Since we have an adopted child that was born in Busan, we felt it was important to take a day out of one of our trips to Seoul during the adoption process to go see his birth-city.
Wow, so glad we did! It is an amazing city and absolutely beautiful. Stunning bridges, beaches, landmarks, and views all around the coastal mega-city make it worth the effort! It’s one of the gems of South Korea and a nice change of scenery from the flashy, glitzy Seoul. Truly, you could spend a week there and we only had about 10 hours, but we made the most of it and below are some things you might need to know about getting there and getting around.
KTX train routes from Seul
Of course, the most fun way to get there is by jumping on the popular bullet train from Seoul to Busan called the Korail KTX! With a top speed of about 187mph, it seems to “fly” effortlessly across the country and makes a 5-6 hour trip by car only a 2 hour journey. Plus, it is a fantastic way to see the Korean countryside as you fly pass or go through numerous cities such as Gwangmyeong, Daejeon and Daegu along the way.
The process, as a foreigner, to get tickets for the KTX can be complicated. The simple way is to pay full price and purchase them directly at Seoul Station. However, a round trip runs about $80 which for four or five people, this could be expensive. Thankfully, the Korean government created a program for foreign travelers that saves riders almost 50% off normal tickets. Though it is a process, it is well worth it. Children’s tickets are 50% off the adult price and adult prices are half of the normal ticket window prices.
- Purchase ticket vouchers online via the Korail website for foreigners (must have passport info when buying).
- Print vouchers and bring them to Information Desk at Seoul Station before you plan to travel along with credit card used to buy them and passports. They will give you ticket receipt.
- Exchange ticket receipt for actual tickets with assigned seats at KTX ticket counter at Seoul Station.
Sounds easy enough, but step one is the biggest challenge. They must be purchased on a special page of the Korail website. However, that website has issues with VPN outside of Korea. This means from the U.S. or other countries it may not be accessible and may time out without pulling up. This is what kept happening to me. So, I spent some time learning how to trick their system and changing my VPN to a Korean VPN. I ended up using a cheap website tool I felt safe with called IronSocket. I am not a computer expert by any means but this was pretty simple. Once my VPN was temporarily changed I could access the Korail website and everything went smoothly from there. You also can try a friend in another country that might can purchase them for you, or even better a contact inside Korea.
Another easy option: If all else fails, as soon as you land in Korea, go to Seoul Station (if you haven’t been there it is fantastic!) and make your way downstairs (two levels down) to the area where the Express Train that goes to the Incheon Airport departs (it is down on the backside corner of the station – meaning furthest back from the main entrance). If you take a subway train there, get off and go up into the main terminal area, walk all the way across, past food court, towards the back entrance in the far back corner. There is a large money exchange service right there just before you head down the escalators. Keep going down all the way to Express Train. Just ask if you get lost.
Downstairs, around the corner from the escalator, you will find a business center called the “Premium Travel Center“. These people are great and you can use their computer for about $5 and buy them on their system. Takes about 5 minutes per ticket keep in mind. We didn’t know this until we got there, but it is an easy solution. You just might consider doing this a few days before you intend to take the KTX, especially during peak travel seasons.
Once on the Korail website, you will have to navigate around some to find the correct area to buy the tickets, find the correct schedule, and the types of tickets to buy, but it is pretty simple. We bought a one day pass, but you can buy multiple day passes to use on the entire Korean system or one day passes for just the KTX. Lots of options. Just make sure you put in all of the information requested correctly. There is no correcting it later. I learned that the hard way when we missed a number on one of our children’s passports. Ugh…
One more thing – they will charge your card at purchase online but if you ended up not exchanging them at the Information Center or somewhere else because you decided not to go, the charges will not complete and you should be whole financially. This happened to us with the one ticket we messed up on. We had to buy another one, but the charge for the original one never completed.
After arriving at Seoul Station (be on time…they will leave without you!) and seated on the train, enjoy the silence (yes it is even more quiet than the subways! These people don’t talk!) but have fun and soak it all in. Riding the KTX and being from America where we don’t have bullet trains was certainly one of the highlights of our trips to Korea!
Getting around Busan:
You will arrive a little more than 2 hours at Busan Station, which is a little smaller version of Seoul Station. Super nice, clean and modern. (There is a really neat viewing platform on the third level on the backside of the station that faces the neat suspension bridge out in the bay. It’s a great view to start the day! To find it, cross through the main terminal area and go up the escalator. There is a Lotteria right there at the top and the viewing platform is to the left.)
There are two main ways to see Busan. A self guided tour via taxi and subway trains or the Busan City Bus Tour called BUTI. We decided to take the easy, effortless route since our time was limited and took the Busan City Bus Tour. Easy to find. Just walk outside the main entrance and you will see the BUTI buses parked over on the road to the left of the main station. Make sure to pick the right tour bus (Blue or Red) and pay the driver your $10 for the ticket and you are good to go. Around $10 for the entire day!! Crazy cheap! The bus will stop at certain cites and you can get off and on as desired. Buses come to each stop every 30 minutes too.
It was fantastic!! There are two routes available. We took the RED route and loved every second of it. It will fill up an entire day easy! Cites like the Busan Harbor Bridge. We got on a open topped bus and it was a wild fun ride across the bridge and through the tunnel! Kids had a ball! The weather was so fantastic we hoped for open topped buses all day long. Other places included Art Museum, world’s largest department store – Centum City, UN Memorial, Cinema Center, Gwangan Beach area (loved this), Dongbaekseom Island, Haeundea Beach, and others. We couldn’t even get them all in much less the blue line. Give yourself about 45 minutes from where you are to get back to the station for your KTX train back to Seoul.
Overall, we are so glad we took the time to do this and we plan to spend more time down in Busan on our next trip to Korea. We love Seoul too, but Busan is a nice contrast and great way to have another neat experience of the amazing country called South Korea!
(I wrote this blog post because I found trying to get KTX tickets to be somewhat of a hassle. Korean websites either didn’t work from the U.S. or were not very user friendly. I tried communicating with them via Twitter, Facebook and submitting emails, but I either got no responses, or generic ones days later. So, I felt the need that once I figured it out I would share my findings here for others to use as a guide.)
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Brady Speers is a married father of four living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He has twin girls and two adopted sons from South Korea. Brady works as a retirement income planner, helping retirees in the Houston and Dallas markets plan out their golden years. He is also an amateur photographer and huge Dallas Cowboys fan!