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Local transport

Local Transport

Subway

Six cities have a subway system: Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu, Gwangju and Incheon. The subway (also referred to as the metro) is a cheap and convenient way of getting around these major cities, and since signs and station names are in English as well as Korean, it is foreigner-friendly and easy to use.

T-Money Cards

Bus, subway, taxi and train fares can all be paid using the rechargeable, touch-and-go T-Money Card (http://eng.t-money.co.kr); the card provides a ₩100 discount per trip. The basic card can be bought for a nonrefundable ₩3000 at any subway-station booth, bus kiosks and convenience stores displaying the T-Money logo across the country. Reload it with credit at any of the aforementioned places and get money refunded that hasn’t been used (up to ₩20,000 minus a processing fee of ₩500) at subway machines and participating convenience stores before you leave.

Bus

Local city buses provide a frequent and inexpensive service (from ₩1150 a trip, irrespective of how far you travel), and although rural buses provide a less frequent service, many run on an hourly or half-hourly basis. Put the fare in the glass box next to the driver – make sure you have plenty of ₩1000 notes because the machines only give coins in change.

The main problem with local buses is finding and getting on the right bus – bus timetables, bus-stop names and destination signs on buses are rarely in English, and bus drivers don’t speak English. Writing your destination in big hangeul (Korean phonetic alphabet) letters on a piece of paper will be helpful. Local tourist information centres usually have English-speaking staff; these are the best places to find out which local bus goes where, and where to pick it up.

Taxi

Taxis are numerous almost everywhere and fares are inexpensive. Every taxi has a meter that works on a distance basis but switches to a time basis when the vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam. Tipping is not a local custom and is not expected or necessary.

Ilban (regular taxis) cost around ₩2400 for the first 2km with a 20% surcharge from midnight to 4am, while the pricier mobeom (deluxe taxis; black with a yellow top) that exist in some cities cost around ₩4500 for the first 3km but with no late-night surcharge.

Any expressway tolls are added to the fare. In the countryside check the fare first as there are local quirks, such as surcharges or a fixed rate to out-of-the-way places with little prospect of a return fare.

Since few taxi drivers speak English, plan how to communicate with the driver; if you have a mobile phone you can also use the 1330 tourist advice line to help with interpretation. Ask to be dropped off at a nearby landmark if the driver doesn’t understand what you’re saying or doesn’t know where it is. It can be useful to write down your destination or a nearby landmark in hangeul on a piece of paper.

The Basics

Transport in South Korea is reasonably priced, quick and efficient.

Plane There are dozens of local airports and reasonable fares to several destinations, such as Jeju-do, thanks to competition from budget airlines.

Train Excellent but not comprehensive network with clean, comfortable and punctual trains. It's worth looking into a KR Pass even for something as straightforward as a return Seoul–Busan train.

Bus Cheaper and slower than trains but serving every corner of the country.

Ferry Connecting the mainland to hundreds of islands.

Car Not recommended for first-time visitors. You must be over 21 and have an international driving permit.