Getting around South Korea

January 11, 2016

getting around SOUTH korea

The public transport system in Korea makes it easy and convenient for you to travel anywhere! To get around within popular cities like Seoul, Busan or Daegu, you can catch the subway and/or local bus and if you need to travel intercity, the KTX (Korean Train Express) can probably get you there.

If, however, you are heading to an area that is not serviced by the KTX/other train or prefer a cheaper alternative, consider intercity buses. There does not exist a national site (in English, that I know of) that serves as a one-stop source for all intercity bus information. In fact, you’ll probably find it difficult to get even basic info (eg: bus routes for a particular terminal) that’s in English and that’s up-to-date.

So here’s my attempt to make it a little easier for travellers to catch public transport in Korea and especially for expats who live in remote areas and have to rely on intercity buses.

how to get around

Travelling intercity? catch the train (KTX/other trains) or intercity bus.
Travelling within cities/counties? catch the local bus, or if available, catch the subway (only in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju). Taxis are also quite cheap in Korea with base fare usually between 2,800 – 3,800 won.

TRANSPORT CARD

A transportation card, like T-money, will make catching public transport less of a hassle and it’ll also save you money!
Where can I purchase one? You can purchase the card in convenience stores with the T-money logo or from ticket vending machines inside subway stations.
How do I put money onto the card? There are card reload devices inside all subway stations (and it works much like the Octopus card in Hong Kong).
Where can I use my card? You can use your card to pay for the subway, local bus (NOT intercity bus) or taxi.
Need more info? Head to Korea’s official tourism site, Visit Korea.

SUBWAY app

Subway Korea by Malang is the best! The app provides a lot of information (time required, number of stations, number of transfers, fare) and even tells you which car and door to enter for faster transfers. It covers all subway networks in Korea – i.e. Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju, and is regularly updated. You can download it onto your iPhone or Android (Korean, English and Japanese languages available in ‘Settings’).

LOCAL BUSES & DAUM MAP (Better than Google Maps)

I try to avoid catching local buses but for those hard to reach areas, it is what I’m left with (more the case when I don’t feel like splurging on a taxi). I am super thankful for Daum Maps (available on the iPhone and Android) every time I find myself having to catch the local bus. Besides providing an up-to-date and accurate map of Korea, it will give you the info you’ll need to determine which bus to catch and from which bus stop. Also, if you’re like me, with a preference for taxis over local buses, this app will estimate the taxi fare for any route! The app is, however, available only in Korean but this great post by Liz Blanco of Changwonderful will have you using it in no time. If you know basic hangeul and familiar with the layout of Google maps, you’ll definitely be able to use this app without a problem!

Note: Google maps hasn’t been updated for Korea in years so I wouldn’t rely on it, maybe just for general directions. I actually relied on it myself when I first arrived in Seoul not knowing it’s limitations and it had me walking for hours to find a restaurant in Hongdae – I eventually gave up! So I highly recommend getting Daum Maps!

Seoul local buses: for general info on Seoul local buses and fares, click here.
Changwon local buses: visit changwonderful for general info and city bus numbering guide.
Goseong local buses, Gyeongsangnam-do: visit the Goseong-gun official website for the bus schedule (not up-to-date).

TRAINS (KTX / OTHER TRAINS)

I use trains for intercity travel or to go to the airport in Seoul/Busan (use subway trains or local buses for intra-city travel). There are several types of trains in Korea – the KTX, Airport Express Train (AREX) and the Mugunghwa are the only ones I’ve been on. Others being ITX-Saemaeul, Saemaeul, Commuter, Nuriro and ITX-Cheongchun, of which I know nothing about!

How do I look up train schedule, fare, or book tickets? Visit Korail. Enter your departure and arrival station and fill in other relevant info. Click ‘inquiry’. It should return a list of trains available for the route specified. If you want to book a ticket, click ‘select’ and it will take you to the booking form (you’ll need your passport number).
Do I have to purchase my train ticket online? No, you don’t have to book your train ticket online or in advance. You can buy your ticket at the train station on the day. However, if travelling during public holidays, I would book my tickets to/from Seoul or Busan in advance just in case they sell out.
What are the KTX routes? There are 4 KTX lines – Gyeongbu, Honam, Gyeongjeon and Jeolla Line. Visit Korail for more info.

INTERCITY BUSES (BY CITY / PROVINCE)

Below are some resources I turn to when planning a trip out of Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. While some of the sites have not been updated for years, I still find them pretty useful as info such as the route a terminal services, travel duration, or the frequency of buses do not change significantly over time… Besides, given the lack of info online, I’ll take what I can get!

Links to photos of bus schedules displayed at the terminals in 2015/2016 are also provided below.

KOREA

  • ALL cities – For general information about express and intercity buses, click here.
  • ALL express buses – To check times, routes, travel duration, click here.

SEOUL

Seoul Bus Terminals – for info on Seoul bus terminals and which lines/routes each operates, click here.

BUSAN

  • Busan intercity buses – There are two bus terminals in Busan – Busan Central Bus Terminal and Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal. Visit Dynamic Busan to find out which one you need to head to and whether or not there’s an express bus available for that route.
  • Busan Central Bus Terminal (Nopo-dong) – Head to visitkorea for a table showing only the travel duration from Busan to destinations serviced by express and intercity buses.

DAEGU

Daegu Seobu (West) Intercity Bus Terminal (Jan, 2016): for the bus schedule displayed at this terminal, click here.

JEOLLANAM-DO (SOUTH JEOLLA PROVINCE)

  • Updated bus schedule (Korean) for Gwangju (and other cities within the province eg: Suncheon, Mokpo, Yeosu) – if you can navigate Korean (or know basic hangeul), usquare is gold! You can get info for many bus routes in the province. To get started, click on the bus icon on the right-hand side. A menu will pop up, there are 2 tabs, the first tab (고속버스) is for express buses travelling from Gwangju to cities outside the province. Use the map or drop-down menu to select your destination. The second tab (직행버스) is for direct buses departing from Gwangju/other cities (Suncheon, Mokpo, Yeosu, Haenam, Jeonju, Daegu, Gongju) to areas around Korea. Once you select your departing city from the drop-down menu (eg: ‘목포’ Mokpo ), available routes will appear at the bottom, select one of the routes (eg:’목포 – 마산’ Mokpo – Masan) and the information will appear on the right-hand side.
  • Suncheon, June 2015 – for the bus schedule displayed at Suncheon intercity bus terminal, click here.
  • Gwangju bus schedule, Nov 2012 – visit Korean Curryosity for photos of the bus schedule displayed at Gwangju Intercity Bus Terminal
  • Gwangju express buses, June 2011 – visit Gwangju Guide to check fare, duration, and frequency of buses travelling from Gwangju to other cities and to areas within the South Jeolla Province (Jeollanam-do).
  • Gwangju intercity buses, Dec 2010 – visit Gwangju U-tourpia to check route, schedule, frequency and travel duration.

GYEONGSANGNAM-DO (SOUTH GYEONGSANG PROVINCE)

  • Jinju intercity bus schedule (updated, Korean) – if you can navigate Korean (or know basic hangeul), click here for route, schedule and fare info of all buses departing Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal. If you can’t navigate Korean, you can translate the page if using Google chrome. It’s not that accurate but still very useful!
  • Jinju intercity bus schedule (Jan 2016, English) – As this schedule (Korean) has made planning trips around Korea so much easier for me, I’ve translated parts of it here.
  • Goseong intercity bus schedule, Gyeongsangnam-do (Jan 2016, English) – click here for the bus schedule displayed at Goseong bus terminal.
  • Goseong intercity bus schedule, Gyeongsangnam-do (not updated, English) – visit the Goseong-gun official website for the schedule, routes and fares of buses departing from Goseong. There are more bus routes than that stated on the website (eg: there is a bus departing from Goseong to Gyeongju (via Yangsan)) and it hasn’t been updated in a while.
  • Masan intercity bus schedule (April, 2012) – visit Changwonderful for a useful map with route and schedule info of buses departing Masan Shiwae Bus Terminal (Masan Intercity Bus Terminal).
  • Changwon intercity bus schedule (April, 2012)  – visit my post Changwon Intercity Bus Schedule. For a useful map with route and schedule info, head to Changwonderful.

FERRIES

There are many islands off the South Korean coast and they make awesome getaways. This article by CNN “33 beautiful islands to visit in Korea” lists some of the best! For information on all ferry terminals (port passenger terminals) in Korea and the islands they service, click here.

Other info:

  • Namhae Express Co. Ltd services a number of routes (including Hongdo and Heuksando Island) check out their site for the ferry schedule and costs (only in Korean).
  • Flying is not the only way to get to Jeju Island. You can catch a ferry from Mokpo, Yeosu or Wando ferry terminal.
  • You can catch a ferry from Busan to Japan! Check out “Taking the ferry from Korea to Japan (Busan – Fukuoka)” by The Mad Traveler, Jan 2015.

DOMESTIC FLIGHTS

I usually take the KTX, intercity bus or both when travelling around Korea. They’re convenient, cheap, the travel time is bearable (a 4-5 hour bus ride is the maximum time I’ve spent on a single bus ride and for the KTX, a max 2.5 hours).  You can even visit other counties/cities along the way to break up your trip. But if you’re not good with lengthy rides or want to visit Jeju Island, then booking a flight would be best.

  • Jejuair have flights departing from Seoul (Gimpo and Incheon), Busan, Jeju, Daegu and Cheongju. They also fly internationally to Japan (Tokyo (NRT)/Osaka/Fukuoka/Nagoya/Okinawa), China (Qingdao/Weihai/Jiamusi/Shijiazhuang), Hong Kong, Vietnam (Hanoi/Da Nang), Philippines (Manila/Cebu), Thailand (Bangkok) and Guam.
  • Air Busan have flights departing from Seoul (Gimpo), Busan and Jeju. They also fly internationally to Japan (Tokyo (NRT)/Osaka/Fukuoka/Sapporo (CTS)), China (Qingdao/Macau/Xian/Yanji/Zhangjiajie), Hong Kong, South East Asia (Cebu/Taipei/Kaohsiung/Siem Reap/Da Nang) and Guam.

I find that Jejuair tends to be cheaper than Air Busan.

practical TIPS

  • Call Korea’s Travel Hotline (1330, from within Korea) for any questions you have! You can call to get the bus or ferry schedule read out to you over the phone or even to find out the location of the closest Apple reseller.
  • Learn hangeul especially if you’re planning to stay long-term. Getting around Korea will be so much easier! You can memorise hangeul and be able to read within 2-3 hours! It’s quite easy to learn and a lot of fun – start with this short video (8mins 30 secs) to learn and memorise the consonants to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
  • If travelling during Chuseok holiday (in September), give yourself plenty of time to return to your home city. It took me a total of 11 hours to get home to Goseong from Heuksando Island. The trip was supposed to take about 6 hours with a few transfers.
  • If you’ve just moved to a remote area in Korea, you’re going to be dependent on intercity buses. When you head to the intercity bus terminal for your first trip out, take a photo of the bus schedule displayed and keep it on your phone or store it in Dropbox or Google Drive for easy access.
  • If you plan on visiting Jinhae for the Cherry Blossom festival (April), be prepared and plan ahead as it may be impossible to get out! I was left stranded in Jinhae…

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