Exploring Korea with online maps

Written by on January 5, 2012 in Lifestyle

A couple months ago, I spotted some unusual looking cars outside my office. They had these big omnidirectional arrays on the roof, and the name Daum was written all over them.

The Daum Road View cars are about to start recording.

They were the Daum Road View cars, preparing to drive off in separate directions to photograph the streets of Seoul and ultimately the whole country. I considered waiting around so I could get my photo taken and make it onto the Internet, but I went back to my desk and logged on the old-fashioned way.

Ever since the launch of Google Earth, we’ve been able to explore our planet in new ways. In response, Korea’s main web portals have introduced their own map services, Naver Map and Daum Map. They often roll out with new features for Korea sooner than Google can — we still don’t have Google Street View in Korea, but both Daum and Naver offer their own variations. The two Korean portals have also introduced a few features I haven’t seen elsewhere. We’re going to look at some of them, see how to use them, what they can be used for, and some neat things you can do with them.

Daum lets you explore the Korean peninsula without leaving your desk.

Daum Road View

Let’s Start with Daum Road View, which lets you navigate around the streets of Seoul, as well as the rest of Korea. You are free to roam around any of the paths that Daum’s special cars take. It’s the closest you can get to driving around Seoul without worrying about traffic.

The change in seasons (from April to November 2011) is due to using images from different road trips.

I think the first thing anybody does using Road View is find their home and workplace. It can also be incredibly useful for finding places you’re supposed to go and following directions. It shows the locations of all subway stations and their numbered exits, and even has extensive information on bus routes as well. Plus, it can just be fun for randomly browsing. Ever see a 747 land in the city before?

Rest in Peace, Clipper Juan T Trippe

You can move around by hitting arrows, which moves your perspective several meters down the road. And from each point in the virtual maze, you have the ability to look in any direction, thanks to the array of camera lenses on top of the car.

Do I want to crash into the van, drive into oncoming traffic, or crash through Gwanghwamun Gate?

If you aim downward, you can even see the car the image was taken from.

Hey, different paint job!

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Daum has figured out a way to take you off the busy streets, mapping out Seoul’s parks in the process. Judging by the shadow in this image, an employee simply strolls around wearing a giant mechanical hat.

If I saw this shadow coming, I would run.

They’ve even managed to get cameras into Seoul’s palaces, such as in Gyeongbokgung Palace, by way of a portable stand as seen below. Bizarrely, the photographer is nowhere to be seen.

Bizarre, but it still conveys you the armchair explorer around just as well as the Daum car or the nightmare head man.

Daum Road View History

The Daum cars hit the road again every few months, updating the images of this ever-changing country. However, one feature I love is that they save the old images, so you can easily see what a particular view looked like earlier this year, or last year, or back when they first started doing this.

This leads to some incredible records showing just how much the city has changed in such a short time. For instance, watch as this section of old buildings gets cordoned off and demolished, and a new building (100 Pine Avenue) is constructed in its place.

Clicking on the box in the upper left corner lets you change the date.

Daum Traffic Cam

It feels like the only next step is to have Road View in real time. This of course would be impossible (and a huge violation of everyone’s privacy), but Daum has provided several traffic cams throughout the city, in case you want to get a look at how heavy traffic is (answer: pretty heavy right now).

Live traffic at the north end of the Wonhyo Bridge

Daum Store View

Okay, let’s watch as Daum probes further into our world. Through Daum Store View, you can peer into actual stores, restaurants, and cafes themselves. Each store gives you an omnidirectional view, just like outside only on a much smaller scale. Daum went to a lot of trouble to capture the first lucky establishments when they were empty of customers, so you’re left with a nice look at the layout. There may also be more than one capture, so you can navigate from point to point on the little layout map in the lower left corner.

They may clear people out, but had no qualms about leaving the cats in at Goyangi Noriteo (Cat Playground).

Naver Map

I don’t use Naver quite as much as Daum, mostly out of habit and because Daum’s Road View seems a little better. Naver offers a lot too, including a somewhat more intuitive bus route function. However, for the most part Daum pretty well offers everything Naver has. Except…

Naver Airplane View

So, Daum has sent the car around, the funny-hat guy around, and the mysterious stationary stand that appears to move on its own. Naver took this to the next level and used airplanes.

You get the exact same omnidirectional view, only this time you’re far above the ground. It’s like a cross between regular map view and road view, and you can move around by clicking the little plane icons distributed across the map. Even better, the screen zooms in a way that regular Road View doesn’t, making it feel like you’re flying. At this point, all you need is the ability to summon thunder, and you’re God.

Looking west from somewhere over Geumho-dong.

The only weakness of Airplane View is that there aren’t enough routes yet. Also, you can’t get too close to areas like Yongsan or Cheong Wa Dae, probably due to security concerns.

Naver Bike Route

As I mentioned, Naver has a superior bus route function, and it otherwise has the same traffic function, except Naver’s traffic webcams require Microsoft Silverlight and I’m too lazy to install it.

What Naver does have over Daum, though, is bike route information. Now, between all the mountains, hills, and slopes and the unaccomodating roads, biking in Seoul isn’t easy — anyone who’s been to Tokyo or Beijing can tell you how much more popular cycling is there.

But, bike routes do exist, and you can find them all courtesy of Naver.

The bike routes of Seoul and surrounding area. I’m guessing the upper left corner is cut off for security reasons.

Google Earth

Between Daum and Naver, you can find quite a lot of helpful and interesting information. Although Google Street View isn’t yet available here, there are a few reasons to give it a try. Google offers an excellent terrain map which shows the elevation of Korea. You can see a map of sites that have their own Wikipedia articles, which gives a lot of good information. Also, while Daum and Naver censor images of military installations and Cheong Wa Dae, Google doesn’t bother, and you can freely browse maps of these locations. You don’t get Street View, but there is an interesting collection of photos sorted by location. However, a lot of the interesting features such as transportation and 45-degree view are unavailable.

The Google Earth view over Gwanghwamoon is dense with photos and Wikipedia articles.

Those of us who live in Korea are lucky to live in such a small, dense country, where a little bit of infrastructure can satisfy a huge population. It would be impossible to get the same coverage of all of Canada, where the population is spread out over such a larger area, or even the US–the cost of gassing up the camera cars alone would probably warm the global average temperature three degrees and start a war with Iran. Here, where communication infrastructure is so tightly clustered, we get a lot of opportunities to play around with the latest in communications infrastructure.

About the Author

Jon Dunbar

Jon Dunbar is a former editor and staff writer for Korea.net. His first visit to Korea was in summer 1996 when he was a teenager, and he returned permanently in December 2003. He is involved in the Korean underground music scene and has supported local musicians through writing, photography, and occasionally planning events. He has been blogging for more than a decade, mainly on music, urban exploration, and his cats