How to get around in Korea

Directions in a foreign country can be downright frustrating to say the least. That is until you understand how things are organized. In North America, everything is done by streets and addresses. If I say 123 Main St E, it is simple for those from North America to find Main St and then find 123.

In Korea things are not like that. In order to mail something here, you start in ‘reverse’ order if you will. To quote Wikipedia:

A typical building in South Korea is described by the administrative divisions in which it lies. If the address is written in Korean, the largest division will be written first, followed by the smaller divisions, and finally the building and the recipient. If the recipient is in a multi-unit building, the floor and apartment or suite number may follow.

It’s a logical breakdown from largest to smallest and makes a lot of sense.

Here is it in a table format:

Korean example Format Revised Romanization Translation
135-283 서울특별시
용산구 서초2동 1308-25
하나 아파트 9층 912호
박민호 선생님
Postal code, (special) city
Ward, neighborhood, beonji-ho
Building name, floor, room number
Name of recipient
135-283 Seoul Teukbyeolsi
Yongsan-gu Seocho I-dong 1308-25
Hana Apateu gu-cheung gubaeksibi-ho
Bak Minho Seonsaeng-nim
135-283 Seoul Special City
Yongsan Ward, Seocho Neighborhood #2, 1308-25
Hana Apartments, 9th floor, Apt. 912
Mr. Minho Park

Since addressing looks so confusing, it is very easy to just say “I’m lost” without looking any further. Fortunately I don’t give up easy Smile

Even after you have the address, there is the problem of getting there. That means you need damn good directions. Because you simply can’t just find a street and walk to the address when you are dealing with a ‘block addressing’ format, you absolutely rely on addressing being given to you by the people living/working in the area you are going to. In plain words, if you get into a taxi you ask the driver to take you to ‘the McDonalds in Westdale’. As there is only one McDonalds in Westdale, the driver knows exactly where to take you. This doesn’t work so well for brand new places.

Let me explain. Each building in Korea has a name assigned to it(or group of buildings) and a number for the block it is on. Our building is “Ji Young Village”.  Currently on Google Maps the lot shows a vacant spot as our building is less than a year old. So when I got here and asked him exactly that, he looked confused. When he saw the name of the school on the paper I had, he knew where to go exactly(even if he did purposed go at a rather leisurely pace…..native people will generally take advantage of non-natives as they somehow assume you are stupid. I saw this and mentally chuckled to myself. I still gave him a tip just to make his day and give him another story to tell his friends). It is always a good idea to have a local friend write out your address in Korean, makes like much easier Smile

Block Addressing map
Block Addressing map

Now, to use the subway system is yet another skill you need to master. Again, you need more information than where you start and where you begin, at least until you get the hang of things. So here is my near-foolproof method of using the Seoul Metro Subway.

For each destination you will need the following:

  • What line number you are on
  • What line number your end stop is on
  • What is the last station is in the direction you are going
  • What is the next stop in your direction

That seems like a lot of info but it really makes it easy to get around and vital to your ‘sense of direction’ when here. So here is a simple table layout that would be of great value if you are new and need absolute guidance:

Click to see simple sheet

For example, we wanted to go to Yongsan Electronics Market to get some more memory for my Netbook and see what else is there. We started at Uijeongbu Station. Here is what our table would look like.

Click to see our simple one-stop table

That is a very straight forward get on/get off. It gets to be a lot of fun when you switch lines but as long as you keep it simple as above, you’ll get around just fine.

So lets take a look at our travels last Saturday. We hit 4 places around Seoul so hold onto your hats!

Click here to see spreadsheet

As you can see, if you want an ultimate control and near full-proof method for getting around, it takes a wee bit of planning. Of course, once you are used to the area, this tool is no longer needed. Still, there are people who will rely on something like this for their entire lives.

Also, looking at that some may be thinking that it cost us a fortune on fares. Far from it. I think we spent a grand total of around $5 or $7 for the day.

Author: DragonDon

Having a love of travel has lead me to move to South Korea in 2010. Moving to an Eastern culture from a Western culture is a wild experience and there is never a dull day!

4 thoughts on “How to get around in Korea”

    1. It can certainly be dunting, to say the least. I’ve gotten lost only once but still made it out alive :) For the most part, it really isn’t that hard. Many subway stops actually have phones you can use for 3 mins for free (usually at those digital terminals with big LCD screens flashing ads and having interactive maps on them). There is a local tourist number that anyone can call and get service in English, “1330”.

      Sadly, I’ll have moved down South by the time you get here so I won’t be able to help too much. I’ll be back up near Seoul on the weekend of the 9th and 23rd. If you are in the area then, I’ll be more than glad to help you around.

      One of the good things about being in Seoul, english is fairly common, if haltingly so from the locals. Many of the common stores speak english just fine (i.e. McDonalds and other big chain stores) but even in some smalls ones you’ll be fine.

      You are quite welcome to call me any time if you get stuck. 010-4488-8507. That’s my cell number. I know how much I appreciated help when I needed it, jsut paying it forward :)

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