There are two large national airlines that operate domestic flights, Korean Airlines (tel. 02/1588-2001; www.koreanair.com) and Asiana Airlines (tel. 02/1588-8000; http://us.flyasiana.com). The majority of domestic flights are serviced out of Seoul's Gimpo Airport, which is reachable by Seoul subway or to and from Incheon Airport via the high-speed AREX train. Other international airports include Busan's Gimhae, Jeju International Airport, Daegu, Gwangju, Cheongju, and Yangyang. Domestic airports include those in Yeosu, Sacheon, Ulsan, Pohang, Gunan, and Wonju.
Budget airlines offer flights to and from Jeju-do and the mainland. Jeju Air (tel. 02/1599-1500; www.jejuair.net) provides flights from Gimpo and Busan's Gimhae airports to and from Jeju-do. Jin Air (tel. 02/3660-6000; www.jinair.com) has only flights to and from Gimpo and Jeju-do.
Driving around Seoul (and Busan, too) can be a hair-raising experience and is not recommended. However, driving in the rest of South Korea is easier, although not the most economical way to get around. Car rentals start at around W70,000 per day. Prices are cheaper if you rent multiple days, of course. You have to be at least 21 years old and have an International Driving Permit (IDP), which you can get in your home country before you leave. Most rental agencies will ask that you show your regular driver's permit as well. In the U.S. only two authorized organizations provide IDPs -- the American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com) and American Automotive Touring Alliance (through the National Automobile Club) (tel. 800/622-7070; www.thenac.com). The AAA charges $15 for an IDP, which you can get at any of their offices or by mail.
The best place to rent a car in advance is online from the KTO website (http://english.tour2korea.com) or in person at the Incheon Airport. Check prices at South Korea's largest car-rental company, Kumho-Hertz (tel. 02/155-1230; www.kumhorent.com), or Avis (www.avis.co.kr).
A safer option for Seoul is to rent both a car and a driver, which cost about W75,000 for 3 hours and W142,000 for 10 hours. Your hotel concierge should be able to help you. Some high-end hotels also have their own limousine service.
The minimum driving age is 18 for cars and 16 for motorcycles.
Unfortunately, there are no detailed driving maps in English, though the KTO will provide a country map showing major highways and roads. Luckily, most highways and major cities have street signs in both Korean and English.
South Korean cities are connected via an extensive network of toll expressways run by the Korea Expressway Corporation. There are very few exits (which means, if you missed an exit for your town, you may have to wait for the next town to get off the highway). If you plan on doing extensive driving around the country, we recommend getting a Hi-pass, an electronic toll pay system, available at highway business offices, major highway rest stops, many gas stations, and some shopping malls. The Hi-pass not only allows you to pass through tollbooths without having to stop, but also provides a 5% to 50% discount depending on where and when you travel. You can load the card with amounts ranging from W10,000 to W480,000, which can be topped up at any bank. There is an initial W5,000 deposit. Make sure you get a rental car with an OnBoard Unit (OBU) to be able to use your Hi-pass. OBUs are available where Hi-passes are sold as well as some banks, including Hana Bank, Shinhan Bank, and the Industrial Bank of Korea, but not worth the W128,000 for one, if you're on a short trip.
The speed limit is generally 60kmph (37 mph) on regular roads, 80 to 100kmph (50 to 62 mph) on expressways, and 30kmph (19 mph) near schools and hospitals. Be sure to follow posted speed limits, even though other drivers may not, since Korean police can be harsher to foreigners. Watch your speed especially on expressways, which are littered with speed cameras. Although you won't see any traffic cops, you may get an unfortunate surprise in the mail after your speeding vacation.
Painted blue lines (usually on the left side of the road) are bus lanes. Buses are given priority in these lanes during rush hours (weekdays 7am-9pm, 7am-3pm on Sat). Bus lanes on expressways are in effect 9am to 11pm daily.
Always fasten your seatbelt or risk the chance of a W30,000 fine. One exception to this rule is that you don't have to wear a seatbelt in the back seat of a taxi (buckle up in the front seat, however). It's illegal to drive while talking on a cellphone unless it's a hands-free set.
Gas and LPG (diesel) stations are readily available throughout the country, but prices are by the liter and can be expensive for long-distance driving. At the time of writing this book, gas was W1,400 to W1,900 per liter.
Outside of holiday times, driving to Chuncheon in Gangwon-do takes about 2 to 3 hours from Seoul, Cheongju in Chungcheongbuk-do takes about 3 hours, Daegu takes 2 to 3 hours, Gyeongju takes about 5 hours, and Busan takes about 6 hours. Travel to Suwon is only about an hour and a half, to Daejeon in Chungcheongnam-do about 2 hours, Jeonju 4 hours, and about 4 hours to Gwangju. Jeju-do can accessed only by boat or plane. (Although you can take your car to the island by ferry for a ridiculously high fee, it's best to rent a car when you get to the island.).
Traveling by train can be the most comfortable way to get around the larger cities. If you're planning on extensive rail travel in the country, I recommend getting a voucher for a KR Pass in your home country before you leave, since these passes are not available for purchase in South Korea. Once you arrive, you'll need to exchange the voucher in Seoul for the actual pass, which is good for unlimited travel on the railways. The KR Passes are good for rides during consecutive days in increments of 3 ($76/£38), 5 ($115/£58), 7 ($145/£73), and 10 ($166/£83) days. A Saver Pass can be purchased for two to five people traveling together at a 10% discount. Those 24 and under can get a Youth Pass for 20% less. Check the Korean Railroad website (www.korail.go.kr) for more info or contact STA Travel (tel. 800/777-0112 or 02/733-9494 in Seoul; www.statravelgroup.com). In Seoul, STA Pass vouchers can be exchanged for train tickets at Kises Tour, located in the YMCA Building, Suite 505, Jongno 2-ga. Take Seoul subway line 1 to Jonggak Station, exit 3 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat 9am-3pm). Be sure to purchase the pass at least 5 days in advance of travel.
There are three types of trains in South Korea, the fastest of which is the bullet train, the KTX. The KTX (Korea Train Express; http://ktx.korail.go.kr/eng) has two lines with stops in major cities. The Gyeongbu line goes to Busan (Seoul to Busan tickets are W44,800) in under 3 hours via Daejeon and the Honam line, which travels through west Daejeon, and ends at Gwangju (W33,300 from Seoul) or Mokpo (W37,200 from Seoul). You can also buy individual tickets for the cheaper Saemaeul (first-class) or Mugunghwa (second-class) trains.
You can purchase tickets up to 2 months in advance or as close as an hour before departure. I recommend buying tickets in advance for weekend or holiday travel because fares sell out quickly. Tickets are available online, at most travel agents in Seoul, or at ticket counters and automatic ticket machines at the station.
One of the most popular lines is the Jung-anseon, which runs southeast from Seoul's Cheongnyangni Station to Busan, stopping at Wonju, Jecheon, Danyang, Pung-gi, Yeongju, Andong, Yeongcheon, Gyeongju, and Ulsan along the way. Another way to get to Busan by train from Seoul is via the Gyeongbuseon (the Gyeongbu Line), which has stops in some western cities like Cheonan, Jochiwon, and Daejeon, before curving east toward Gimcheon, Dongdaegu, Samrangjin, and Gupo before terminating at Busan.
From Daejeon, the Honamseon goes all the way to Mokpo, with stops at Seodaejeon, Nonan, Iksan, Jeongup, and Songjeong-li along the way. From Iksan, the Jeollaseon runs to Jeonju, Namwon, Gurye, and Suncheon with a terminus at Yeosu. From Songjeong-li, a line runs east through Gwangju, Suncheon, Jinju, and Masan and ends at Samrangjin, which connects to the Gyeongbu line.
From Cheonan, the short Janghang line runs out to Janghang. From Seoul's Cheongnyangni, the even shorter Gyeongchun line provides trains to Chuncheon. An east-west route connects Jochiwon to Taebaek, crossing the Jung-ang line at Jecheon with a stop at Jeungsan. The Taebaek line connects Taebaek to Gimcheon, passing through Mungyeong and Yeongju on the Jungang line. A short rail line connects Dongdaegu and Yeongcheon, as well.
Buses are the least expensive way to get around South Korea and even the smallest of towns will have bus service, albeit infrequent. Express buses to major stations originate from either the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, 19-4 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul (tel. 02/535-4151), or the Central City Terminal, 19-4 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul (tel. 02/6282-0114), next door. To get to smaller stations, generally those outside the larger cities, you can change buses or take a direct bus from one of Seoul's smaller bus stations. You can contact the Korean Express Bus Lines Association (tel. 02/536-6460, ext. 2, 24 hr.; www.exterminal.co.kr) for schedules and other info.
Express buses to the Gyeongnam area (Gyubu Line), Chungcheong area (Guma line), and Gangwon-do (Yeongdong Line) start from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Buses on the Honam Line that go to Jeolla-do to the south and the Namhaeseon (southern coastal line) start from the Central City Terminal.
Buses from the DongSeoul Bus Terminal, 546-1 Guui-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul (tel. 02/446-8000), go primarily north and east from Seoul. You can catch a bus to Andong, Gangneung, Sokcho, and Wonju from here. Also, buses from this terminal take the scenic (but longer) route to Seoraksan National Park in Gangwon-do.
The Nambu Bus Terminal, 1446-1 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul (tel. 02/521-8550), services mostly the southern region. Popular destinations from this station include Osan, Pyongtaek, and Songnisan National Park.
Buses from the Sangbong Bus Terminal, 83-1 Sangbong-dong, Jungnang-gu, Seoul (tel. 02/435-2122, ext. 8), go generally east and north. You can get to Chuncheon and Sokcho from this station.
Most cities and large towns within South Korea have their own bus terminals in the center of town. Goseok buses travel long distances and make few, if any, stops between cities. Shiwe buses operate between shorter distances and make more frequent stops.
Even the smallest of towns will have some sort of bus service operated by the local government. Bus drivers generally don't speak English, so it's best to know the Korean name of your destination. Fares vary, but usually range from W900 to W1,100 per trip, so be sure to carry small bills and change for frequent bus trips. Cities like Seoul and Busan have passes that operate on subways or trains.
Subway systems are the most efficient and easiest way to get around the large cities. Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, and Daejeon each have their own systems.
Taxis in South Korea are safe, clean, and relatively inexpensive. Most Korean taxi drivers will know a modicum of English, but it's best to know your destination in Korean, or even better to have it written down in Korean (Hangeul). You can flag down a taxi almost anywhere in the country, but it's easiest to grab a taxi in front of major transportation hubs. All taxis are metered with fares determined by distance and time. If you don't see a meter in the taxi, you probably want to take a different one. Tipping is not necessary, but most passengers round up and let the driver keep the change. There are two types of taxis in major cities, but most smaller towns will have only regular taxis available.
Regular (Ilban) Taxis are usually silver, blue, or white and have a light-up "taxi" sign on top. The base fare is usually around W1,900 and goes up every 2km (1 1/4 miles), going up W100 every 144m (1/10 mile) or 41 seconds.
Deluxe (Mobeum) Taxis, which are black, cost almost twice as much as the regular taxis, but can be convenient for many reasons. The drivers are trained to serve foreigners and can speak basic English. Especially useful for business travelers, deluxe taxis have free phone service, take credit cards, and will offer a receipt.
Traveling on the water can be a fun and interesting way to see lesser-known parts of South Korea. Major ferry terminals are located in Busan (tel. 051/660-0256), Incheon (tel. 032/880-7530), Jeju-do (tel. 064/720-8500), Mokpo (tel. 061/240-6011), Yeosu (tel. 061/663-0117), Tongyeong (tel. 055/642-0116), Geoje (tel. 051/660-0256), and Pohang (tel. 054/242-5111). Busan, Incheon, Mokpo, and Donghae ferry terminals offer international travel while the other ferry terminals are dedicated to domestic destinations, usually nearby islands off the coasts.
South Korea is not a country easily explored solely on two wheels, but there are some excellent biking opportunities, especially for mountain bikers. Biking on city streets can be extremely dangerous because there are no dedicated bicycle lanes and bus, taxi drivers, and truck drivers regard traffic rules more as suggestions than laws. In Seoul, however, the mayor introduced a bike program in late 2009 in which they will create a citywide bike-rental system and expand trails, starting from those in Han River Park and expanding to Namsan and the city center. The pilot program started in Yeouido and Sangam Digital Media City. Bike rentals along the Han River, which has miles and miles of trails on both sides, costs W3,000 per hour (W6,000 for tandems). Unmanned bike-rental kiosks, run by such companies as Victek and Initus, allow people to rent bicycles using a credit card. Cities like Daejeon and Busan are following Seoul's lead.
If you're bringing your bike into the country, collect it from the oversized luggage pickup at the airport. Taking your bike is much easier on buses than on the train, since trains have no storage capability for bicycles.
Since about 60% of South Korea's terrain is mountainous, it can make for exciting or exhausting rides. However, Gyeongju and Jeju-do are some of the best places to pedal and enjoy the scenery.
Independent tour guide Victor Ryashencev offers a 5-day eco-tour of hiking and biking on Jeju Island (www.earthfoot.org/kr.htm). He will take groups as small as 2 people and up to 10 and he's flexible for tours of any length. Ibike (www.ibike.org/ibike) offers three biking itineraries in South Korea.
South Korea is not a country that can be explored solely on foot, although Simon Winchester, author of Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles, attempted it. Even he resorted to some hitchhiking and free rides to cover the territory. However, travelers who love to walk or hike will find no shortage of places to stretch their legs. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes.
If the throngs of Koreans on mountain trails are any indication, hiking is the unofficial sport of South Korea. Weekends are filled with Seoulites walking the trails around the city as well as getting out to far-flung places. So, if you want to avoid the crowds, weekdays are your best bet.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.