Skip to content

How to Survive a Super-Hot, Super-Humid Seoul Summer

If you’ve never lived through a Seoul summer, count yourself lucky. In my books, there are few things on earth WORSE. Ok fine. Hyperbole. But if scorching heat, monsoon rains, humidity as high as 100% WITHOUT rain, polluted skies and what seems like an extra 10 million people traveling in the city, isn’t the stuff of nightmares, I’m not sure what is.

I admit that my preferred method of surviving a sticky Seoul summer is to leave the country, ideally to a Mediterranean country with gorgeous beaches and good food. But since summering in Europe isn’t often in the cards, mostly I have to resort to the following well-worn strategies. It’s that, or never leaving the air-conditioned comfort of my house…which unfortunately, isn’t really an option.

Here’s how Seoulites survive the absolute worst 2 weather months of the year.

1. Find the shade.
In the summer months, at intersections, you’ll often see a huge group of people huddled under the tiny patch of shade afforded by a tree. I used to scoff at these people, and march defiantly past them into the sunshine, but I’ve learned my lesson. Oh, have I learned my lesson.

Find the shade wherever you can. A tree. The book you’re holding in your hand. Your purse. Basically anything you can use to create shelter. Because if you don’t, you’ll be dripping sweat in seconds. And no, I’m not exaggerating even a little bit.

2. Eat all the bingsu.
Bingsu, along with naengmyun, are 2 things I just couldn’t wrap my head around until I moved to Korea. Let’s face it. Bingsu looks kinda weird. In it’s classic form – patbingsu – it’s shaved ice, topped with a gooey mess of boiled red beans. And despite having lived here for almost a decade now, I still rarely hop on board the sweetened red bean train. It’s just not my thing.

Fortunately though, bingsu has evolved, and now you can get melon bingsu, strawberry bingsu, coffee bingsu, mango bingsu. You name it, you can probably get it.

My personal favourite though, is injeolmi bingsu from Sulbing – milk ice topped with Korean rice cakes and roasted soybean powder, which admittedly also looks and sounds weird, but in actuality is delicious and completely refreshing, with bonus points for being nutritious too!

3. Combat the heat with an army of cold soups.
Growing up in Calgary, where it sometimes snows in June, and the air is so dry, your skin feels like it’s cracking, my mom’s craving for noodles drenched in cold broth was impossible to understand. But boy do I get it now.

On days where the humidity is through the roof, the only thing that’ll do is mul naengmyeon (๋ฌผ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด) – thin buckwheat noodles served in an icy broth and topped with slices of daikon radish and cucumber.

I’ve tried various and more expensive versions of mul naengmyeon, but nothing refreshes me from the inside out as much as Yookssam Naengmyun’s (์œก์Œˆ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด) cheap and tangy version. Served along with a portion of grilled meat, it runs just 6,000krw.

Don’t worry if ๋ฌผ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด isn’t your thing though. There’s a literal army of cold Korean soups to suit your fancy. For a full write-up on ALL the options, check out Hallie’s post on The Soul of Seoul blog.

4. Or fight fire with fire.
The day that I eat a hot, spicy soup on a Korean summer day is the day hell freezes over. But that’s not true of all Koreans. Many believe that the best way to fight the heat is with something equally as hot.

This tactic of “fighting fire with fire,” or iyeol chiyeol ((์ด์—ด์น˜์—ด) is based on an idea from traditional Korean medicine, believing that in hot weather, body heat or gi, rises to the surface and disperses, leaving the inner organs cold. Lost heat needs to be replenished by eating hot foods, with rejuvenating ingredients like ginseng, jujubes and omija.

Classic iyeol chiyeol foods include samgyetang – a whole young boiled chicken in a nutritious broth, nakji bokkeum – octopus stir-fried in a super spicy sauce, jangeo – bbq eel, and yukgaejang – a spicy beef and vegetable soup.

5. Take a beach break.
The best and perhaps most classic way to survive the heat of summer is to take a break next to the sea. And while Korea doesn’t have the vibrant beach culture of the Mediterranean, a weekend out of the city, lounging around on sandy beaches and dipping into the cool sea when necessary is sure to rejuvenate all that ails you.

Add in some shellfish grilled over charcoal and a spicy pot of hameul-tang (seafood stew) and you’ve got your iyeol chiyeol (์ด์—ด์น˜์—ด) covered too!

There are beaches on all 3 sides of the country, but for an easy and manageable break out of Seoul, head out to the East Coast, where Korea’s best (arguably) beaches are located. Our favourite is Gyeongpodae – a mere 2.5 hours away by bus.

Is it hot where you live? What are your tried and tested ways of surviving the heat of summer?

Did you find this post helpful/interesting/useful? PIN IT!

Advertisements
25 Comments Post a comment
  1. well. i have to say i HATE this sort of weather. Although it’s worse I think when no rain comes.

    July 19, 2017
    • It’s just insane here…crazy buildup of humidity and then a few hours of rain to clear it somewhat and then the humidity builds up again. You literally start sweating the moment you move. Can’t wait till it’s over. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      July 24, 2017
  2. This is my life now also. Every morning I walk outside with my dog, and the heat and humidity smack me in the face, surrounding me like a hot, wet blanket. My weather app looks like yours, with clouds and lightning bolts in a straight line for 7 days in a row. The good thing here, though, is that the storms usually last about an hour max and then the sun comes beaming our again. That’s good for my spirits but so bad for the humidity! My biggest weapon is something I never thought I’d have and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world: a pool!

    I was in Seoul last August when you were gone, and I can attest to the brutal heat and humidity there – right on par with Houston for sure – but you have the added burden of crowds and pollution. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Hang in there! At least yours will disappear when fall arrives!

    July 19, 2017
    • Ahh last summer…how I’m missing the blue skies of Europe. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Actually this year is the worst year that I’ve ever experienced here. It’s been grey skies, rain and crazy humidity for almost a month now.

      Heat I can handle…it’s the humidity that’s really getting to me. Oh, you’re so lucky to have a pool! It makes such a difference to be able to dip into the water at will. And I’m jealous of your sunshine. I can’t even remember what the sun looks like anymore. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      July 24, 2017
  3. Wow, that’s even worse than central NC. Atleast we don’t have the pollution. But I do spend most of my time indoors with the AC, or in my AC car.

    On the shade thing, I’ve noticed in southern Europe you can always tell the people who live in cold climates – they’re eating lunch out in the sun. People from hot places, like me, these days, are in the shade. I was on a Hurtigruten boat in Norway recently, on a hot, sunny day (yes, even in Norway!) everyone on the boat was sitting out in the sun, except for me and a couple from Singapore.

    July 20, 2017
    • Staying in AC IS really the only way to truly cope. Here, the humidity is so intense, you start sweating the second you make a move. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Haha, you’re so right about people who come from hot, humid climates…we’re always hiding in the shade.

      July 24, 2017
  4. Oh my god I appreciate the sentiment behind this so much, but…. this just doesn’t work! You had the right idea because you combat this by 1)leaving the country! and 2) buying an aircon! I don’t have one this summer. I refuse to buy one now because the prices are so crazy, but man I am so close to just shoving my stance back where the sun don’t shine (where it’s cool probably) and just buy one. IT’S SO HOT and MUGGY and STICKY! I have several fans going at the same time and yes it’s glorious when the rotation reaches me but when it passes me by I am back in still humid box of suffering.

    July 20, 2017
    • Haha I admit it you’re right…but I’m just talking about survival, not enjoying it, cuz obviously that’s impossible. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Is this year worse than any other year, or is it just me? We spent all of last summer in Europe, and boy am I missing those days big time this year. I have vowed to NEVER spend another summer in Seoul. It is just so incredibly unpleasant. But um…I think we need to have a discussion about this lack of an air conditioner. How are you surviving?? Our is on pretty much 24/7 and it’s STILL muggy in the house sometimes. :((((((

      July 24, 2017
  5. Actually, I do all the things on your list, including eating/ drinking both hot and cold beverages! Lately though, i’ve been having my Chai tea lattes and Green tea lattes iced. Talking of shade, I brought a parasol with me from Europe, and here, I find it the only place I can use it without getting stared at. Finally, I love mul nengmyun and papingsu!!! Yum!!! Nice write-up!

    July 22, 2017
    • I was never a big iced coffee person, but this incredibly humid summer has me turning to the cold lattes on more than one occasion. I never thought I would be one to carry a parasol around…but I think here you’re really justified in having one. It’s just so insanely hot when you’re under the full glare of the sun.

      July 24, 2017
  6. I agree with the Bingsu! It’s one of the best things in Korea. However, I’m not a fan of Naengmyeon. It feels weird to eat cold noodles. Anyway, ์œก์Œˆ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด is really a good restaurant. I often eat Bibimbap there. It’s very affordable and delicious!

    July 22, 2017
    • I always thought it was strange to eat cold noodles too, but Korean summer convinced me to try them, and now I really enjoy them. Sometimes its the only thing that refreshes me completely.

      July 24, 2017
  7. wrpalomo #

    Hot and sticky! Those define our days here in Seoul these days and they aren’t pleasant. And my boys still go to soccer class and I have to be a soccer mom out there. Imagine that! I just have to chill this out until end of September and there’s the glorious Fall colors to look forward to!

    July 24, 2017
    • For me it’s not just the humidity, but the never-ending grey. It really gets to me. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But we are headed to Spain in just a few weeks, so I just have to get through a little while longer. At least we have sun today, right?? ๐Ÿ™‚

      July 25, 2017
  8. Man, I do not miss Seoul’s summer, but I do miss ๋น™์ˆ˜ and ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด, I loved ๋น„๋น”๋ƒ‰๋ฉด and would even eat it in winter ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜ like you, I love the peanut ๋น™์ˆ˜ the most but my boyfriend hates it so we’d always get another flavour. I’m in Mexico now and just found out there is a Pequeรฑo Seoul in Mexico City! Definitely going to check it out!!

    July 25, 2017
    • Oooh, I can’t eat ๋น„๋น”๋ƒ‰๋ฉด… I’ve tried, but it’s just too spicy for me. You must have serious spice tolerance. Haha, I always win in the bingsu flavour wars with hubby. Fortunately, he doesn’t enjoy it THAT much, so he always lets me pick – doesn’t stop him from eating most of it before I’ve even started though. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Wow! Korean in Mexico City – def curious about how that is?!

      July 25, 2017
  9. Great tips, Shelley! I like the idea of ์ด์—ด์น˜์—ด, and usually choose ๋–ก๋ณถ์ด as my dish to do so, but I do love ๋‹ญ๊ฐˆ๋น„ as well.

    Still, ๋ฌผ๋ƒ‰๋ฉด is my favorite way to beat the summer heat… I just wish they served it year-round! I’ve tried to order it in the winter before, and usually just get a confused look.

    Reading this post makes me glad I live in Pohang, where it’s a little bit cooler (on average) than in Seoul. Thanks for the write-up!

    July 25, 2017
    • Every time the heat and humidity hit the city, all I can think about is escaping, usually to a coastal location. In fact, we’re plotting a last minute escape this weekend. Pohang is on the coast right? I think I’ve driven through there a few times, and eaten some ๋Œ€๊ฒŒthere. It’s famous for that I think. Any nice beaches around there?

      July 25, 2017
  10. The Soul of Seoul #

    Thanks for the link love! I am hating this humidity. The sweat is everywhere. Madness. I definitely need more patbingsus in my belly asap!

    July 25, 2017
    • Hopefully we’ll get a break from the humidity in Jeju…but so far, the forecast says rain. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Let’s hope it’s wrong…

      July 28, 2017
  11. hahaโ€ฆI loved your post! Shells you missed last yearโ€™s summer. It was TERRIBLE! I somehow feel itโ€™s much cooler this year. Probably because of the brief spells of rain. Havenโ€™t eaten bingsu in a while or cold noodles. Evenings are much cooler and thatโ€™s when I choose to get out. ๐Ÿ™‚

    July 25, 2017
  12. Bingsoo and nnengmyun! Couldn’t agree with you more! I love eating the icy buckwheat soups on a hot day and I think those are one of the standout things about Korea in that they have cold soups in their culture! I guess there’s gazpacho for western countries, but I loved Korean summers just so nnengmyun would be that much more refreshing ๐Ÿ™‚

    July 26, 2017
  13. Sha #

    A bit late to this but I couldn’t resist adding on.

    Seoul summer is definitely not fun. I went there once and oh boy, I felt like I was back home. So I feel you about the humidity. The way Singaporeans handle it though, is to disappear into a mall. Which is why there are so many malls here really. I especially love those malls that are connected to subways. I can spend my whole day there without stepping out to walk to the subway. Best way to stay away from humidity. ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 12, 2017
    • I think this was the worst summer on record for humidity…I really suffered in a way I never have before, and sometimes the only solution was to go to the mall. I sure spent a lot of time in malls this summer ๐Ÿ˜‚

      August 23, 2017
  14. Sha #

    Haha, thank god for malls!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    August 23, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: