Travel Guide: Purchasing a Korail train ticket!

I won’t drive in Korea and you can’t make me.

Whenever possible, I avoid driving long distances in Korea. This country is wonderful, but driving here requires a unique knowledge of unspoken road rules that I just don’t understand.

Even if I do manage to drive a long distance, I have to find parking. I can’t stand having to find parking, it doesn’t matter what country I’m in.

When our family decides to adventure more than an hour away from Camp Humphreys, we like to use Korea’s amazing train system – Korail.

Using Korail is easier than you think it is!

Korail supports the city subway systems, but it also offers train service between mid-size and large cities. The process of buying Korail tickets, getting to the train station, finding your train, and getting to where you need to be is daunting at first. 

Never fear though, I’m happy to help walk you through the entire process so you can enjoy using Korail!

Three Ways to Purchase Tickets from Korail

Visiting the ticket counter

You can purchase tickets at the station ticket booth. I usually do this for last-minute, same-day train tickets. 

Trains can be busy during commute times (mornings and evenings) and on weekends, so always be sure to ask two important questions when purchasing your tickets:

  1. Are the tickets I’m buying next to each other? This is important if you are buying a ticket for your child and want to make sure they are sitting next to you.
  2. Are these standing or seated tickets? Trains that sell out of seats become standing room only. In a pinch, I’ve purchased a seat, had my kiddo sit in my lap, and my husband had a standing-only ticket.

You can ask the ticket agent to help you find the next available train with seats available. Standing isn’t bad for the 45-minute ride from Pyeongtaek to Seoul, but it’s not great for a four- or five-hour trip to Busan!

The ticket counter at the Pyeongtaek Train Station (Located in AK Plaza)

Using the App – KorailTalk

The KorailTalk app is good if you’re not near a computer but it’s not user-friendly in some ways.

Keep in mind that you can’t download an e-ticket from the app. You’ll have to show your confirmation email and passport at the train station ticket booth to pick up your physical tickets.

Using the Website – www.letskorail.com

I’ve created a detailed tutorial on Slideshare to help you go through the steps of purchasing a Korail ticket. You can check it out here:

This information doesn’t apply to subways.

I know the subway is a great way to get around, but it’s not for me. If I’m traveling in Seoul, especially with my kiddo in tow, I’m taking cabs. As you read this, remember I’m focusing on city-to-city Korail purchases, which is quite a bit different than using the subway systems in various cities in Korea. 

A few things to keep in mind about buying Korail tickets

  • You can make a Korail ticket reservation up to 31 days in advance.
  • If your plans change, you can request a refund online or at the ticket counter. There are some rules and minor fees that may come out of your refund depending on how close it is to your travel day.
  • Don’t try to travel without a ticket. In the dozens of times we’ve used the train, we’ve only had our tickets checked twice. That said, I would never chance it. Fines are hefty and you can be banned from using the Korail entirely. Don’t be that person.

It’s an affordable way to travel!

Have you seen gas prices in Korea? I had sticker shock when we first moved here!

Korail is affordable. An adult ticket from Pyeongtaek to Seoul, one-way, is 4,700 won. An adult is considered anyone 13 or older. Kids ages 6-12 pay an even lower rate, and kids under the age of 6 accompanied by a paying adult ticket holder travel free!

I usually buy a ticket for our 4-year-old, though he can travel free. Every so often we’ve been on a night train next to a humorless 20-something who has just gotten off work and doesn’t think it’s so awesome to be sitting next to a parent with a loud kid in their lap. To avoid the passive-aggressive sighing, and to make sure hubby and I are comfortable too, we just get Little Dude a ticket. This guarantees he has a spot to sit or, in a pinch, it gives us an extra spot to put shopping bags, a stroller or other stuff.

There’s an even cheaper option if you’re going to use the train a lot…

Foreigners get the extra sweet option of purchasing something called a Korail pass. I haven’t used one yet, but if you’re going to be inter-city trains a lot and going long distances, it might be the best option for you. Passes are available for two, three, or five days of consecutive travel. You can learn more on the Korail Pass website: http://www.letskorail.com/ebizbf/EbizBfKrPassAbout.do

Three types of trains in Korail!

There are multiple types of trains in the Korail system, but there are three main types you’ll see a lot of.

Mugunghwa-ho trains are the standard train system – a little bit older and slower, but they’ll get you there on time!

ITX or Saemaul are Intercity Train eXpress trains and are part of the high-speed rail system.

KTX are Korea Train eXpress trains and are part of the high-speed rail system, too.

You can purchase all three types of train tickets using the Korail app (KorailTalk) or website. The only difference is that ITX and KTX trains will get you to where you want to be more quickly!

Here’s a handy map of KTX train routes: https://info.korail.com/mbs/english/subview.jsp?id=english_050401010000

Other amazing train features

Korean trains have a variety of features like:

  • Clean restrooms
  • Handicap restrooms
  • Nursing rooms
  • Cafe cars to purchase snacks
  • Reclining seats
  • Rotating seats

Not all trains have the same features but you can rely on the restrooms and nursing rooms, which is so nice!

You can see pictures of all the amazing fanciness on the Korail website: https://info.korail.com/mbs/english/subview.jsp?id=english_050301000000

I’ll be posting more tips for using Korail soon, but in the meantime, give it a try on your own! You can do it! Have a great time on your trip!

Train Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

 

The Garden of Morning Calm Lighting Festival

Today we went to the Garden of Morning Calm, which is a privately owned garden northeast of Seoul in Gapyeong City. It’s actually the largest garden in South Korea and was inspired by a Korean professor’s visits to American botanical gardens. From December to March they have a “Lighting Festival” and millions of lights are hung up. The pictures on the website make it look otherworldly, and I can confirm that it looks truly magical in real life.

The Fairytale Village was fun for kids and adults too!

We were going to visit the garden as part of a Koridoor/MWR bus trip but the trip was canceled due to low registration. And by low registration I mean our family was the only one that registered. That’s a major bummer because when I did the math, the trip was a heck of deal at $40 per person.

The Sunken Garden

We decided to do the trip on our own. We sort of started on the wrong foot by missing our first train (see my notes about the train below). We were able to get a refund on our tickets to Cheongpyeong Station (because Korail is awesome like that) and apply them to the purchase of tickets for the next available train.

We arrived at Cheongpyeong Station (the main train station in Gapyeong City) without too much drama, except for when we almost missed our connection in Yongsan. At Cheongpyeong Station we tried to find the Gapyeong City Tour Bus, which takes you all around the area and makes stops at tourist locations, including Garden of Morning Calm. I had read this post about the city tour bus which has pretty good albeit older info, but once we got there it wasn’t immediately obvious where the bus was going to pick us up at.

By that point, Sir 3 Year Old was getting hungry. We all were getting hungry. So we decided to start walking in the direction of town.

The Visit Korea app is actually pretty handy for getting a feel for where restaurants are and mapping the general area since Google Maps doesn’t work in SK and Waze is really more about driving directions and less about search. Even when the Visit Korea app can’t give you restaurant recommendations for the exact area you’re in, it can at least show you some local restaurants on a map, so you have an idea of where food can be found.

Close up of the Love Tunnel!

We found a pretty good Vietnamese restaurant and then realized that we weren’t far from Cheongpyeong Terminal, which is the bus terminal in town and where the tourist bus makes a stop. As we were wandering up to the bus terminal The Sarge saw a street sign for bubble tea, and if there’s bubble tea, he’s there. We stopped in and as we sat at Thumb Coffee sipping taro bubble tea (like coconutty taro heaven in a glass) and vanilla lattes, we saw the tourist bus drive by. We shrugged and decided that we’d catch a cab instead. (There are lots of cabs across from the bus station!)

Our cab driver was a bit of a hippie with a long ponytail held back with a headband and as we got into his car, we realized his radio was playing “Country Roads Take Me Home” by John Denver, which is kind of a family jam of ours. We started to sing along and the driver turned up the song for us. I have to admit I got a bit choked up when I sang the bit about “radio reminds me of my home far away.”

It was also surreal to be driving through the mountains in South Korea listening to some of my favorite folk music and the similarities between the geography of that part of South Korea and the Appalachian foothills are pretty amazing.

It only takes about 15 minutes by taxi to get to the Garden of Morning Calm from the bus terminal and it’s about 15,000 won.

The garden is amazing. We walked around in the early afternoon and even without lights on, it was pretty and tranquil. There was piano music playing through hidden speakers and paths took us to smaller gardens that seemed hidden away waiting to be found.

As idyllic as it was, it was also freaking freezing, so we stopped for a snack at the bakery in the garden and waited for the lights to be turned on at 5 PM.

The lights were gorgeous once they were turned on! As the sun started to go down the lights became more brilliant, though we had to leave before it was fully dark. I imagine in full darkness the effect is amazing to see.

Of course, now I’m ruined for seeing Christmas lights when we go back stateside. No longer will I be impressed by three strands of Christmas lights blinking on and off to “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”.

We actually met one of the electricians who helped create the display which was neat. He wanted to practice his English for a bit while we waited for a cab and we thanked him over and over again for creating an amazing light display while he thanked us over and over again for The Sarge being in the Army. There was a lot of appreciation going on!

Side note: Our cab driver on the way back to the train station was also playing American folk music in his car, so it was either a coincidence or part of a citywide marketing attempt to lock in that mountain town vibe. Still not sure on that one.

Our trip home was okay. We seemed to have a harder time getting to the right trains and the assigned cars on the trains, but we’ve learned that if we just keep asking, someone knows where we are supposed to be. In one instance a man overheard us asking someone where Car 1 was on our train, and he said “I’ll help you!” He took Sir Three Year Old by the hand and guided us to our seats, which is yet another example of the incredible kindness of the people here in South Korea.

We can’t wait to go to Garden of Morning Calm again. They have many types of events throughout the year and since I’m a gardening fan, it’s right up my alley. Gapyeong City reminds me a bit of Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a pretty mountain town with fun tourist sites and some amazing looking restaurants. There’s a lot to it we didn’t get to see and I plan to do more research and check out this detailed blog post before we go for a long weekend.

About the Train:

We used Korail to get from AK Plaza in Pyongtaek to Yongsan, and then Yongsan to Cheongpeong. If you are going to book tickets on Korail try to book ahead if possible and make sure you have immediate access to a printer. That’s what snagged us up – we purchased tickets the night before our trip but didn’t have a printer. So we had to go alllll the way to the USO the next morning to print them. I suppose you could just scan the ticket right from your phone, but I get the feeling they really prefer you to have a printed copy.

If you decide to purchase tickets at the station the day you want to travel be sure to ask if the tickets you’re buying are sitting or standing because if the train is full you’ll buy standing tickets. Standing tickets aren’t that bad but if you’re going a long way with kids, a broken leg, or a drunk person, it might not be ideal.

And if you can’t find your train, ask the information desk or find the station management office. If you can’t find one on the floor you’re on, go to another level of the train station. We discovered that asking locals for help sometimes didn’t help us because we were taking ITX trains which cover more distance, and many people we asked had more familiarity with local (shorter) subway routes. But, if you can’t find an information desk, then just keep asking people around you until you get the information you need. We’ve found that most people have been kind and helpful here.

Visiting a Civil War Reenactment

I grew up in Michigan. It’s not a place that has a lot of Civil War re-enactments going on. If you want a French and Indian War re-enactment, we’re good for that. But growing up, the Civil War was a time that lived in history books and on preserved battle fields far, far from where I was living, and as a kid, I couldn’t fathom much beyond that.

Fast forward 30 years and a new life in North Carolina. I took the Little Dude to see a Civil War camp and battle at a place called House in the Horseshoe. Spoiler alert: it’s located in a horseshoe bend in a river, hence the name. Each August they hold a Civil War re-enactment complete with a battle between North and South.

It was a fun event and actually turned out to be pretty perfect for a two-year-old. There were demonstrations of shooting muskets and cannons – from a safe distance, and surprisingly not that loud. There were different camp areas set up to learn about different aspects of life around the Civil War – toys children would have played with, medicinal herbs and their use in the battle field, and my favorite, how beer and mead were made. There were some dogs and chickens around, too, which was pretty much the highlight for Little Dude. (Also popular, trying to sneak into tents that people were actually living in. We’re working on manners still.)

I think the best part for me was that the participants didn’t pretend to actually be living in the Civil War. They spoke with everyone and answered questions without acting like they had just stepped out of a bizarro time machine. I’m all for accurate historical re-creations. I think there’s always a good time and place for those, but man, it gets old hearing that you don’t know what a taco is or you’ve never heard of the city I’m from. It’s pretty fascinating to hear what the presenters do know in real life and what they’ve studied.

If you get a chance to attend a similar event at House in the Horseshoe or elsewhere, I recommend it.