Come Ride with Me

I live in Seoul, home of over 10 million people (about a quarter of the entire population of Korea). This isn’t where I was born, but when I say home, I mean here.

Seoul Subway Map


My friends think I love Seoul. To be honest, Seoul and I go way back, but the love affair started quite recently. I used to think Seoul was just another Asian megacity. Some Seoulites and tourists might agree. I began to appreciate Seoul only after I came back from other great cities like Vancouver and New York. Not because they sucked (I really love both those cities too but that’s another story for another blog), but because through them I learned how to appreciate a city.



What I admire the most about Seoul is the public transportation. I’m one  of those people who have a driver’s license but never had a car. And because Seoul has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, I don’t feel the need to. With 16 subway lines and about 9,000 buses, there is almost no place in the city you cannot reach. In fact, the Seoul subway system is so awesome that it inspired Michael, a fellow ex-New Yorker, to write a song about how wonderful it is: Seoul Subway Song



All you need is T-money and you’re ready to hop on. Just like the Metrocard of New York and the Octopus card of Hong Kong, T-money is Seoul’s rechargeable transit fare card. But it comes in different sizes and shapes in case you want to match it with your cell phone. The fare is pretty affordable, which is cheaper than 1 USD for the first 10km. This includes easy transfers from bus to bus, subway to subway, bus to subway, and vice versa.

T-Money comes in various sizes and shapes

Inside subways and buses, the announcements are made in English, Chinese, and Japanese for those who don’t speak Korean. Also because subway lines are color-coded and numbered clearly, as long as you’re not colorblind and/or can count up to ten, you can transfer between different lines without too much trouble.

Transfer made easy

All the bus and subway stations have monitors that display when the next bus or train is coming so you don’t have to wonder whether you’ll be able to meet your friend in a half an hour. If you want, you can download applications that provide you with that information on your smartphones too.

All the bus and subway stations have monitors that display when the next bus or train is coming

Talking about phones, when my New Yorker friend came to visit he was surprised to see cell phones work in the subway. I told him to look around—people are using free wifi to chat and DMB to watch live TV shows on their phones. Working cell phones? Not a big deal here.

But I do miss 24-hour service of New York subways. Okay, hardly any train comes by after 3 in the morning, but at least there is that option. Seoul subways and buses stop the service around midnight on weekdays and even earlier on weekends if that makes any sense.

All this aside, I have to say the best thing about Seoul subways during winter is the heated seats. Knowing that I can go anywhere while my butt is being heated is truly an amazing feeling. And those little moments are when I appreciate myself for living here.


Subway Map photo credit: Seoul Metorpolitan Rapid Transit     T-Money photo credit: Korea Smart Card Co.


  1. kate says:

    Oh my goodness – I *love* the idea of the T-money that can be different shapes! Are the hello kitty and teddy bear shapes meant to be used as cell phone jewelry? I always had trouble with my Beijing metro card getting demagnetized if I left it too close to my phone (and the San Francisco one too, now that I think about it) – is that an issue with these?

    How cool! Thanks for walking us through the public transport in Seoul!

    • Justine says:

      Yes, they are to be used as cell phone jewelry. And I never had demagnetization problem with my tmoney. It’s quite convenient to have it attached to my cell phone actually. Thanks for reading!

  2. natasia says:

    I’ve only riden the Seoul metro once on a short trip, but I remember the lack of passengers in the train made my little group of 3 seem incredibly noisy. An old grandfather frowned at us! Is it normally that quiet?

    • Justine says:

      Haha, yes. It’s quiet usually because it’s considered “rude” to talk loudly in public transports (by loud I mean something that is not a whisper). I get few frowns myself time to time.

  3. jeno says:

    I lived in Seoul for two years and I must say that I miss the public transportation! Reading your post was very nostalgic :) I remember when I used to visit as a kid in the 90s, the buses were scary and the subway only had 4 lines. It’s been amazing to see the transformation and the development. Thank you for a wonderful post!

  4. Michelle says:

    Oh I love taking public transportation, in my own city and especially when traveling. The perfect way to understand the local lifestyle! I’m traveling to Seoul end of next month and can’t wait to try out first hand!

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