Cruisin’ on Korea’s expressways and highways

Written by on February 28, 2012 in Travel

Expressway in Daegwanryeong

“Are we there yet?” The eternal kid question on the road; it’s universal, isn’t it? Korea is no exception, especially during the holiday seasons, but thankfully in regular times, the country is a comfortable size to travel by car without kids (or adults) getting too bored or tired. Besides, because Korea’s terrain is an interesting mélange of mountains, hills, plains, rivers, and valleys, along with being surrounded by the sea, taking in the scenery as you drive can be quite an enjoyable experience.

The web of expressways

The expressways (고속도로) are many and extensive within the country; you can go anywhere and everywhere. Expressways are toll paid high speed roads which do not allow 2 wheel vehicles and have speed limits from 70 km/h to 100 km/h. Many expressways have “Buses Only” lanes which are clearly marked by a bright blue line to encourage the use of mass transportation. Mostly 6 lanes to 8 lanes, these roads are always full of traffic at peak hours and those special times of the year. During the holidays, all media would be reporting on the traffic situation nonstop, as a 4 hour drive on a normal day can quickly turn into a grueling 9 hour one.

Hi-pass your way through those pesky toll gates

If you’re making a long journey, stopping to pay at all those expressway toll gates can also become a hassle. Toll fees are based on the length of the journey, the size of the car (there is a discount for lightweight vehicles), and time (discounts at rush hour).
To soothe Koreans who are always hurrying and in a rush, rush, rush and who consider wasting time as one of the biggest sins a man can commit, there is the super convenient “HiPass”, a device that automatically takes toll fees while letting you pass through in a designated lane. You can either charge a certain amount to the device and have deductions made with each pass, or you can opt to be billed at the end of the month. More and more people are taking advantage of this service so more and more “HiPass Only” lanes are being made at toll gates, not to mention that many new Korean cars that are being manufactured come with the HiPass built in. Using HiPass also gives you a 5% discount.

Honam Expressway from above

The major expressways are the main arteries with Gyeongin Expressway (경인고속도) being the first to be built in 1968. It links Seoul to the port city of Incheon on the west coast. A rapid succession of expressways were built afterwards, most notably: Gyeongbu (경부) reaching down south from the capital city to Busan, Yeongdong (영동) which crosses from Incheon on the west coast to Gangreung on the east coast, Honam (호남) which connects Suncheon in Jeollado to Cheonan in Chungcheongdo, and Seoul Beltway (서울외곽순환도로) which encircles the capital city.

National highway #7 is a scenic route on the east coast

If you’re not in a big hurry or if you prefer to avoid the massive horde of cars, you can always divert to the calmer, cozier national highways (국도). The speed limits are considerably lower on these roads, which is quite a good thing, as the highways offer some of the most beautiful scenery that can be viewed from a moving vehicle. Whether a spectacular sea coast or a mountain dipped in mist, some views can only be seen while riding the highways. Some highways are themselves the tourist attraction, especially those famous for their floral splendor or slow and winding roads in mountains and along the coastline:

National highway #17 along the Seomjin River

National highway #44 in Hangyeryeong

National highway #77 follows the Baeksu Coastline

Last but not least, there are many famous expressway rest stops to drop by and visit to make your journey even more meaningful and fun, places that showcase the region’s special delicacies and food. But that is a separate post in itself so will try to deal with that subject in the future. In the meantime, happy cruising!

For more information:
Korea Expressway Corporation

Photos courtesy of:
Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs
The Academy of Korean Studies
Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul