Are you in the process of planning your South Korea trip and wondering what is the best way to travel between cities in South Korea? In this quick guide we share with you the in’s and out’s of what is in our opinion the easiest mode of transportation in South Korea: the bus system! We walk you through the process of getting around South Korea by bus, tell you how to find your best connection, when and where to buy your tickets and how much it costs among other things! So, let’s get started!
What is the Express Bus and Intercity Bus System in South Korea?
Essentially, both the Express as well as Intercity Bus System are an easy way of transportation in South Korea that will get you comfortably from one city/town to another. There are some minor differences between the express bus and intercity bus systems. From our research we grasped that the express busses are run by the national Ministry of Transportation, while intercity busses are run under local government jurisdiction. Therefore, intercity busses often operate routes of less than 100km, while express busses easily travel farther distances.
However, for you as a traveler the only difference between both bus systems that really is of importance is the fact that intercity busses sometimes have several stops before reaching their final destination whereas express busses tend to only stop at one destination. So, if you happen to ride an intercity bus, do not miss your stop!
How do I use the bus system?
Since both bus systems are rather similar from a travelers point of view, we will treat them as one from here on out. So, how do you actually use them to get to another city? For some of you parts of these next sections will sound rather self-explanatory, however we will type it out anyway, in case it helps someone to better plan their own trip.
How to find the best bus connection?
If you ask us, the easiest way to find the best bus connection is by using the App ‘Naver Map’. When traveling to a new location, we simply entered our currant location as a starting point and then either our next accommodation or in general the city center as destination.
As a tip: If you are traveling from/to Busan or Seoul we would highly recommend at least entering the general area you are/will be staying at. Both cities have several bus terminals and depending on your location different ones might be more suitable. Depending on the connection you choose the app will then give you the name of the bus terminal you need to go to.
Where do I buy the bus tickets?
Once at the bus terminal, it’s time to buy your tickets. Each bus terminal usually has ticketing machines as well as manned counters. We always used the latter since we had a few problems in South Korea with machines not accepting our foreign credit cards. At the counter, just simply tell them where you want to go. Usually they give you a few options like for instance the bus that leaves in 5 minutes or the one in an hour. After choosing a time, they will then give you a few options of seats that are still available. By buying a ticket for an express or intercity bus, you automatically book a seat that is allocated to you.
We haven’t really found a reliable system where you can actually buy bus tickets online as a foreigner, because most of their websites only accept Korean credit cards and will ask you a resident registration number in order to buy your ticket. If you do happen to know a reliable website, feel free to let us know!
Do I need to buy my tickets in advance?
From our experience you don’t need to buy your bus tickets in advance. We always simply showed up at the bus station and bought tickets for the next available bus ride, which usually departed about 10-30 minutes after we bought the tickets. There was only one instance where we had to wait over an hour. This was on a Saturday when we caught the bus from Jeonju back to Seoul. So, maybe keep that in mind if you are traveling back to Seoul on a weekend.
What do the busses look like?
Each bus has a designated gate it will leave from. You can find the name of your bus gate on your ticket. While entering the bus you scan your ticket and then proceed to your allocated seat. In some busses there was a TV screen with the seating arrangement of the bus, reserved seats where shown as blue and as soon as you scan your ticket, your reserved seat will turn red on the screen, showing that you boarded the bus.
Except for the bus ride from Busan to Tongyeong, we always had really wide seats. The bus seats are in a 2-1 configuration. There is plenty of leg space and enough room to put a backpack in front of you. Suitcases or in general bigger luggage goes in a compartment under the bus, there is overhead storage as well though. From what we saw, there are no plugs to charge your devices during the drive and also no fold-able tray tables. There are no toilets either. If the bus journey takes 2 hours or longer, there is usually a short bathroom break somewhere in the middle of the drive.
How much does it cost?
The ticket price depends on the length of the bus journey. But to give you a general idea, here are some examples: The one-hour drive from Busan (Central Bus Terminal) to Gyeongju for instance cost 7.400KRW per person, while the 2h30 drive from Seoul (Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal) to Sokcho ended up being 21.300KRW per person. Another factor that can influence the price is what time of day you will be taking the bus.
If you want to know exact prices, again, download the app ‘Naver Map’ and simulate the journey you want to know the price for. Typically the app indicates the estimated price next to the specific connection you are interested in. We found that transportation in South Korea was not that cheap, so if you are traveling on a budget, maybe try to reduce travel days as much as possible.
If you are currently in the process of figuring out how to travel between cities in South Korea, we can definitely recommend you to take a look at the country’s bus system. Because, to us it is truly the best way to travel in South Korea! It is really easy to use, efficient and also cheaper than other modes of transportation. If you have any more questions on this topic, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments.