Most international flights into South Korea fly to Seoul's Incheon Airport (ICN), while the airports in Busan (Gimhae), Jeju, Gwangju, Ulsan, and Daegu serve international destinations mostly in Asia. South Korea has two national airlines, Korean Airlines (www.koreanair.com) and Asiana Airlines (us.flyasiana.com), which sometimes provide cheaper fares than their competition abroad, and usually have better service and food.
Note that when you leave the country from Seoul there's a departure tax, currently W17,000, which may or may not be included in your airfare price. Transit passengers and infants 1 and under are exempt. There is also a W3,000 airport tax for domestic flights within South Korea.
Tip: Try to book a flight that arrives before 10pm, since buses and subways stop running at midnight. Your only choice of transportation into the city will be via taxi, which can cost you W60,000 to W90,000 plus an additional W7,100 toll charge.
From North America -- Flights from North America to Seoul are usually cheaper from western cities such as Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. North American airlines that fly to Seoul include Air Canada (www.aircanada.com), with nonstop flights from Vancouver and Toronto; Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com), with nonstops to Seoul from Seattle and Chicago and several flights from other cities via Tokyo or Osaka; United Airlines (www.united.com), from several cities to Seoul and Busan; and American Airlines (www.aa.com), usually via Tokyo to Seoul.
Among Asian carriers, only Korean Air and Asiana fly nonstop -- Korean Airlines flies to Seoul from Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Anchorage, and Asiana Airlines has many more indirect and direct flights from North America to Seoul. Several other airlines fly with at least one stopover, including Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) via Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeairlines.com) via Singapore, and Japan Airlines (www.ar.jal.com) via Tokyo.
From the United Kingdom -- Flights to South Korea from the U.K. originate from London and fly to Seoul, taking about 11 hours. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (www.klm.com), which sometimes stops in Amsterdam, Korean Airlines, and Asiana Airlines fly nonstop. Several other providers fly with at least one stopover, including British Airways (www.ba.com) via Tokyo or Hong Kong, Air France (www.airfrance.com) via Paris, Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines via Singapore, Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) via Frankfurt, China Eastern Airlines (www.chinaeastern.co.uk) via Shanghai, Aeroflot Russian Airlines (www.aeroflot.com) via Moscow, Emirates (www.emirates.com) via Dubai, and Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) via Doha.
From Australia & New Zealand -- There aren't that many choices to South Korea from Down Under. Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) and Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) fly from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane; Air China (www.airchina.com) from Sydney; Korean Air from Brisbane, Sydney, and Auckland to Seoul and Busan; and Asiana Airlines from Sydney to Seoul. The flight takes bout 10 1/2 hours.
Arriving at the Airport
More than likely you will be arriving at Seoul's Incheon International Airport (tel. 032/1577-2600), which is 52km (32 miles) west of Seoul on Yeongjong Island. Arrivals are on the first floor, where you will find global ATMs; foreign currency exchanges (daily 6am-10pm); the Incheon Tourist Information Center (daily 7am-10pm; tel. 032/743-0011); the KTO Tourist Information Center (daily 7am-10pm; tel. 1330); and the Hotel Information Center (daily 9am-10pm; tel. 032/743-2570), a private company that offers some discounts to midrange and high-end hotels. The second floor has a few domestic flights to and from Jeju-do and Busan, and an Internet cafe lounge (W3,000 per hour; daily 8am-7:30pm; tel. 032/743-7427).
Getting into Seoul from the Airport -- Special airport buses (called "limousine buses") run daily every 10 to 30 minutes, starting around 5:30am until 10pm. A trip to downtown Seoul takes around 90 minutes (longer during high-traffic times). Limousine buses cost about W8,000, while KAL deluxe limousine buses cost W12,000 and stop at 20 of the major hotels in Seoul.
Regular taxis charge around W40,000 to W60,000 to downtown Seoul. Deluxe taxis (they are black) charge around W63,000 to W90,000. Deluxe taxis are especially useful for business travelers, since the drivers can speak basic English, have free phone service, take credit cards, and will offer a receipt. Taxi fares can be considerably more during high-traffic times, since their fares are based on distance and time. Also, your taxi driver may make you pay the W7,100 toll charge for the expressway.
The Airport Railroad (AREX) connects Incheon to Gimpo Airport. From there you can take the subway to anywhere in the city. The AREX from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station will be running in 2010.
You can't get into South Korea by car (since it's surrounded on three sides by water and on the top by the DMZ and North Korea). Once you're in the country, however, you can get around easily by car. Although I wouldn't recommend driving in the large cities, like Seoul and Busan, the rest of the country is easily traversed by car.
South Korea has an extensive domestic rail system operated by the Korean National Railroad (tel. 02/1544-7788; www.korail.go.kr). Tickets can be purchased up to a month in advance at many travel agents and up to an hour before departure at train stations.
There are three types of trains -- the KTX (Korea Train Express; http://ktx.korail.go.kr/eng) bullet train, which runs at speeds up to 300kmph (186 mph); the express Saemaeul; and the Mugunghwa trains. You can purchase tickets up to 2 months in advance or as close as an hour before departure. Tickets are available online, at most travel agents in Seoul, or at ticket counters and automatic ticket machines at the station.
Visitors can buy a voucher for a KR Pass in their home country and exchange them in Seoul for passes for unlimited travel on the railways. The passes are not available for purchase in South Korea, so be sure to get it at least 5 days in advance if you're planning on extensive train travel. 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).
There are ferry connections from South Korea to domestic destinations and cities in Japan and China. At the Incheon International Ferry Terminal, 1-2 Hang 7-dong, Jung-gu, Incheon (tel. 032/888-0116), there are boats to and from Dandong (Dandong Ferry; tel. 02/713-5522; www.dandongferry.co.kr), Tianjin (Jincheon Ferry; tel. 02/517-8671; www.dae-atour.co.kr; takes 25 hr.), Qingdao (Weidong Ferry; tel. 02/3271-6753; www.weidong.com; 18 hr.), Weihai (also Weidong Ferry; 14 hr.), Dalian (Da-In Ferry; tel. 02/3218-6550; www.dainferry.co.kr; 17 hr.), and Yantai (Hanjung Ferry; tel. 02/360-6900; www.hanjoongferry.co.kr; 16 hr.) in China. The ships go only two or three times per week to each destination and schedules change, so be sure to confirm actual departure times and days.
From Busan Port, 15-3 Jung-ang 4-dong, Jung-gu, Busan (tel. 051/999-3000; www.busanferry.com or http://busanpa.com), the most frequent boats travel daily to Shimonoseki (Bugwan Ferry; tel. 02/738-0055) and three times a week (usually Mon, Wed, and Fri) to Hakata, Japan (Korea Marine Express; tel. 02/730-8666).
From the Mokpo Ferry Terminal (tel. 061-240-6060, ext. 1) you can take a boat to Shanghai on Mondays and Fridays.