Two digits, three digits, and sometimes even four – but what do they mean? The bus system in Seoul, Korea hauls millions of people around every day, but how do you know which bus to ride? Understand the system so you don't get lost in the mix!
If you're in Seoul, the most commonly used bus route website is the Congamul interactive map. Personally, I'm not a big fan - it's slow, buggy, requires a plug-in, and only works in Internet Explorer. Google Maps works better with plain-English search terms, and is probably familiar to you already.
While riding the subways requires knowing where to transfer and where to get off, buses require actual geographical knowledge. When you see a certain place, it helps to know if it is north, south, east, or west of your destination. This, of course, tends to come with experience and a bit of exploring.
There's a system behind the route numbers. Note that the lines that slice up the city into 8 areas also differentiate the areas that border Seoul. Check out this map on Visit Korea to see what I mean.
Around Seoul, the blue bus route numbers are based on the first and last stops the bus makes. For example, consider bus number 101. That bus route's first stop is somewhere in zone 1 (northern Seoul) and winds its way down to zone 0 (downtown Seoul). That last digit is a serial number to keep that bus route unique; bus 102 also starts in zone 1 and ends in zone 0, as does 103, 104, etc. Bus 420 starts somewhere in zone 4 and ends up in zone 2, as does 421, 422, etc.
Green buses and red buses in Seoul have a similar numbering system - the first two digits indicate the first stop and last stop zones, just like for the blue buses. The last two numbers are the serial numbers, just like the last digit of the blue buses.
Um, ok - so how does that help me get from point A to point B?
If you prefer the techie solution, I'd start at Visit Korea's traffic website. You can view information about every bus that runs through Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, and Incheon. Starting with the buses that stop in your area, look up the numbered routes and see where they go.
If you prefer the note-taking solution, note which buses stop at the places you frequent. Once you've collected some information, cross-reference the list and make some matches. When I lived in southern Seoul, I knew I could catch bus 462 to get from my apartment to my fiancé’s old apartment. Keep the notes however you like – my fiancé keeps a note on her iPod Touch for reference wherever she goes!
If you prefer the exploring, just hop on a bus and see where it takes you. Keep your eyes on the bus map or out the window – in case you want to turn around, get off, cross the street or catch the same bus going the other way. This is actually a fun way to explore an area, or see what's around you. If all else fails, catch another bus or a taxi back to a known landmark and work your way home from there.
Stay tuned for part 2 from Chris Backe on 3/10 – reading the bus routes, asking for help, and more tips!Chris Backe is an ex-pat living in South Korea with a penchant for blogging and travel. Like about 20,000 other foreigners in Korea, he teachs English as a full-time job / source of income. When not teaching, however, he is out exploring the dynamic society that is Korea. Chris makes it a point to visit one new place, event, or festival every week. You can read more about what's going on in the land of the morning calm on his blog Chris Backe - AKA Chris Backe in South Korea!