Korea Travel: Traveling By Bus in South Korea
Travelling around South Korea on the bus system is an efficient, cheap and very comfortable way to see the country.
And as there are bus lanes on the expressways for much of the time, Korean buses sometimes whizz past the car drivers.
While Korea's rail network is good, the bus routes go to many more places and every city, no matter how big or small, has a bus terminal.
These are almost always in downtown (unlike some train stations which can be a little further out) and often in the oldest part of town. You are pretty much guaranteed to find a few motels and taxis around the terminal as well as some places to eat.
There are, of course, huge differences in size depending on just how big the city is and its accessibility.
Seoul Bus Terminals
There are three main inter-city bus terminals in the South Korean capital, Seoul. Which one you choose is determined, of course, by the destination you wish to go to.
Seoul Express Bus Terminal (Subway Line 3, 7 & 9)
Seoul Express Bus Terminal is located in Gangnam and is the biggest in the country. In fact, there are two buildings. One is part of the Century City complex with the Shinsegae Department Store, Shopping Mall, restaurants and Movie Theatre while the other is just next door but is a much older building.
This pyramid-shaped building is the Gyeongbu-Yeongdong Terminal and serves much of the central and south-eastern parts of the country. Services go to major cities such as Busan, Ulsan, Daegu, Jinju, Gyeongju, Pohang. There are buses that go east to Gangwon Province and cities such as Sokcho and Gangneung while it also takes you to cities in the more central area of the country such as Daejeon, Pyeongtaek, Gongju and Anseong.
You can also hop on a bus to other parts of the country such as Chuncheon and Andong.
Nambu Terminal (Subway Line 3)
Nambu Terminal is located not far from the Express Bus Terminal and is considerably smaller and serves smaller cities south of the capital.
It serves Dongtan, Osan, Songtan, Pyeongtaek, Anseong - all places within an hour of Seoul.
A little further away, you can head to Gongju, Songnisan, Nonsan, Anmyeondo, Buyeo, Cheonan, Seosan and Cheongju.
Jeolla Province - Gwangyang, Iksan, Gunsan, Jeonju, Muju, Gogeumdo, Buan (North Jeolla Province) and Muan (South Jeolla Province).
Gyeongsang Province - Geochang, Jinju, Sacheon, Jinhae, Sangju and Changnyeong.
Dong (East) Seoul Terminal (Line 2 - Gangbyeon station)
This busy terminal at the eastern part of Seoul serves the entire nation, especially the east. As well as a number of destinations to Gangwon province including Gangneung, Donghae, Sokcho, Wonju, Taebaek.
It also goes to Daegu, Jeonju, Busan, Busan Haeundae, Andong and others.
There are other smaller terminals in the city such as Sincheon to the north-west which heads west out to Incheon and to some of the western islands. Sangdong in the east visits some of the smaller towns in Gangwon Province and eastern Gyeonggi Province.
The Bus - Excellent or not?
Often, but not always, there are two kinds of buses in South Korea: The standard service and the Excellent Express/Limousine option. The second is between 30-50% more expensive (but still a reasonable price) and offers three seats in a row instead of four. This makes for an almost luxurious ride especially as even in standard buses, seats recline a good distance.
Prices (Under-16s half price)
Unless it is a major holiday, such as Chuseok in September/October or Lunar New Year in January/February. There is usually no need to reserve a bus seat in Korea in advance. For most destinations, especially in and out of Seoul, the buses are very frequent.
You buy the ticket at a window in the terminal and then when you find your bus, the buses will have the destination and the time of departure prominently on the front windscreen and take your allotted seat. Just before departure, the driver or someone else, will walk through the bus to check tickets.
At time of writing (March 2012) Korean bus prices in Won are as follows:
Seoul - Busan: General: 22,000; Excellent 32,800
Seoul - Daejeon: General: 9,200; Excellent 13,400
Seoul - Daegu: General 16,300; Excellent: 24,100
Busan - Daejeon: General 15,200; Excellent: 22,300
Service stations/Rest Areas
These are located up and down the nation's extensive motorway network. If you are on the bus, you will be given a 15-minute break at some point in the journey if the journey is expected to take more than two hours. But be careful! On the busy routes, there can be dozens of buses lined up. As you exit, be sure to note the number of your bus and its location. People have been known to lose the bus after a visit to the bathroom.
There are mini food courts that sell basic Korean dishes though while they serve you pretty quickly (you never have to wait long for food wherever you go in Korea), it may be a rush to finish your food within 15 minutes. What many do is go to the stalls that sell classic travel food.
This can be fried chicken, roast or boiled potatoes, dried squid, dumplings and other kinds of snacks that are all OK to take back to the bus. Don't expect the highest quality but then you won't pay through the nose for it either. There will also be a small mart to buy drinks, crisps, chocolate, instant noodles and other necessities.
Compared to the train
There are advantages and disadvantages of traveling by bus in South Korea. Sometimes, the bus can be quicker. As long as you avoid the rush hour, a bus to cities such as Jeonju and Gwangju can be shorter journeys that the equivalent train journey - especially useful in those places where the train station is a little out of town. Buses are cheaper too and are often as comfortable as the train and sometimes more so.
One potential problem is that trains are probably a little easier to take for those who don't speak or read Korean. On most train routes, the stations and notices are also read out in English. In bus terminals, there are unlikely to be any English help. Knowing your destination in Hangeul (or at least having it written down) could make things much easier.
Related Korean Travel Resources
Book Hotel Accommodation in Seoul
Hotels in Korea - Booking.com
Hotels in Seoul - Booking.com
Hotels in Seoul - Agoda
Hotels in Busan - Agoda
Find Bars, Restaurants, Clubs in Seoul Korea
Bars, Restaurants, Clubs in Seoul