In South Korea, especially in Seoul, the public transport system, metro and bus, is so well connected you can really travel to anywhere quite easily. So, being in Seoul, you’re likely to be using the public transport a real lot, I’ll try to give everyone some tips about using the public transport there.
- I highly recommend to get the T-money card if staying in Seoul for a few days or more and will be travelling a lot. It gives a 100 won discount in all your travels, be it by bus or the metro, and it is cheap to buy, about 2500 won, and easy to charge (top up).
- There is an option for English on all the machines to buy the card.
- If you decide to top up your card in convenience stores, say “charge” instead of “top up”. I learnt that after trying to say “top up” because I didn’t know the Korean equivalent of top up.
- You can pay for buses using notes if your T-money runs out of credits! Not too sure about 10k won notes, but 1k won notes are fine. Lastly, if you’re going to be travelling outside of Seoul, remember to check if the city uses T-money card or other cards. Some cities, like Gwangju, do not use T-money. Or like in Daegu, you can use the T-money, but there is no way to top it up there.
- Finally, you can pay vending machines via T-money.
While on the metro, make sure to knowwhich direction you are heading toward, especially the name of the last station along that subway line. There are several lines like the dark blue line that has a few end stations, and if you don’t pay enough attention you might just end up on the wrong side of Seoul instead of the side you were planning to travel to. i.e. ending up in Incheon instead of Suwon. The announcements on the train are very useful, take care to listen to them. If i’m not wrong, the announcement in Seoul always has the English version. It also lets you know which side of the doors will open at the next station.
After knowing which way you are heading, tap the card at the gantry and head down to the platform. If you tapped into the wrong side, let the passenger service know. They will allow you to enter the correct side without having to tap it again.
- For some bus services to areas outside the city, there will be boards like this which has the bus arrival schedule. If you are running a tight itinerary that day, it is best to look these timings up on the net beforehand.
- Lastly, if travelling intercity and want to consider a cheaper option of taking the bus, it is not that bad an option. The bus service there is reliable and is usually fast. Just buy the ticket at the counter (you’ll know it when you see it. There is a very big board above and long queues before it), find the correct booth and wait for the bus departure timing, then pass the ticket to the staff before boarding. Or sometimes you can board first if the staff isn’t yet there, it doesn’t matter. If you have a big luggage, you can notify the driver and he will open the compartment at the side of the bus for your luggage.
If you are lugging along some heavy luggage, be prepared to face these long flight of stairs. Some of the more popular and traffic-heavy stations, there will be lifts and elevators. For the others, you will only get these stairs. There is no other way than to lug your luggage up.
While taking the transport there, you might find yourself being amongst a very huge crowd during peak hours. And the need to face them while alighting the train, or bus. In Singapore, we just say “excuse me” and most people will try to move aside for you. However, in Korea, don’t be surprised or even shocked if someone just pushes you aside just to make way. On my 2nd day there, I really got jousted quite hard by an elderly. I was rather shocked initially, but seeing that she’s rather old, and I know the respect they have there for the elderlies, I know I shouldn’t be. After some time, I realised that no one really cares if they get nudged a little to make way for others, kind of like their culture.
So, if you find yourself in a crowded train and having to alight at the next station but are standing at the door on the wrong side, you can be polite by saying aloud “내릴게요!” (nae-ril-kae-yo) which means “I’m alighting!” and then make your way through, nudging if need be.
- As for the KTX, after you get a ticket, you can just walk through this unmanned gate and enter the train. And then only to wonder, what am I to do with my ticket?? Keep it with you. Although they trust you, and most likely will not check for it at the gate, a staff might walk down the aisle, halfway through the journey, to check.
- For travellers with huge monstrous luggage, you might have to leave them at the section between two train carriages, as there are compartments for you to place your luggage in them.
Always try to give up your seats for elderlies, handicaps and pregnant ladies. It’s in their culture to do so, so if you don’t abide by them, you’re likely to attract attention, and earn more stares than you’ll be comfortable with.
Basically that is all for my little short post on taking transport in South Korea. I will be continually update this post too if I recall something to add. If there’s any question regarding the transport, please let me know and I’ll try to help or answer!