Seoul Base Camp was my first home in Korea. I worked here for three months last year, stayed when I visited Korea for a few days last November, and now I’m back here working again for a few weeks while I readjust to Korean life. But, despite having spent so much time here, I have apparently not been so good at telling anybody back home what it’s like. So: welcome to Base Camp.
I found the hostel quite by chance in 2013. Because of our limited budget, I was looking for a work exchange programme for myself and my best friend Anisa, in order that we might stay for free and thus for much longer in Korea than we could otherwise afford. Initially, we were looking at a hostel in Busan, but they required staff to work 9-5 every day, which seemed impractical for two people who had never visited Korea before and wanted enough time to experience it. Google eventually lead me to Base Camp’s website, and as soon as I clicked through the images and read about the small haven Jake and Min, the owners, had created, I knew it was where I wanted to work. We sent off our application, hoping for the best, and before we knew it, we had been accepted and were there.
Thus began three of the very best months of my life, all while living and working in a place that instantly became my home, alongside people who have become lifelong friends. Base Camp really is a place like no other, and certainly a hostel like no other. I have never stayed anywhere else that instils such a sense of community in its patrons. And this isn’t just because I was working there; guests have told me the same thing time and time again. Often they will stay much longer than they had initially anticipated because, quite simply, it is a wonderful place to stay. You feel at home from the moment you arrive, whether you’re travelling solo or in a group. You’re welcome to do your own thing, though often everyone – staff and guests – will jumble together to eat, drink, share stories, and venture into the city and beyond.
The hostel sits, somewhat unassuming, beneath towering skyscrapers at Hapjeong station. In one direction is Hongdae, a large university area famed for its art, shops, and nightlife. Following the road a couple of minutes the other way leads you to the beautiful Han River. The hostel’s building is considerably smaller than its neighbours, and Base Camp occupies the third floor and roof space above a ‘game room’ (read: clever way for Koreans to skirt the anti-gambling laws) and a noraebang in the basement. Next door, there’s a 7-11 convenience store, and I’m pretty sure if you looked at my bank statement, 80% of it would be soju and snacks from that tiny place.
The hostel space was once a dance hall, and the fun and energy from its previous life is still present. When Base Camp first opened, the idea was ‘urban camping’, and divisions between the rooms were tent walls. It’s come a long way since then (there are proper walls now!), but the concept of forts and adventure is still very much present.
Jake and Min (and the hostel itself, with its multitude of maps, leaflets, and books) are a wealth of information about Seoul. There’s nothing they can’t help you with, and they know everyone worth knowing in the local area. Above the table in the communal area there is a huge, sprawling map of nearby streets, littered with post-it note recommendations from staff and guests alike – everything from cafes and bars to where to get the best dog stew (there are several places within walking distance, if you’re interested).
There are a variety of rooms available depending on what you need – from female-only to 10-bed dorms to the most luxurious of them all, the private room. All rooms except the private one continue the original camping theme, with sleeping bags, army blankets and bunk beds.
Upstairs on the roof is the kitchen, where you can cook to your heart’s content while watching over the busy intersection below. Or, if you’re staff, it’s where you do piles of washing up after serving delicious waffles to guests in the morning. In the winter, when it’s too cold to sit outside, the kitchen is also where everyone crams in to socialise after quiet hour kicks in at 11pm downstairs.
Outside, there’s a wonderful space which plays host to gatherings of guests, staff, and friends, from a few people on a Monday night to full-blown parties on special occasions. In the cooler months, when the air isn’t already unbearably hot, barbecues are a frequent occurrence, and there’s even a hot tub for the winter.
The picture above brings me to the final thing I have yet to mention about the upstairs – its extra porcine resident. Usually just called pig(gy), sometimes Hamlet, or 돼지 (dwaeji, Korean for pig), he wasn’t here when I worked here in 2014; I first met him in November, when he was still fairly small and cute. Now, he’s huge and a whopping 80kg, though I am assured that he won’t grow any bigger. Despite this, he is still adorable. Perhaps more so for the guests, who don’t have to spend half their time cleaning up after him, but even after he has shredded the kitchen rubbish bag and strewn leftover ramyeon packets across the floor, I find it hard to be angry with him for long. I mean, look at this little face.
Even if they didn’t have a pig, Seoul Base Camp would be a very special place. It is a home away from home for everyone who visits, whether they stay for one night or one year (it happens). The notes pinned up on the wall at reception say everything that you need to know about the hostel; guests send postcards, letters and gifts from all around the world to express their love and thanks. Wonderful people stay here, and in one way, this is the worst part of the hostel for those like me who work here – almost everyone else is just passing through. But the special thing about Base Camp is that they always come back again.
Directions and Contact Info
The hostel is located about 30 seconds from exit 8 of 합정 (Hapjeong station), which is on Lines 2 & 6. It’s very easy to access from both Gimpo & Incheon airports, as the airport railroad runs to 홍대입구 (Hongdae Ib-gu, Hongik univ. station), where you can transfer to Line 2 and reach Hapjeong in one stop. Come out of exit 8 and walk straight, past the SK 에너지 petrol/gas station on the right. There are a few small businesses after this, most notably the tiny 7-11, which is easy to spot. Base Camp is two doors after this – the last building in that group – on the third floor. Look for the white sign.
For information/to apply for their work exchange programme, which is what I do, click here. At the time of writing, it is three days of work (two eight hour shifts and one five hour shift) a week in exchange for free board – their website still has the old programme listed.