Thursday, 25 September 2014

Getting back to Busan Gimhae Airport

Disclaimer: advice based on personal experience in September 2014.

Maybe you're a fellow GenkiJACS student getting your visa renewed, maybe you're a tourist, maybe some kind of hilarious bureaucratic mix-up has ensued and you thought you were going to a wedding in France.

So somehow, you've ended up in Busan. Clearly, you want to get out again as soon as possible.* But how?

If you're genuinely trying to get out of Busan, feel free to skip ahead to the actual answer.

Common wisdom directs you to the limousine bus back to the airport. If your case is anything like mine, a travel agent provided helpfully-detailed instructions on reaching your hotel, down to the gate numbers and a description of the bus journey with your stop highlighted and the travel times given. And they won't have mentioned anything about getting back.

It's fairly likely you'll have ended up near Busan Station, either because you stayed in the area or went off somewhere on the underground or train, or a local bus. The main city station is a natural place to choose to get a bus, because those sorts of places have nice prominent stops and information offices to advice you. This is certainly what guided me.

The limousine bus stop at Busan Station is not part of a big multi-ranked bus point, or a nice prominent stop. When the kind lady at Information showed me a map, I eventually tracked it down to a simple metal pole with a slightly uninspiring red sign reading Limousine Bus Gimhae Airport. For reference, this is slightly to the south of the station on the same side of the road, just before the pedestrian crossing. If you come out of the station, it's to the left.

The area in front of the stop is right next to a pedestrian crossing and carries double yellow lines, so naturally the lane is entirely full of parked taxis as far as the eye can see. The street is fairly crowded with signs and trees, and another bus stop is nearby, which means it's very difficult to tell when your bus is coming. The limousine bus doesn't seem to have a number, but announces its destination on the front as usual. However, unless your Korean is excellent, you'll only be able to use this during the brief moment when the sign flickers to English. The bus also moves fairly quickly, so you'll need sharp reflexes (and luck) to identify it.

But don't worry about any of that, because the bus won't actually stop here. It's physically impossible because of all the taxis, and so the bus will sail cheerfully past. It may be that, by stepping between the taxis out into the middle of the road and waving furiously, you could persuade it to stop; I didn't have the nerve, and I'd also assumed that a bus timetabled to stop at a major destination would at least pause for a moment if someone was standing right by the sign. Admittedly, I didn't wave at it or anything, because its rapid approach and my shaky confidence meant I wasn't feeling that bold. I did check with tourist information (again) that I'd been in the right place, though, and she confirmed that it was probably because of the taxis. I didn't notice any particular outrage about this, so possibly there's something about taxis in Korea that I don't get. In any case, don't assume you'll be able to get this bus conveniently. There's only one every half an hour, so when you don't manage to get it, you'll be stuck for a while. Personally, I became sceptical that the next one would stop and was running out of time, so I decided I had more confidence in the underground.

So having failed to get the bus, how to you get to Busan on the underground?

Busan Gimhae Airport by Rail

There's a certain amount of noise about it being difficult to get to Gimhae on the underground, suggesting that it's slow and complicated. The subway certainly takes an hour and two changes. On the other hand, the bus takes 50 minutes, I waited 40 minutes to get away from the airport and was unable to get the bus back at all, so I think the underground is still looking good.

The problem you may run into is buying a ticket, because this isn't properly explained anywhere. The machines don't seem to offer the option of picking a destination; instead you have to select your destination line. You want to take the orange line to Seomyeon, the green line to Sasang, and the purple line to the airport. But the purple line, though prominently depicted on the map, isn't one of the available options. You may begin to wonder whether the blue option, which covers the distant blue line, also covers the airport line in some kind of radial zone scheme. It does not.

Information services in the underground consisted of a stray desk in the middle of the passage, looking like something that might be popped down to collect entrance fees at a school fair, where a lady was eating her lunch. She spoke no English and appeared to have no resources that I could point at. Asking about Gimhae got me directed upstairs with the word "bus". So I gave up and went back to the railway information desk and my helpful English-speaking lady.

The secret here, it turns out, is that the purple line that appears prominently on the underground map, is physically connected to the underground, and is talked about as being part of the underground system nevertheless isn't. It's a light rail line that's handled entirely separately. We might legitimately (and with a great deal of heavy-handed sarcasm) question why this is so, but since implementation of public transport is hardly cutting-edge comedy material, let us move on.

You need to buy a ticket to the green line (line 2).

  • Take Line 1 towards Nopo. Note that this train will display the next station, Choryang, rather than Nopo.
  • Get off at Seomyeon and follow signs, mostly downstairs, towards Line 2. In a couple of places these were a bit confusing and I worried that I was going the wrong way, as things seemed to indicate Line 1. Be bold. The first bit of the Line 2 platform you reach isn't actually doors, so be aware of that and keep going until you find some people queueing up.
  • Take a train towards Yanguan, which will show Buam as the next station.
  • Get off at Sasang
  • It's now a fair walk up multiple escalators to the light rail station. Here you need to buy another ticket, which will be a round plastic token.
  • Ignore the charity box-style thing full of discarded tokens.
  • Hold your token up against the ticket gate to get in, and go upstairs to the light rail.
  • Getting out may cause fluster because the token works differently here. Don't hold your token against the reader (which is what locals will do with their passes). There's a small slot where you should insert it instead.
  • Congratulations, you are now in Busan Airport. And you did it barely slower, and slightly cheaper, than the bus.

Incidentally, much to my surprise, throughout my journey I found that passengers would force their way into the train as soon as the doors opened, making is very hard for anyone to get off. I was surprised because politeness seemed to be a pretty big deal otherwise. Be prepared for this and disembark boldly.

It's also worth bearing in mind that just because someone is standing with their face two millimetres from the door, that doesn't mean they plan to get off. I'm not sure what it does mean, but again, be prepared to push past or step around them to make sure you escape when necessary.

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