Let’s talk transportation. If you’re here long-term, it’s definitely something you’re going to want to master. Knowledge is key, so follow these tips and you’ll be traveling like a pro in no time.
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Buying tickets: Good news! You can easily buy your tickets online using Let’s Korail’s user friendly, English site. However, if your Korean bank card isn’t set up for online transactions, then you must use your foreign card to purchase the tickets. If you have a train station nearby, you can always purchase at the train station itself.
On time? Usually a couple minutes late (unless you’re at the initial departure location).
Cleanliness: Overall, the trains are very clean. I’ve been highly impressed. Occasionally you may get a seat that previously belonged to a messy child, but that’s rare. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me, although I have walked past not-so-clean seats once or twice before. Even so, it wasn’t that bad. The staff is great about maintaining cleanliness.
Comfort: If you’re sitting next to a person who’s large in stature, then it can be a bit tight. There have also been instances when I’ve been next to an ajusshi that takes up more space than necessary and that’s not pleasant either. But the seats themselves are comfortable and the train ride is smooth.
Insider’s tip: When buying your tickets online, you need to be very specific about the 1) station name and 2) spelling of the station name.
- The station name can sometimes be entirely different from the town or city it’s in. For example, there are two major train stations in Seoul, Yongsan Station and Seoul Station. There’s a direct route to Yongsan from my town. If I were to mistakenly type “Seoul,” then I would be forced to transfer because the system would think I want to specifically go to Seoul Station. Another example is the station in Boryeong. The name of the train station is Daecheon, even though it’s in Boryeong.
- The Hangeul to English romanization is fairly consistent across the board with the exception of a couple variations here and there. Be cautious of this because if you misspell the station name, it’ll tell you it doesn’t exist causing undue stress and frustration. A simple Google search will help you with the exact spelling.
Just remember that the departure and arrival boxes are specifically formulated to compute the station name, not the geographical location.
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Buying tickets: There’s no need! T-money and Cashbee transportation cards can be purchased (for a small fee) at any convenience store and are universally accepted across the country. In other words, if you live in Seoul, but you’re visiting Busan, you can use the same card you use in Seoul in Busan, which makes traveling very convenient. When your card runs out of money, simply go to the nearest convenience store to reload.
On time? It’s not allowed be early, so you can count on the bus being on time or late (can range from 1 min up to 6 or 7 min).
Cleanliness: Once again, I’m highly impressed with the cleanliness of these public buses. They’re pretty clean considering the amount of people that ride them every day. The older buses can have noticeably worn down seats, but that’s about it.
Comfort: The seats are standard. One thing that may bother you is how bumpy the ride is, especially if there are no available seats left and standing is the only option. Pray you don’t get a bus driver who is convinced he was a NASCAR racer in a previous life or isn’t shy about slamming his foot on the brakes and you’ll be just fine.
Insider’s tip: If you’re transferring, then make sure you tap your T-money card on the sensor before exiting the rear doors and you’ll get a discounted fare on the next bus.
Charter Bus (for longer distances)
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Buying tickets: Unfortunately bus tickets aren’t as easy to purchase online as train tickets are. As far as I know, there’s no English site out there. So unless your Korean is good, you’re kind of out of luck. I mean, you can still do it online, it’ll just be a good test of your patience. I booked online once and it consumed a decent chunk of my time because I didn’t want to end up with the wrong ticket, so I meticulously translated everything.
Instead of wasting that time, you can purchase at the bus terminal.
On time? If you’re leaving from the departure bus terminal, then yes. If you’re being picked up along the way, then there’s a chance it could be late by a couple minutes. Also your arrival time will vary depending on traffic.
Cleanliness: Very clean. I’ve never had an issue.
Comfort: In my opinion, seats on the charter buses are more comfortable than on the trains.
Insider’s tip: Get off at the rest stop (usually just 1, but sometimes 2) and force yourself to take advantage of the bathroom because that could be your only chance until you reach your destination. Stay away from drinking large volumes of liquid before and during the ride.
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Buying tickets: The same card that you use for local buses can also be used for the subway. So amazing! In addition to purchasing and reloading at convenience stores, you can also buy and reload at any subway station.
On time? Yes.
Cleanliness: Much cleaner than the subway in NYC. I’ve never had an issue or been grossed out by anything.
Comfort: Nothing different than any other subway you’ve ridden before. Pretty standard. There is one thing to note though. Unlike the NYC subway, the subway here has automatic doors that form a barrier between the platform and the tracks to prevent accidents. This definitely adds another level of comfort.
Insider’s tip: When getting off the subway, I always say the #1 most important thing to do is: just walk! You can figure out where your transfer platform or exit is after you’ve taken a couple steps forward and are out of the way. Chances are there are people behind you needing to get off too, so if you stop in your tracks to look around for signs, you’re blatantly blocking the flow. And no one wants to get squashed by the automatic doors…so please, I beg of you, don’t be one of those door-blocking people.
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Paying for taxi fare: Cash is always your safest bet because not all taxis accept credit cards and T-money/Cashbee cards. Larger areas and major cities are more likely to accept cards of any sort.
Here’s the deal: It’s against the law for taxi drivers to refuse passengers for any reason, but they do it anyways. Most of the time, it’s because you’re standing on the wrong side of the road and they’re looking for someone who needs to go in the same direction they’re driving in. They’ll also turn you down if the driving distance is too short and they deem it’s easily walkable.
Insider’s tip: Know which direction you need to go in and stand on the appropriate side of the street. Don’t be too alarmed if the taxi driver refuses for one reason or another.
And if you get a taxi driver that’s inappropriate in any way (i.e. unfairly increases taxi fare, argumentative, rude, refuses etc.), then don’t hesitate to take a picture of his information so you can report him to the authorities.
If you’re in Seoul, here’s a helpful number to keep on hand to report taxi drivers if necessary: 02-120 (press 9 to select your language).
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This article was created for EPIK e-Press.