While South Korea might not yet be the number one travel destination for many around the world, there are plentiful reasons why you should visit the country of the morning calm on your next vacation. From history to culture and food to religion. In contrast to its historic landmarks, South Korea is a pioneer in creating new and innovative structures.
Looking at Seoul, for example, you are surrounded by futuristic buildings in one part of the city, such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza by Zaha Hadid, while traditional hanok neighborhoods lie just around the corner. Seoul has an extensive network of public transportation and taxis. Consistently voted as one of the best in the world for its ease of use, cleanliness, and frequency of service, the Seoul subway system is one of the most efficient ways to travel around the city. Here is a guide to transportation in South Korea.
Seoul metropolitan subway in South Korea is the most widely used rapid railway transport system in the world, featuring ten subway lines. The system serves nearly ten million inhabitants of the capital city, Seoul, and the provinces of Gyeonggi, Incheon and northern Chungnam. The total length of the subway line is about 287km (179.4 miles) of which 70% is underground. The subway has 291 stations.
Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.
In order to use the subway, the first step is purchasing the right transportation card or ticket to meet your needs. Passengers can buy either a Single Journey Ticket or a rechargeable card like Tmoney, Cashbee, or MPASS for multiple uses. Single Journey Ticket cards can be purchased using a ticket vending machine and require an additional 500 won security deposit. The deposit can be refunded when returning the card through a deposit refund machine after use.
In Korea, the city bus is one of the most convenient and readily available means of transportation. Throughout the country, city buses provide an easy way to reach any destination, with special colors or numbers to designate each route.
Buses in Seoul are classified by color to differentiate the bus types: blue buses travel on major roads and run for relatively long distances through Seoul; green buses travel shorter distances and carry travelers between transfer points such as subway stations and longer bus routes; red buses are express buses that travel from Seoul to suburban areas; yellow buses operate on a closed circuit within a district of Seoul. Bus fare can be paid either by cash or transportation card when boarding. If using a transportation card, passengers can get a transfer discount when changing to the subway system or another bus line.
Taxis in Seoul are an inexpensive and useful means of transportation. Abundant and inexpensive, it’s easy to flag one down on the streets or find one of the many taxi stands located around major tourist destinations. Taxis in Korea are clean, safe, and reasonably inexpensive. There are taxi stands in many of the busy areas of most Korean cities. Alternatively, they can be hailed down in the street by raising your arm palm down. Some taxi services will come directly to a predetermined pickup spot for an additional service fee.
There are two main types of taxi services operating in South Korea, Regular and Deluxe “Mobeom”. The Deluxe service is typically found in the larger cities so the bulk of the taxis one would see are the Regular service taxis.
Taxis in Korea operate on metered fares and pre-determined agreed fares. Metered fares will vary based on the type of taxi, the distance traveled and the time of day traveling. Make sure to negotiate and agree to a rate if the taxi does not have a meter. Most media to large cities have metered taxis.
Many taxi drivers can speak some limited English but it’s a good suggestion to get a Korean friend or co-worker to write down your destination on a piece of paper in Hangul so that you can offer it to the taxi driver in case he does not speak any English at all.
It is very common for a taxi driver to stop and pick up additional passengers heading in the same direction as you. This is called “Hapseung” in Korean. The original passenger pays the metered total amount, and the added passenger pays the metered amount not including the fare when they entered the taxi. Although this is technically illegal, taxi drivers still persist in running their business this way. The added passenger fare is pocketed with no audit trail. It is also beneficial to the passengers during rush hour when taxis are hard to flag down empty. Deluxe taxis do not do taxi share.
Train fare depends on train type and distance traveled. There are 4 railway lines in Korea: the Gyeongbu Line, the Honam Line, the Gyeongjeon Line, and the Jeolla Line.
The Gyeongbu Line connects Seoul and Busan, and the Honam Line runs from Yongsan Station in Seoul to Mokpo in the southwest. The Gyeongjeon Line connects Seoul and the southeastern part of Korea such as Jinju and Changwon. The Jeolla Line runs across the southwestern part of Korea, and its major stops include cities like Jeonju, Namwon, Suncheon, and Yeosu.
Classes of Korean trains depend on the speed and the amenities offered onboard. In Korea, there are KTX express trains (including KTX-Sancheon), and the non-express Saemaeul, ITX-Saemaeul, ITX-Cheongchun, Mugunghwa, Nuriro and tourism trains.
Seoul Public Bike is an excellent and easy to use bike rental system that operates throughout the city. The bold green and white bicycles can be found at docking stations near many subway exits and popular tourist attractions, and users can rent or return the bikes at any station. Different pricing plans are available, depending on how often you plan to use the bike service. Rentals average around 1,000 won (84 cents) per hour, which you’ll need to pay with a T-Money card or through the bike rental app (no cash). Helmets aren’t provided, so plan accordingly.