Chaos Ensues: Travelling On A Korean Public Holiday

This last weekend marked Buddah’s birthday celebrations here in Korea. Naturally, this is a public holiday and meant a three day weekend for everyone. Like a lot of people, my friends and I decided to spend our weekend travelling. We’d decided to go to Samcheok to camp on the beach and visit the Penis Park which is located near there. My article today is going to be about the harrowing experience that is travelling on a Korean public holiday and will feature some tips to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

So, before my pro-tips sections, I will tell you the story of my travels. Marta, our friend Jess and I set out at 8am on Saturday morning for the bus terminal here in Cheongju. We arrived about 8:20 and immediately went to buy our tickets. We were met with “Oh. The next bus is sold out. You’ll need to wait until 11:40”. But, being the optimists we are, we didn’t take this as a bad omen of things to come. Indeed, we simply saw it as a chance to grab some breakfast instead. After the three hour wait, we grabbed our things and got loaded up on the bus. The journey to Gangneung took us about four hours (an hour longer than normal because of terrible traffic), most of which I slept away.

Me on any journey over ten minutes

I have a terrible habit of falling asleep on long journeys as my grandparents used to drive me around to put me to sleep as a baby. But back to the story. From Gangneung, we had to take another bus to Samcheok, the city where we would be staying. But first we mad a quick stop for lunch. This took us around an hour. But luckily, buses to Samcheok ran every ten minutes or so and within 20 minutes we were packed onto another bus and were off. By the time we arrived, it was approaching the late evening and we hailed a cab and set off towards our destination. Unbeknownst to us, there was a rural location fee meaning that a fifteen minute cab ride cost us around 25,000 won ($25 approx.). But we had made it to Yonghwa beach, our destination for the weekend.

Yonghwa Beach. From Visit Korea

It was our journey back that was to be hell. We left around lunch time on Monday. And this was perhaps our biggest error. After catching a local bus back into Samcheok city at about 1:40pm (which took us 40 minutes), we decided to take a break for some lunch. Once we had chosen a place, sat down, ordered and received our food, it was 3:30pm. We finished eating around 4pm and headed out. We managed to get our bus tickets back to Gangneung with no problems. About an hour or so later, we were in Gangneung and this is where our issues started. It turned out there was only one more bus to Cheongju (at 6:40pm) and it was completely sold out. As were buses to Daejeon and Daegu. “No worries,” we thought “We can catch a bus to Wonju and take a bus from there).

Leaving around 6pm, the bus to Wonju took us two hours. So, arriving at just before 8pm, we were dismayed (to say the least) to hear that all the tickets to Cheongju had been sold out. The only place we found with any tickets left was Seoul, which would solve nothing. Resigned to our fate, we went outside and began finding a cab to take us to Cheongju (a journey of about an hour and a half). The first cab we tried wanted $200, so we immediately said no, re-joined the queue and asked again. The second driver was better – he said he would run his meter and this turned out to be a (slightly) cheaper option. After sleeping again and again in the cab back, we finally reached Cheongju at about 9:30pm. The journey cost us around $175. Not ideal to say the least.

If you want to avoid having to go through this stress, check out these tips:

  1. Leave early – On the day of travel, make sure you get to the bus station as early as you can. We were fine travelling out because we did this. Our mistake travelling back was arriving too late and assuming there would be tickets left (and more buses).
  2. If possible, buy your return tickets in advance – This wasn’t possible for us but if you can, get your tickets in advance. It will save a whole lot of stress later on.
  3. Plan in advance – If you know you will be travelling on a Korean national holiday, plan in advance. See if you can get tickets early. Check when you arrive at your destination how busy it is? How many buses do you need to take to get somewhere?


2 thoughts on “Chaos Ensues: Travelling On A Korean Public Holiday

  1. A tip for Wonju, The bus terminal is always busy, over any weekend and the buses to Chungju/ Cheongju don’t run very late. We have been caught before on a Sunday evening. We too had to catch a cab, but luckily Chungju was slightly closer and only cost us W50 000 . Hope you got to see the Penis Park.. 😉

  2. Woah, what a disaster! 😦
    Yeah I definitely agree with leaving early, for some reason Koreans never really do anything before lunch time. We went to Hadong for the long weekend and a journey that should have taken us 2 hours took us 4. But we left early on Monday and there was no traffic on the road.

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