With more historic sites and cultural treasures than one can hope to see in a lifetime, Gyeongju (경주) deserves at least an overnight stay for one to properly appreciate the key attractions. That said, the sprawling city of Busan (부산) to the south – with its airport, harbour, and railway station – can also serve as a jump-off point from which to explore the former Silla capital. There are several ways of commuting between the two cities, but let’s look closely at one option in particular: a half-hour, high-speed train ride combined with a local bus service.
Note: The information and photographs presented here are drawn mainly from two round-trip journeys (four segments in all) taken between Busan and Singyeongju on 02-03 February 2019. Fares, schedules, equipment type and other details are subject to change without notice.
FIRST LEG: HIGH-SPEED TRAIN FROM BUSAN TO SINGYEONGJU
The small, ageing Gyeongju Station at the heart of the city isn’t served by Korea’s high-speed rail network. KTX and SRT services only venture as close as Singyeongju Station (신경주역, Singyeongjuyeok), a newly constructed facility miles from the urban centre.
Our starting point is Busan Station (부산역, Busanyeok): the southern terminus of the Gyeongbu HSR Line.
There are frequent high-speed KTX and SRT services between Busan and Singyeongju, taking approximately 30 minutes each way. Now if you’re asking “what’s the difference between the KTX and the SRT” … well, there isn’t any practical difference between the two in terms of speed, at least not on this very short segment of the long route to/from Seoul. They use near-identical equipment – unless the KTX service you happen to catch is served by an older first-generation trainset – and they run on the same tracks along most of the Gyeongbu HSR Line, parting ways only when the trains approach the greater Seoul area. Even the SRT’s operator, SR Corporation, is a subsidiary of KORAIL which runs the KTX. (If you’re really curious, this Kojects page is a good jump-off point for further reading.)
The first picture below is of an SRT train; the one right after that is a second-generation KTX-Sancheon train. Car configuration and interior fittings aside, it’s pretty much the same hardware.
SRT fares are slightly cheaper than KTX fares, but only by a few hundred won. As of this writing, a one-way Standard Class ticket on the Busan-Singyeongju section costs KRW 11,000 (KTX) or 10,100 (SRT). First Class will set you back KRW 15,800 (KTX) or 14,600 (SRT). Tickets can be purchased from touch-screen station vending machines; note that there’s an English-language interface available.
Standard Class compartments on KTX and SRT trains have four seats in each row. Here’s what the arrangement looks like in an SRT carriage. (Click here and scroll down to the lower part for images of Standard Class in a second-generation KTX train; click here to see the same class in a first-generation KTX train.)
First Class offers more space with just three seats to a row: single seats on one side of the aisle, pairs on the other. Each First Class passenger is also served a complimentary welcome snack (mixed nuts and a sweet cookie), a moist towelette, and a small bottle of water.
Here’s First Class on the SRT…
…and now First Class on a second-generation KTX-Sancheon train. (Click here to peek into a First Class carriage on an older, first-generation vehicle.) There are some differences in the seat equipment and fittings, but there’s minimal variance where comfort and service are concerned.
SECOND LEG: LOCAL BUS FROM SINGYEONGJU TO GYEONGJU
About half an hour after leaving Busan, the train will make a brief stop at Singyeongju Station.
It’s a modern, well-maintained facility, though there’s really not much on offer in terms of shopping, dining, or leisure. (Quite understandable, given its out-of-the-way location and the sparsely developed neighbourhood around it.)
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Singyeongju is quite some distance away from the historic centre of Gyeongju, where most of the key sights are located. To illustrate, here’s a map showing a possible route between Singyeongju Station and Gyeongju Station.
I recall seeing a taxi stand just across the road from the bus shed at Singyeongju; this might be an option to consider if you’ve got large luggage or would like to be transported directly to a specific location (as opposed to hoofing it from the nearest bus stop). Though I can’t advise from experience on the duration or cost of a taxi ride from here to downtown Gyeongju, I’ve seen rough estimates of 20 minutes and KRW 15,000-17,000.
The other option, which we shall outline shortly, is to take public transport.
Head out of Exit 1 – on the north side of the station – and turn right. Make your way down to the bus shed next to the access road.
Singyeongju is served by multiple bus lines. There are route summaries in English posted on the walls, which should come in handy when deciding which service to board. (If in doubt, seek guidance from the tourist information booth inside the train station.)
Incidentally, one tool I’ve found particularly useful for Korea navigation in general – and Korean buses in particular – is KakaoMap, an app that offers real-time data and timetable information. There’s a basic English interface available, but one of the app’s major drawbacks is that many bus stops and location names are supplied in untransliterated hangeul. That said, if you’re able to read Korean characters (and I speak from experience when I assert that they’re very easy to learn, even if the language as a whole isn’t), this tool can help one travel more flexibly and confidently than if one were to rely mainly on static tourist-orientated maps and simplified diagrams.
For first-time visitors, the most convenient route from Singyeongju Station is probably the one served by Bus Number 700. With stops located near some of the key attractions in central Gyeongju, and one close to the famous Bulguksa temple, 700 covers much of the well-trodden tourist trail that runs through this historic city.
Here’s the timetable (departures from Singyeongju Station) and route summary for 700. Both images were taken on 02 February 2019; note that the details are subject to change without notice.
The fare for bus 700 is KRW 1,650 when one pays with an IC card. I used cash and vaguely recall paying a tiny bit more; can’t remember exactly how much but it might have been an even KRW 1,700. Note that regular city buses cost a bit less, around KRW 1,300 if memory serves.
Travel times vary depending on the bus route and your stop. For example, from Singyeongju, number 700 takes about half an hour to reach Gyeongju National Museum (in the historic centre of the city) and another 30 minutes or so – a little over an hour in total – before arriving at the more out-of-the-way Bulguksa.
And that’s it! Easy-peasy. There are other options to consider (intercity buses, train transfers at other stations, etc.) but I’ve found this combination particularly convenient, especially if you’re staying in a hotel near Busan Station.
APPENDIX: SEOUL TO GYEONGJU BY TRAIN
It’s also possible to use Singyeongju Station as an entry point when visiting Gyeongju from Seoul, although one will need to set aside more time for transport (given the greater distance involved). One might, for example, take the KTX to Singyeongju, and then transfer to one of the bus lines as described above.
For a slower all-rail option, click here to read about a journey I took from Seoul to Gyeongju via Dongdaegu Station. You can also click here to learn about a detour I took on the return trip to Seoul, transferring at Pohang instead of Dongdaegu; this was more time-consuming but the Dongdaegu route was fully booked on the return thanks to the long Seollal holiday.