Travel to and within South Korea can prove to be quite an experience. It has different modes of domestic transport like ferries, trains, buses and car rental services, to name a few, and everything is in Korean. Bus routes are written in Korean, the transport personnel speak mostly Korean and you will need to know the currency well before you buy a ticket to somewhere. But fear not - a trip in Korea promises to be an adventure you're not likely to forget. All you need to know are some basic words and phrases from a handy English-Korea dictionary and a friendly Korean to guide you. You're sure to find both easily.
This South Korea Transportation Guide provides practical information for getting to and from South Korea, as well as getting around the country. You can also check out the local transport options in the capital Seoul, which is ideal for visiting on a South Korea tour. The South Korea Country Guide gives more information for your travels around the country.
South Korea has five international airports all in all - Incheon, Gimhae, Cheongju, Daegu and Jeju. Of these, however, only Incheon, located around 52 km from Seoul, connects places all over the world. The rest operate flights to and from only Asian countries. Gimhae mostly operates domestic flights, with very few flights to Japan. Jeju has flights to and from both China and Japan.
For transport from the airport to the city (or from the city to the airport), we recommend Green Path Transfers, who offer eco-friendly airport transfers in hundreds of destinations around the world.
The train route to Beijing via Ulan Bator, also connecting Shanghai, on the Trans-Mongolian Railway is one of the best train trips in the world. You can choose to enter South Korea from Shanghai by boat - however, you'll need to make your bookings well in advance.
If you like travelling on water, choose a ferry. These operate from Busan to a number of Asian destinations like Hiroshima, Kokura, Izuhara, Shimonoseki, Hitakatsu, Osaka and Hakata in Japan, and Dalian, Weihai, Yantai City, Yingkou, Tianjin, Dandong and Qingdao in China. You can choose the smart ferry-train option as well - discover South Korea partly by train and partly by ferry. Destination combinations include Seoul-Osaka via Busan, Daejeon-Hiroshima, Daegu-Kobe and Seoul-Tokyo.
South Korea has a very adept roadway transport system - the buses are fast, on time, comfortable and connect almost all major cities. Booking, timings and frequency may differ from city to city and most cities have both local and express buses. When buying your bus fare or a bus card for all journeys through the day, enquire at the booths/billing counters and ask to be guided to the correct bus. Koreans are friendly and hospitable so you will be helped with a smile.
Trains are an excellent way to get around in South Korea - they are clean and run on time. Korea National Railroad runs a high-speed train service called the KTX to almost all points in the country. There are local trains as well. Train fare is surprisingly economical and most trains have non-smoking compartments.
In fact, trains are the recommended way for tourists to travel in Korea - they offer a variety of schedules and run times, covering all the important tourist destinations and they cost less than deluxe buses. State-of-the-art trains that run at over 300 km/h make long-distance travel fast and easy. Rail passes called KR passes are easily accessible at railway stations.
Another interesting way to explore the city is on the numerous ferries that operate domestically and internationally to other Asian countries like Japan and China.
As this is a small country, flying is usually considered a luxury. Places like the island of Jeju are best accessed by air. Korean Air and Asjana were the two important players for flights into and from Korea till 2005. Now there are economical alternatives like Hansung Airlines and Jeju Air, which operates to Seoul and Busan in addition to Jeju. And if you're lucky enough, you can even get airfare that costs less than train fare to some destinations.
Taxis can be found everywhere in Korea, and are a relatively safe option to get around. Call taxis charge nominally more than regular taxis, and can be arranged by just a phone call. What is more encouraging is that taxi drivers speak a smattering of English, so communicating with them is easy. All taxis have metered fares and you will be charged either by distance or by the hour. However, do be informed that rates increase by around 20% between midnight and 4 am.
Deluxe taxis, known as mobeom locally, are black with a yellow signboard on top that says "Deluxe Taxi". Rates are uniform through the day and you get receipts as well. Korea also has share taxis for long distances, called bullet taxis. These run between major cities and important tourist destinations. These are not metered; you will have to negotiate the rates before you board the taxi.
If you're looking for the fastest and most convenient way to get around in Korea, then take the subway. Found in major cities like Seoul, Daegu, Busan, Incheon and Gwangju, during peak hour traffic, the trains run every 3 minutes and during non-peak hours, they run every 4-6 minutes. They're clean, safe and the preferred choice of Koreans to move around the city.