Life and Seoul

Travel & Tourism

Free Tourist Bus – Extension of Operation & Happy New Year

Hello one and all. A very happy 2012 to you. 새해 복 많이 바드새요.

Great news to start off the year! As mentioned in a previous post, there was a free bus operating between Seoul and 3 major Korean cities exclusively for foreigners. This service was for ‘Visit Korea’ year and was due to end on December 31st, 2011.

Well, due to popular demand, and bar a few changes, the service has been extended.

Changes to note are as follows:

  • The route to Gyeongju which I took and wrote about previously has now been cut. The routes Seoul-Busan and Seoul-Jeonju will remain open, with one bus travelling in each direction every day.
  • The timetable for the Busan bus has changed, now leaving later and stopping at fewer places along the way.
As before, the service is only open to foreigners (both tourists and foreign residents). Buses run every day except Mondays and major public holidays.
Visit this link to see more information and make a reservation.

Exercise and Korea

Koreans love the great outdoors. Across the country there are 20 national parks (including Hallasan on Jeju Island), and in and around Seoul there are a number of mountains streaked with paths and well maintained walkways. In short, Korea is a outdoor lover’s haven.

During autumn especially, people head to the countryside in their millions to get fresh air and exercise. Autumn in Korea is particularly beautiful, the late-October-early November period brings a blaze of colour and beauty to the whole nation. Much of Korea is covered by forest, and the Korean peninsula is very mountainous.

One of the curiosities of Korea is that you are likely to see more retirees getting their exercise in the gym, and outside than you are to see younger generations. All Korean men are required to complete a 2-3 year stint in the military, which of course comes with the necessity to exercise. Koreans in general seem to be healthy, in both diet and recreation.

Korea’s urban areas are rather disappointing in terms of open spaces. Urban planning rarely takes into account the need for parks and open recreational spaces, so to escape the city, one really must leave it, unlike a city such as London which has plenty of parks. However there are a number of small outdoor exercise areas (again something that would probably be vandalised in the West). Normally a few rudimentary metal machines that promote flexibility and healthy joints, the exercise areas are often frequented by the elderly.

Old people in East Asia really strike me as a wonderfully optimistic demographic. I love seeing groups of excited retirees excitedly amble their way up a mountain with the energy of a group of teenagers. It adds to the joy of the outdoors for me. If you come to Korea, aim to travel to the country away from national holidays and the autumn/spring high seasons, as this is the time when many people head to the country. It is hard to get tickets on public transportation or find low priced accommodation at this time.

Bus Etiquette 2

In addition to my previous post regarding bus etiquette in Korea, I would like to add a few things.

One key issue to note is that, and this should be obvious, when you are in any other country, please remember that things may seem different to what you are used to. This DOES NOT MEAN they are worse than wherever it is you come from.

Korean people will rarely express any hostility openly to foreigners. What may seem rude to you may not be so in a different culture. Bear this in mind before you decide to react.

A case in point is the shocking tirade uttered by a U.S. citizen on a Korean bus, which was caught on camera:

And this, the admirable video response to the incident by my friend Sonny Side along with Pinnacle the Hustler:


When it rains it pours – a bad time to visit Korea

Koreans take pride in the distinct 4 seasons that grace the country throughout the year. However, it could be technically argued that there is a fifth, mini-season – The Rainy Season.

Much like monsoon season in countries that lie somewhere between the tropics and the Equator such as India, when the rain comes, it makes its presence felt.

In Korea, the rain will often be persistent, and at times does not let up for days on end. This can really scupper travel plans, and you might find that you spend most of your trip indoors watching t.v. or reading.

When? The season usually is worst from mid-late June and finishes around mid-late July. The rest of the summer will experience showers and thunderstorms as opposed to extended rainy periods, but can get very humid. By the end of August the rain clears up and for much of the autumn season there is little rain at all.

This video was shot at the end of July 2011 when much of Gangnam in the south of Seoul and other cities experienced flooding.

Free Tourist Bus in Korea

Incredibly, Visit Seoul are currently offering a free shuttle bus between Seoul and three major tourist destinations in Korea. This is part of their oddly named Visit Korea Year, which would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that it runs from 2010-2012.

The destinations a foreigner in Korea can travel to for free are:
Gyeongju – Korea’s historical capital and former seat of the Jeoseon Dynasty for centuries. This is the best place is Korea to get a sense of historic Korea, and one which has not been rebuilt.
Busan – Korea’s second city, famed for being more laid back than Seoul, and home of the famous Haeundae Beach. It also hosts the expansive Jagalchi Fish Market and good ferry and plane links to close neighbour, Japan.
Jeonju – Supposedly the culinary capital of Korea. All you foodies take note. There are a number of sites of historic interest here also.

This offer runs from now until December 31st, 2011.

The buses are phenomenal; only 3 seats across each row, spacious, comfortable, air conditioned and shiny deluxe buses. Aside from the lengthy visit Korea promo video which plays for a while once the trip has started, it is easy to fall asleep and wake up at your destination.

What’s more, there is NO catch. You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to visit any specific places and get herded around like cattle, you just get on at a designated spot and off at your destination. You can travel free either one way or return, and there is no time limit on how long you wait before returning.

The buses travel on every day of the week except Mondays. Plan your trip accordingly.

To reserve your seat, click on this link and have your passport handy. You must reserve in advance, you can’t just rock up and get on the bus.

So far I have only been to Gyeongju and back using this service but I highly recommend it and will certainly take the opportunity to visit Busan and Jeonju using it also before 2012.

Navigating the subway system in Seoul

Seoul’s subway system has sprouted 3 new lines from the time I arrived at the end of 2009, to present (mid 2011). Building is still underway, so that by 2013, there should be extensions to the current lines 3 and 9 (orange and gold).

Earlier in 2011, the full length of the airport railroad was finally opened, starting at Seoul station, which along with overland trains to all areas in South Korea, also connects subway lines 1 and 4 (dark and light blue). It travels through some major tourist areas such as Hongik University (Hongdae area), and also connects Gimpo Airport, before terminating at Incheon Airport. Riding the full length, including and transfers prior to entering the airport railroad (provided you complete your transfer within 30 minutes) should cost roughly W5000 ($5). See T-Money card for more information.

Line 2 (green) is the circular line, traversing central Seoul.

Line 3 (orange) runs from the north west to the south east, Line 4 (blue) from north to south, Line 5 (purple) from east to west, Line 6 (brown) from north west, through the centre, but keeping north of the river, to the north east, Line 7 (dark green) from north east to south west, Line 8 (pink) is confined to the south east and Line 9 (gold) from east to west keeping south of the river.

There are other lines that head outside the city or deal with the extremities of the conurbation which I will detail in a different post.

Using the subway system could not be simpler. Look for the touch screen machines by the entry gates inside the subway station. There are options in English, Japanese and Chinese, as well as Korean. For single travel, prices start from W1500 ($1.5), although W500 of the fare is a deposit for the orange travel ticket you will receive.

After completing your journey and exiting the gate in your destination station, look for the ‘Deposit Refund Device’ machine, insert the orange ticket, and it will spit out W500 for you. These are usually situated next to the ticketing machines and are clearly labelled.

The general rule for the fare is any journey under 10km is W1000, then you pay a little extra, usually W100 per additional 5km. Bus fares are similarly priced.

If you are staying in Seoul for a week or more, you might consider buying a T-Money card, as you will likely save money using it on public transportation, however you probably need to make about 20 individual journeys before you start to save money.

The airport railroad

Early in 2011, the airport railroad opened up, connecting Incheon Airport with Gimpo Airport, the hongdae area and ending at Seoul Station, which in turn connects Seoul to the rest of the country. Look for signs in the airport pointing out the airport railroad or ask for directions at the numerous information kiosks.

Riding the full length, including and transfers prior to entering the airport railroad (provided you complete your transfer within 30 minutes) should cost roughly W5000 ($5). This means you will end up paying about half the price of a bus ticket. See T-Money card for more information.

If you are taking the Airport Railroad from the city centre to the airports, then yu can board at Seoul Station, which also links to Lines 1 & 4 of the subway. The entrance is well posted and is found close to Platforms 12 and 13 in Seoul Station.

It can also be boarded from various other stations in Seoul. See map for more information.

Site under construction

This blog is currently being prepared so articles and such are still a little thin. I will work diligently to bring you more and more new information, articles and videos in the coming year, and you should find something new each time you check back. For updates as soon as something new is released, please subscribe to this blog, and don’t forget my numerous other projects including the podcasts, Youtube channel and other blogs.