CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
One of the things I love about Korea is the transportation system. Being non-command sponsored, I knew we probably would not have a car for the year we would be living here and this worried me a bit because I love to travel and I am not fond of tours. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Between the metro, the bus system, the taxis, and the Korea Railroad (Korail), you can easily get to many places in Korea.
Subways are a cheap and easy way to get around. The subway system in Gyeonggi province is quite extensive so you can get to most cities and towns easily. I also love that many stations have a mall connected directly to them so during adverse weather you don’t even have to go outside to begin your sight-seeing. AK plaza is connected to Pyeongtaek station, and at Suwon station, you have Lotte mall and another bigger AK Plaza.
Also, many tourist destinations in Seoul have stations near them – Gangnam, Myeong-dong, the old palaces, and Insadong are all within walking distance of subway stations. Subway trains stop a lot and get crowded so you are not guaranteed a seat, but just grab a ticket for no more than $2, and you are on your way. This is a cheapest method of travel that I have experienced in a long time. Subways stop running at about midnight, so plan well!
Many cities have both an express bus station and an intercity bus station. Some routes are non-stop and I like that option. Taking the subway from Songtan to Seoul station (city center) takes 1.5 hours so taking a 50 minute bus ride from Songtan to the southern part of Seoul (Gangnam area ‘s Nambu station) is a better option. Traffic can get bad sometimes, but still, it’s nice to have transportation options.
For the long routes across Korea’s provinces, the bus will make a stop at one or more of the large rest stop areas. These stops have clean restrooms, a variety of food, a convenience store and other random goods for sale – selfie sticks too!
The buses I have been on were all very clean and comfortable. The only downside to traveling by bus is the chance of running into traffic. Other than that, it is a very good way to travel. It costs a couple more bucks than the subway, but in some cases can get you to your destination quicker. Songtan has a bus terminal, but I find that the Pyeongtaek bus terminal and the Osan bus terminal have many more routes and non-stop options.
Website to look up bus routes: http://www.koreatransportation.info/
If the subway is too slow and you are concerned about traffic, then the train is a better option. This is my favorite way to travel because depending on the train, it is affordable, I get a good seat, and unlike subways, I get to look outside the window. This is how we went to Busan and the snowy Gwangon province it was perfect.
There are various train types or classes of trains and they vary in price, speed, and comfort. Unlike the subway, Korail trains run through the night.
KTX is the high speed train with the bullet-shaped nose that zooms past Songtan station. It’s the train that can get you from Seoul to Busan in 3 hours! When I checked in February, it cost $50 per person one way, so price adds up if you are a family, but the quiet smooth ride, comfy chairs, and speed are unmatched. They only stop at KTX stations. Suwon and Chenan-Asan are the closest KTX stations to Songtan.
One level down are the ITX trains called Saemael and Nuriro. They are also faster than the subway and they don’t make a stop at each station. I have only been on the Saemael train and love it. It’s fast, comfortable and more affordable than the high-speed KTX train.
Last but not least is the long distance train most similar to the subway train – the Mughuguwa. It’s very obviously the least fancy of the two. They allow people to purchase standing-only tickets so the aisles can get very crowded. But take that, the relatively slow speed, and multiple stops away, and it is a decent way to get from point A to B. The cost is less than both the other Korail trains and it makes fewer tops than a subway. So all in all it is a viable option and also sometimes the only option since KTX and ITX tickets for longer routes sell out very quickly.
On the Korail website, they have the routes and ticket information. Korea has a ton of people, and they love to travel as much as foreigners do, so if I can, I always buy tickets in advance on the Korail website. They take international credit cards. Upon payment, you get a reservation number that you will need in order to pick up your real ticket at the ticket counter before you depart. You can buy your tickets as early as 30 days in advance so don’t chance it especially if your trip is over a holiday weekend.
Taxis in Korea are cheap and clean. It’s like the cars get detailed every day! Some have leather interiors and the drivers deck them out with screens, Wi-Fi and other gadgets. In Songtan, pricing starts at $3. Car seat enforcement isn’t strict here, but if you have one, you can certainly use it. Taxis are a good (and sometimes only) option if you missed the last subway train, or you have gotten as close as you can to your destination. For example, the subway doesn’t go right to Suwon fortress, only the bus does. But if that seems like a hassle then you can take a $5 ride to the entrance.
Travel Pro Tips:
I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I have been able to see in Korea without a car. Navigating through the language can be challenging sometimes, but I haven’t gotten stranded yet! A couple of tips that will help are:
- Get a transportation app (metro, taxi, bus and train)
- Arrive at the station early. Never underestimate the crowds in Korea
- Buy tickets in advance if possible
- Learn or write down the name of your destination in English and Korean
- Don’t be afraid to ask people. Most Koreans are very happy to help foreigners.