On a freezing winter’s day in Seoul, I set off on a long journey to the historic city of Gyeongju, about 300 kilometres to the southeast as the crow flies (even farther than that on the ground, of course). Let’s see what it’s like to travel from one to the other on Korea’s extensive railway network.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific journey documented here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future trips, even if offered by the same railway company on the same route and under the same service designation.
Country : South Korea
Railway company : KORAIL
Service name/designation : KTX 453, transferring to the Mugunghwa 1753
Date of journey : Friday, 16 February 2018
Origin : Seoul Station (dep. 06:45)
Transfer point : Dongdaegu Station (arr. 08:31 / dep. 09:00)
Final destination : Gyeongju Station (arr. 10:13)
Travel class : Economy (Standard) Class
One alternative to the all-train route discussed here involves taking the KTX to Singyeongju Station, and then a local bus to downtown Gyeongju. Click here to learn more about this option. Note that the linked post describes how to travel from Busan to Gyeongju, but those coming in from Seoul can still make use of the Singyeongju-Gyeongju bus information outlined there.
If you’re already in Korea, you can purchase tickets from machines or from manned counters. Services between major stations (such as on the busy Seoul-Busan route) are quite frequent, so this usually isn’t a problem outside of peak travel periods. However, anyone doing so during the long Seollal or Chuseok holidays – when domestic intercity travel is at its heaviest – runs a serious risk of not being able to reserve seats on the ground.
For my part, I was well aware that tickets would be very hard to come by during Seollal 2018 (a four-day weekend this year), so I decided to book all my long-distance journeys in advance on the KORAIL website. Depending on how far and how frequently you intend to travel, a KORAIL Pass might help save you money, though it could just as easily help you lose money if it’s not suited to your itinerary. I’d strongly recommend doing a journey-by-journey search first, adding up the prices, and then comparing the total against the KORAIL Pass type that covers your intended period of travel.
Whichever way you go – pass or no pass – it’s possible to reserve seats as far ahead as a month in advance (though the actual period has been known to vary). Even this might not be early enough for peak season travel, and there may be additional restrictions on reservation periods for Seollal and Chuseok, so this is something that one shouldn’t put aside until the last minute.
I paid KRW 113,000 for a 3-day KORAIL Pass, which I intended to use for the Seoul-Gyeongju-Seoul round trip (across 2 days) and for additional travel to/from another destination on the day following. (The pass would not have made economic sense for the Gyeongju journey alone.) This allowed me to reserve seats online – as well as on the ground at ticket counters – for 3 consecutive days’ worth of unlimited Economy Class travel on the KORAIL network, including high-speed KTX services. Now if I were to purchase equivalent Economy Class seats on the same trains via the same route (without using a pass), the cost for each segment of the Seoul-Gyeongju leg would be as follows:
– Seoul to Dongdaegu on the KTX 453 = KRW 42,000
– Dongdaegu to Gyeongju on the Mugunghwa 1753 = KRW 5,000
Part 1: Seoul to Dongdaegu
The first segment was on the KTX 453, scheduled to depart from Seoul Station at 06:45. I was a bit too eager to board and didn’t take close-up pictures of the train’s exterior (there are some on Wikimedia Commons), but here’s a distant shot taken from the concourse.
That’s my ride down there, on the right side of the centre platform. A KTX-I train: one of the first generation of high-speed rolling stock to see service on the KORAIL network.
Now I’ve taken Korea’s high-speed KTX before – click here to read more about that experience – but I was travelling in First Class on that occasion. This time, I was booked into one of the Economy (or Standard) Class cars, with a tighter 2-2 seat configuration (versus 2-1 in First) and shorter legroom.
Some of the seats on board were located right next to charging ports. Most rows, however, were not so equipped.
The overhead racks weren’t particularly large, but I was able to comfortably fit my hand luggage up there.
The tray table (visible in the lower part of the picture below) was of the same, rather unusual type that I first encountered in First Class. Instead of folding down aeroplane-style, it must be pulled upwards out of a slot and then lowered into position.
Overall, the surroundings were neither as spacious nor as luxurious as in First Class, but they were more than adequate for the less than 2-hour run to Dongdaegu.
Part 2: Dongdaegu to Gyeongju
At Dongdaegu, I transferred to the Mugunghwa 1753 service, with a scheduled departure time of 09:00. Here’s a shot of the carriage I rode in (Car 2) taken after our arrival.
Unlike the high-speed, all-electric KTX, this train was a simpler, slower, diesel-run beast, designed for travel on the non-electrified section of the Donghae Line that passes through Gyeongju.
The seats were reasonably spacious, but less well equipped than those on the KTX. No tray tables or centre armrests here.
I did notice that the seats at the front of the car, whilst lacking storage nets and footrests, were fitted with half-folding tables and power outlets.
Our scheduled 10:13 stop in Gyeongju was slightly delayed, but only by a few minutes – and the convenient daytime arrival meant that I still had hours and hours of sunlight left for sightseeing in one of Korea’s most historic cities.
But let’s save that story for another post.