Life in Korea: Traveling Korea by bus


Author’s note: ‘Life in Korea’ posts are aimed at the newer expats among us. If you have a more experienced perspective to offer, please share in the comments. I’ve also recently written about traveling rural Korea by bus – a similar subject also worth reading about if getting off the typical tourists path.

Author’s note: ‘Life in Korea’ posts are aimed at the newer expats among us. If you have a more experienced perspective to offer, please share in the comments. I’ve also recently written about traveling rural Korea by bus – a similar subject also worth reading about if getting off the typical tourists path.

Traveling by express bus is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get around Korea. The country also has an extensive system of trains that go many places, but buses can be more direct and are usually more comfortable. While there is a bit of a learning curve at first, a couple trips will make you feel more independent in your travels. Note that being able to read hangeul is highly recommended – even if you’re slow at it, it’s easier to find the place you’re looking for if you can spot it in the Korean alphabet.

For many major destinations from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal, express buses leave frequently (leaving every half an hour or more often) – no need to plan ahead for these destinations. Show up, buy a ticket for the bus leaving next, and get on. Quite a few smaller cities have buses that leave occasionally (once every half an hour to two hours); it’s only the furthest or smallest cities that offer buses leaving rarely (a handful of buses leaving per day). To see how often your bus runs, check out this page on VisitKorea – both origin and destination are neatly sorted by province and city, whether you’re traveling from Seoul or any other part of Korea. Bear in mind that traveling from elsewhere in Korea means the bus schedules will change. Living in Busan? There will be a lot more buses that travel to nearby Ulsan than a tiny city in Gangwon-do.

Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal has two large buildings that serve three major bus lines: the Gyeongbu line and Yeongdong line are serviced out of the older building, while the Honam line is serviced out of the newer building. While you’re underground this won’t make much sense, but you get inside the terminals it will. Trust me when I say the subway station (lines 3, 7, and 9 all converge here) and connected bus terminal is a maze. It’s all interconnected, yet covers a huge amount of area. There are tons of signs while at the subway levels, yet those signs always seem hard to find when looking for them. Arrive extra early if it’s your first time.

Worth noting: don’t confuse the word ‘line’ with the train lines – the train routes and the highway routes aren’t the same. For more information than you ever wanted to know about Korea’s roads and expressways, Wikipedia is your best friend. As a rough guideline, the Gyeongbu ‘line’ heads towards Busan, while the Honam ‘line’ heads towards Mokpo in southwest South Korea and the Yeongdong ‘line’ heads east towards Gangwon-do.

Also worth noting: most of the major cities around Korea have more than one bus terminal. Seoul has the Express Bus Terminal (sometimes called Gangnam), the Nambu Bus Terminal (sometimes called ‘South Seoul’), and a couple smaller ones in Gangbyeon (‘Dong Seoul’) and near Sangbong station. Busan has the Central Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong, which also shares a building with the Busan Dongbu Gyeongnam Intercity Bus Terminal. Don’t forget about the Seobu Bus Terminal (Sasang station, Busan subway line 1, exit 1). The city of Daejeon has several bus terminals, though most are clustered near each other.

Here is an alphabetical listing of dozens of destinations (from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal) – use it to figure out which building to go to:

Destination Line
Ancheon Honam
Andong Honam
Anmyeondo Honam
Anseong Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Beolgyo Honam
Boryeong Honam
Boseong Honam
Buan Honam
Bukcheongju (south Cheongju) Honam
Busan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Changwon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Cheolwon Honam
Cheonan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Cheongju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Cheongju Honam
Cheongpyeong Honam
Cheongyang Honam
Cheungju Honam
Chuncheon Honam
Daegu hanjin Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Daejeon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Daejeon cheongsa Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Damyang Honam
Dangjin Honam
Donghae Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gangchon Honam
Gangjin Honam
Gangreung Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Geumsan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gimcheon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gimhae Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gimje Honam
Gochang Honam
Godaehongdae Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Goheung Honam
Gongju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gumi Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Gunsan Honam
Gwangju Honam
Gyeongju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Haenam Honam
Hampyeong Honam
Heungdeok Honam
Hongseong Honam
Hwacheon Honam
Hwanggan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Ichon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Iksan Honam
Jamcheon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Jangheung Honam
Jangseong Honam
Jeomchon Honam
Jeongeup Honam
Jeongsan Honam
Jeonju Honam
Jido Honam
Jinan Honam
Jindo Honam
Jinju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Jipori Honam
Jochiwon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Masan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Mokpo Honam
Muan Honam
Naju Honam
Namwon Honam
Nokdong Honam
Nonsan Honam
Onyang Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Pocheon Honam
Pohang Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Pyeongtaek Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Samcheok Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Sangju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Seodaeju (east Daeju) Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Seosan Honam
Sokcho Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Sunchang Honam
Suncheon Honam
Taean Honam
Tongyeong Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Ulsan Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Uncheon Honam
Wando Honam
Wonju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Yangyang Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Yeocheon Honam
Yeoju Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Yeongam Honam
Yeongcheon Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Yeonggwang Honam
Yeongju Honam
Yeongsanpo Honam
Yeongwol Honam
Yeonmudae Honam
Yeosu Honam
Yesan Honam
Yongin Gyeongbu / Yeongdong
Yuseong (western Daejeon) Honam

If you’ve never taken a bus from one point in Korea to another point, the three main steps are fairly simple:

Step one: buy a ticket. Get to the window, announce your destination (and how many tickets you need). Pay for your tickets, then ask or look for what time the bus leaves and what platform it leaves from. It may or may not be printed on the ticket – heck, the seat number may or may not be printed on the ticket – so find out. The printed signs will help, but the bus drivers and ticket sellers seemingly know all.

Step two: find your platform. The opening picture of this post comes from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal – one of the largest and most foreboding terminals around Korea. If 37 platforms don’t faze you, there’s a fair chance nothing will.

Step three: use the restroom, buy your snacks and drinks, etc.. While most bus rides over two hours will take a rest break at a fairly well-equipped rest stop, bring what you want onto the bus. The drinks and snacks, that is. It’s good form to use the same bag to haul your trash out – and saves the bus driver a bit of inevitable clean-up work. Don’t be that inconsiderate foreigner – there will be trash cans just after you disembark.

That’s it. Buses really are pretty straightforward in Korea. The biggest trick is knowing where you want to go, and how often the buses come. If you need to be at the terminal for the first bus at 7:30am, it’s good to know that the night before so you can get to bed early. If there’s a bus that leaves at, say, 11pm, and arrives in the wee hours of the morning, that might save you some time traveling on a Saturday.

Experienced expats – any final words on traveling via bus?

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.

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