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The absolute best way to get around Seoul is the subway. It is clean, fast and safe. The lines are always expanding so no matter where you need to go in the city (and in some cases outside), it will get you there. Of course, just like Japan, the cars are crowded during rush hour and the trains stop at about midnight and start up again at 5:30 in the morning.
The subway maps in the stations and in the cars is Korean and English, color coded, and numbered and all stops all called out in both languages on a speaker in all cars and there is also a ticker for the hearing impared to read. They even tell you which side of the car to step off of as you approach each stop. The system is extremely easy to navigate given the size of it.
Many of the stations also double as underground shopping centers and meeting places for people; some pretty good fast food can be had in the subway.
Back to the size, you can now ride the subway from as far out as Kimpo airport to NE Seoul and to Choneon to the south. Also, since the subway connects with the national train service, you could quite literally travel the whole country by subway/train.
Lastly, the subway is very inexpensive. They just changed the the way rates are calculated to by distance. Basic rate is 800 won and goes up from there. The most you will pay is 2200 won to get anywhere in the city or to Incheon. A taxi by comparison will cost close to than that just to get moving.
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Lose Something on the Subway?
If you've ever lost anything in Seoul there is one place you can go: http://www.lost114.com/ There are items, kids and animals that people have lost or found here...in true Korean fashion it's all online, of course.
The Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation has their own site too. There are 6 different locations depending on which line you figured you lost it on, but basically all of it is centralized online at http://www.seoulsubway.co.kr/english_subway/lost/lost3_1.jsp (Notice the English isn't 100%, but you'll be able to figure it out.)
Clean, fast, easy to use and gigantic network
Seoul has one of the world's largest subway-network with 8 different lines plus two additional lines connecting Deokso and Bundang.
The lines are colour-coded, clearly numbered and all information incl. announcements are bilingual.
Once you got used to the system, it is extremely easy to use and provides you with a fast and inexpensive way to explore the city without any risk of being stuck in traffic jams.
If you intend to stay longer than two days/nights in Seoul, I suggest you buy a T-Money pre-paid transportation card. This card can be purchased at all subway stations and certain kiosks. The card itself costs 2,500 KRW (no refund!) and can be used to pay for subway (T-Money users enjoy a discount on all subway rides, i.e. while a normal ride starts at 1,000 KRW, with T-Money it only costs 900 KRW), bus and taxi and it can be used at certain convenience stores, museums, parking lots, vending machines, etc. etc. etc. (the usage possibilities of the T-Money card are expanding rapidly).
Buy the card, put some money on it (e.g. 10,000 KRW) and enjoy a trouble-free stay in Seoul.
Check out the below web-site for more information: It includes comprehensive information on fares, timetables, stations and even step-by-step instruction-videos for things like "Purchasing a ticket", "Passing through ticket gates", etc.
Line 1 on Sunday...Expect a Long wait
On Sunday I had to go to Hannan-Dong from Yeouido so I checked the Seoul Subway website's route-finder. It said that it would take 30 minutes to get there. Go to Singil, change from Line 5 to Line 1 and then at Yongsan change again to another part of Line 1 (following the Han River)--should take 30 minutes.
It actually took about 50 minutes (to go 7 stations!). The reason is the Line 1 trains (especially on that part of the track and especially, again, on Sundays, have extremely long waits between trains...like TEN to TWENTY minutes! And, with two transfers this gets multiplied.
For that distance I'll take a cab next time. The cost would be a bit more but time would most definately be cut down.
Subway is the Way to Go
The subways here are basic. Within 2-3 rides with a local you should have a grasp of how to: (i) identify stations (black poles at street level) (ii) read a map (versions in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese are available at the stations), (iii) know how to change/transfer trains (easy, there are lots of simple-to-follow maps in the stations) and (iv) find the right exit (again, lots of good maps in the stations).
If you need directions try to have a Hangul/Korean language map--locals are used to reading that and may take a bit to figure out an English map.
New link here.
Seoul's subway network
Seoul offers a very extensive and pervasive subway system.
You can literally get anywhere in Seoul by subway (or close enough to walk) to where you need to go. Currently under construction is an extention to go through to the airport in Incheon.
Station and transfer signs are in Korean, English, and a few in Japanese as well.
Price starts at 1,000 Won for up to a 10km trip, and goes up 100 Won every 5km after.
You can purchase an electronic transit pass (T-money or U-pass) at convenience stores or banks, and have them charged up at the stations. They give you a discounted fare when riding both subway and bus systems.
Click on the link below to go to a large fullscreen map.
The first trains start up at approximately 5:30ish, depending on the line.
Last trains run untill approximately 12:15 on weekends, and 1:30 on weekdays.
*BE WARNED!* If you are on the last train when it stops and you are not yet at your needed stop, you will have to exit the station and take a cab to where you need to go.
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About every popular destination in Seoul has a train stop so get a stored price ticket and zip anywhere through town.
Don't worry about the language bit. Every arrival will be announced in English and Korean. Signs are also written in English and Korean.
Also, if you are carrying a huge backpack like me, friendly , English-speaking Koreans will look out for you....
Some of my best interactions with the locals took place in the Korean tube. Yes, apart from being shoved in the peak hours and stumbling about like a spongy mad cow, I've learnt a thing or two about Korean culture here.
Most of the locals take the public transport here as it is cheaper to driving their own car. So, it's not surprising to see a well-dressed, businessman taking the tube and speaking to you in perfect American English. Secondly, most of them even know where tiny Singapore is, thanks to our Korean ChannelNewsAsia anchor, Susan Chung.
Take the Korean subway if you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, also it is far easier to use, compared to the Tokyo tube.
As mentioned, do get a stored priced ticket if you intend to use the subway more than once. Not only does it save you time, you'll be spared of the indignity of coin-counting behind a cursing Korean queue. I paid 5,000won for a tiny orange ticket and it lasted me quite a while.
Oh yes, and grab one of those subway maps from the airport or visit the website to print out one for yourself. The yin-yang signs denote the inter-change stations.
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For me, subway is the best way to go around Seoul. It is very convenient to use (idiot proof ^^) as I have discovered. And all the signs are written both in Hangul and English.
For most places, the fare is 900W to 1000W (as of October 2004).
Seoul subway system
Seoul has quite a developed subway system. There are many lines, and it's everywhere. therefore, wherever you wish to go, usually it's there, All you gotta do is to buy a ticket and get it. However, to get the right place, you may have to transfer many lines, and that's not real easy. Usually subway's packed with people.. But anyways..
since you are down here to experience everything as a tourist, being packed in a subway won't be too bad, just for once.. maybe.
The cost is pretty cheap.. can be vary depends on how far you travel... it can cost from about 0.8 $to 2$ maximum.
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Subway in Seoul
Getting from on point to another on the Subway Map looks ~ easy and convenient. Just pop down underground, buy a ticket, whosshhh you are off
However you have to make sure
~ which line (in color) you are on
~ the direction of the train is travelling
To be aware
(1) To get from a station to another, you may need to change Subway lines (going by the color), if not enjoy the ride.
(2) Standing on the platform, you will see the next station name on the pillars which indicates the direction of the train that will be heading
(3) Stepping out of a train (and needing to change Subway Line~ you will see arrows painted on the wall showing (a) the exit and/or (b) the route to walk to the connecting "Subway Line" eg if you need to change lines
(4) It may be quite a distance to walk to the next Subway Line (you can be assured you wont be alone in "rushing" to the next line) Having comfortable shoes is an advantage
(5) Fares start at 900 Won and most destinations (ie less than 10 stops) are 1000 won. So get that "change" of 1000won ready. The tickets can also be purchased from the counters manned by Subway employees.
(6) Don't ever go out during rush hour (745am-900am). YOU WILL BE PACKED LIKE SARDINES
One thing is for sure, getting to our hotel was a Breeze by Subway
Curious Habits of Seoul
(1) There are mirror (mostly) adjacent to the platforms. I wondered why until I saw Korean ladies facing it to check their teeth and hairdo. Guess its a vanity thingy!
(2) There are no trash cans on the platforms. Hence if you have finished with your newpaper, you are suppose to bring it along OR when still in the train ~ pop it over the overhead railings (which is actually for baggage storage). Reason being, so that (a) those looking for a read can take it from there (b) minimise the wastage of papers and trees that are chopped down for its production
(3) Everyone is orderly getiing on and off the train. A marvelous sight.
(4) No Litter at all!
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Subway of Seoul
Seoul is convenient and fast to travel by subway. The underground stations are deep underneath hard rock and decorated with art and some stations look like small art galleries. Some of the subway trains also have unque colorful theme decorations.
There are 8 subways lines run by three companies:
SMSC - Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation
SMRT - Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation
KNR - Korean National Railroad
Do not miss using the subway while in Seoul.
The Seoul Metro
The Seoul Metro is one of the world's great metro systems, and it has comprehensive coverage of everywhere except Incheon Airport.
Although you can pretty much anywhere, the immensity of the system is also a bit intimidating. You find yourself staring for a long time at maps and memorizing the end station on each line so you know which way to go.
The ticketing procedure is easy. Above the ticket machines and above the ticket seller's window is a map of the entire system with a number in a circle for each station. Most say 900 because it costs 900 won for most of Seoul. You get a little yellow ticket which you put into the turnstile, pick it up as you go through. At the end of the journey the 'out' turnstile (marked by a small blue light on the turnstile) keeps your ticket.
I assume that you can change at major transfer stations witout losing your ticket into the turnstile!
The trains are quick and clean.
For visitors, Seoul's public transportation system is the best option for getting around. Driving yourself is not recommended: Traffic signs are difficult to read, navigation is tricky, and traffic is horrendous. Many areas are accessible by foot, and walking is one of the best ways to get off the beaten track and explore side streets. When crossing the street, only cross at designated crosswalks and always watch for cars, even when you have a green light.
KTX Seoul-Busan or Busan-Seoul
We took the KTX from Seoul going back to Busan since it's cheaper than by plane. We were booked online by our hostel owner back in Busan (we asked this kind Korean owner to book us a round way tix). Our tickets cost KW43,900 each going back to Busan. You can book online via www.korail.com.
I find it weird though at first, that the subway staffs aren't checking our tickets but it made me realize that it's not necessary since the time and the seat number are indicated in the ticket. You cannot cheat in changing your seat/train number since the booking online generates an automatic ticket giving only the available seats at the time/date you wish to depart. The system gives a 100% guarantee of seat reservation. You will also be able to view in the website if the time you wish to travel has not yet been fully booked.
Time travel from Busan to Seoul/ Seoul to Busan takes about 3.5 hrs. KTX is faster than taking the bus since it will take you 6-8 hrs of time travel. Taking the bus maybe cheaper but if you think about the time you'll be spending in traveling, think again. Time is gold. You can earn money but it can't buy time.
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Getting around in Seoul
For getting around in Seoul the subway (metro or underground) is the quickest and most convient way. It offers a huge network with and good connections. A ticket costs you 600 Won only. But store it good, you will need when you exit the subway because there are barriers at the exits and they only open when you put in your ticket .....
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Seoul Travel Guide
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