Getting Around South Korea

Getting Around South Korea

by Michael Geer

One of the greatest struggles with exploring a new country is getting from point A to point B. Deciding when one should walk, drive, or ride to a place isn’t always clear. However, that doesn’t mean you need stay fearfully contained in your hostel. Here is some information about getting around in South Korea.

By Bus

Korea has an extensive bus system! Not only is it extremely affordable and comfortable, but it can take you nearly anywhere (though not always directly). You can chart a bus trip through South Korea by checking the tourism website.Simply plug in your departure and destination and you’ll learn the general times for buses throughout Korea. There are three basic kinds of bus travel in Korea, intercity, metro, and express buses.
Intercity buses are typically larger and more comfortable than metro buses. Long trips (four hours or more) will stop at least once at a rest stop before reaching it’s destination. Just be sure to get back to the bus before it leaves!

Navigating metro buses can be difficult, as few metro buses show their destinations in English. However, Google Maps has become better about plotting routes through major Korean cities. It’s not perfect, but can help you track down the right bus to where you’re going.

Express Buses are what they sound like, express. They stop less and go to fewer locations often linking Seoul to popular weekend destinations. It’s important to remember that Express buses have their own terminals separate from intercity/metro buses!

When asking for a bus ticket simply state your destination (ex. “Incheon”) and add the Korean word “Ju-sayeo.” So if you want to go to Incheon ask a cashier “Incheon Ju-sayeo.” “Ju-sayeo” generally translates to “Please give me” It’s a polite way of asking for anything, be it bus tickets, kimbap, or beer.

bus stain busan


By Subway

Several major cities have subway systems. Few are as complicated as Seoul, however maps and English directions are available everywhere. Subways are clean, efficient, but can be crowded during rush hour.

For smartphone users, download the “Jihachil” subway app for your phone.

This free application will give you all the subway maps in Korea, in several languages. It’s also interactive, allowing you to chart your path, telling you train times, transit stations, and how long a particular path will take.


By Train

Train travel in Korea is limited in destinations when compared to bus travel. However, the speed and lack of traffic makes it well worth the extra money when going long distances. Korea has both slow and high-speed (KTX) trains. The KTX trains are more modern and can travel upwards of 290 kilometers per hour! The high speeds easily shave two hours time traveling great distances, like from Seoul to Busan.

As a foreigner in Korea, there are actually more options for train travel than are often apparent. Here’s some tips to train travel that can save you money if you travel a lot! If you visit the English version of the Korail website you’ll find several options. One is to purchase rail tickets online. The menus are easy, simply select the date, destination, train, and time. The website will indicate if there are seats available. If you’re traveling to a popular destination (like Busan) on a holiday BOOK EARLY! KTX tickets often sell out quickly, especially on major holidays like Chuseok. American credit cards are good for booking KTX tickets online.

However, there is another option for booking train tickets that is open to foreign nationals exclusively. This is the KR Pass option. The KR Pass allows the holder unlimited access to standard class seats on any train for as long as the pass is valid. They can order the pass online, print their receipt, and present it with their passport at any KTX station. With the pass they can select any available seat on any train they wish. So, if one were traveling from Seoul to Busan for a weekend, one could either book two train tickets, or buy a 3-day KR Pass. As of current prices, KTX seats cost around 53,000KRW a ride, going to and from Busan would cost about 106,000KRW (approximately $100). However, a 3-day KR Pass is only 93,000KRW for an adult (74,000 KRW for a youth pass if you’re under 25). Additionally, the KR Pass provides flexibility when coming and going by train. Just remember, the pass is good for claiming available standard class seats! If a train is full you might get stuck standing, or paying extra for first class seats. It’s not a perfect alternative to booking specific tickets, but it can save you a few bucks when you have flexible travel plans!
Lastly, you can book train tickets in person the same as at the bus station. Simply tell the cashier where you are going and they’ll inform you which trains are available.

south korea train


By Taxi

Unlike other developed countries, taxis in Korea are extremely cheap. Most starting the meter at 3000KRW or less (about $2.95). When traveling around in a city taxis are a great way to get around when you can’t find a specific spot and don’t want to deal with subways or buses. When getting in a taxi, simply tell the driver where you want to go.

Taxis are precarious and intimidating in Korea because few drivers speak English and often have a difficult time understanding foreigners. Speak as clearly as you can, but have your destination written in Korean in case he can’t understand you. If staying in a hostel or hotel always take their business card or information with their location and address in Korean. That way if you get lost (or have a few too many at the bar) you can always get back to where you are staying.

A word of caution, Korea is a remarkably safe place to walk around, even in major urban areas. However, it is not impossible for cab drivers to try and take advantage of foreigners who are lost or drunk. ALWAYS be sure the driver starts the meter when you enter the vehicle and NEVER FALL ASLEEP IN A TAXI! Cab drivers aren’t con artists, but you can’t put it past them to take you for a ride to run up your fare. Additionally, some may short change you if they think they can, so mind your money and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of in a cab. If you feel you are being mistreated, GET OUT OF THE CAB, photograph the driver’s license and information (it’s always on display in taxis) if the driver gives you trouble. Remember to always exercise good judgement and never do anything illegal, as the police are not known for their sympathy for English speakers.


When all else fails, call the English Tourism Hotline! Korea has a 24-7 hotline that can be dialed from any phone in Korea. The number is 1330 from a landline, or 02-1330 from a cell phone. Simply dial and access the English menu, operators speak excellent English and can perform a number of tasks. Want bus times? They can tell you. Need a translator in a pinch? They can help get your message across. Need information on where to go? They’ll direct you. It’s an especially excellent service if you’re using a cell phone in Korea, but if you don’t have one, never fear! Korea possesses plenty of payphones in subway stations and on streets!

Now go out there and explore!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is a resident English teacher in Busan.  Educating my day and adventuring by night (and weekend) he fills his time with writing, photography, and exploration.

Read more about his experiences in and out of the classroom.


 


This article was published in June 2014. Some of the prices quoted may have changed since.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Seoul

TAIPEI | SEOUL | SINGAPORE

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Funky 100 – Number 54

5 Funky Things to do in Seoul


Why you should Visit…

Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the post populated metropoli on the planet! This sprawling city is loaded with sites both ancient and modern to explore. Here are five sites I think are most worth visiting on a trip to Seoul:


1. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

gyeongbokung palace

One of the largest and most well known of the ancient palaces in Seoul. This sprawling palace complex is a must see for visitors to Korea. With it’s iconic gates and palace halls, it’s a photographer’s dream. Additionally, traditional processions are often played out within its grounds, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a place to step out of the modern world and into the old. The palace is near exit 5 of the aptly named Gyeongbokgung Subway Station (Orange Line).


2. Insadong Street Market

insadong market

Located near Gyeongbukgung Palace is another iconic destination for Seoul. Insadong is a traditional market street that caters to foreigners looking to gather mementos and traditional souvenirs from Korea. It’s a charming and well manicured place with lots of tea shops and souvenir vendors (not to mention plenty of street food). Though I wouldn’t recommend doing all my souvenir shopping here, it is certainly the easiest place to do it (unless you want to haggle). You can find Insadong by exiting Anguk Station, exit 6 (Orange Line).


3. Hit Hongdae after dark

hongdae station

Hongdae is near one of the most popular universities in Seoul. It’s particularly known for it’s nightlife. Hongdae is loaded with plenty of bars, restaurants, and noisy nightclubs. During the weekend it is a hub of evening activity with people from around the world out drinking and partying all the way until dawn! If you’re looking for a fun night out, grab a friend and check out some Korean clubs! If you need to make a friend, buy some drinks in a local convenience store and head to Hongdae Park, a small playground in the midst of the nightlife where many people gather to drink and socialize between bars. It’s easy to meet people here and you might even spot the legendary Makoli Man, an eccentric local who appears in Hongdae at night and pours paper cups of Korean rice wine (Makoli) to whomever wants to say hello! Hongdae is located near the Hongik University Station, exit 9 (Green Circle Line). To find the park leave Hongik University Station by exit 8, take the first right, then left at the next intersection. Following the road on the left as it forks, the park will be on your right.


4. Climb up Namsan Tower

lovelock

.Standing atop Namsan mountain is the aptly named tower that shines brightly in the night sky. The hike up the mountain is a series of steep and winding wide staircases, but it’s quite enjoyable if you’re not too tired on a temperate afternoon. The tower looks over the city and you can ride the elevator to the observatory for 9,000 won (about $9 US). Namsan Tower is also a traditional location where lovers go to profess their affection. You’ll see hundreds of locks inscribed with names of couples who declare their love by clipping a lock with their names to the fences. They then chuck the key over the edge and down the hillside. You can still buy locks there today to similarly seal you and your lover’s names to the wall. Yet, signs politely ask people not to toss their keys onto unsuspecting hikers below! Namsan Tower can be reached a number of ways through hiking trails or a cable car (near Myeon-dong Station, Blue Line). There are also shuttle buses up the mountain, read more about it here.


5. Visit The Korean War Memorial/Museum

war memorial korea

The Korean War Memorial/Museum: Located near the foreigner district (Itaewon) is the Korean War Memorial. Here is where brave soldiers from around the world who served in the Korean War are remembered. The Memorial has many pieces of art and statues on display, as well as the names of fallen soldier from the war inscribed on memorial plates. Inside is the quiet memorial and an adjoining military history museum. The Memorial and museum are free to the public and contains exhibits of warfare from ancient Korea to the present day. The displays have English translations and can be very informative. For those looking for an interesting view into Korea’s tumultuous past, this is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

To visit the Memorial go to Samgakji Station, exit 12 (Brown Line) walk straight until you find the main entrance on your left.


Seoul is loaded with other places to visit. The Chungmuro Royal Shrine, the Han River walk, and shopping at COEX Mall or Myeon-dong, are all wonderful things to see! There are even more places to visit if you venture beyond the extent of Seouls far reaching subways!

BIO

Michael is an English teacher for a Korean public school in Busan. He has lived in Korea for two years and explored much of it during that time. When not traveling, he occupies himself with writing, photography, and occasionally teaching.

Read more about his journeys here


PREVIOUS CITY | FUNKY 100 | NEXT CITY


This article was published in August 2014.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Busan

BUSAN | PHNOM PENH

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Funky 100 – Number 2

5 Funky Things to do in Busan


Why you should Visit…

Busan is an incredible city! Though not as large as Seoul, it possesses a vibrancy and vitality that Seoul often lacks. Here the weather is milder, the people friendlier, and the sites have that sweet, sandy charm only a beach city can claim. Here are five awesome things to enjoy in Busan! (In no particular order)


1. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: The “water” temple

lantern festival busan

Perched on the rocky cliffs a short hike from Sonjeong beach, Yonggungsa Temple is often high on the list of “must see sights” in Busan. Accessible by bus, taxi, or foot, Younggungsa is worth the trek out of town to see this charming temple. Photo of the temple was taken during the Lotus Lantern Festival, May 5th 2014 “Buddha’s Birthday”.


2. Gwangalli Beach

gwangali beach

Nestled between Gwangan and Geumyeonsan subway stops is Gwangalli Beach. This is the site of the annual international fireworks festival. The Gwangan (Diamond) Bridge is a hell of sight at night, as the entire bridge is illuminated and even features a light show on special occasions. Gwangalli is also near Kyungsung University (KSU), where most foreigners prefer to do their partying and clubbing. Yet, that doesn’t mean Gwangalli isn’t loaded with great bars and restaurants worth visiting day or night!. Great for a day at the beach or an evening drinking on the shore, Gwangalli Beach is a favorite!


3. Jagalchi Fish Market

jagalchi fish market

Near Busan International Film Festival Square is Jagalchi Fish Market. This massive area contains both indoor and outdoor fish markets where one can haggle for the freshest seafood in Korea. The indoor fish market even contains upper floors where one’s freshly caught fish can be prepared to your liking. Few visits to Busan can be called complete without one visit to Jagalchi.


4. Geumjeong Mountain

geumjeong mountain

This mountain runs north to south along the norther half of Busan. Running from Beomosa Temple south to Dongnae, one can hike along the ancient fortress wall atop the ridge. Here spectacular views of the city can be seen. The fortress runs in a circle around the mountain and provides dozens of paths from challenging to easy. The easiest path being the cable car from Oncheonjang to the summit near the South Gate. Perfect for a diverse day of hiking!


5. Seokbulsa Temple

seokbulsa temple

For those who find most temples boring, this might be a challenging alternative. Hidden away in Geumjeong Mountain is Seokbulsa Temple, the oft forgotten gem of local Buddhist architecture. Even if one were to take the cable car from Oncheonjang to the top of Geumjeong mountain, one would still face another 2 hours of hiking to reach Seokbulsa. However, it’s worth the climb. This small, remote temple is unique in that it has been carved into the cliff side! If you’re looking for a unique experience off the beaten path, Seokbulsa is a daylong trek worth investigating!


BIO

Michael is a resident English teacher in Busan.  Educating my day and adventuring by night (and weekend) he fills his time with writing, photography, and exploration.

Read more about his experiences in and out of the classroom.


FUNKY 100 | NEXT CITY


This article was published in May 2014.