Should you visit Seoul while protests are ongoing? 

visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Six-lane roads were closed

My trip to Seoul in 2016 wasn’t particularly eventful – but one memory strikes me as lasting. We found ourselves at the fringes of peaceful demonstrations against President Park Geun-hye, when we were there. I suppose a natural question would then be – should you visit Seoul while protests are ongoing?

Crowds on the subway

The first thing that hit us when we arrived in Seoul that winter’s afternoon, was the avalanche of people at the subway station. We had transferred to a train downtown in Insadong, where we had booked our AirBnb. There was a big squeeze on the subway, and the fact that we had our suitcase with us made it even harder. At the Jongno-3 subway station, lines had formed – it did seem almost impossible to exit the train station.

Seoul subway packed
The Jongno-3 station was packed with people.

We later learnt that the protests took place in the vicinity of Insadong. Hence the size of the crowd at the train station. It was a matter of timing. If we had arrived the day after, transportation would have been fine. It would have been useful to find out where the protests hotspots were, before we arrived.

The protests were peaceful

visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Posters on the subway

Apart from the picture a President with a puppet on the pavement, which people walked over, there was nothing too contentious about the protests. We were at Insadong when the protests ended – there were just lots of people walking around in their heavy winter coats, holding electric candles and actual candles, some melting in the cool winter air.

Street food vendors were doing a brisk business. People were naturally hungry after protesting. For me, it was surreal to see such a big group of people with candles in their hands.

visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
It feels cool being able to walk along the roads.

As we walked along the streets branching out from Insadong, six lane roads had been closed. There were throngs of people on the main road, walking leisurely as if it had been a pavement. I had to take a picture. With a bag of Innisfree cosmetics slung over my elbow.

visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
There was sufficient police presence.

TV Coverage

I didn’t understand a word on the clips, but I thought I would share some clips from the news coverage.

visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Might be one of the leaders.
visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Not sure why the media focused on his cup. 
visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Candles lighting up the night.
visit Seoul while protests are ongoing
Up close, at the rally site.

The Travelling Squid’s Take

The subway squeeze aside, I was glad to be in Seoul at that time. It was a memorable experience. I’ve stood by the sidelines of protests in Kathmandu, and I was a little bit taken aback, as there were vehicles transporting people, holding multiple red flags. The crowd was immense and we left soon after.

In Seoul, it was different. I suppose as city-dwellers, I felt a little more aligned with the people, as we were of similar social groups. I was actually moved by the peacefulness of it all. I suppose at the heat of the demonstrations it could have been all hyped up, as seen from TV coverage. But it was kind of moving, just walking in the midst of people carrying candles.

As for the question, “Should you visit Seoul while protests are ongoing? “, my answer would be, “Sure!” The protests were well-organised, and there was sufficient police presence. I did not feel unsafe at any point of time.

Have you been in Seoul during the time of the protests? Do share your views.