First, the good news – almost all Korean road signs are dual-language, spelling the Korean hangeul out in Roman characters. The bad news is that there are very few street signs – most streets don’t even have names. Instead, addresses point to a numbered section of a dong (city district), which until recently were doled out in chronological order when the buildings were made. In 2010 the Korean government slapped new road signs all over the country, with addresses listed by their position on a road rather than their relative age, but it’ll be a while before these new addresses find common use.
As you can imagine, this patchwork system leads to all sorts of problems; it’s common for hotels and restaurants to include a small map on their business cards. The local tourist office may be able to contact hotels and get them to fax you through a map, or you could take your chances in a taxi. Drivers will know the location of each city dong, but not necessarily the exact road or address, so don’t worry if they pull in at a police station – it’s quite common for cabbies to consult police maps for exact directions.
Despite the general confusion, addresses fit into a very rigid system; unlike the Western world, components are usually listed from largest to smallest when writing an address. The country is split into nine 도 – do, or provinces. In these you’ll find cities (시; – si, pronounced shee), towns (읍; – eup) and villages (리; – ri or – li), with the larger cities split into a number of 구 – gu, or wards. The number of – gu will vary with the city’s size – Seoul, for example, has 25 such sections – and these are further subdivided into 동 – dong districts. Large roads are signified by a 로 (– no, – ro or – lo) suffix, with the very meatiest divided into numbered 가 – ga sections. Smaller roads come with a 길 – gil suffix; anything else will be a number in its local – dong city section, which is itself part of a larger – gu. Therefore Tapgol Park in Seoul-si sits at the end of Insadonggil in Insadong, part of Jongnogu, at the confluence of Samillo and Jongno 2-ga. Happy hunting!