Getting Around Korea
There’s only one major barrier to travel around Korea, and that’s language. While in major cities like Seoul, Busan and Daegu you’ll find the major bus and subway lines coated in a hefty dose of English, head further afield and you might find yourself struggling to get by. If you’re a long term visitor, we suggest you make an effort to at least learn the Korean ‘hangeul’ alphabet (it’s nothing like as hard as it looks. Most can pick it up in a couple of hours together with some hands on practice, and it makes a great deal of difference when it comes to working out what food is, as well as destinations). If you’re more of a short-term visitor, get yourself a good Korean/ English map, and just keep looking at those signs until you find one that leaps out.
Now, back to the actual transport… there are a number of ways to travel around Korea. Within the cities, we’d highly recommend you consider taxis, especially if there’s no subway line to use. Bus routes are extensive but take a bit of mastering, and you’ll have to recognize (or be able to read the sign for) where you’re going along the way. In other words, this is not for tourists. Subways are far simpler to use, but not an option in every city, and while the taxi drivers are notorious for their lack of English, they can easily be directed or pointed to the correct spot on a bi-lingual map. The plus side is, taxi rides are incredibly cheap in Korea, and unless you travel at peak times, you’re unlikely to spend more than £10 even if you’re crossing most of the heart of a city. In other words, the added hassle of public transport isn’t really worthwhile unless you’re on a really tight budget.
When it comes to the inter-city stuff, the fastest way to travel is on the high speed train system, which can whip you down from Seoul to Mokpo or Busan on the south coast (and to a number of places in between) in little more than a couple of hours. It does cost, though, and in the summer it can become intensely busy. Many prefer to use the frequent buses, leaving from several points in Seoul. The bus network is both extremely cheap (very few places anywhere in the country cost more than £10 to get to) and very regular, heading directly from Seoul to even some relatively small towns. It’s worth noting that the direction in which you wish to travel determines which bus station you should leave from. Nearby cities like Incheon, Suwon, Bundang and Seoul’s various suburbs can even be reached on the extensive subway network.
In all honesty, it’s probably not worth even considering hiring a car, getting hold of a motorbike or following any other more exuberant transport methods unless that’s the aim of your trip; it’s so cheap to get around Korea and so comfortable doing so that there’s absolutely no reason not to just head off whenever you want to, especially given the cheap accommodation options available alongside the plusher hotels when you turn up. Learn to read – or decipher – the language and you’re unlikely to find a more efficient and regular transport system almost anywhere in the world.