Bus Service within Seoul
Taking the bus in Seoul is a bit harrowing at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it (the speeding, the sudden stops, the scary turns… and the list goes on!). It’s also a great way to get acquainted with the city since you don’t see much when you take the subway. If you choose to use the bus system, get to know the bus numbers. The following website is extremely efficient and user-friendly. Simply type your departure and destination points and you will be given a list of bus numbers you can use.
When boarding a Seoul city bus you should always be aware of your surroundings. The buses generally approach the stops very quickly and often do not come to a full stop before opening the doors for a second and then speeding away. Sometimes (even at a designated bus stop) you have to signal to the bus driver that you would like to get on. This will guarantee that they come to a full stop. You should always board in the front and swipe your T-money card at the electronic card reader or, drop 1000 won into the money box. The bus drivers do not have change so make sure to have some small bills or coins available. There are several large red buttons throughout the bus that you can push to indicate that you want to get off the bus. Whenever you exit the bus (always from the side door) you will want to swipe your T-Money card one more time. This is for two reasons: one is so that you can get a free transfer to another bus or subway within thirty minutes. The other is so that the system can log how far you traveled on the bus and charge you appropriately. If you do not swipe, then your card will be charged the full amount each time.
Note: If you need to exit the bus, and forget to press the red button to alert the driver, then they will not open the side door to let you exit (even if the bus stops to pick up new passengers). You must remember to push the red button each time you want to exit the bus.
Popular Seoul city buses will run every five minutes, while others may be every ten, twenty or thirty minutes depending on the route. The major bus stops are equipped with electronic screens indicating how many minutes until the next bus arrives at the stop. Within the city, you will find a bus stop roughly every two kilometres (a little over a mile apart).
In Seoul, green buses are cross town buses (going longer distances within the city) while red and white buses go to Seoul’s satellite cities in a more direct route (Suwon, Ansan, Ujeongbu, etc.). The blue buses are a bit faster, and cover more immediate areas. The blue buses are used more frequently, unless you need to make a longer commute (then you would use a green one). There are also little green neighborhood buses that literally just circle your neighborhood. They are just a little bigger than a shuttle bus and can get pretty over-crowded at times. Also, most bus routes in Seoul follow a circle path. With that being said, getting back to point A is not always as easy as crossing the street. You may need to take a different bus home.
It really is less stressful than it seems. Expats usually have all the bus numbers that go to their area memorized and there are lists at every bus stop that tell you the bus routes. Although it should be noted that, unlike the subway, the bus route maps are almost always in only Korean. Until you learn to read Hangul, you will want to have a strong sense of where you are going, and how to get there using the bus system prior to boarding. However,many expats find that once they figure it out, they prefer the bus over the subway due to the fact that they get to see the beautiful city while they commute to their destination. Also, sometimes transferring subway lines can be a real pain, but on the bus it’s sometimes as simple as hoping off one and onto another.
Long Distance Bus
Buses that go to other cities in Korea are generally run by private businesses and can be any colour with varying levels of comfort.
For long distance journeys, there are several major bus terminals in Seoul where one can get a bus to nearly any major town or city in the country: Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal (Seocho-gu), Seoul Express Bus Terminal (Seocho-gu), Central City Terminal (Seocho-gu), East Seoul Bus Terminal (Gwangjin-gu) and Sangbong Terminal (Jungang-gu). For long distance buses, prices will vary according to the length of the journey. For example, it may only cost around 2000 won to go to Suwon (40 minutes) from Seoul, but it could cost more than 20,000 won to go to Busan, which is over four hours away.
While there are many different bus companies around Seoul that do long distance journeys, they are not there for you to choose between. Whichever bus company is going to your destination is the one you will be put on! While it can be difficult to purchase tickets for long distance bus journeys due to the language barriers, there are usually booths in each bus station with English speaking attendants – though they may not be marked. If you run into problems trying to get your bus tickets, dial 02-1330 on your phone and the telephone tourist service will help you purchase your ticket.
There are usually tourist information areas in every major bus station, but the attendants do not always speak English. 02-1330 is always a reliable way to get practical information and help while you’re traveling through Korea.