Journeying Home is Always an Experience

Faraaz:

After a relaxed weekend in Asan with Aneesa, I embarked on my return journey last Sunday afternoon.  The trip involves a 15 minute walk to the university bus stop, which then takes me on a 20 minute trip to Cheonan bus terminal. From the terminal I usually take a 4:00pm bus to Taean, and then another bus from Teaen to Anmyeon Island. With all this travelling, I am usually home by 7:30pm. However I decided to try something different, instead of going with my tried and trusted route, I purchased a ticket straight to the island assuming it would be faster.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 3:40 so I assumed that with some luck, I could reach home by 7pm. To my dismay, this was not the case. This bus took a completely different route. It travelled south west, from Choenan, past Asan, through Yesan, and Hongseong. Then the bus began heading North West towards Seosan and continuing on the normal route the rest of the way.

Thanks to Google maps, I noticed quite early on that the route was different. That was further backed up by the driver going through some very strange areas, at times, seemingly dropping of passengers at their doorsteps. I took it as part of the experience but silently prayed for this bus to be going the right way.

Just outside Yesan, I got to witness my first road accident here in Korea. From observing the way Koreans drive, it amazes me that major collisions aren’t a common occurrence. This accident however, seemed HUGE. There were at least a dozen police vehicles, a fire engine, some ambulances, tow trucks, the whole shebang. Obviously, being the curious species we are, EVERYONE on the bus seemed to be practically hanging out their windows trying to see what was going on. From what we could see, the accident involved two vehicles, one car, and one people transporter which seemed to have somersaulted. These people movers are almost like South African taxis, but they serve private companies or Taekwondo gyms. This one looked like it belonged to the latter.  As we approached the scene we witnessed some paramedics loading the driver into an awaiting ambulance. Luckily it seemed as if he was alone in the vehicle, so the initial fear of there being little injured kids wandering around was put to rest.

After we passed the accident the trip started to feel painfully long. This was probably because I could see how far away from home I still was after all this time. I occupied myself by watching a movie, listening to music and napping. All of which still did not bring me to my journeys end. Eventually when we did hit familiar roadways, I estimated how long I had left and mentally prepared myself.

Once I reached the island, I still had a 25 minute walk home. Considering that I had left Aneesa’s at 2:30pm, and only reached my house at 8pm, I decided that NEVER AGAIN will I take this bus. Five and a half hours in a bus is not something I intend to do regularly.

Usual journey in red. My unfortunate route in purple

That being said, I feel it I should draw a small comparison between the transport systems here in Korea and back home in South Africa.

Firstly, the biggest difference is that in South Africa, I drove EVERYWHERE, be it to another part of the country or to the shop down the road. Once I had my driver’s license the notion of walking places simply left my mind. This was fine in Durban, because everything was relatively close by and the traffic was never too bad. When I moved to Johannesburg it was even worse. Places are too far apart to take any simpler form of transport (walking or riding a bicycle). Most people own cars, and most people drive A LOT. In fact, some people can spend between 2-3 hours a day just commuting.  Driving in Johannesburg is no joke either. Everything about that city is fast paced, from the lifestyle to the way people drive. It’s pretty much an “if you snooze, you lose” mentality. Road rage is another thing that is heightened in Johannesburg. Drivers are almost constantly hooting and swearing each other. Every commute is like a battle. Within 3 months of moving to the City of Gold I went from being one of the most laid back drivers around to an aggressive speed freak racing from one destination to the next, with intense road rage.

In South Africa, public transport is almost a taboo for the average middle class citizen. You generally steer clear of any form of public transport unless you are looking for a thrill, or if you have no other choice. As a foreigner, you would be advised to stick to your tour group. South Africa has a notoriously high crime rate, and it is one thing you definitely do not miss when you experience a country as safe as Korea. South African public transport is known for delays and inconsistency… this is mainly due to the operators of the system.

For those who don’t know, in South Africa, our systems of transport are owned by both the government, and private enterprises. The government runs the Metro Rail and some of the buses. Unfortunately, they are not the safest modes of travel neither are they convenient. That being said, there are systems that look to be the beginnings of a working system. In Johannesburg there is the Gautrain and its bus service. There is also the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems running in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, however I have experienced that the system works far better in Cape Town.

Privately owned companies are in charge of the bulk of South Africa’s transport. There are a few modes that can be used. These are the local minibus taxi’s, buses and cabs. The buses and minibus taxi’s may run intercity or across the country depending on the owner and how He/She runs the business. They transport large numbers of people and these numbers are usually a greater number than the maximum capacity of the vehicle. This coupled with the fact that some of these vehicles are ill maintained and their drivers overworked, under paid and almost always speeding, makes for a very thrilling experience that often isn’t safe. Cabs are your typical saloon car, with a driver that transports a maximum of 4 passengers; they are usually very expensive but undoubtedly the safest mode of public transport in South Africa.

Typical minibus taxi in South Africa

In contrast, public transport is the only way most foreigners and droves of locals travel in Korea. Be it by train, bus or taxi cab, public transport in South Korea runs like a well oiled machine. This in turn, governs the people to work in the same manner. I owe this meticulous system for my new found punctuality. In this country, if you don’t step up, you get left behind.

(Photo:Yonhap News)

Some useful transport information if you are traveling in Korea:

 Rail Services in South Korea

Subway and train services in Korea are operated by Korean National Railways and are reliable, quick and inexpensive.

There is an extensive network of trains in South Korea and 4 types of trains, Korea Train Express (KTX), Super Express (Saemaul-ho), Express (Mugunghwa-ho) and Limited Express (Tong-il-ho).

Here is a picture of the routes some of these trains take:

For more information use the Korail website found here.

Buses in Korea

Buses in Korea are fast, cheap and run on schedule. There are 2 types, Express buses and Inter-city buses which often have separate terminals. Express buses are non-stop except for rest stops of 10 minutes every 2 hours. Inter-city buses stop to pick up passengers.

For more information on buses across provinces, click here.

Taxis

There are 2 types of taxis operating in Korea. The general taxi and the black deluxe taxi. Fare is 2,400 won for 2km in a general taxi and 4,500 won 3km for deluxe taxis.

There is a 20% surcharge between midnight and 4am for general taxis.
Some taxis operate a free interpretation service via phone to an interpreter who will pass on destination and price details to the driver. Look out for the yellow sign on the side of the cab.

Information gathered from: http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=381&pID=857#ixzz1yOOiwwEM

Driving

If you are brave enough to try driving in Korea… click here for more information.

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4 thoughts on “Journeying Home is Always an Experience

  1. Interesting. My initial thought is that only a traveler would consider trying different routes and modes of transportation. Always need to explore, right? 🙂 I enjoyed reading about how public transportation is viewed in South Africa. It’s the same as here in Cincinnati where it’s generraly thought that the only people who ride buses are those too poor to have a car. Everyone else drives everywhere.

    • Its also a question of safety in South Africa. I would never recommend public transport to a 1st time tourist! Things are improving after the Fifa World Cup but its a slow move. Although travelers love to explore, sometimes tried and trusted routes are the best 🙂

  2. I can relate to the never ending bus journey (where the bus just stops to drop people at their doorstep), it can be torture! Also, great info on transport in so. Korea and so. Africa. South Africa, in particular, is on my ‘one day travel list’ so your insight was really helpful. 🙂

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