SOUTH KOREA

South Korea

Straddling between Japan and China, Korea has long been a “shrimp between whales”. While older than Japan and almost as old as China, the country is largely influenced by both. In South Korea tourists can discover a co-existence of Confucian and Buddhist traditions. But the country is not all about history and traditions. Besides 5,000 years of rich culture, South Korea is also one of Asian’s most modern and “hi-tech” nations.

The country celebrates four distinct seasons: Summer (June to August) is hot and humid whereas winter (December to February) is cold and dry. Autumn and spring offer warm, clear sunny days. In late summer to early autumn, typhoons are common (mostly around August). In the fall, autumn foliage makes hiking pleasant and many good photo opportunities. Winter brings in skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts to its iced-capped slopes and fills its many ski resorts.

In spite of increased foreign tourists, the country still lacks behind its neighbours in terms of tourism capacity. But it has much growth potential. The niche trend of medical tourism, food tourism, cultural tourism, and shopping tourism are quickly expanding. Still, neglected provinces and small towns remains an untapped resource. 

Why visit?



Because it’s both modern and traditional

Severely damaged during the Korean War, reconstruction efforts have fabricated a modern metropolis. Seoul has become a manifestation of a thriving city, one that is constantly on the move. It has come a long way and has much more to offer than its name “the land of the morning calm” suggests. There are fashionable shopping precincts, historical attractions, temples and mountains, hiking trails. In fact, you can feel the pulse of the city everywhere you go. Architecture is either ultra-modern or very traditional. But the most attractive feature is the nation has developed and become modernized without losing its distinctive cultural heritage. This blend makes South Korea a “one stop shop” for those who wish to appreciate this captivating juxtaposition.

Because it’s East Asia's fashion capital

Today, everyone knows the song “Gangnam Style”. Korea is where it all begins. While the country remains largely unknown to the western world, South Korea is a trendy East Asian destination. Die-hard fans of Korean soap dramas ('Daejanggeum' and 'My Love from the Star') and k'pop are like Korean men to kimchi. In recent years, South Korea has risen to become the leader of Asian fashion. This means, what is popular in South Korea quickly catches on across East Asia—music, fashion and beauty products, you name it! So, if you want to know the trend, head to Seoul! 

Because it’s a safe destination 

The image of North Korea may not be too positive. Yet, their neighbours in the South have dealt with the situation for over 5 decades. In fact, South Korea is considered one of the safest places in Asia, if not the safest—due to strict gun restrictions, well maintained public order as well as high perceptions of street safety, both day and night. But visitors must be alert of traffic: Drivers in Seoul are extremely aggressive. Road rage is common. It is a scary thought that the bigger you are (such as buses), the more aggressive and reckless your driving! Those not used to crossing the streets, it can be terrifying.  

Unlike its neighbouring countries, South Korea is not threatened by earthquakes and volcanoes. But typhoons strike between May and November.

Because it has multi-lingual services

No matter where you go, tourists will find Koreans friendly and helpful. Young children may even say “Hi” just to practice their language skills in front of proud parents. Yet, for most tourists, their greatest concern is language. Don’t speak Korean? Language is no longer a limitation in Seoul. A 24/7 multi-lingual concierge is available in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Simply dial 1330 and operators will look anything up for you—ranging from restaurant recommendations to bus schedules to where to find your favourite K’pop merchandises. For example, a tourist asked, “Where is the closest dog cafe around Hongdae Station?” An answer arrived within minutes. Other than this, one way around it is to approach college-educated looking locals, or use Google Translate. If all else fails ask the concierge to write down or record the destination as a voice recording, it may be much easier to re-play it.

Sometimes tourist can try their luck. There are increasingly more foreign-East Asian speaking personnel across tourism. But travelling beyond the capital, tourists should consider hiring a guide.

Travel themes


Traditional and everyday items

Despite all there is to do and see outdoors, South Korea remains a shopping paradise. Its arcades and modern air-conditioned malls are filled with traditional and everyday products. Besides the usual discounted tax-free incentives, souvenirs and gifts for loved ones can be even more affordable.

 

Where to shop?

Myeongdong (in Seoul) is probably the best place for shopping — it sells everything you could ever want to buy. There are a number of department stores, brand names and bargains to be found. Shop assistants are likely to converse in a number of languages, including English, Chinese and Japanese. Take a subway to Myeongdong Station (Line 4, Exit 5, 6, 7 or 8). To obtain a traveller’s discount, bring your passport or e-Ticket and show it to the sales assistant.

Click shopping in South Korea to discover more 

 

What to buy?
Traditional items

Despite being a modern city, South Korea has many handicrafts, from handmade costumes to paper kites and ceramics. Insadong, Seoul’s antique arts and crafts gallery district, is the “must go” destination. Jukbuin (literally “bamboo wife”) is a pillow made of thinly cut bamboos strands; it can be a special gift for somebody battling the summer heat.

Beauty products

As the undisputed beauty capital of Asia, Korea is the marketplace for those who want to stay beautiful forever. Those who want to have perfect skin will not return without taking a look at some of the skincare products home. The extensive range means one or another kind is on sale. The premier shopping precinct Myeong-dong offers the best choice and variety, featuring street stalls and retail outlets.

Click shopping for cosmetics in South Korea to discover more 

Ginseng

Korea is the ginseng capital of the world. A luxury and miraculous herbal supplement takes six years to harvest. It is generally said to be the best long-term investment in health. A favourite among athletes, it is a physical performance enhancer, helpful for healthy human tissue growth. Two types are available, red and white. White is more common and suitable for summer; red is more potent (and expensive), and suitable for winter. Overall, an expensive item, still it is more economical to purchase in Korea than elsewhere. The best place to buy some is from duty free, they provide the best prices and a wide-selection of varying quality.

Fabric and silk

Bargains can be found at Dongdaemun Market. This is the biggest wholesale-retail fashion and accessories market in Seoul. Take the subway to Dongdaemun Station (Line 1 & 4, Exits 8 or 9) or Dongdaemun History and Culture Park (Line 2, Exits 2 or 14).

Consumer technology

As a technology capital, South Korea is a popular place for its consumer technology, at second in Asia only to Japan. Common purchases include digital cameras, MP3 players, PMP players, external hard drives, and computer accessories. Rather than merely looking at the discounted price, a hitch you may also need to consider is that instruction booklets and buttons are displayed in hangul (Korean script).

Click shopping for consumer technology in South Korea to discover more 

Value arbitrage shopping (click to show more)

A number of retail outlets display a "Tax Free Shopping" or "Tax Refund Shopping" sign. Tourists showing their passport may be exempted from local taxes. Otherwise, afters by-passing customs, head to the "Global Tax Free" or "Global Refund Korea" counters near the duty-free shops when you leave. To obtain a refund, one must leave within 3 months of purchase.

Or to compare another shopping destination, click Japan


Nature’s allure

Those hoping to visit Asia but prefer not to be exposed to the South East Asian heat and humidity, may find the natural ecology of Korea more to your liking. Wherever you look, the land is mountainous; in fact, 70% of the country is mountain or forest. Given the ease of access, the country is a haven for nature lovers. Besides eating kimchi, trekking, hiking and rock climbing are all top activities in Korea.

 

Exploring the great outdoors 

Superb transport system makes Seoul’s forests and national parks so accessible. A 45min trip by sub-way or road will take you to rural and mountainous areas. The highest peak, Bukhansan is a rarity--an oasis in the city. Designated as a national park in 1983, it is both most accessible and a local favourite. Boasting more than 1,300 species of flora and fauna, in a grounds of 80km2, it is a centre of learning, relaxation and a convenient family getaway.

Another landmark is Jirisan, the largest mountain-national parkEstablished in 1967, when development, habitat encroachment as well as hunting were prime-time activities. Conservation became topical when large mammals, like bears and tigers, begin to disappear. Due to the irreversible environmental impacts of urbanisation, this was the first park to be registered. While there are “beware of bear” signs everywhere, chances of seeing them are slim. Nonetheless, the serene setting and camp grounds allows you to fully enjoy the oldest, largest and most famous park. The downside of such accessibility is national parks are so well-visited that it can get crowded on weekends and holidays. Likewise, during winter, when annual snowfall transforms mountain peaks into a snow-filled attraction.

If hiking is your passion, the best place to go is “the spine" of Baekdu Deagan Ridge. The most scenic trail along the Korean peninsula is between Hwaeomsa and Jungsanri, spanning 38km. It can be completed in 3 days and 2 night. While enjoying the great outdoors, why not consider combining the best of comfortable living and camping? “Glamping” offers the chance to experience a local way of dwelling as well as enjoy the comfort of the wilderness.

Still, if you are not ready to return to the city yet, visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Remained untouched since 1953, this belt of “no man’s land” is heavily patrolled and fenced with barbed wire. Today, much of the country's mud flats have been reclaimed for farming, but for the nature lovers, the most interesting place is not at any national park, but this "leftover slice of history". Prohibited access has maintained a pristine environment like none other. Most notably, it nurtures seasonal water birds. Expect to pay from  ₩50,000 to 150,000 for an eco-guided tour.

Jeju Island

Jeju is considered the jewel of Korea. Featuring interesting rock formations, pristine beaches and a breathtaking waterfall, it is a paradise for nature lovers. If Jerusalem is a three times the holy city, then Jeju Island is a UNESCO 3 time winner: World Natural Heritage + Global Geopark + Biosphere Reserve. T

There are a number of key activities that visitors engage include:
Hiking Olle: The Island was made for walking, and the best way to explore it by foot. There are now an integrated network of 26 well-marked Olle hiking trails. In fact, the word “Olle” (올레) is a local Jeju word meaning “an invitation to walk and explore”.

Catching the sunrise:  Mount Halla (known to locals as "Hallasan") is at the heart of that experience. Yet it takes a total of 9 hours to hike up and down, but when you’re at the peak, the view at the top is rewarding.

Waterfall wander:  Dubbed "The Pond of God," the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall originates from the ceiling of a cave and it comprises of three-tiers. It is a beautiful place for a morning stroll. Be warned, there's lots of steps and requires good shoes. If you visit during May, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit because you can actually have a soak in the falls and take part in the Chilseonyeo Festival. Like the rest of South Korea, the place is well landscaped and clean!

Cave visit:  Formed more than 2.5 million years ago when molten rock burst free from the earth, Manjanggul cave is one of the finest and longest lava tunnels in the world. Stalactite and stalagmite formations and the cathedral-like interior make a breathtaking sight. It may take your eyes some time to adjust to the dimmed lighting but don’t be surprised if you hear something flapping about. Over 30,000 bats, the largest colony on the Island have made their home in the cave, and there are resident cave spiders keeping them company. So, if you are hoping to get a glimpse of wildlife, take entrance no. 3--and come prepared with good pair of hiking shoes (good grip), a bright torch and jacket– you wouldn’t want to slip in the dark! Inside the cave, expect that temperatures are cooler than outside. Located 30 km from Jeju City, the cave are reachable within a 30 min bus ride.

Click nature and parks in South Koreawildlife in South Korea or trekking and hiking in South Korea to discover more 


Center of plastic surgery

In a culture where looking good is key to staying competitive and leading a happier life, it is no wonder why Seoul, has also become the world’s capital of plastic surgery. Cosmetic surgery is viewed as a “natural and harmless” procedure, like wearing make-up. Once done, you will walk away never looking the same again?1! More than this, what began as the centre of plastic surgery has since quickly expanded into all areas of medical tourism. 

 

What South Korea has to offer? 

As a well-known “plastic surgery” destination, South Korea ranks world first for the number of procedures performed annually (eyelid surgery, skin whitening, arm liposuction, and nose surgery). Apart from locals enjoying these treatments, the globalization of modern medicine has made it attractive to travel for more affordable healthcare, and also for procedures not readily available at home. What’s more, South Korea, a technologically advanced nation, boasts one of the best healthcare systems in Asia. The offering includes anti-aging, facial volume, body contouring and liposuction.

The average cost is usually cheaper than that of Australia, Singapore and America. Success is due to low costs, but that is not all. Just as important, excellent-quality services ensures repeated visits. That is why medical tourism in Korea took off, beginning with its neighbours—initially Japan then Russia. Patients are treated by internationally accredited doctors, but language remains an issue.

Medical tourists coming to South Korea must be "invited" to receive treatment. An international patient can stay for up to 180 days. Tourists also consider the benefits of being in the country, namely the supplementary “fillers” on offer (festivals, cultural sites, mountains). To ensure your well-being, it is advisable to consult with your doctor that the activities you wish to participate in are safe post-treatment. And the most important thing, after all, it involves your health, do research the qualifications of the parties involved. Free quote and additional information are usually available. Shop around, and for safety’s sake, avoid clinics not approved by the government!

 

Click cosmetic surgery in South Korea or medical and dental in South Korea to discover more 

Facts and figures

Total land area

100,210 km2

No. of island

30,000

Land use
Arable 20%
Forest and park 70%

Population
51 m
Capital
Seoul 
Official language
Korean
Currency
₩ (won)
US$ 1 ≈ ₩ 1154
Time zone
UTC +9
Country code
+82


Population of major cities


Climate
Average temperatures of different regions:
   Spring
   (Mar-May)
   Summer
   (Jun-Aug)
   Autumn
   (Sep-Nov)
   Winter
   (Dec-Feb)
 Seoul   11 ℃   24 ℃   14 ℃   -1 ℃
 Busan   13 ℃   23 ℃   17 ℃   4 ℃
 Jeju   14 ℃   25 ℃   18 ℃   7 ℃
 Pyeongchang   10 ℃   24 ℃   12 ℃   -3 ℃


Electricity
Plug: two round holes
Voltage: 110/220V AC 60 Hz
Transportation

 

Air Travel

Korea Air (KE), the country’s largest airline, is also the national flag carrier. Asiana Airlines (OZ) is the county’s second largest, its domestic hub is based at Gimpo International Airport (GMP) and international hub at Incheon International Airport (ICN).

For more information on flights, check individual carriers’ websites:

Over the past decade, a number of low-cost carriers have penetrated the industry. They include Air Busan (BX) — a subsidiary of Asiana, Jeju Air (7C), Jin Air (LJ), Air Seoul (RS), Eastar Jet (ZE) and T’way Air (TW). These airlines have made travel much easier and affordable. These carriers serve the region, operating between China, Japan and Korea and South East Asia. Some even provide charters to the Pacific, including Australia and Hawaii.

For more information, check the websites of individual carriers:

South Korea is a home to 8 international and 6 domestic airports. Incheon International is the Seoul airport; located 1 hour west of the city, it is also the country's largest, with good connections throughout the world. It is also one of the best airports in the world. Jeju International Airport, the second-most frequented airport, is on the largest island — a convenient location for connecting flights across East Asia (China, Japan) and Southeast Asia countries. The airport also offers domestic flights.

For more information, check the following websites:

For domestic airports, check the following websites:

For more information on airports in South Korea, click here.

Entry by sea 

Korea hosts a number of major ports, with fleets of ferries and hydrofoils connecting to South Korea with China, Japan and the Middle East. The four major ports are:


For information on cruise services.

Domestic travel

Railway is a common means of long distance travel within the country. Future links may be extended between North and South Korea, depending on the political circumstances.

Trains

The country’s sole passenger railway is KORAIL. The network is managed by Korea Rail Network Authority. Should you required travelling long-distance, do yourself a favour and buy your tickets in advance, especially if you are travelling on a weekend or public holiday.

For more information, check the following website:

Unlike local bus stations, train stations usually have bilingual signage: Korean and English.

In South Korea, four classes of trains exist. Listed below, in general order of decreasing price value; KTX is both the quickest and most expensive.

KTX

The Korea Train Express (KTX) is a high-speed service. It runs at maximum speeds of 300 km/h. The travel time from Seoul to Busan, for example, is 2 hour 40 min, cutting travel time by half. A variety of seating options are available, including reserved or unreserved seats. A standing passenger may take an unoccupied seat. The standing fare is ₩50,800 (from Seoul to Busan).

 

Express Saemaul 

Similar to KTX, Express Saemaul are fast and luxurious. These trains stop in major cities.

 

Mugunghwa 

These trains are popular and comfortable, stopping at most stations. The train café, on many trains, offers not only offers refreshments but also entertainment, computer games, internet and karaoke for travellers.

 

Tonggeun 

Known as the commuter train, this is your cheapest option—it can also be your longest ride, stopping at every station. The downside is they run infrequently and only on certain routes. There is no reserved seating arrangements.

Train Pass 

Similar to a railway pass elsewhere (Japan Rail or Eurorail), a KoRail Pass is available for tourist use. It can be pre-purchased overseas at travel agencies or online.

The benefit of pre-purchasing is that a the pass can be bought at a discounted rate. Children between 4-12 years are on a half price fare, youth (13-25 years) pay 80%, and seniors (beyond 65 years) 70% of the total. However, given that not all trains go everywhere, and distances travelled by tourist are not great, to get a good deal, do your research before buying a multiple day pass. Generally, they are unlikely to save all that much. Reportedly, pre-purchased tickets between Tuesday and Thursday are cheaper.

For more information on train passes, click here.

For information on fares and scheduling, click here.


Reservations 

The railway ticketing system allows travellers to purchase tickets up to a month in advance. A phone app Korail is also available, however it only programmed in Korean script. Pre-purchasing your ticket is necessary on weekends and holidays.

Local transport

South Korea’s public transport is world class and reasonably price. Its extensive infrastructure means one can get around conveniently and quickly. Subways and intercity buses and trains connect you between towns and cities. A network of subways makes travel in larger cities affordable and efficient.

Subway

South Korea has one of the most comprehensive subway (“metro”) systems on earth. It is friendly to use and fares are reasonable. The service runs from 5:30am until midnight. The subway operates in the six largest cities: Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu, Gwangju and Incheon.

Seoul, the capital, has nine major lines that criss-cross the city. Trains arrive every 5 minutes. An added convenience, at least for non-Korean speaking passengers, are that signs appear in both Korean and English. 

For more information, check their company websites:

Buying a ticket (click to show more)

Subway tickets can be purchased from an Automatic Vending Machines, these are located at every station. Machine instructions are bilingual—Korean and English. Fares within Seoul costs between ₩1,250 and ₩2,000.

When traveling with a paper ticket that has magnetic stripe on the back, insert the ticket into the slot as you enter a station turnstile gate. Upon entering, the ticket will come out on the other side of the gate. Be sure to retrive the ticket, so that you can use it to pass through the gates at your final station.

When transferring, it is not necessary to buy a ticket or purchase another card. 

Advice on getting around 

If it is your first time in South Korea, the subway system can be intimidating. Here are a few pointers to bear in mind:

  • Trains tend to be crowded, especially peak hour. Should finding a seat be your priority, avoid the very ends of the train and also travelling between peak (7:30-9:30am and 5-8pm). Monday mornings and Friday evenings can be the most difficult times. You may be pushed around by the crowds. Here, the rush hour can be more serious than London, New York or Paris, although better than Tokyo!
  • The subway system can be challenging to first timers. Escalators or elevator are rather uncommon, signage and interchanges can be confusing. But on the whole, it will connect you to places faster than road transport (taxi or bus).
  • For short distances, or if you have bulky luggage, taxis are recommend. Taxi can be a wiser choice at times, since the metro is not cheap for short distances and sometimes walking up and down stairs are not convenient. For more information, click taxi.
  • The first thing is to grab a Metro Map from the station or download the “Subway Korea” app onto your mobile. Study your route, noting points of transfer.
  • When looking at the Metro Map, if you do not read Korean, a disadvantage is that the English is tiny. So bringing your own map help. If you get lost, the option of taxiing is always there.
  • Train announcements are made in Korean, sometimes English, Japanese and Mandarin. They advise transfers and which side the door opens. In noisy compartments, announcements can be easily drowned. It is in your best interest to keep count of the number of stops.
  • Most compartments have reserved seating for the elderly, pregnant or disabled. Unless you qualify for these priority seats, don't sit on them. If you are bringing a bicycle with you, go to the front or back, not anywhere else. 

T-money card 

The cheapest and easiest way to get around in Seoul is to take advantage of the pre-paid transit card. It is an integrated fare system which is transferable on public transport: Bus, subway, taxi and train fares can all be paid using the rechargeable, touch-and-go T-Money Card. It is advisable to buy a card if you plan on using subway extensively or staying for more than a few weeks.

The card provides a ₩100 discount per trip (about 10% off the fare). It can be bought for a non-refundable ₩2,500 at any subway station, bus kiosks and convenience stores displaying the T-Money logo. It can be recharged at any of the above places, credit values ranges from ₩1,000to ₩90,000. Money left on the card can be refunded up to ₩20,000 (minus a processing fee of ₩500) at subway machines and participating convenience stores.

To use to card, place it on the sensor located on top of the subway turnstiles until a beep sound is heard. The amount charged will be displayed on top, the remaining balance at the bottom. If you are transferring, the amount appears as “0” (zero). Upon arrival, tap your card in order to exit.

Transfers accrued discounts up to 4 times per day. A transfer time of a maximum half an hour (up to 1 hour from after 9pm to 7am next day). If you forget to tap your card when you get off the bus or exit the subway, however, you will not benefit from the discounts and may be charged double. Therefore, it is important to tap your card when alighting and also disembarking. Using the card, passengers can save the hassle of purchasing single tickets and also enjoy discounts when transferring from a bus to another, one subway line to another, or from bus to subway or vice versa.

For more information on T-money visit the following website:

 

Seoul City Pass (click to show more)

Similar to the T-Money card, City Pass provides additional features for tourists. It enables access on the Seoul City Tour Bus, which takes you to downtown attractions. The CityPass allows passengers to hop on and hop off, any time or place you want, and as many times as you like. With this pass tourists can also use the public bus and rail system up to 20 times a day. A one day pass starts at ₩15,000. It includes metropolitan subways and local Blue/Green/Yellow buses.

For more information on the CityPass, visit the following website:

Bus

Taking a bus in Korea is often confusing for tourists. A number of problems are at stake. The main one is finding the right bus. English signage is rare and local knowledge is important. It would not be advisable for a new comer to travel without preparation. Local tourist information centres usually hire English-speaking staff; these are the best places to ask for information on where to go and how to catch the bus. As drivers are not likely to speak your language, it is advisable to have your destination written in Hangeul (Korean script).

There are three types of buses—they operate between regions, locally or, from the airport.

 

Regional bus

There are two type of regional buses. The Gosok travels high speed, without many stops. The Shioe takes on shorter routers, but with more stops in-between. All cities and towns have a ranges of regional bus services. Many do not have regular timetables, but usually run from every 15 minutes to 1 hour. Tourists should note, buses are likely to leave on time, sometimes even too early. They will take you to more places than trains but the route is less comfortable.

Local bus

There are two types of local buses. Both operate a similar route, same stops, same frequencies. Many run on an hourly or half-hourly basis. The more expensive Jwaseok meaning “Seat” is more comfortable. Each ticket pays for a seat, standing is not allowed. The cheaper fare Ilban meaning “regular” provides fewer seats, is less comfortable and standing is permitted.

Irrespective of how far you travel, the bus fare is fixed. Put the fare into the glass box next to the driver. Make sure you have plenty of ₩1000 notes, the ticket machines only give change of coins. If you have a travel card, remember to tap on and tap off.

 

Bus system in Seoul 

City buses are one of the most convenient ways of getting around. There are 400 routes with 8,500 buses, connecting you to the farthest corners of the city. 

Seoul has four different kinds of buses, they are colour-coded to promote efficient management. Bus numbers indicate districts, enabling passengers to identify the departure point and destination.

Blue (trunk bus): connect suburbs to downtown

Travel on major roads for relatively long distances through Seoul; they travel on major arterial roads and serve more than two districts. Blue buses have a 3-digits, representing: departure + destination + bus number (0~9). E.g. bus route 048:

0 : Starts from district area 0 (Jongno, Junggu, Yongsan)
4 : Heads for district area 4 (Seocho, Gangnam)
8 : Bus number 8


Green (branch bus): connect residential areas and transfer points 

Runs for shorter distances, it carries travelers between transfer points such as subway stations and longer bus routes outside downtown. Green buses have a 4-digit number, similar to the above, route ranges from (11~99).


Red (rapid bus): express buses for commuters

Designed for commuting between downtown and the metropolitan area, useful to access places such as Suwon and Incheon. These buses are considered “deluxe” as they do not offer discounts, even with a transport card. All passengers are required to be seated.


Yellow (circulation bus): circulate within the city center

A closed circuit loop of inner-city. Stops at stations near business, attractions, and shopping precincts around Namsan, as well as provide connections to transit links—buses, subway, and railway stations. Cheaper than the red service. Yellow buses are 2-digit route numbers. E.g., district + bus number (1~9) (1~9). E.g. bus route 01:

0 : Circles district area 0 (Jongno, Junggu, Yongsan)
1 : bus number 1

Points to note

  • Bus etiquette requires passengers to enter from the front and exit from the back – unless there is only one door. 
  • Drivers tend to ride the brake rather than change gears, so expect a rough ride.
  • A round sign “B” indicates a bus stop, each is colour-coded – green for green buses
  • Download the map onto your mobile, for details, click here. (Route maps are shown in Korean with only a few, if any, stops marked in English)
  • Priority seats are reserved for elderly, disabled and pregnant passengers — signs on the bus or on the seats itself will indicate this.

 

Incheon Airport Bus Service

The international airport is well connected to a fleet of high speed buses taking you to many major cities in the country.

Taxi

Taxis are everywhere and they are relatively inexpensive. The taxi meters work on distance but switch to time in a traffic jam.

Few drivers speak English, so plan how to communicate with beforehand. Remember to have your address (or major landmarks) written in Korean script (Hangul), or orally recorded on your phone. Ask a Korean friend or the concierge to help you. Or call 1330, for language assistance, if you are based in Seoul.

To hail a taxi, ensure you follow the local calling pattern: Raise your palms, have your hand extend downwards as opposed to the upwards in the western tradition (this style is used for animals).

 

International Taxi

Apart from the usual taxis, international taxis are specifically designed for tourists. Drivers are proficient in the language indicated on the side of the vehicle (English, Chinese, or Japanese). Taxis can be reserved in advance or flagged from the street. They appear black or orange with “International” written on the door. As you can expect, they are more expensive than regular taxis. A vehicle can provide airport pickup and be chartered for 3 or more hours for a flat rate.

For more information and reservations, check the following website:


Pick up on the go

An unusual practice in Korea is drivers will stop and pick up additional passengers heading in the same direction as you. The original passenger pays the metered total amount and the added passenger pays the travelled distance (metered amount deducing the fare when they hopped on). While illegal, drivers persist running their business this way as they can earn extra and it is also beneficial to passengers, especially during rush hour. Likewise when you are waiting for a taxi, hold a large sheet of paper with your desired destination written in Korean script, may help you find a taxi easier. Taxis travelling in that direction or responding to a long-distance call may take you up en-route.

 

Payment

Most taxis accept cash, credit card or T-money (or Cashbee). If the fare is more than your balance, your full T-money balance, will be deducted from the fare and you will be expected to pay the difference via another means.

Most cities have taxis with working meters. If you find one without, make sure if you agree with the rate, otherwise find yourself another ride.

As a rule of thumb, if you are travelling in a group of 3-4, taking a taxi may be cheaper than say subway, for example.

Should you require a receipt, tell the driver, "Yeong-su-jeung" or shown this: 영수증.

Hitching 

In Korea, hitching is not that common. Even though the country is relatively crime free, there is always inherent risk. Unlike places, where people hitch-hike to save money, in Korea most do it because they don’t own their own car or cannot reach where they need to be. In rural areas, getting a lift may be the only means. Drivers are usually helpful and people will go out of their way to help.

Cycling

Unlike other Asian cities, you will find there are not many bikes on the road. One good reason, the road is dangerous.

Cycling is more suitable on islands like Gangwon and Jeju. Cyclists should study the route and have a map ready, otherwise consider hiring a guide.

Car Rental

Driving in Korea is dangerous and not recommended, if avoidable. But if you want the flexibility of having your own car, a chauffeur service is a safer option. In big cities, like Seoul, the traffic fatalities and crashes are shocking. More than that, roads are plagued with traffic jams, parking is expensive and difficult to find, plus drivers are reckless, weaving in and out of traffic. It is not the place to be driving, especially not for first-timers. In rural areas, such as the picturesque islands of Jeju or Ganghwa, there may be little incentive to drive as public transport is well developed.

 

License and insurance 

The legal driving age is 18. As an international tourist, holding an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required. A prerequisite is being over 21 and have one year of driving experience. A licence should be obtained before arrival; rental companies will not entertain you unless you hold a valid license.

It is advisable that a prospective driver learns about Korean road culture before sitting behind the steering wheel.

Important things about driving 

Korean road culture

  • Traffic moves on the right 
  • The driver and front-seat passenger must wear seat-belts
  • Drivers are impatient, reckless, and hazardous (cars speed when lights are about to turn red); though better than China, road courtesy is non-existent.
  • Given the chances of having an accident is higher than any other place in the developed world, insurance is compulsory. Obtain as much coverage as you can afford.
  • Drunk drivers receive heavy fines. Victims are usually paid a hefty sum to avoid a court case.

 

The car

  • Car hire starts at ₩65,000/ day, plus insurance ₩10,000/ day, depending on excess.
  • Should you decide to rent a car, it is best to choose a Korean brand. In the event of an accident, it is cheaper to fix.
  • GPS is likely to be programmed in Korean.
History

THE FIRST KOREAN 

70,000 BC

   Prehistoric tools found

8000 BC

   First pottery uncovered

 

THREE KINGDOMS (57BC-668AD)

57 BC-935 AD 

   Shilla

18 BC-660 AD 

   Paekche

37 BC-668 AD

   Koguryo

372

   Chinese monk brings Buddhism to Koguryo

427

   King Jangsu, moves capital to Pyongyang

 

UNIFICATION UNDER GORYEO (668-1392)

721

   Construction of wall along Shilla’s northern border

918

   Goryeo dynasty is established

1251

   2nd Tripitaka Koreana completed of 80,000 woodblocks

1377

   World’s first printed book, Jikji, a Buddhist document

 

JOSEON: THE LAST DYNASTY (1392-1910)

1392

   King Taejo establishes Joseon Dynasty

1394

   Seoul selected as capital

1399

   Yi Bang-gwa become monarch

1455

   Sejong’s 2nd son becomes king

1796

   Hwaseong fortress built to protect new palace

1800

   Sunjo succeeds as 23rd king

1834

   Heonjong become 24th king

1849

   King Cheoljong crowned king

1864

   Prince Gojong crowned as 26th ruler

1866

   French invade Ganghwado

1876

   Treaty of Ganghwa; Busan, Incheon, Wonsan becomes international trading ports

1895

   Empress Myeongseong (Queen Min) assassinated at Gyeongbokgung palace

1897

   The founding Korea Empire

 

JAPANESE COLONISATION (1910-1948)

1910

   First Japanese Governor of Korea, Terauchi Masatake

1911

   Nation-wide nonviolent protest against Japanese rule

1926

   Proclamation of King Ri of Korea

 

DIVISION OF KOREA (1948-1953)

1948

   Republic of Korea (South Korea) founded

 

   Seoul designated capital

 

   Democratic People’s Republic (North Korea) also founded

1950

   Surprise invasion leads to Korea War

1950-1953

   Korean War

1953

   DMZ established around the 38 parallel

 

POST WAR RECOVERY (since 1953)

1988

   Seoul Olympic Games

1991

   Reconciliation between Seoul and Pyongyang, make Korea nuclear free

1992

   First civilian to hold office, Kim Young-sam

2002

   FIFA World Cup, South Korea and Japan

2005

   End of Joseon dynasty bloodline, death of King Gojong’s grandson, Lee Gu

2010

   Seoul holds G20 Economic Summit

2012

   First female president, Pak Geu-hye

2014

   Sewol ferry disaster vigil protesters arrested

Travel cost

A basic estimate of daily spending (per person) is illustrated below.*

 Budget travellerLuxury traveller 


 
 Accommodation₩20,000
 Shared dorms, Yeogwan (family run  hostel), bed and breakfast

 Food & Drink₩24,000
 Street food, bulgogi (grilled marinated  beef), bibimbap (rice, egg, meat and veg)

 Transportation₩11,000
 Commuter buses, trains and subway

 
 Accommodation₩100,000
 Staying at a high-end  service hotel


 Food & Drink₩200,000
 Hotel buffet breakfast, royal Korean BBQ


 Transportation₩60,000
 Hotel limousine service, CityPass, taxi

 Total basic daily spending
 ₩55,0000 (US$ 25)
 Total basic daily spending
 ₩360,000.00 (US$ 200)

*This excludes sightseeing, shopping and other personal tourism activities, such as beauty care and hiring eco-guides.