Intercity buses are the arteries for bikers in Korea. They’re cheap, reliable, and service every city and town. Just toss your bike into the underbelly and hop aboard.
Most cities in Korea centralize their bus terminals. It’s easy to jump off the bus and scoot right to the bike path.
Express vs. Intercity Buses
Korea has two bus systems: intercity and express. They do the same thing: carry passengers from one city to the next by bus.
Why two systems? Simply, Korea’s Ministry of Transportation sets the rules for express buses. Local municipalities regulate intercity buses.
The differences between the two mostly won’t affect your travel. There are some important contrasts. Let’s look.
Express buses (고속, gosok) carry passengers on direct routes between major metropolitan cities. They travel longer distances on toll expressways. No connecting cities. No time wasted.
Express routes use newer, amenity enhanced buses. Like transpacific flights, the Premium (프리미엄) class of buses offers more privacy and even personal TVs.
Intercity buses (시외; sioe) serve shorter routes to minor cities and towns. They don’t travel as fast as express buses, running on national highways, hopping from region to region.
However, over the years intercity terminals began sending buses to most distant cities, like Seoul or Busan. Today, it’s difficult even for Koreans to tell the difference.
Let’s look at the routes used by intercity buses.
Regular Intercity Buses
Regular (일반; ilban) buses travel to more rural areas. They hit a few mid-sized cities on a fixed route.
For example, if you’re heading down the east coast, you’ll spot a regular bus with five stops. Glance at the plaque on the windshield. You’ll see: 동해 / 삼척 / 울진 / 영덕 / 포항.
The first stop is Donghae (동해). The last is Pohang (포항). If you’re heading to Uljin (울진), hop aboard. You’ll want to get off at the third stop.
Direct Intercity Buses
Direct buses carry passengers to one destination. If the journey lasts for over three hours, the driver will take a pit stop for passengers.
Intercity buses write these routes as either direct-route (직행; jikhaeng) or non-stop (무정차, mujeongcha). Passengers often mistake them for express buses.
The difference only matters if you plan to take an intercity bus route, but you arrive at an express bus terminal.
You’ll find three bus classes among intercity and express buses.
Standard Bus Class
The 1980s introduced Standard (일반, ilban) buses to Korea. Like Mugunghwa trains, today they are the oldest and cheapest class still in service.
They hold forty-five seats, with seats people per row and an aisle in the middle. This is the typical western-style bus. A little cramped. Muggy.
Both express and intercity routes use the Standard class of buses. However, rural and shorter intercity routes almost only use Standard buses.
Luxury Bus Class
In 1992, Korea introduced Luxury (우등; udeung) buses. They became the common express bus. As the years progressed, companies handed them down to intercity routes.
Luxury buses seat twenty-eight. This allows for wider seats arranged into three seats per row. Two seats – Aisle – One Seat. Besides luxurious armrest space, amenities include footrests, WiFi, and USB charge ports.
Premium Bus Class
Premium (프리미엄) buses hit the scene in 2016. Bus manufacturers further reduced seating to twenty-one. Fewer seats mean more space between seating rows.
Curtains and redesigned chairs enhance privacy. Personal TVs, free WiFi, and charge ports allow passengers to whittle away the time between cities.
You’ll only find Premium buses on express routes between major cities.
Compared to Standard class tickets, Luxury buses cost 40% more. For Premium, you’ll pay 60%.
So, if your Standard ticket costs ₩20,000, expect to pay ₩28,000 for a Luxury bus and ₩32,000 for Premium.
Price look steep? After a daylong bike ride, the extra room and privacy might be worth ₩12,000.
Keep in mind, late night or overnight buses cost a few thousand more.
Express vs. Intercity Terminals
Bus terminals show the primary difference between the express and intercity bus systems.
Some bus terminals only operate express buses (고속, gosok). Some only serve intercity buses (시외; sioe). And some terminals serve both (종합; jonghap).
Big City, Many Terminals
Big cities operate multiple terminals. Seoul has five bus terminals: two express, two intercity, and one jonghap. Daejeon has four: two intercity, one jonghap, and one express.
Express buses only connect with express terminals; intercity buses with intercity terminals. Both can dock at a jonghap. This often leads to confusion.
Say you’re headed out of Seoul. You want to check out the ocean views of the Gangwon Bike Path on the east coast. You arrive at Central City Express Bus Terminal and tell the attendant, “one ticket for Daejin (대진), please.”
The attendant politely says, “Express bus. Daejin is an intercity bus. It leaves from Dong Seoul Terminal.”
What?! Quick! Hop on your bike. You’re in for a forty-five-minute ride down the Han River to Dong Seoul.
Check an App
If you choose your departure station, the apps will present every bus route and timetable available. You can even check each route’s timetables.
If you expect to take connecting buses, these apps become invaluable tools to plan out your trip.
Small City, One Terminal
Smaller cities may only have one terminal. If it is a jonghap (serving intercity and express buses), you’ll find routes to Seoul and other major metro areas.
Tiny cities might only have an intercity bus terminal. Like a regional airport, they mostly hop to neighboring cities.
For example, the small city of Yangsan (양산), near the Nakdonggang Bike Path, operates one intercity terminal.
It runs buses to nearby Daegu (대구) and Busan (부산) and has four direct buses (직행; jikaeng) to Seoul. However, you won’t find a bus to Daejeon (대전), a large city in the north.
Keep in mind, service runs proportional to the time and distance of your destination.
If you’re heading to a minor city far away, you might only find a morning, afternoon, and night bus. Going to a big city thirty kilometers away? You’ll find a bus every twenty minutes, from sunup to midnight.
Bus terminals are more relaxed than airports or train stations. If the terminal isn’t busy, don’t be afraid to wheel your bike into the terminal to buy tickets.
If the terminal bustles, like in Seoul or Busan, be polite. Find a bike rack outside. Don’t risk marking up someone’s clothes with black chain grease.
Buying tickets, you have two options. Find the teller windows or visit a ticket machine.
Ticket machines offer the most convenience. All have English language options. Just choose your destination, departure time, and seat number.
While many tellers speak enough English, it’s difficult to pick options, like your seat. Also, you might not want to risk mispronouncing your destination.
(There are the cities of Incheon (인천) and Icheon (이천); Chungju (충주) and Cheongju (청주).)
Ticket machines and tellers accept cash, domestic and major foreign cards. There are no additional charges or restrictions for boarding with a bike.
Find the Bus
Now you have tickets. Head to the platform. It’s just outside at the back of the station. Here you’ll find a hive of buses swarming.
Look up! Overhead signs list the platform number. Check your ticket and find where your bus docks.
If you’re talking a regular (일반; ilban) intercity bus to a small city, the platform might serve as the boarding area for different routes.
Don’t fret! Korean buses are reliable. If you spot the wrong bus at your platform, wait a few minutes. Yours might not pull in until ten minutes before departure.
Double check, though! Before you board, glance at the plaque on the bus’s lower, passenger side windshield. This is the destination city.
Buses display city names in Hangul (한글; Korean writing). You can check our quick guide to reading Korean letters (super simple). Or just match the city name with your ticket.
Get On the Bus
Once the bus pulls into the platform, the bus driver will open the stow doors and hop off.
This is your cue. Wheel your bike to the luggage compartment on the side of the bus. Avoid blocking other passengers and pick the last compartment.
Yank the handle. After the door rises, check the compartment. Sometimes there’s luggage or bus-driver junk. If the compartment is empty, lay your bike in.
Unless you have no choice, don’t shove your dirty bike in with other passengers’ luggage.
If you’re in a group, you can fit two to three bikes into one compartment.
Lay your bike flat on its left side. This will avoid damaging your derailleurs.
Some bus drivers welcome bikers. Some don’t. They may elevate their tone and get rough with your bike.
Respond with a smile. Repeat yay (예; yes). Or goma-woyo (고마워요; thank you).
If you check inside certification booths, you might spot some ads plastered inside. A local motel. A tour company. And maybe a bike pickup service.
The pickup services include a phone number. If you’re lucky, a blog.
The proprietors are old-timers looking to make a few extra thousand won in their Bongo Trucks, the Korean pickup.
If you have cell service and can speak a little Korean, give it a ring. They’ll swoop you off the bike path and drive you to the bus station, motel, or wherever.
Also, keep an eye out for Bongo trucks parked near certification checkpoints. They might be a pickup service waiting for your business.