South Korea Travel Destinations

Korea, Seoul – Walking on Mapo Bridge of Life

Mapo Bridge of Life and Finding Suicide Awareness in Korea
Written by Duke Stewart

Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy. ― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide


Walking on Mapo Bridge of Life

A beautiful walk along the Han in Seoul leads to an unexpected yet eye-opening destination. Our path has exposed a darker reality that’s not so talked about in Korea. We reach the foot of Mapo “Bridge of Life” unprepared for what’s set to appear. Formerly known as Seoul Bridge, Mapo attracts an unfortunate sect searching for that escape from the lives they have struggled through to the point of ending it all. Korea’s suicide problem is an terrible epidemic and instead of pointing fingers or pointing out statistics, we are here to visit a place that’s trying to tackle it through helpful tools and messages.

Flower on the rail

Everyone talks about the Han Miracle while forgetting about the tragedies occurring here on an almost weekly basis. In a desperate re-branding effort, city officials name the Mapo a “Bridge of Life” to counter this tragic situation. As the Han gives, it also takes away.

Mapo Bridge Patrols

It’s a black eye on the face of Korea but as with most problems, marketing campaigns are trying improve the image. The hope is for more unsuccessful suicide attempts through stringent patrols and heightened awareness. If you’re not seen or heard trying to kill yourself, the pictures of family and messages of love lining the rails should make one think again.

Hopeful Phone Station

Emotions pour out as we encounter images of babies and parents plastered all along the rails. We tag along behind a couple of police officers patrolling the bridge. Friends and family pose for photos but hopefully for just a memory to prove that they’d been there. As some passersby scanned the pictures and read the messages, I hope they’re visiting and trying to understand the “Bridge of Life” effort. Hopefully this isn’t a personal reminder of someone they’ve lost.

How Was Your Day?

How was your day?

Suicide doesn’t just affect the person but also those who surrounded them. It’s the loved ones that get left behind and hopefully the visitors are stopping by out of raised awareness towards suicide. Many have commented on Korea’s “Suicide Problem” and fingers usually point towards the stress, the culture, or the stress that Korean culture imposes on its people. Things might be changing but many people say they won’t. It depends on the person answering the question, is what I’ve found.

Sun Shining on Traffic

Reading the messages and seeing the pictures on the bridge remind me that we’re all in this together. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and neither will pointing fingers in an accusatory manner. Working with everyone to make this life a less stressful one might help reduce those venturing to places like the Mapo Bridge to end it all. We think about this as the sunset peaks to its most beautiful spot.

Heart on the Rail

As the sun fully disappears, we walk back to catch a train and hope that the Bridge of Life, but I know that it can’t be the only solution. Something has to change about the pressure-filled culture that is Korea. It’s not just work but also family stress that pushes people beyond the brink and Mapo Bridge is the most prominent reminder of that. The visit prompted thoughts that Korea looks to tomorrow with hope coupled with caution. The country isn’t erasing the past but trying not to emulate its bad moments. It will always be tweaking things and trying to make the next day better than before.

Sunset from Mapo Bridge

The Mapo Bridge of Life effort is far from the only solution to the problem but at least it’s a sign that Korea is aware of this troubling situation.

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Mapo Bridge of Life and Suicide Awareness in Korea

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About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

47 Comments

  • I used to live near Mapo Bridge… just walking distance. Trapalace, in front of Seoul Garden Hotel. 7 Years. But I only got to know about this being the suicide destination when I started walking the bridge and blogged about it because of the Avengers movie. Tsk.

    • Hey Wendy, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Do you have a link to the post you wrote? I’d love to take a look. Feel free to reply with it:)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Whoa – this is intense. As soon as I read the title I knew it would be intense. It’s so astonishing that this is even a problem in such a developed country. What really got me was the messages from family and friends… hopefully their efforts are making a difference.

    • Thank you Neysha. I’m not sure what difference the messages are making, though I’ve heard there are fewer successful suicide attempts these days. Let’s see. I’m hopeful.

  • I know of South Korea’s high suicide rate, but I never knew this was one location for such attempts. I don’t think I’d like to visit there, as my emotions would be all over the place, I think. But I appreciate your posting this and shedding more light on the problem and the steps that are being taken to change the image of the bridge.

    Never stopping.

    • Nailah, your comment was so touching and heartfelt. I think the site was a bit overwhelming when walking around but for some reason, we’ve visited some truly morbid places. Not sure if it’s curiosity or what, but it’s worth it. At least that’s how I feel. I understand your not wanting to go. Powerful emotions come out when faced with such tragedy.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Really nice reflection man. You seemed to have really immersed yourself while you were on the bridge which is not something that mist people can do. The suicide thing is not something you hear much about in Korea itself but its definitely a problem
    that needs close examination. Hopefully this effort can begin a dialogue that can address the root problems of the epidemic.

  • Wow… What a beautiful post about something so tragic. It is good to see they are making efforts to combat this issue. I have never heard about Mapo Bridge before, but would really like to visit after reading this. So eye-opening.

    • Thank you so much for this comment. It’s not so much of a tourist attraction as it is one symbol of the problems taking place here. Hopefully they’ll start tackling this problem in a more positive and proactive manner.

  • Your photos are really beautiful, especially that final one. The whole time I lived in Seoul I actually never knew the bridge had that name. You taught me something new, however morbid and slightly twisty that name may be.Very nice post on such a tragic topic.

    • Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. It might be morbid right now but hopefully the country will tackle this problem and make the place more pleasant and full of happier memories.

  • Beautifully written as usual! I haven’t actually been there on foot, but we used to live not too far away and traveled by taxi or bus across the bridge often. It’s such a hard problem to solve but I think making other options more available without bringing shame into your family would be a good next step. Pushing therapy, counseling, anonymous groups, etc. I’m not sure how extensive these kind of things are here, but I do know a lot more shame comes with them than back home.

    • I agree with you and the services are available more so in Seoul, I believe, than in Jeolla and the more rural regions. It’s such a divide between the Metros and the rest of the country, but I believe it’s that way in pretty much any country.

  • Sad topic and beautiful written. Suicide is such a tragedy and most of us know someone who choosed that solution. We have to take care of each other and have empaty and lissen. Take care.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I think it’s an issue that’s being dealt with here but some steps have to be taken to improve its handling. Hopefully the awareness around this bridge is a good first step and will start deterring people from taking that final step. Cheers.

  • Beautifully written! It is such a sad topic, but you manage to describe the problem in almost a poetic kind of way. Beautiful photos too! Love that sunset! I did not know Korea had these kind of problems.

    • Thank you for your kind comment. It’s a terrible problem but hopefully efforts like this one will deal with the problem in a more constructive manner than before.

  • This was really powerful and well written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Your words are not just telling about the Mapo Bridge, but giving the readers a deep, emotional reaction. I particularly liked this:

    “The sunset that we fought to beat sparked a further reminder that the day passed and tomorrow would bring brighter moments than before, just as the tune of the bridge’s messages speaks”

    Anyway, I have definitely been reading more about the issue of suicide in Korea. Its a very sad, yet interesting topic as to why the culture may drive people to choose to end their lives.

    Nice piece!

    • Thanks Katie. I enjoyed that a passage touched you a bit. Hopefully this brought a bit more awareness to you in addition to what you’ve already read. Cheers!

  • I was aware that Korea has a very high suicide rate…but the reality of the epidemic, intertwined with the physicality of the bridge as a memorial spot is haunting…

  • Suicide is a brutal topic, one a lot of people don’t like to talk about. Thanks for the tactful and delicately written post. It’s a ray of light to see people trying to discourage people from committing suicide. Reminding people struggling with urges that they are loved and would be missed is so important. Tomorrow always comes.

    • Thank you Nathan. It certainly is something that we need to bring awareness to and thankfully, those steps are being taken with increased care and consulting options being provided throughout the country. Thanks for your thoughtful and kind comment.

  • Nice photos again! I see a photo of the telephones which are stationed around the bridge on another Korea travel page. Its really important for Korea to implement thing such as the free helpline. A simple initiative like that might be enough to save a life. There is another famous suicide point in Busan (Taejongdae). Its quite sad that they get these nickname because both in Seoul and Busan the actual place (such as the bridge) is a really pretty place.

    • Thank you Rafiqua for your nice comment. I didn’t realize there was a similar place in Busan but being a big city, I guess it makes sense. Have you written about that before? Feel free to share a link. I’d love to check it out.

  • Thank you for this delicate and beautiful piece of writing. Suicide is a topic that I’m glad to see is being addressed here, but I think always needs more awareness. Your post will hopefully add more awareness in the expat community as it can become all too easy to bypass such issues. Your pictures are also lovely and add greater depth to your writing. Thank you for this.

    • Nadia, first and foremost I want to thank you for your kind comment. I truly appreciate it. My wife is behind the lens so she also thanks you for commenting on her photos. The issue is gaining awareness here but as with most problems, it’s working like a race. Hopefully treatment and care will win over the other option. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this – this part of Seoul, this issue. I had no idea about Mapo Bridge or the problem of suicide in the Han.

    • Thank you. It’s honestly not something that I knew about until reading about it while they were filming the latest Avengers movie there. Tragic story, that one as well. I suggest you check it out if interested. Look up Mapo Bridge and Avengers. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I truly appreciate your thoughts.

  • suicide is definitely a huge problem here, but i don’t think your post glorifies it or talks about it a shameful way. it’s an honest problem and i think you brought attention to it in a respectable way.

    • Thank you so much for those kind words, Jeri. I truly hope that my post didn’t come off as glorifying this sensitive subject and thanks to your comment, I feel that all is well in my coverage of it. Thanks again for stopping by. I always look forward to your words appearing underneath the posts here.

  • I can’t recall which station it was, but last time I was in Seoul there was a metro station that had cartoon character “friends” on many of the benches with some anti-suicide messages (from what I was told). I like how they are trying to tackle the issue with positive messages, and hope it does bring some success in leading people to think twice.

    • My wife was talking about something similar to this, I believe. It was inside the train car though instead. I truly hope they tackle this problem and figure out how to spread happiness and joy to the masses instead of chaos and no rest. Thanks for stopping by, Jason. Much appreciated.

      • No worries, I’m actually just starting to gear up for another visit to Seoul in January.

        While on the topic, Korea’s got a violinist (Ji-Hae Park) who is tackling the issue of depression by sharing her story with her performances. I’ve actually been helping out with the English blog on her website. If you haven’t come across her, I’d recommend checking out her TED Talk – it’s how I came across her, and she is a fantastic talent.

          • She seems to be building some momentum, last week she performed on Dokdo (possibly the first official musical performance there) and she has a new album being released in the next couple of months.

            Chances are I’ll be in Seoul for the most part. Definitely curious to see how things are in the winter time as my two previous visits have been in the midst of the summer humidity!

          • I just watched that performance and “Wow” is all I can really say. So emotional and passionate. I enjoyed every minute of it. Sharing that one for sure.

            If you’re heading up in January, bundle up. We went a few Januarys ago and it was burr cold. My advice to anyone traveling to Korea is to layer up. Not all places are centrally-heated, though that’s probably not the case in Seoul.

          • I’m coming from near Toronto, Canada so chances are I’ll be over-dressed anyways, but thanks for the heads-up! Looking forward to hopefully enjoying some toasty warm floors!