(Disclaimer: Hello! Since I’ve been getting a lot of queries on this post, I want to clarify that this article was based on our travel experience. What applied to our travel situation doesn’t have to apply in every situation. I cannot answer every question, because I’m not an official representative of KTX. But from a traveler to a traveler, I will try to be as helpful as I can! So just send in your questions, and I’ll try to help and answer it as much as possible. Last update: 08/12/2018)
In the ideal world, we’re efficient travel planners that we smartly booked a plane ticket from Manila to Incheon, and another one from Busan to Manila. However, in the real world we’re just a bunch of Korea fanatics who grabbed the first chance to book a flight to Seoul. It isn’t so bad though, because no matter what we booked, we’d still be boarding the Korail Express to go to Busan.
Since we had seven days in Korea, in the middle of our planning we realized that we had enough time to go to Busan. No chance to change our ticket, though, since we got it through a promo. Hence, the long planning of how to work about our schedule commenced.
In the end, we decided to spend five days in Seoul and two full days in Busan. It may not be enough, but our time only allowed two days. Thus, our hectic planning on how to ride the train from Seoul to Busan and vice-versa began. I decided to share it with you since I know that a lot of people are planning to go on the same adventure.
You can travel from Seoul to Busan by train, bus, plane and car. But doing it via the KTX is one the easiest and fastest way to do it, and it runs from Seoul to Busan every 15 to 20 minutes everyday from 5:00AM t 11:00 PM. And that’s also our chosen method of transportation.
To get to Busan, we decided to ride the KTX express from Seoul that made the five-hour trip via bus or regular train down to a little more than two hours. Honestly, it costs quite a lot, but I promise that it’s worth every Korean Won.
Using Korea Rail Pass or Korail Pass from Seoul to Busan
(Main Website: Letskorail.com)
There are tons of KTX passes, and I’m honestly just as confused then as I am now about everything. But after days of research, we decided to get the Korea Rail Pass that would take us from Korea to Seoul. The Korail Pass allows foreign tourists to travel unlimited times within a number of dates in the Standard Seats of the KTX, KTX-Sancheon, ITX-Saemaeul, Saemaeul, Mugunghwa and Nuriro trains. Passengers can choose among the 1, 3, 5, 7 and 10-day passes. According to the website, it must be used on consecutive days.
(UPDATE 04/17/2018) There are now 2-day and 4-day select passes that are more flexible than the other passes. You don’t have to use these passes on consecutive days, which made it easier and a lot simpler to just buy. This is especially useful for those who plan to stay in Busan for more than two days. I used it the last time I went to Korea in 2017.
We chose the 3-day KR Pass since we’d be traveling to and fro Busan within two days. There were four of us, so we were entitled for the Saver Pass which can be availed by groups of 2-5 people. Now that I’m writing this post, we should have gotten the Youth Pass, which is only available for individuals aged 13 to 25.
Basically, we could drop by in other provinces along the way, but we decided that we’d focus on Busan. It would be a pity to just spend an hour or two in a province.
You can learn more about it here: Korea Rail Pass. Do not forget to read the limitations of use! (Edit: 11/16/15)
How to avail and use the Korea Rail Pass:
The website provided clear instructions but here’s how I did it:
Besides your name, you’ll also be asked to provide your passport number. The same thing will be asked from the other passenger you’re booking the ticket with. I suggest that you don’t book way ahead of your travel, but instead, wait a week before your travel period to book for it. You can pay via credit card.
2. After booking, print out the voucher/e-ticket provided.
You’ll be given a voucher after booking, which needs to be exchanged before you’ll be given the pass. Take note of the date till when you can use it. It’s valid within 180 days since date of the booking. Payment will only be credited once you exchange the e-ticket for the Pass.
3. Exchange the voucher for the passes in Seoul Station.
Upon arriving at Seoul Station (Subway Line 1 or 4, Exit 1), head to the Information Center where you have to exchange the voucher for a pass. Make sure to bring the credit card you used and your passport. This is very crucial, especially the passports, because only foreign tourists can use Korean Rail Pass. Foreigners who live in Korea can only use the Happy Rail Pass.
4. Avail your KTX express ticket with your Korea Rail Pass.
Go to the ticketing booth and present your Pass when availing the ticket to Busan. You’ll be given the next earliest time of departure. Sadly, you won’t be able to choose your seats, but you can say that you like to sit together. Don’t lose your ticket, because it’ll be checked once you’re already inside the train car. Keep your Korea Rail Pass safe because you’ll be needing that once you’re booking your return ticket to Seoul in Busan Station.
5. Go to your platform at least five minutes early.
Because the trains to Busan from Seoul leaves on time! Actually, all the trains leave on time. Make sure to sit on your assigned seats, too. However, the Koreans who sat near us were kind enough to exchange seat numbers so we could sit together. One also explained the seat situation to the train stewardess who checked our seat numbers. So yes, all the stories you heard about Koreans being nice, they’re all true.
6. And when it’s all confusing, don’t be afraid to ask around!
So off we go to Busan! We didn’t arrive in Seoul Station as early as we hoped, but still, we had an early start. Since we’d be arriving in Busan around lunch and we ate breakfast early, we bought some snacks in the station and some kimbap from an ahjumma we met outside. Lunch boxes and rice rolls are sold near the platform. We couldn’t be more excited to start our two-day Busan adventure!
Without a doubt, the view that welcomed us in Busan was breathtaking! It was a nice preview of the awesome days ahead of us.
On our last and second day in the home of Jung YongHwa and Reply 1997, we trooped back to Busan Station with heavy hearts. We enjoyed our stay so much that we actually regretted only staying there for two days. It’s our time to go back to Seoul and leave behind the place that nurtured some of my best memories of travel.
We arrived at around 7PM, and to our dismay, we learned that the earliest time of departure we could get was 10PM. That means we’d be arriving in Seoul past midnight! We had the option of being standing passengers at an earlier departure time, but we realized that it would be stressful since we were carrying heavy bags. While waiting, we ate our dinner in Lotteria.
We honestly spent a lot of time waiting. Staying in Lotteria way too long was a bit embarrassing. We already stayed there for about two hours. Good thing there’s a wide waiting area near the platform, and Wi-Fi was also available. That’s what I love about Korea, you can pretty much find Wi-Fi everywhere.
We arrived in Seoul way past midnight. By then, the subway was already closed, and that’s the only mode of transpo we knew. The line for the taxi was so long that we decided to take the bus instead. A high schooler informed us that the bus going to Hongdae already stopped its operations. Back we went to the taxi line.
The taxi driver dropped us in a street unfamiliar to us, we spent around 30 minutes trying to find our way to the hostel. With barely any soul around, we were glad to came across a Mini Stop. The kind stranger who looked like Jung YongHwa (must bet the Busan effect!) walked us back to our hostel.
And as much as loved our two days in Busan, getting lost in Seoul still made us feel glad to be back in our beds at Hongdae Housetel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which KR Pass should I buy?
Which KR Pass you buy should be depends on how many there are in your group, how old you are, how many days you’re staying, and how many consecutive days you will be travelling. All these things need to be considered before you decide which KR pass to buy.
Consecutive Pass versus Select Pass
- Korail Consecutive Pass is for travelers who will use the KR Pass on succeeding days. If you’ll be riding the KTX, KTX-Sancheon, ITX-Saemaeul, Saemaeul, Mugunghwa or Nuriro trains on 3 or 5 days in a row. The consecutive passes available are 3 consecutive day pass and 5 consecutive day pass. If you’ll be moving from one province to another on succeeding days, it’s best to buy this pass.
- Korail Select Pass is for travelers who will not be using the KR Pass on consecutive days but for a couple of days within 10 days from the first day of commencement. This is for travelers who will be staying at a province or city for a couple of days before using the KR Pass again. The 2 day select pass and 4 day select pass are available.
On my first Seoul to Busan trip, which was also the trip in which this post was based on, my friends and I used the 3 consecutive day pass since the select pass was not yet available in 2014. When my sister and I visited again in 2017 and visited Busan and Seoul, we used the 2 day select pass since we stayed in Seoul for five days before going back to Busan. But instead of the normal adult pass, we purchased the Saver Korail Pass since there were two of us.
Normal versus Saver Pass
- Normal Adult Korail Pass is for travelers who will be purchasing the KR Pass alone or for those traveling solo.
- Saver Korail Pass is for adult travelers who will be buying the KR Pass
The process of buying the Korail pass online and exchanging KR pass for KTX tickets was the same as in 2014.
When do I need a KR Pass?
I get a lot of questions asking whether they really need a Korail Pass. It’s quite difficult to answer especially when I’m not clear about the situation. However, I believe it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re traveling at least twice within 10 days, purchasing a Korail Pass is the cheaper option, especially if you buy the Saver Pass.
A Saver KR Pass (2 select day pass) is worth 111,000, while a one-way Economy KTX ticket is worth 59,800. If you’ll be purchasing another one-way ticket within 10 days, that’ll be 119,600. A difference of 8,000 KRW may not sound like a lot, but that can already buy you a pretty good dinner.
Of course, there are cheaper train types such as Mugunghwa. But riding KTX only takes 3 hours to reach Busan from Seoul and vice-versa, while the the Mugunghwa train takes 6 hours and the ITX-Saemaul takes 4 and a half. And of course, riding the bus is also a cheaper alternative though you’ll spend more hours in the road.
So if you want to spend less time traveling, using the KR Pass to ride the KTX is best way to do it. The KR Pass is also ideal for people who plan on riding the KTX not just once per day. So if you’ll be dropping by a province from Busan on your way to Seoul for a short tour, purchasing the KR Pass is ideal.
You can check the ticket prices at the official Korail website.
Where can I leave my luggage?
There are luggage storage services at airports and train stations. You can try this luggage storage service if you’re looking for one in Seoul. It’s available at the Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport, Seoul Station, and Hongdae Station. Unfortunately I cannot find one for Gimhae Airport, if you’re coming from Busan. I do know that there’s one at the Busan subway station, which is just outside the Busan station.
I am fortunate that on both times that I traveled from Seoul to Busan and back again, my hosts were always generous enough to leave my luggage at the hostel.
Other Notes& Reminders:
- When exchanging your voucher ticket, don’t forget to bring your passport and the credit card used for the transaction.
- The Korail Pass needs to be booked online, and you need to print it out. However, they were so nice in Busan that they printed out our vouchers for us!
- If you’re traveling on weekends and holidays, make sure to reserve a seat early! It can get pretty crowded and you might have to wait at the station later than what you initially intended.
- There were tons of food kiosks and convenience stores around the stations so you don’t have to settle for the food served at the train. We bought Korea snacks from kiosks and had fun eating it on our travel.
- You can bring your luggage with you! There are areas inside the train for the luggage.
- If possible, arrange your flights so you wouldn’t have to go on two-way KTX trips. Haha.
Other way to buy a KR Pass:
Aside from the Korail website, you can also purchase a KR Pass on Trazy.com or Klook.com. Just read up on the full details on their website. It’s pretty much the same thing, but you’ll only be booking a different website.
What’s great about this is that you only need to present a valid passport for identification to claim your KR pass. Yes, you won’t have to worry about bringing the credit card you used for booking.
Other important readings on traveling from Seoul to Busan:
- Korail 101 – a must read!
- How to Travel by Train in South Korea Pain Free
- KR-Pass question on Reddit
- How to travel by rail in Korea
- Traveling with Korea Rail (KR) Pass on TripAdvisor
- Cheap way to ride KTX in Korea – KR PASS
- How To Go To Busan From Seoul By Flight, Train, Bus And Car
- How to Travel from Seoul to Busan by Bus
For more questions on how to travel from Seoul to Busan or Busan to Seoul, you can comment below or you can send me a quick message on Facebook.
Autumn in Korea 2014 Travelogue:
- Seoul Accommodation: Hongdae Family Housetel (Pencil Hotel 3)
- Busan Accommdation: Hi Korea Hostel
- Aboard KTX Express From Seoul to Busan And Back Again
- Fall in (Love With) Korea
- Fall in Korea Day 1: N Seoul Tower At Night
- Fall in Korea Day 2: The Cliffside Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan
- Fall in Korea Day 2: Fried Chicken Night at Gwangalli Beach, Busan
- Fall in Korea Day 3: Sunrise at Haeundae Beach, Busan
- Fall in Korea Day 2: Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan
- Fall in Korea Day 2: Lunch at Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan
- Fall in Korea Day 3: Busan Tower and BIFF Square
- Fall in Korea Day 4: Ihwa Mural Village at Naksan Park, Seoul
- Fall in Korea Day 4: Exploring Hongdae and Edae in Seoul
- Fall in Korea Day 5: Autumn Foliage in Nami Island