Getting there & around
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online.
An alternative to walking and the subway is provided by the Seoul City Tour Bus. Taxis are inexpensive and don’t expect a tip, but finding an available one can take time.
Regular taxis are a good deal and are cheaper than the bus or subway for three people making a short trip. Regular taxis (ilban) cost W1900 for the first 2km and then W100 for every 144m or 41 seconds afterwards. A 20% surcharge is payable between midnight and 4am. Deluxe taxis (mobeom) are black with a yellow stripe and cost W4500 for the first 3km and then W200 for every 205m or 50 seconds, and don’t have a late-night surcharge. There are plans to drop these fixed prices in 2006 and if this happens taxis will charge varying prices.
Few drivers can speak English, but some taxis have a free interpretation service - you speak on the phone in English to an interpreter who then talks to the taxi driver in Korean. Writing your destination down can help as most Koreans are better at understanding written rather than spoken English. Writing your destination in hangeul (Korean phonetic alphabet) would be even better. All taxis have meters, but on the Incheon airport route passengers must pay the road toll on top of the meter charge. Tipping is not a Korean custom and is not necessary.
It is easier and usually quicker to travel around Seoul by subway, but the city has a comprehensive and reasonably priced bus system (414 5005; www.bus.go.kr) that operates from 5.30am to midnight, although buses run on a few routes until 2am. Some bus stops have some bus route maps in English. Most buses have their major destinations written in English on the outside and they usually have a taped announcement of the names of each stop in English, but hardly any bus drivers understand English. What were they all doing during their English lessons at school?
Long-distance express red buses to the outer suburbs cost W1400, while green buses that link subways within a district and blue buses to outer suburbs cost W800, and yellow short-haul buses that circle small districts are W500. The bus number indicates which district or districts the bus travels around or between - thus blue bus No 261 starts in zone 2, and goes to zone 6 via Line 1. Pay with a T-money prepaid card (the card costs W1500 and can be bought, charged and recharged at any subway station ticket office) and tickets cost W100 less and transfers are free, or at least cheaper. Put your card to the screen as you exit as well as when you get on a bus.
Reasonably priced long-distance buses speed to just about every small town in South Korea. Most major roads have a special bus lane that reduces delays due to heavy traffic. Buses are so frequent that it’s not necessary to buy a ticket in advance, except perhaps on holidays and weekends. Superior-class buses have more leg room but cost 50% more than ordinary buses. Night-time buses that travel after 10pm have a 10% surcharge and are generally superior class. Buses go to far more places than the trains, but are not as comfortable or safe, so trains are the better option for travelling long distances to major cities.
The Seoul Express Bus Terminal (www.kobus.co.kr; subway Line 3 or 7 to Express Bus Terminal, Exit 1 or 7) is in two separate buildings:
Gyeongbu-Gumi-Yeongdong Terminal (535 4151; subway Exit 1) Serves mainly the eastern region and has a tourist information centre (535 4151; 9am-5pm), a pharmacy, a post office and lots of shops and restaurants. Downstairs are bars, more restaurants and a sauna. On the nine floors above are countless stalls selling fabrics, bedding and clothes as well as flowers (3rd floor; 1am-1pm). Sample express/deluxe bus fares include Busan (W19, 300/28, 800), Gyeongju (W16, 300/24, 200), Sokcho (W13, 900/20, 500), Daegu (W13, 600/20, 100), Daejeon (W7600/11, 200) and Gongju (W5800/6300).
Honam Terminal (6282 0600; subway Exit 7) This smart and new terminal serves the southwestern region. Sample express/deluxe fares include Mokpo (W16, 400/24, 400), Gwangju (W14, 100/20, 900) and Jeonju (W10, 200/15, 000). This terminal is linked to the popular Central City Mall.
Other bus terminals:
Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (455 3161; subway Line 2 to Gangbyeon, Exit 3) Serves the eastern part of the country and big cities elsewhere. Sample fares include Everland (W2200), Icheon (W3500), Chuncheon (W7000), Daejeon (W8300), Danyang (W11, 700), Daegu (W13, 700), Gyeongju (W19, 000) and Busan (W19, 400).
Nambu Bus Terminal (521 8550; subway Line 3 to Nambu Bus Terminal, Exit 5) Has services south of Seoul such as Daecheon Beach (W8700).
Sinchon Bus Terminal (324 0611; subway Line 2 to Sinchon, Exit 7) Has services to Ganghwado, a historical island northwest of Seoul.
South Korea used to have only two domestic carriers - Korean Air (1588 2001; www.koreanair.com) and Asiana Airlines (1588 8000; www.flyasiana.com) - but recently low-cost regional airlines such as Jeju Air have appeared on the scene. Domestic flights are reasonably priced and run to most of the country’s major cities as well as Jejudo, Korea’s southern holiday and honeymoon island. Fares charged by both major companies are virtually identical on domestic routes. Fares are cheaper from Monday to Thursday when you are also more likely to obtain a seat. Flights on public holidays are more expensive and are often booked out, so avoid travel on these days if possible. There are discounts for students and children. Foreigners should carry their passports for ID purposes on all domestic flights. The longest flight (Seoul to Jejudo) takes just over an hour.
The following major airlines have offices in Seoul:
Air Canada (AC; 3788 0100)
Air China (CA; 774 6886)
Air France (AF; 3788 0440)
Asiana Airlines (OZ; 1588 8000)
British Airways (BA; 774 5511)
Cathay Pacific Airways (CX; 311 2800)
Japan Airlines (JL; 3788 5710)
KLM RoyalDutch Airlines (KL; 2011 5500)
Korean Air (KE; 1588 2001)
Lufthansa Airlines (LH; 3420 0400)
Malaysia Airlines (MH; 777 7761)
Northwest Airlines (NW; 732 1700)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 755 1226)
United Airlines (UA; 778 4968)
Virtually all international passengers arrive at Incheon International Airport, situated on an island in the West Sea that is linked to the mainland by a road bridge. Gimpo International Airport, despite its name, is the domestic airport and only has one international flight destination - to and from Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
The domestic terminal (660 2114; gimpo.airport.co.kr; subway Line 5 to Gimpo International Airport, Exit 1) handles all Seoul’s domestic flights except for a handful of flights to and from Busan and Jejudo, which arrive and depart from Incheon. The 1st floor is for arrivals and has a tourist information booth (3707 9465; 9am-9pm) with free Internet. The 2nd floor is for checking in while the 3rd floor is for departures and has a pharmacy. The 4th floor has restaurants and duty-free shops. Shops, banks, lost luggage, luggage deposit and a medical centre are also available. Just outside the airport is the subway station (W1100 to City Hall) along with limousine buses (W2500 to W6000) and taxis that charge around W18, 000 (regular taxi) or W30, 000 (deluxe taxi) to City Hall, 18km away.
Gimpo also has a separate international terminal (subway Exit 2) but it only handles flights to Haneda (Tokyo) - currently 18 daily, which cost around W350, 000 plus tax. Taking this route avoids the hassle of getting out to Incheon and Narita airports, which are a long distance from their respective capital cities. Inside the international terminal are banks and the Sky City Mall (6343 4000; 10am-9pm) where clothing, electronics goods and mobile phones all have a floor to themselves. Nearby is CGVA cinema multiplex (1544 1122; 11am-2am) and a food court.
This spacious and splendid airport (032-1577 2600; www.airport.co.kr), 52km west of Seoul, opened in March 2001, and relegated Gimpo International Airport to handling mainly domestic flights.
Built on reclaimed land between two islands in the West Sea off Incheon city, at present no trains run to the airport, although that should change in 2007. Instead, fleets of buses and taxis go back and forth to all parts of Seoul and to other cities. Special airport buses run every 10 to 30 minutes from around 5.30am to 10pm and the trip to downtown Seoul takes around 90 minutes depending on traffic conditions. City limousine buses cost W7000 and run along a dozen routes, while KAL deluxe limousine 25-seat buses cost W12, 000 and drop passengers off at 20 major hotels around Seoul. Buses also run every 10 minutes to Gimpo airport along a special airport road, which takes about 30 minutes and costs W4500 on the City limousine buses or W6000 on the KAL ones. If no airport bus travels to where you want to go, you can take a bus to a subway station and transfer. One option is to transfer to the subway at Gimpo airport but it requires a bit of a walk with your bags.
For up-to-date information on airport buses see www.airport.or.kr. When catching a bus back to the airport, remember that the airport buses have their own special, signed stops and don’t stop at ordinary bus stops. See p000 for buses around the airport island and to nearby beaches.
Regular taxis charge around W38, 000 to downtown Seoul while a deluxe or jumbo taxi costs around W63, 000, but the price can be more if traffic is jammed as meters run on a time basis when the taxis are not moving. A road toll (W6400) is added to the meter price. From midnight to 4am regular taxis charge 20% extra.
On the 1st floor (arrivals) :
Foreign currency exchanges (6am-10pm)
Global ATMs There are around a dozen.
Hotel Information Centre (032-743 2570; email@example.com; 9am-10pm) A private company that offers discounts on the rack rates at some midrange and top-end hotels.
Incheon Tourist Information Centre (032-743 0011; 7am-10pm)
KTO Tourist Information Centre (1330; 7am-10pm)
On the 2nd floor:
Internet Café Lounge (032-743 7427; 1hr W3000; 8am-7.30pm)
Korean Air Lost & Found Office (032-742 5193; Room 2145; 6.30am-9.30pm)
KT Plaza (032-752 1441; 7am-8pm) Offers 30 minutes free Internet access.
KTF (032-743 4072) Mobile phone.
LG Telecom (032-743 4019) Rent a mobile phone.
Luggage Storage (032-743 5804; Gate B; per item per day W3000-6000; 6am-10pm)
Post Office (032-740 2900; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri)
SK (032-743 4042) Mobile phone rental.
Transit Tours (032-741 3139; 2nd fl; 1st fl, Exit 2 & 12) Runs trips for transit passengers to a luxurious seawater spa, around the airport island Yeongjongdo, and further afield around Seoul and Incheon. Tours cost US$30 to US$50 and last two to five hours.
The 3rd floor is for departures and offers retail therapy in the many duty-free shops. Restaurants, fast-food outlets, cafés and bars charge reasonable prices. Banks in the shopping area beyond immigration control enable you to exchange any won before leaving the country. To obtain a tax refund on goods you bought at a shop that participates in one of the tax refund schemes, you must show the goods and receipts to one of the customs officers behind the check-in counters. Also on this floor:
Left-Luggage Storeroom (large item per day W3000; 7am-9.30pm)
Lost & Found Office (741 3114; firstname.lastname@example.org; 7am-10.30pm)
On the hard-to-find 4th floor:
Café Royal (American breakfast W12, 000, continental breakfast W9300)
Panorama (meals W6000-18, 000; 7am-9pm) Serves up breakfasts, bulgogi (barbecued beef slices and lettuce wrap) sets, fancy desserts and a view of the planes.
Snack bar (pumpkin porridge & ginseng tea W5000)
Down in the basement:
Airport Sauna (032-743 74000; W10, 000-15, 000; 24hr) This sauna has the usual hot and cold tubs, steam and sauna rooms along with showers, massages (W30, 000-80, 000), male hairdresser (W15, 000), shoe shine (W3000) and a dormitory with yo (padded quilt that serves as a mattress on the floor). The women’s sauna has just a sauna and a dormitory. Staying all night costs W15, 000.
Carib (032-743 2550; meals around W8000; 6am-9.30pm) A quiet and relaxing food court option.
Medical Centre (032-743 3115, emergency 743 3119; 24hr) Run by Inha University, the centre has English-speaking staff who treat up to 200 people a day. A dental clinic (9am-5pm Mon-Fri) is part of the centre.
Pool Hall (032-743 74000; 10min W2500; 24hr) Pay at the sauna.
Samil Pharmacy (032-743 3399; 7.30am-8.30pm)
Tous Les Jours (032-743 7007; 6am-9pm) Has freshly baked items and ice creams.
Vita Via (032-743 7009; meals W4000-10, 000; 7am-9pm) A clean and buzzing food court that includes conveyor belt sushi.
First-timers in Seoul should avoid driving in Seoul due to the traffic jams, the impatience and recklessness of other drivers and the lack of street names, directional signs and parking. Public transport is cheap and convenient so few tourists get behind a steering wheel.
You must be over 21 years of age and have an International Driving Permit (not available in Korea) in order to rent a car. Prices start at W70, 000 a day. A safer option is to rent both a car and a driver (3hr/10hr W75, 000/142, 000) - your hotel reception desk should be able to help and some top hotels have their own limousine service. The best place to hire a car is Incheon International Airport; see what Kumho-Hertz (www.kumhorent.com) or Avis (www.avis.co.kr) has to offer.
Regular ferries connect Incheon City, west of Seoul, with around a dozen port cities in China two or three times a week. Journey times vary from 12 to 24 hours. One-way fares start at W115, 000 to most destinations but prices double for the more private and comfortable cabins. A through-ticket from Seoul to Beijing or Shanghai is available, which includes a ferry trip and train journeys in Korea and China - see www.korail.go.kr for details. To reach Incheon port (ferries leave from Yeonan Pier or International Terminal 2), take subway Line 1 to Incheon station (the end of the line) and then take a taxi (W4000).
Seoul is the hub of an extensive domestic rail network operated by Korean National Railroad (1544 7788; www.korail.go.kr). The railway ticketing system is computerised and tickets can be bought up to one month in advance at many travel agents as well as at train stations. Booking ahead is advised. Foreigners can buy a ‘KR pass’ - see the website for details.
KTX (Korea Train Express) is a new bullet train service that extends from Seoul to Busan. The next fastest and most luxurious type of train are saemaeul services, which also only stop in major towns. Mugunghwa trains are also comfortable and fast, but stop more often, while tongil trains are cheap, stop at every station and are an endangered species.
There are on-going talks about the re-opening of rail links between North and South Korea, but this depends on the agreement of the unpredictable North Korean government.
Seoul’s subway system (www.subwayworld.co.kr, www.smrt.co.kr) is modern, comprehensive, fast, frequent, clean, safe and cheap, but try to avoid rush hours. The minimum fare is W900 (W800 with a T-money card), less than one American dollar, and that takes you up to 12km. The one-hour trip to Suwon city costs only W1100 while the 75-minute ride to Incheon city costs just W1400. Trains run every few minutes from 5.30am to around midnight. Subway stations connect everywhere with everything. In central Seoul the average time between stations is just over two minutes, so it takes around 25 minutes to go 10 stops.
The T-money card costs W1500 and can be bought from subway station ticket offices and kiosks, and convenience stores that display the T-money logo. Each person needs their own card and the cards can be charged anywhere that sells them. Using a card saves you W100 per trip and saves queuing for tickets. Just touch the card to the sensor when you enter and leave the subway system or bus. When you leave the city, money on the card up to W20, 000 can be refunded at any subway ticket office.
Many subway stations have lifts or stair lifts for wheelchairs. Neighbourhood maps inside the stations help you to decide which of the many subway exits to take, although north can be in any position, which makes the maps confusing. The stations all have clean modern toilets, but you need to carry around your own toilet paper. Every station is well signed in English and the whole system is very user-friendly. Most subway stations have storage lockers, although most of them are too small to take a full-size backpack. The lockers cost W1000 a day and are easy to use. Smoking is not permitted on trains or platforms.
Hawkers walk up and down the carriages selling W1000 mobile-phone holders, vegetable slicers, W3000 umbrellas and other bargains. The occasional handicapped or blind beggar shuffles down the aisle with a begging bowl and a cassette playing hymns.
If you leave something on a subway train, contact the relevant Lost & Found Office (9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat) :
Lines 1 & 2 City Hall station (753 2408); Guro station (869 0089); Seoul station (755 7108)
Lines 3 & 4 Chungmuro station (2271 1170)
Lines 5 & 8 Wangsimni station (2298 6767)
Lines 6 & 7 Taereung station (949 6767)
Bundang Line Suseo station (2226 6881)
Incheon Line Bupyeong Samgeori station (032-451 3650)
The only safe and enjoyable cycling is in Ttukseom Seoul Forest, around the West Sea islands, and along the cycleways along the Han River. Bicycles cost W2000 an hour. ID is required, and padlocks or helmets are not supplied.