EXPLORING KOREA: Weekend Trips

by Regina Walton, 07/07/2007


Since most of the readers of this site probably are or will be Seoul-based, the biggest hurdle in travel throughout Korea is solved. That hurdle is the lack of intercity connections by train or air. Don’t get me wrong, Korea has a great transport system. However, transit is very much Seoul focused. For example, if you want to fly or take a train from Seoul to Busan, you’ll find that there are over 15 daily flights between Korea’s two major airline carriers, Korean Air and Asiana. You’ll also find that there are an even larger number of train and bus connections between these two major cities. This goes for other major cities to and from Seoul like Daegu or Gwangju, too. However, direct air or train connections between Gwangju and Busan are very rare, going maybe once or twice a day, if at all. This leaves the option of trains, if the city or town is en route to Seoul, or the more likely express bus system.

If you’re a newcomer it can be quite a challenge to figure out what bus station goes where. In this regard, I recommend you enlist the help of a Korean to get information on which bus station or stations might provide service to where you want to go. If a Korean is not available to help, then call the 1330 tourist center for the area. All you need to do is dial the area code for the city or town and then 1330. For example, if you want information on Chinhae in South Gyeongsang Province, which is the city which hosts the famous Cherry Blossom Festival in late March through early April, you dial area code 55 and then 1330. Speak slowly and clearly and be prepared to repeat yourself, especially if you have an accent that i unfamiliar for the operator. She (haven’t run into a ‘he’ yet) will be doing her best to help you.

I’d also recommend getting a travel guide like a Lonely Planet or Moon Travel Guide for Korea to help you pick out some things you’d like to see. There are year round attractions like temples, museums, historical attractions, islands or other tourist sites. However, a lot of events worth seeing, like the Chinhae’s Cherry Blossom Festival, are seasonal in nature and require that you calendar accordingly.

For me, the one thing that was hard to adjust to was letting go of planning in advance. In Korea, you can’t buy express bus tickets in advance unless it’s a major holiday. You can for both train and air travel, but, as mentioned, sometimes neither a train nor flight is convenient. Plus, you miss the experience of the Korean highway rest stops, which can be quite interesting on long haul trips. The only time you can buy bus tickets in advance is on major holidays when the last thing you may want to do is take a road trip. In my view, that’s the time to stay in the city and explore - while the locals are gone and the city is much quieter. In Korea, you have to get used to going the day of your trip to get your ticket. In fact, as this is how most Koreans do it, the attendant will simply sell you a seat on the next scheduled bus unless you specify otherwise.

The same applies to accommodations. There are a lot of inexpensive small inns called yogwans across the country, so it’s rare, unless you’re staying at a name hotel, to make reservations in advance. Again, this is a time to consult your travel guide or 1330 because even a Korean might not be able to help unless they’re coming with you on your weekend adventure. The best thing to do is to know the dongs (districts) that have a lot of yogwans or small hotels for travelers. If you can’t find them in advance, Korean taxi drivers are pretty helpful and unlike in other countries not as eager to play cheat the tourist (although that can happen at times.) They’ll gladly get you to an area which has accommodation. And because, like businesses, tend to clump themselves together in distinct districts, you can walk around to different places to find a room once you’ve been dropped off.

I hope this short guide to the differences in weekend travel in Korea helps you. Now go and plan some weekend trips to discover the other Korea - the one outside Seoul. You won’t regret it.

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