Korea Travel: Trains in South Korea
Traveling By Train
KTX - The Korea Train Express links Seoul Station with the south-east and the south-west of South Korea. The KTX came into operation in 2004 and has become a firm favorite among travelers as it reaches speeds of 300 kph. At the moment, this is only in operation to the south-east as the second part of the high-speed rail link to the south-west is scheduled to start in 2013, cutting journey times from Yongsan Station to Mokpo in the far corner of the Korean Peninsula to around two and a half hours.
The most expensive of Korea's trains, it is not quite as comfortable as the Saemaul but is clean, smooth and reliable.
Saemaul - The mainstay of the Korean rail system and one that offers one of the most comfortable train journeys that you will ever experience with large seats that are nicely spaced out and recline quite a distance. If you are not in a rush, this can be a very pleasant way to move. Since the advent of the KTX, the train has become a little slower as it now tends to stop at all the smaller stations that its faster younger cousin misses. A trip to Busan takes around five hours. These trains often have restaurant cars and even carriages for kids with arcade machines.
Mugunghwa - Your standard commuter train, named after the country's national flower. Comfortable enough but not in the standard of the Saemaul and the Mugunghwa are set to be replaced by a newer class of train in the next few years.
Subway - Increasingly the subway reach of Seoul is getting longer. These days, you can take line one, unsurprisingly the first line to be constructed, all the way from Dong-ducheon to the north of Seoul, down through the city and out the other side through Suwon, Osan, Pyeongtaek and even as far as Cheonan - more than 80 kilometers from Seoul station. Not only that, there is a line going east from the city that connects to the pleasant lakeside city of Chuncheon in Gangwon province, 75 kilometers east of the capital. This is a cheap and efficient way to get around though Korail trains may be faster and more comfortable.
AREX - The new Korail Airport Railroad (AREX) links Seoul Station in Seoul to Incheon International Airport in Incheon in only 43 minutes on the fastest express trains.
Korea Train Routes
Pretty much everything starts in Seoul. The weakness of the Korean train network is that while heading in any direction from Seoul, there are a number of options, if you are trying to get from the south-west of the country to the opposite side, it is not as easy as the image from the official Korea tourism site shows.
Notable Stations in Korea
Seoul Station - The main hub in the capital and the country. The original building was constructed by the Japanese and still stands next to the new and modern version. This is where you go to Busan, Daegu, Ulsan and the south-east.
Yongsan Station - Just a couple of miles from Seoul Station is Yongsan, not as big but still a major terminus. Many of the trains heading to the south-west and cities such as Jeonju, Gwangju, Mokpo (for Formula One) and Yeosu (for the 2012 Expo) come from here.
Cheongyangri - In the north-east of the city, this is the station that connects to Gangwon province and the East Coast. It will also take you to Andong and Gyeongju down in North Gyeongsang Province and well worth a visit for those wanting to see more traditional Korean culture. No KTX trains leave from here though that could change by the time the 2018 Winter Olympics start in Pyeongchang in Gangwon.
Daejeon - Daejeon is a city located pretty much in the middle of South Korea and most, if not all, trains heading to the south-west or south-east stop here. Many of the trains continuing on the south-west will stop in West Daejeon (SeoDaejeon) while the others will stop in Daejeon. 50 minutes from Seoul by KTX, if in doubt head to Daejeon and you are never too far from anywhere in what is, it should be remembered, a small country.
Korean Train Prices
It depends on the train you get.
At the time of writing (February 2012) a one-way ticket from Seoul to Busan on KTX costs 57,300 won, the most expensive standard-class ticket in the country. Saemaul will set you back 42,600 while taking the Mugunghwa costs 28,600.
Seoul to Mokpo in the far south-west is 44,700 won by KTX, 39,600 won by Saemaul and 26,600 won with Mugunghwa.
Seoul to Daejeon is 23,700 won by KTX, 16,000 won with Saemaul and 10,800 won with Mugunghwa.
How to Book A Seat
The old fashioned way is possible. Go to the station and simply buy the ticket either from the ticket office or a machine.
It is possible and probably more convenient online and in English too.
www.korail.com - has an English option and there you can search the schedules, prices and routes. It is straightforward and you can reserve and pay by credit card. Print out the confirmation page and hand it to the ticket office when you arrive at the station and you will be given your ticket.
Korean Train Culture
You get to see all the different kinds of Koreans on the country's rail networks. You will see the salarymen of Seoul popping down to Daejeon on the KTX for a lunch meeting, soldiers heading home or back to base, lots of middle-aged and older women doing whatever they do and kids making the noise that you expect kids to make.
Traditional snacks to eat on the train, which are sold by a trolley-pushing attendant, include hard-boiled eggs, squid, cakes, cookies and pretty much anything else. Green tea and coffee are always available.
KTX Train Video
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