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6 Things to Know Before Taking the Subway in Seoul

Where: Seoul, Korea
May 13, 2014 at 4:00 PM | by | ()

Even if you’re a subway/metro/underground pro, you'll have to recognize that every city has a slightly different approach to public transit. Subways in Asia get a well-deserved rep for being clean and efficient, and Seoul may be the best of the bunch.

So, here are a couple of things to know on the metro, which will have you looking like you know what you're doing:

1. Be prepared to stand, especially if there’s an elderly person nearby.
Many cities request that you give up your seat if an elderly or disabled person needs it. But Koreans, who are all about respecting their elders, take this idea extremely seriously. Not only will they give up their seat for an elderly person, you will often see someone carefully guiding said elderly person into the seat.

2. Yes, that’s music you hear, but it’s not coming from a busker.
Subway musicians are extremely rare in Seoul. But you might still notice the tinkling of music in subway stations and on the train. Those cute little jingles, along with an announcement, let you know when the train is coming, and then later when you are arriving at the next stop. It takes a while to stop making the “whoa, is that somebody’s cell phone ringer?” face, but we’re here to help.

3. Don’t bring that Starbucks latte along.
Koreans love their coffee and tea. But they are very strict about not allowing food or drink on the metro – that’s one of the reasons that it’s always so clean. Because of this rule, it’s hard to find trash cans in stations – if you need to throw something out, look near major station entrances and exits for trash and recycling bins, which are usually small.

4. Get in the queue.
In some cities – like our native New York – the subway can be a free-for-all when it comes time to board. But Seoul stations have removed the guesswork from figuring out where the doors are going to open. Because of that, people will politely wait in line for their turn to board, and elderly people are usually allowed to cut ahead if they want to get on first. If you’re in a rush, check for the shortest queue.

5. Put your bags up and out of the way.
Are you taking the subway to the airport or train station? If you have bags with you, almost every train has a luggage rack above the seats where you can stash your stuff, thus freeing up space for commuters and easing your shoulder pain.

6. Make sure you have time to get where you’re going, because running isn’t cool.
Even at rush hour, it’s pretty rare to see people running through subway stations. It does happen, along with the occasional teenager trying to skateboard through the station, but it’s generally frowned upon. Although there is a rule that the right side of the escalator is for standing and the left is for walking, many people will just stand on both sides, meaning you won’t be able to get around them. Give yourself enough time to get wherever you’re going, because hauling ass through the station may not be an option.

[Photo: ZackGeorge, GeneHan]

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