Sunday, October 13, 2013

Transportation in Seoul

From Incheon International Airport to Seoul City

Before arriving in Seoul, I thought we'd just take a cab from Incheon to the service apartment at Gangnam area because I was worried that I have to carry my luggage up and down the stairs, etc..

However, when we arrived at Incheon Airport, it turned out that the bus stops are just located outside of the arrival gates! And no, you don't have to lug your luggages with you. You simply pass them to the driver/uncle helping you to board. They'll give you a luggage tag like the one below.

Luggage tag - 1 per luggage!

The best thing is that you don't even need to book the bus beforehand. Just hop in the queue and make sure you're queueing at the correct bus stop. Each bus stops have a bus number and also map of the routes like this one below.

Bus route board - make sure you're queueing for the right bus!

The bus that we took cost KRW10,000 or around SGD 11.60. There's also a limousine bus from the airport and it costs double this amount. I don't think it'll help us save much time though.

Note that we're taking the bus because our service apt is located in Gangnam area near Samseong station (line 2 subway). If you're staying near Seoul station, it will probably be faster to take the AREX (Airport Railway Express). We just didn't want to have to switch to another line while pulling our luggages. 

To find out which bus number you should take to your hotel, you can check out the airport website here.

From Seoul City to Incheon International Airport

You can use the previous method of transportation that you took to go from Incheon to Seoul to go back to the airport but we found out something new during our stay there. We passed by Coex Mall almost everyday and we realized that there's a big airport transfer called CALT from there (which is just next to the service apartment) to Incheon Int'l airport. I checked whether we could have taken CALT from Incheon to city as well but perhaps not. 

The good thing about this is they allow you to check-in there instead of Incheon airport which can save you lots of time. After checking-in and dropping your luggages, you simply proceed to the waiting area and wait for the bus to take you to the airport. There isn't really a need to make advanced booking because there's bus going there every 15 minutes. However, we didn't utilize the check-in service because we needed to get our tax refund. More information about CALT can be found in their CALT website which is also available in English language.

Same as the airport bus, you also get deposit your luggage with the bus driver and he'll give you a luggage tag.

There's a similar service offered at Seoul station called KARST - more information in the official Visit Korea site. I guess the next time I'm going there, I'll stay near Seoul station and use this service instead.

Within Seoul and Surrounding Areas

In Seoul, we usually just take the train to go everywhere because it's very very easy to take a train there. The first map that I took upon reaching Incheon airport is the KTO subway map.

This is the KTO brochure that includes the subway map inside

Inside each station, they have both English and Korean wordings for all the stations. If you are kiasu or worried that you cannot find the map in Seoul, you can also download and print the map from their website.

Seoul subway station map

To make it easier to spot my own stations, I simply circle the stations that we stay and those that we plan to visit.

To take the subway, you need to have a T-money card, which can be used on multiple trips on subway, bus and even taxis. Even though it's T-money card, the ones that we got was not really in the shape of a card but rather like a small handphone token. 

T-money card

You can buy T-money card in all the stations, just go to the vending machine and choose English language. The rest should be a breeze. Instruction on how to reload the T-money card can be found here. The subway in Seoul cost about the same price as the subway in Singapore.

Also, at the platform level, it's clearly indicated what the next station would be for each direction so it shouldn't be hard to decide whether you should be taking the left train or the right train. However, on some stations, you need to be careful when entering the gate (where you tap your T-card) because on some stations, the trains going on opposite directions are not on the same platform. If you make a mistake when tapping the card or unable to exit/enter the station, you can simply go to the most left hand side gantry/gate/entrance (whatever..) and press the Help button. A friendly Korean voice will greet you and you can tell the person that you have a problem.

I'm actually the type who takes taxi everywhere in Singapore because I don't want to squeeze with 4 zillion sweaty people in the train, but I took train in Seoul because it was easy and not as crowded. I just didn't really like their fabric (a little bit fury..) chairs on some trains because it feels a bit itchy. You've been warned :)

And same logic as taking taxis in Singapore applies there too. If you have a group of 3 or 4 and just travelling near (like 5-10 minutes drive), it's probably cheaper or cost the same to take a regular taxi. From my observation, getting a taxi in Seoul is much easier than getting a taxi in Singapore, but you have to be ready to speak some Korean to them or at least able to show in the map where you want him to drive you. 

They also have deluxe taxis but they cost double - these are the black coloured taxis, and the benefit of taking them is they can either speak English or can help you connect to a translator that can speak English. More information on taxis in Seoul and how to book them can be found in the official visit Korea site.

One last finding from my Korea trip: Koreans are really friendly and helpful bunch. There are more than 3 occasions in which we couldn't find the place that we wanted to go (restaurants mostly) and even when they don't know where they are exactly, they helped to search for it on their smartphones and made an effort to point us in the correct direction even when they speak very little English. A girl actually helped us to google.. or probably naver search the restaurant, called the restaurant to ask for direction, and when she couldn't explain to us how to go, she actually walked us to that direction! Made us feel a bit paiseh but I simply love Koreans! So even if you're lost, don't be scared to just open your mouth and ask :)

Good luck navigating your way in Seoul and do drop me a comment if you find this useful/not useful/inaccurate/outdated!

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