If you've seen a Korean drama, film, or music video, you have most definitely seen the characters or singers in a subway. In my time here in Korea, I've explored the subways of Seoul, the capital and in the northern part of South Korea, and Busan, a port city and in the southern part of South Korea. Both are big towns with big subway systems. As a lifelong car driver, I was a bit hesitant to use public transportation. But it's much more convenient than I thought!
This piece will be on the subways, but the Korean transportation system is also made up of buses, taxis, trains, and, of course, planes. One of the best parts of the system is the T-money card, which is what makes getting from place to place easy and convenient in Seoul and Busan. I got a cute little card at a convenience store. And you can get them and load them up at most convenience stores or subway stations. If you want to have someone do it for you, head to a convenience store; if you don't mind a machine, you can load up at a subway station. To travel you can use card, key chains, apps, or your Korean credit or debit card. Load the card (or whatever you choose!) up with money (you can only use cash) and off you go!
Using the T-money card gives you a discount on transit and also free transfers within a thirty-minute time frame to make transportation more financially convenient. You can also buy single tickets if you won't be here long. Then, you just tap in and tap out every time you enter or exit a subway. I keep my card in my phone wallet, which makes it convenient. Many people also leave them in an outside pocket of their purses or in a card holder.
(Subway Korea app)
After you have your T-money card or ticket, you need your phone. There are so many handy apps that help you navigate the subways, including tell you how long/when/where/which door/which exit to get on and off at. You can use KakaoMetro, which gives you maps for several major cities; or if you're like me and mostly staying in Seoul, you can grab Subway Korea. It is my lifeline! At the moment I'm in Busan for the Busan International Film Festival and I'm using the Metro Busan Subway app. There are a few apps to choose from so make sure you grap one to help guide you!
(Clean waiting area. Signs with the direction the subway is going)
The subways are also well-maintained, clean, and relatively easy to navigate. Signs are mostly in Korean and English while announcements are often made in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. Many subway cars have monitors that inform you of the next stop in both Korean and English and also indicate from which side to disembark. I have to admit, coming from the US where many subway systems are not as clean as they could be, it was wonderful to see how clean the Korean systems I have been on are.
Many subways stations have elevators, escalators, and stairs to traverse between levels. Sometimes you'll have a big trek up and down stairs, but mostly there are modern conveniences. I haven't seen as many handicapped accessible places as back home, but the elevators and gates are most definitely in many places.
(Stairs up to the next platform)
As an American traveler, I did some reading on traveling in Korea and I had the impression that subways (and buses) were very quiet. My first time in Korea, I did notice that the transportation was relatively quiet, especially compared to American systems. But this time I do notice that people chat on the phone more, especially the elder people as they hold higher status and more respect. Mostly, younger people are plugged into their phones and earbuds and I've taken to that habit myself.
There are certain seats reserved for the elderly, pregnant, and disabled. In Busan, I even saw a few cars that were "women only" cars during peak hours. Another safety measure is that there are often green lines outlining areas where you can stand within view of a CCTV.
(Women friendly car)
I have to say that I'm impressed with the ease of travel here. It does help that I can read Hangeul because on occasion Romanizations aren't quite accurate. I haven't had to ask anyone for directions between the printed subway maps on the columns, train doors, and my map apps.
Have you ever been to Korea and tried the subway systems? Or perhaps you are Korean? What is your impression? Is it the same as mine? Let me know in the comments below!
(Subway station near the Busan Cinema Center)
(Turnstyles where you tap your T-money card)
(Elevator from B1 all the way down to B8!)
(Stairs down to the subway. There is a close entrance that has escalators as well)
Written by: Lisa Espinosa AKA Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Travel Diaries] Navigating and using Korean subways"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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