Calling all Cars
Since Seoul/Korea's parking lots are usually full (and/or so packed that cars are literally parked one on top of the other) many drivers simply have to park wherever they can (sometimes illegally, of course). If your car, driveway, door or what-have-you is blocked you have a remedy, though--call the driver.
All cars have the driver's cellphone (called a hand-phone here) in the front window near the steeringwheel. Sometimes it's just a piece of paper, but many alse get creative; they have little needlepoint pillows, Hello Kitty signs and other oddities (like the pic to the left which are Go-Stop cards, have a tip on that game also, arranged to show their number) to let people know where to holler to move their wheels.
No Right Turn Against Pedestrian Lights
This usually happens in taxies in Korea, as few foreigners drive there. The rule of the road is a vehicle cannot enter a crosswalk while the pedestrian green is lighted (the little guy walking sign, rather than the big hand)--even if no one is actually in the crosswalk.
This gets a little frustrating for hurried foreginers who want to blow through an empty crosswalk or if no one is in front of the cab. Cabbies, however, are loathe to do so unless there is no one around (something that is hard to come by in Korea, especially Seoul) and even then they may feel weird doing it. It's like running a red light for them.
If you want to egg one on to drive through it you can say: "괜찮아요/kwaen-cha-na-yo" (It's ok.) This sometimes works if you say it a few times.
All or nothing...in all things
If you've ever travelled in a Korean's car you may have found this:
(i) most Koreans have no idea what 'defrost' is and that it can actually clear fog from the window a lot better than by wiping it with one's hand;
(ii) there are only 2 acceptable positions for airflow, heat and air con(ditioning): off and full blast, anything else just doesn't make any sense;
(iii) it is a good idea to engage the emergency brake even if your automatic transmission car is not parked on a hill;
(iv) it is NOT a good idea to shoulder-check when changing lanes (the other car will let you in, don't worry);
(v) it is better to merge first and beg for forgiveness than to ask permission beforehand (unless you're up against a bus); and
(vi) all signs, signals and lines on the road are suggestions only.
Best of luck on the roads.
No Parking Fines in Korea??
I've never driven in Korea, but I do remember seeing these stickers on some errant cars. It seems that if you park in the wrong spot or such you don't get a fine in Korea.
You do, however, get a big sticker splotched on your windscreen (right on the driver's side!) so that you are (i) branded as a bad-guy and (ii) have to go through what seems like a pretty brutal ordeal to get the thing off of there.
I've seen cars with these things on them getting towed, too so don't thing that's where it ends.
Thanks to Flo for reminding me of this.
Ferry from Ok-po/Geoje-do to Pusan
This is a pretty nice 45-minute trip (which I took once, return) from either a small port a little outside of Ok-po or in 'downtown' Ok-po (on Geoje-do), just south of Pusan. Cost I think is 12,000 won/10USD or so (don't remember all that well) but here's my tip; DO NOT take it if the seas are stormy (unless you have a seafarer's stomach for sloshy waters.
If it's a nice day and/or you're not drunk/hung-over (both of which I was not on either voyage) then it could be a nice little run--and a heckuva lot faster than the 3 hours bus ride the long way is! (A new bridge, estimated completion in 2007, is on the way as well which will bring driving time down to 1 hour, I think.)
U-Turns and P-Turns Permitted
If you've been chauffeured around Korea (especially Seoul) you may feel like you are going in circles. (If you're in a cab you may feel as if you're gettting ripped off, of course.) This may not be the case. Simply put, Korea's roads follow different rules from in the West. (Even Western roads are different: US and Canada is based on lights and stopsigns while in the UK there are rotaries/driving wheels and traffic is supposed to always flow.)
Thus, a Korean driver may drive past your destination then take a U-turn to get on the other side of the street. They may also not make a left-hand-turn, but instead make 3 right-hand-turns in order to get going in the right direction (the P-turn. This is because of traffic laws: no left turn (because of massive amounts of traffic and the aversion to stopping an entire lane for one left-hand-turner) is very common.
Even if there is no one else on the road many drivers still follow the laws--because if they don't and they have an accident they are very much at fault.
So sit back and relax...you're probably on course...probably.
For those of us used to elevators in the US/Canada, Korea can be a confusing place. Some of the new buildings (especially hotels) have 'regular' elevators where you press one button and there may be one to three banks of elevators servicing blocks of floors (2-20, 21-40, 41-60) but many, many buildings have other systems.
One is skip-stop elevators where one elevator would go to floors 1,3,5,7 and 9 and another would service floors 1,2,4,5,7 and 8. If you want to go to floor 5 from floors 6 you have to either use the stairs or go down to the lobby. I've even seen some that are more convoluted. At the head offices for the National Pension Corporation (Korea's government pension for all citizens that manages in excess of 100 BILLION USD--similar to CalPERS in the US) there are 3 elevators and each one goes to a different set of floors!
Another twist is instead of having one call button for multiple elevators (and having a computer figure out which ones would most efficiently move people up and down), would-be riders can punch the call buttons for individual elevators. This, as you might imagine, leads to people hitting EVERY button in order to guarantee shortest wait...but if everyone does that how can this be so?
Oh, and if the light for 만원/man-won comes on it is not because something costs 10,000 won--man-won also means "full".
By Subway in Seoul
Seoul Metropolitan Subway is one of the most convenient and most advanced rapid transit systems in the world. It is operated by several different organisations. Lines 1 to 4 are operated by Seoul Metro and lines 4 to 8 are operated by Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation.
There are a total of more than 260 subway stations covering a total track length of approximately 290 kilometers. The subway serves not only Seoul City but also Incheon and other provinces near Seoul City. Seoul Metropolitan Subway was established and opened to the public in August 1974. It is also one of the most heavily used rapid transit systems in the world. The cost of a ticket for an adult is 1,000 won for the first 10 kilometers and half price for a child.Related to:
- Family Travel
Singapore Air is the Only Way to Go...for me.
I've flown a few airlines in the past. The best I've seen has been Singapore Airlines...and not just because they upgraded me to business class twice (I've taken about 9-10 round trips, so it's not that much).
Let me wax poetic the high points:
(i) Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, gets their own personal TV screen with ON DEMAND movies (24), TV shows (30) and games (20) as well as the 'flightpath channel' and other goodies. The screen is small, but it's right there in front of you. And don't forget...it's on demand so you can start, pause and stop any of the shows at any time!
(ii) Good food. I've always had a good meal on SingAir. Of course the business class food is better, but the economy is no slouch, either.
(iii) New planes. Lately all the SingAir planes are 777. Which means the turbines are impervious to flying birds and othe debris, the air is filtered and distributed better and the cabin is quieter.
(iv) The staff are great. We all know the famous "Singapore Girl" slogan...and you got ot love how two of them can squeeze down the aisle rather--they are just thinner and more alert than many other airlines' flight attendants. The guys are...well...feminine, as usual, and quite helpful as well. And the uniforms look smart.
(v) I've found SingAir has the lowest prices! Yes, compared to local (KAL, Asiana) the prices to/from Seoul are less on Sing...go figure. Not only that, Sing has a better flight/fatality record than local airlines (from what I hear).
I've only taken another airline here when I've HAD too--meaning, SingAir was fully booked for weeks to come. Try it.
Tips for Taxies #5
If you're out late (and you probably will be, even if you don't do that at home) keep your eye on your watch if you want to save a few bucks. From midnight to 4AM cab fares go up 20% (basic fare is 1,920 won (USD 1.65)instead of 1,600). It's still pretty cheap, but if you have a long way to go or it's 11:50 or 3:50 you may want to keep this in mind (especially if you want a deluxe cab!).
Korea, of course, has their own way to name streets and such. There are three main things to keep in mind when figuring out where you are and where you are going.
1. There are 4 kinds of streets. Dae-rlo (slur the r and l together, dae is said as day): they are large boulevards such as Gwanghwamun Dae-ro. Ro: What we would term an avenue (or wider street). Gil (said as geel): which are narrower and/or side streets. And, the unnamed...simply too small to warrant a name, these are many of the smaller streets and alleys in the city (although I have seen alleys with the name gil as well).
2. Important avenues, such as Jongno (sometimes no replaces ro), are broken up into sections according to the major cross-streets. Unlike Western way, where you might say Robson & Thurlow, they just number the cross-street and call them ga. Jongno-sam(3)-ga means "the area where the third major cross street crosses Jong Street". There is Euljiro-sa(4)-ga (4th crossing of Eulji street) and so on. One different one is the first cross-street. It is often written as il(1)-ga but also as ip-gu. il-ga means first cross and ip-gu means entrance--which makes sense because this is the 'entrance' or start of the street (even though it may extent further).
3. Apart from the major streets or those in their neighborhood, most Koreans won't have a clue what you're talking about if you simply give them an address. This is why it is important to get (and give) landmarks such as Kookmin Bank Building or The Big Church or something. Many, but not all, of the buildings have numbers on them and the name of the street it is on, but no one (except mailmen) really pay much attention to them.
You should also know that only in the last 2-3 years have the streets started to have names...imagine what is was like with only about 10 streets in the whole city of 15 million named!
More info here
KTX: Korea Train Express
On April 1st, 2004, Korea entered the 'bullet' age with its first high-speed train. Of course, they did things a little differently by having stops instead of non-stop service from Seoul to Pusan and making the First Class the only class seat you could wish for. (I tried both classes on the regular trains, and found them to be similar: such is not the case on the KTX.)
The good news is it is faster than a normal train. Seoul to Busan is 2:40 compared to 4:10 on the fastest normal train. (Flying is one hour, plus check in.)
Pricing is interesting but normal for here. Each way is 45,000 won (USD 39; Seoul-Pusan). There is a discount based on the day you travel and how far in advance you reserve. Weekdays: 1-2 months in advance, 15-29 days, and 7 to 14 days have discounts of 20%, 15% and 7%. Weekend and holiday discounts are (same advance notice): 10%, 7.5% and 3.5%. Also discounts for: youth (13-24 yrs), business/corporate card, companion card (1 to 9 family members) and seniors (over age 65). First Class has a 40% surcharge. These prices are about 25% above the fastest normal train but less than the 69,000 won cost of a one-way flight.
See the link below for a great review of the KTX.
When you arrive at Incheon Int'l, if you are not met by someone and leave the arrival area you will get about half your nose out the door before 7 million cab drivers, call-vans, and people whose brother owns a car beseeching you to take their transport. They will quote some ridiculous price. Ignore them and go to the kiosk. Tell the person you want a ticket to whatever city you are going to. Ask the sign number. If you are lucky, the person speaks enough English to tell you. If not, then just go from one of the several numbered signs to the next, looking for your city. The names of the cities are written fairly large. When you find the sign with your city, look at the time of the buses. Stand by that sign until the bus comes. Load your luggage underneath. get on. relax. the bus is only going to one place. Alternatively, if you are traveling light, and are going to Seoul, Suwon, or Cheonan, use the Incheon subway. (EEnChon yohk) which now runs from the airport to Seoul. From Seoul you can change lines to just about anywhere. Once on the subway, you can go anywhere in Seoul or the surrounding area for as many as 80 kilometers for 1-2 bucks. Get a free subway map. Cabs are cheap. Make sure the meter is running.
Escalators are Usually Treated as Stairs
If you're not from a big city you may not be acquainted with escalator etiquette all that much. Here is how things work in Seoul:
(i) If you're going to stand, stay on the right; if you're walking then stay on the left. Many busy escalators have everyone walking, though.
(ii) When you get to the top of the escalator DO NOT stop and think about whatever it is you might want to ponder at that point. Keep walking--unless you want to be elbowed by an old lady trying to get past you.
That's it, short and sweet.
Tips for Taxies #1
Getting a cab in Seoul is usually quite easy. You go to the curb, wait 3-30 seconds and wave your hand (arm extended, hand pointing down with palm facing you, as if sweeping toward you). There is a little light in the cab as well as on the roof--if it's on then the cab is free. Sometimes, however, there aren't any around. Tip #1: go to a busier street.Cabs are usually around hotels, restaurant districts and financial/poitical areas--especially at night.
If you really can't find a taxi call 1588-3382 (normal taxi), 1588-0082 (black cab) or 02-888-2000 (jumbo taxi).
More tips to come.
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