Korea is a small country and very easy to travel via express or intercity buses. Here are some tips on riding the buses between cities. It’s usually pretty straight forward and easy.
- Sometimes, cities have two bus terminals: an intercity bus terminal and express bus terminal. Intercity buses tend to make several stops and don’t go very far whereas express buses go directly to the destination. When catching a bus, confirm which bus terminal you need. In some cases, the terminals are within walking distance, but sometimes they are very apart, like in Busan.
- Bus terminals tend to be more like a mall. USquare in Gwangju has a movie theater complex, nice restaurants, a bookstore, food court, a 24/7 jjimjilbang, beauty salons, and more. Some people go to the bus terminal just to hang out or get their hair done.
- The word for bus terminal is straight forward – 버스터미널 – pronounced buh-suh-toe-mee-nul. Depending on your destination and time, reserve your ticket in advance. You can do this by reserving a seat online (you need a Korean card) or going to the counter ahead of time and getting a ticket for a specific date and time. I’ve had to wait up to two hours until the next bus on a Sunday evening in Seoul. Most of the time, however, just go the day of, especially if your destination is rural. Sometimes the ticket attendants speak English, but don’t bet on it.
- There are two types of buses: excellent (우등) or general (일반). Excellent buses are more spacious and comfortable, but general buses are also comfortable, albeit cramped for a tall person. There is a price difference -sometimes as much as 8,000 won (you could buy a lunch with that!). I always opt for the general bus, but they don’t leave as often as the excellent bus.
- There are assigned seats on express buses, but usually not intercity buses where people get on and get off.
- Like the subways, people are very quiet on the bus and are often sleeping, most likely because their workaholic schedules make them exhausted. So be respectful and speak quietly.
- Longer bus rides take a 15-minute break at a rest area halfway. Don’t forget to take note of which bus is yours and you don’t get on the wrong one! These rest stops are kind of entertaining in it of itself. Blasting music and things for sale that you wouldn’t expect you needed (a $25 hammer?). You can get snacks like hot dogs, 호떡 (hotteok, sweet fried pancakes with cinnamon and nut filling), noodles, processed fish on a stick – you know, anything that’s unhealthy to fuel your three-hour sitting activity. There is also usually a convenient store and a food court as well, but you won’t have much time to sit down and eat.
To check bus schedules, using the KOBUS website is a lifesaver. Simply click “schedule service” and select your options. It will provide a bus schedule as well as remaining seats. You can use the Korean version of the website to reserve seats only if you have a Korean card (doesn’t work for buses departing from Seoul. That operates from another website).
Another valuable tool is KoreaTransportion.info, which searches for all of the buses and trains. It is especially handy if you are traveling between two cities that do not have direct buses; it will compile options where you transfer. You cannot make reservations on this site. “Terminal” usually indicates a bus and “station” is for the train.
If you are stuck without the internet, you can always call the 1330 travel hotline and the person will give you the schedule. Have fun and safe travels!