Before traveling, one of the things I do is research on local transportation. It gives me a sense of confidence getting around Seoul, or tackling the streets of a foreign country knowing I know even just a little bit about what modes of transportation are available to me and how much they usually cost. This also allows me to set aside a more realistic budget and plan a more hassle-free trip. I was particularly more thorough during my South Korea trip, because OMG SEOUL! I felt like this was a long overdue trip (like, a decade overdue), and I wanted to be prepared for it as much as I could.
First off, let it be known, that except in Australia, I have never driven a car in any other country outside of the Philippines. This article will not include rental car options or anything of that sort. This will mainly be about public transportation in South Korea, particularly in Seoul.
Also, I know this is a rather simplistic approach to a broad topic, I’ll try to add to it later if I missed anything to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Getting Started: Wifi
Upon arriving at the airport, I went to the LG U+ booth to rent a pocket wifi. Other brands are also available, but I haven’t tried anything else as LG U+ has provided reliable service. If you’re on a budget, you can skip this step and take advantage of the free wifi hotspots in South Korea. Our guest house had intermittent internet connection, so we were happy with our decision to rent our own pocket wifi for the duration of our trip.
Apps to download to your phone
I never would have survived my trips in South Korea without these essential apps.
- Subway – this app shows you the entire map of the Subway in South Korea. It has English names, Timetables, Exit Information, and Station Information. There are other subway apps available, but among those I’ve used this was the most useful.
- Google Maps – this app has failed me countless times but I still use it anyways. I like to look at it for directions when walking or when taking a bus. It does the job most times. Just don’t rely on it too much for when you need to decide if the place you’re going to is near enough for a walk, or too far that you need to take a bus or the subway.
To pay for fares, you can buy a T-Money card that you can top-up, and you can keep the card as a souvenir, or use for a future trip back to Korea. There are a lot of available designs and most of them are so cute! You can use the card to pay for your subway and bus fares, taxi fares, and even for purchases in convenient stores! I purchased mine from a 7-11 at a subway station. You can top-up there too.
There are other smart cards available in Korea, such as U-Pass, but I have only used T-Money for both my trips so I can’t offer much information about them.
Looking at the subway map, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Believe me, you have every reason to be, especially if you come from a country like the Philippines where there’s just one MRT line. You will be happy to know though that the train stations have English translations. Although, knowing how to read hangul made a big difference for me.
The Seoul subway has 21 lines, serving Seoul City proper and nearby regions. Fares start at 1,250 won for a trip up to 10 km, with 100 won added for each subsequent 5 km. Once 50 km has been passed, 100 won will be added every 8 km (Wikipedia).
While I took the subway most of the time during my first trip to Korea, my second trip was mostly buses. During my second trip, I was with my parents who preferred buses to subways, so we didn’t have much choice. I ended up enjoying it more because you get to sight-see when you’re on a bus. I felt like I experienced Seoul more during my second trip.
Bus stops are all over Seoul. Most of them have information on arrival times, departures, and what-not, and they’re pretty much accurate. You just need to check which bus you need to get on, which side of the street you should be. I am saying this because I’ve made the mistake of being on the wrong side of the street and took the wrong bus (well, it’s the right number bus, just going the opposite direction) a couple of times.
Taxis are also available in Seoul. Although, the only time we took a taxi was when we were going to the Airport on our last day. We figured, our taxi fare would be cheaper than if we combined our fares if we took the airport bus.
The base fare for regular taxis in Seoul is 3000 won which covers the first two kilometers, and adds 100 won per 142 meters thereafter. Some taxis take credit card payments, but it’s best to be prepared to pay with cash especially if you’re travelling to regional areas.
There are other kinds of taxis too, like the Jumbo and Call Taxis. The rates will be higher compared to the regular taxis.
This is still my favorite among all the other means of getting around Seoul (or any country or place for that matter). Of course I can’t walk my way to faraway places, but if it’s just a few kilometers away, and I’ve got time to spare, I’d walk it! It’s my favorite part of traveling. All I need is comfy shoes, a not-so-heavy bag or a wallet, a bottle of water, and a camera, and I’m all set! I can spend a day walking and just taking pictures. But that’s just me.
Exploring Seoul is easy because transportation is quite accessible and there are tons of information available on the internet, or you can ask other people if you want to brush up on your Korean-speaking skills! I hope this post helps even just for a little bit.
Here are my other blog posts about my Korea trip: