This post is part of the Gwangju guide.
Gwangju is a relatively small city compared with Seoul. It is quite easy and inexpensive to get around. Many of these tips apply to other cities in Korea, but I do provide some notes specific to Gwangju.
The city is well-connected by an extensive network of buses. If you type in 광주 버스 into Google maps, you can find all of the bus stops in the city. Google and Naver maps are great resources for finding bus routes from point A to point B. You can also get a bus map at most subway station information booths, but the stop names are all in Korean. Fortunately, most buses have the routes translated into English and the announcements are in English as well. If you are not confident with knowing when to get off the bus, tell or show the bus driver or a fellow passenger which your bus stop. People are kind and will help you.
Each bus ride is 1,200 won, but only 1,100 won with a transportation card and that comes with free transfers. Hanpay and Mybi are accepted, but T-money is not. You can buy bus cards in most convenience stores and you can even reload at the register. How….convenient!
Note that the first buses start around 5:30am and finish at around 10:30pm. If you want to get a free transfer, tap the card as you are leaving (get on at the front, depart from the back entrance – opposite of Japan!). You can transfer for free to another bus or subway within 30 minutes of getting off the bus.
There are three types buses:
- Red buses are express buses that travel across the city with just a few stops. These come often (01, 06, 07, 09).
- Yellow buses also travel far and have many local stops. They tend to come every 10-20 minutes.
- Green buses are local buses. These buses tend to have many tops, particularly in quieter neighborhoods. and rural areas. They don’t tend to come often, perhaps every 15-30 minutes. There is a lot of variance among these buses.
(There is also the bus 160 that goes to travels through Gwangju to neighboring city Naju as well as the 311 that travels from the bus terminal to Damyang with stops between. I’ll talk about that in another post about day trips from Gwangju.)
TIPS: If you are at a bus stop alone, flag down the bus when it comes. Sometimes, bus drivers do not stop for you unless you wave it down. When departing, be sure someone pressed the button to stop or you should do it yourself. The bus drivers won’t stop sometimes if nobody waves it down or presses the button.
HOLD ON TIGHT. You’re in for a ride.
Lines don’t exist. When the bus comes, there will be a rat race to the entrance and perhaps some blatant pushing and shoving. Don’t take it personally.
Seoul beats Gwangju in subways (both the transportation and sandwich shop). The subway (지하철 Ji-ha-cheol) map of Gwangju appears a bit… minimalist; there is only one line that runs east and west. It is not useful for most people in the city, but Gwangju is growing and there are already plans to add another line in the future. The main points of connection are the Gwangju Airport, Culture Complex (downtown), Yangdong Market, Songjeong (KTX) and Sangmu. One-way fare is 1,200 won or 1,100 with a transportation card (same as above: Hanpay or Mybi, not T-money). You can also get a free transfer to/from a bus. The subway does not connect with the bus terminal or Gwangju station.
Exploring the neighborhoods on foot is a fine way to get around. You can take it slow, wander around, and stop as you like. I guarantee you will run into something interesting just by wandering.
I highly recommend the Greenway (푸른길) belt that runs along the old railroad. The pedestrian-only path is pleasantly lined with trees and interesting architecture dotting the trail.
My favorite mode of transport. Bicycling is an excellent way to explore a city that is quicker and less exhausting than walking. It is even faster to than riding a bus in some cases.
You can rent a bike for free at some subway stations. Just go downstairs and look for green bicycles. You must leave your ID card there, but you’ll get it back when you return the bikes.
When riding a bike in Korea, always wear a helmet. The roads are overrun with cars and scooters who apparently are making chicken deliveries so urgent that they think traffic laws do not apply to them. So if you feel uncomfortable riding through the city, I recommend riding along the river trails where there are dedicated bicycle paths.
Bicycle theft does happen. Be sure to lock the frame, not just the front tire. Korea does a decent job of providing bike racks everywhere, but you can still lock bikes up to a tree or a pole. As opposed to Japan, there aren’t strict rules about that.
I usually advise to ride on the road rather than the “bike lanes” built into the sidewalk because dealing with pedestrians is dangerous as well as crossing the road where the sidewalks are. Be constantly alert of your surroundings and do not even ride close to parked cars because there is a possibility of being doored (person opens the door from inside as you crash into it). I’ve had a few close calls.
It is a very rare occasion that I will use a taxi and I prefer not to because taxi drivers are the worst drivers that surround me on my bike, nearly running into me and incessantly honking. Also, if I do take public transportation, I enjoy sitting on the bus, enjoying the view, and people watching. Part of the fun of traveling is learning how to navigate the public transportation system. So my personal preference is to take a taxi at the very last resort, but I will provide some information.
Taxis are ubiquitous and cheap compared to western standards, but expensive compared to other transportation options. It won’t cost more than 13,000 won to get across the city, but most likely it will be 5-7,000 won, so split between four people, it is a good deal. Taking a taxi is probably the fastest option (just wait until you see how they drive) and . You most likely won’t have a problem waving down a taxi on a main road. If you are not confident in your language skills, have your destination written down in Korean. Rarely does a taxi driver speak English. Be sure to buckle up and be prepared for a wild ride.
Cards are usually accepted and tips are not expected, but it is a nice gesture to let him/her keep the change.
TIP: Even though Korea is safe, still exercise caution while riding in taxis. I would recommend sitting in the backseat and taking a photo of the license plate before you go in. You can even take a photo of the driver’s license and photo on the glove compartment as an extra precaution. There have been incidents of taxi drivers taking women to quiet neighborhoods and assaulting them. It is rare, but important to keep in mind. Better safe than sorry, said every mom ever.
Now that you know some basic information about getting around in Gwangju, find out what you can do with the Gwangju guide!