Congratulations! You’ve made it to Korea, either on holiday or for work. While you might be inclined to stay in your arrival city during your time in the Land of the Morning Calm, who does that? Probably the greatest asset in Korea for travelers is the network at one’s disposal enabling one to get from A to B to C and back to A with relative ease. How is this achieved? Take the bus or train. While in the United States, where traveling by bus has a negative stigma, the same can’t be said for that in Korea. In fact, with the crowded roads, it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to travel.
Let’s start our discussion with buses. Throughout Korea are bus terminals (버스터미널). While these are usually categorized into Express (고속터미널) and Intercity (시외버스터미널), the reality of the matter is that for the casual user, there really isn’t much difference. Buses will depart from each location and go pretty much any place. While the Express and Intercity Terminals will specialize in regions, very rarely will you find that you can’t travel from one location to the next.
Most locations have several buses running to each city every day. The number varies, based on what kind of terminal you’re currently using. For example, if in Seoul, there will be more buses departing for easterly locations from the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal than the Central City Terminal. This is because the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal specializes in easterly travel. Unfortunately, the signs are not in English, and relatively few staff members speak English fluently, but if you’re trying to get to a location, they will be happy to assist you in finding the right bus and scheduling your trip.
There are four bus classes. Jikhaeng (직행버스) buses are direct buses that may make one or two stops between the origin and destination. Mujeong (무정차) buses are non-stop buses from A to B. Gosok (고속), like the terminal name, includes express buses. Finally, we have Wudeung (우등버스) buses. These are the luxury buses. What makes them luxury? Rather than sitting four across like the other classes, the Wudeung buses are only three across, have larger seats, and more legroom. There is a price for this service, and most tickets will be at least W10,000 more than their counterparts.
There is one more bus, the Shimya (심야버스). This bus runs overnight and can really be a lifesaver if you’re trying to make the most out of your weekend. Bus information can be obtain from the official website or by calling the Korean Tourism Information Line (1330).
A second mode of transportation in Korea utilized often is the train network. KORAIL has done an awesome job linking cities to one another, and like the buses, it’s quite easy to get from one place to another. While there are definite classes of trains, they are pretty indistinguishable from one another, save the Korea Train Express (KTX), or high-speed train. The Saemaeul (새마을), Nooriro (누리로), and Mugunghwa (무궁화) trains present about the same level of comfort. On most routes the Saemaeul will be the fastest of the three. KTX routes can cut travel time in half, but the trade-off is the price, double that of a Mugunghwa ticket.
Ticketing is straightforward. Walk up to the counter and announce your destination. Like the bus terminal staff, many will not be fluent in English, but will be more than happy to assist in booking your trip. In most cases, they will assume that you want to purchase a seat on the next available train, so if that is not the case, make sure you note when you’d like to travel and on what class of train.
In some stations, they will have kiosks available for you to book your own travel. This cuts out the time waiting in line, and can be a huge benefit during peak travel seasons. While it is possible to book online, I have found it better to actually go in person, as many times they will have more options available.