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South Korea 2015 – Transportation and Getting Around

This is part of an ongoing series of travelogue in South Korea. To start at the beginning, click here.

Getting around Seoul and Jeju was a big concern of my trip I’ve decided to write a separate post for it.

T-money
First things first, get a T-money card from the kiosk or convenience store at the airport. If you are planning to use public transport, this is very important, similar to Octopus Card in Hong Kong. Getting on the subway, you tag in and out at the turnstiles. On the bus, you do the same on the scanner near the doors. If you forget to tag out, you will be charged double the next time you tag in. For taxis, the driver will show you where to tag on his dashboard (not all taxis have this facility). I got 4 T-money cards free from KTO in Malaysia prior to my visit, including 2 cool phone tag versions with Big Bang featured on it.

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Before you leave South Korea, don’t forget to withdraw all your money in the T-money card, there is a small fee for the transaction.

For more info on T-money, check out this useful site.

From Airport to Seoul
During my trip I used both Incheon and Gimpo airports, but the modes of transport from there are the same, but I will mention Incheon specifically as it is the main gateway if arriving from another country.

From Incheon, you have a choice of 3 modes of transport into the city – subway, taxi or bus. Taxis would be most convenient, but its expensive so I would not recommend it. Most travelers especially backpackers would opt for subway, as it is cheap, fast and convenient. If using subway, you would most likely take a the ARX line to Seoul Station, and then switch to another line depending on where your hotel was. Seoul Station is the main station in the city where the major lines intersect.

But for us, we chose the third option of bus. Or more specifically, Airport Limo Bus. Regular buses also serve the airport to city, but they stop frequently and take too long. Airport Limo Buses are like express buses, they go straight into the city and stop at major hotels according to their preset routes. There are a few reasons why we chose this over subway. Firstly, we were lugging 3 large suitcases. Dragging them up steps was tough, and Seoul subway stations are notorious for their long walking distances and steps. For limo buses, they’ll store your luggage in the compartment and give your a tag to identify your bags. Then you can sit in a comfortable air-conditioned seat until your destination.

To buy a limo bus ticket, exit the airport and find the counter near exit 3 or 9. Show your address of the hotel to the counter (or better yet ask your hotel beforehand which line / stop it is nearest to). The counter looks like this, and the staff can speak reasonably good English:

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Get your tickets (KRW10,000 per person), and go to the numbered stand.

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Don’t know where to stop while on the bus? Don’t worry. All bus stops here have a specific name, not just a street name. So just take note of the stop name, and they’ll announce it in various languages before stopping just like they do on the subway. This applies for regular intra-city buses, too. Very convenient.

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Since my hotel was in Nandaemun / Myeongdong, my bus was 6015.

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During our trip, we used the Airport Limo bus 4 times, to and fro both Incheon and Gimpo. For more info in the Airport Limo buses and the routes, check out here.

Getting Around Seoul
For most part, the subway is fast and convenient for any tourist to visit all the attractions in Seoul. The subway network is world-class, better than Singapore and Hong Kong, and probably just as wide as London and Paris. If you’re familiar with the system in those other countries, you’ll get use to Seoul’s system after a day. In addition to that, its also important to note which exit you need to use when leaving the station to get to your destination. Using the wrong exit, will mean walking a lot further and crossing busy intersections. Stations can have anywhere between 8 to 16 exits.

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For the first half of the trip we used the subway a lot (until our kids’ T-money ran out of money after 3 days so we had to top up). On our second leg of the stay, we tried using taxis as advised by our hotel. For short distances, taxis were slightly cheaper (or at most the same price) than subway for us, since there were 4 of us. I suppose if you were travelling alone or just 2 people, subway will still be cheaper.

Taxis are great because its comfortable, and you get dropped off right at the doorstep. Plus you get to see the scenery as you travel. if you are lucky as I was, you get very friendly drivers who point out landmarks along the way. All taxis are equipped with a hi-tech GPS screen on board, so you can see which route you are using to the destination. I used them many times, the fare is usually about KRW 4,000. The most I paid was KRW 5,700 from Apgujeong to Coex Mall (that’s KRW 1,425 per pax, slightly more expensive than subway but definitely much faster).

Getting around Jeju
Public transport on the island is not reliable at all, and may people don’t realize how big Jeju is – its more than twice the size of Singapore. You basically have two choices of transport – rent a car or rent a driver. KTO is currently promoting a Drive Yourself campaign, but I preferred to get a driver for many good reasons. The main reason was that, I didn’t want the stress of driving in a foreign country (what’s more on the wrong side of the road). Holidays are meant to be relaxing after all. The other big reason was that I only had 2 days in spend on Jeju and wanted to make the most of daylight with a good driver who knew the island and could help planning the itinerary.

We got a contact (Mr. Won) who help arrange 2 different drivers for each day. Both speak reasonably well in English, and that was the main criteria. Both were really good in arranging our itinerary, so we managed to see all the things we wanted to see (except Songaksan). They also brought us to great food where locals ate. Driver cost KRW 150,000 per day inclusive of parking, fuel and drivers pay for their own meals.

On the last day our landlord arrange for a taxi to the airport, it cost KRW 35,000 from Seogwipo.

If you are driving yourself in Jeju, make sure you get an International Driving License from JPJ before going (4 years ago it cost me RM 150 and took about 2 hours). The speed limit in Jeju is 70km/h but most drivers there drive very fast. Traffic lights don’t work outside the city limits, they just blink orange so you need to be very, very careful turning out to the main road as cars will be speeding like crazy on the main road.

Anyway, that’s my 2 sen on transport. We’ll get to the actually travel itinerary South Korea 2015 Part 1 – Arrival & Myeongdong Gyoja“>next.

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