at the same time. I was alone, very far from home, but so eager to learn and try new things.
Probably the thing I loved the most about Daejeon was their fast, cheap and effective public transportation. I was able to move around the city freely, safely and quickly. A great advantage is the T-money, prepaid card that you can acquire in a convenience store and use it to pay the fare of the subway, bus and, even the cabs. The good thing about the T-money card is that it can be used in other metropolises too, like Seoul and Busan.
Another advantage was the Kakao Maps app (available for both iPhone and Android devices), truly a lifesaver. It turned out to be even more helpful than Google Maps, and the only thing you need is to be able to read a bit of hangul. With this app, you write down your current position and destination, and the app tells you which buses or subway lines you should take to get there. The app also lets you know how long your bus is going to take to arrive at your stop and an estimated time of arrival. Additionally, you can track the route while on the bus. The smart app will let you know at which stop you need to get off and where to walk to, to get you to your destination.
Something I truly miss from Daejeon (or well, from Korea in general) are their coffee shops. I lived in the International Dorm that the campus offered, so I was near a commercial area full of cozy coffee shops. I loved going there with my friends just to chill after class or to study. The coffee wasn’t always great (don’t be fooled by the decor or price), but the atmosphere was never disappointing. I actually preferred studying or doing homework there than in the study room of my dorm or even my own room. Sometimes, even the smallest businesses turned out to be better than ones from big and famous chains. I got used to hearing a soft indie k-pop song in the background and the quiet conversation of the locals while taking a sip of my peach iced tea.
Exploring the city
Daejeon surprised me on a daily basis. There was always a new place to check out: an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop that a friend had found on Instagram, a breathtaking sightseeing place, a fashionable clothing store. I tried to get my homework and studies done as quick as possible so that I could explore the city. Plus, I hated staying in my dorm doing nothing. I preferred going out for window shopping or just roaming around.
Again, the public transport was a huge advantage for this. You can get almost anywhere with the bus or subway system. You don’t need to take a cab unless the public buses or subway line are no longer running. And, the city isn’t that big, so everything is relatively close. I liked going to the outskirts of the city (where the cool coffee shops were at), and it usually took me about 50 minutes to get there.
Eunhaeng-dong was one of the places I visited the most. It is a big commercial district, located near the city’s train station. You can easily stay there the whole day! Grab lunch in a fancy restaurant, enjoy the evening window shopping, and then release some stress visiting the coin-karaoke at night.
Dunsang-dong is also a very famous district in Daejeon, particularly famous because of its nightlife and for having a wide variety of shops. Here you can find skincare shops, fast food restaurants, photobooths, coffee shops, coin-karaoke and, of course, nightclubs.
This district isn’t as famous as the previous ones, because is located in the northwestern section of the city. That doesn’t mean, though, that is left behind. In this place, you can find the fanciest (and also most expensive) coffee shops and restaurants.
Probably the only “bad” thing about Daejeon is the language barrier. Unlike Seoul, Daejeon isn’t very English-friendly due to the low traffic of tourists. I would really recommend you to learn how to read hangul before you visit because most stores don’t have an English menu or English-speaking staff. But don’t freak out. Koreans are very friendly and comprehensive. So even if they don’t understand what you are saying, they will try to help you anyhow.
All in all
Daejeon is a city worth the visit. Don’t be fooled by its size. It may not be as big or diverse as Seoul or Busan, but you can definitely find interesting places to check out. So if you ever get the chance to visit Korea (for a job, leisure or studies), try to squeeze some time for Daejeon. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.