Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

New airport train opens, Daegu to Incheon Airport in just under 3 hours!

Life just got easier for far flung expats and Koreans who need to fly out of the country via Incheon Airport. On Tuesday, the second phase of the AREX commuter train opened, allowing passengers to move from Seoul Station to Incheon Airport in 43 minutes. It’s truly a belated Christmas present from Korea’s transit authorities!

As Chickpea and I were preparing for our upcoming winter vacation in Southeast Asia, we ran into an unexpected obstacle: getting to the airport. We assumed that all major cities in Korea (Daegu, Busan, etc.) were linked to South Korea’s main airport, Incheon Airport (ICN), and moving ourselves and a few pieces of luggage would just be a matter of taking the bullet train (KTX) to Seoul and then hopping on a subway or some other easy form of transport.

Nope.

Before this week, travelers like us might have had several options, but all posed some logistical problem:

1. Take the Daegu to Incheon Airport Bus. Pros: Takes you right to the airport; no transfers; about 30,000 won makes it the cheapest option. Cons: Nearly 5 hour journey; can’t buy tickets online; only a few buses run each day (a problem since we want to leave right after we get out of school); possible traffic delays.

2. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station and hop on an airport limousine bus. Pros: Perhaps faster; not a bus; order train and bus tickets at the station for a discount. Cons: While the KTX may be fast (2 hours from Daegu) the times for the bus vary between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours and that’s not figuring in any traffic delays.

3. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station, hop a subway to Gimpo Airport and then an express train to Incheon Airport. Pros: According to blogs and forums this is the best value; takes a little over 3 hours. Cons: 3 transfers (you have to transfer on the subway twice to reach Gimpo; big possibility of getting lost and confused and taking a few extra hours.

4. Take the KTX train to Seoul Station and hailing a taxi. Pros: Arguably the fastest. Cons: Over $100US in total; possible traffic delays

Of course, you still have these options, but now travelers in Daegu can board a comfortable KTX train to Seoul Station (just under 2 hours) and then hop on this express train straight to the airport (45 minutes). The cost? Roughly 39,000 won for the KTX ticket and 13,000 won for the express train ticket ($45US total). The price is even less if you take the slower commuter train to the airport (3,700 won) that will make 10 stops and delay you about 10 minutes.

What’s more, you can even check in with your airline — luggage and all — at Seoul Station.

In a few more years, the trip will get even easier. Korea has already started work that will allow the KTX trains bound for Seoul to go to straight to Incheon Airport . For those in Busan, this would cut a trip that takes roughly 6 hours now to only 2 hours 40 minutes. Wow.

The only downside is I cannot find where you can buy tickets for this train on an English website. If anyone finds out, please leave a comment with the info. I plan on just getting my ticket at Seoul Station.

Here’s a guide to getting those AREX tickets at Seoul Station. See you on the train!

UPDATE: A fellow English teacher reminded me there is another way to get from Daegu to Incheon Airport: by air. There is one flight each day from Daegu Airport to Incheon. I’ve read prices are 50,000-70,000 won. Still a bit expensive and not very useful, but could work in a jam. Here’s another site detailing all the ways to get to/from Incheon.

Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Andong Mask Festival: The sights, the sounds, the scams (video)

OK, maybe it wasn’t a scam.

Perhaps I should just chalk it up to linguistic miscommunication. It’s my fault for not knowing more of the Korean language, right?

But Chickpea is convinced. We were taken for a ride (forgive the pun).

We stepped out of the Andong Train Station at 8 a.m. and quickly realized we were some of the only people out and about in this city of 185,000. So, with no pack of tourists to follow, we aimlessly wandered the downtown region looking for a hint of the famous Andong Mask Festival. Except for a small stage downtown, we didn’t see anything that resembled the reviews we saw online. So, we wandered back toward the train station.

While looking at map, a taxi driver approached us.

“Hahoe?” he asked us. “Hahoe?”

We responded, “Mask festival.” We did absurd gestures of wearing a mask.

“Oh yes, yes,” he said and motioned for us to follow him to his taxi.

As a preface, most expats will tell you South Korean taxi drivers are truly honest. And although this was the first time a taxi driver solicited us, which was kind of weird, we have had nothing but pleasurable experiences in the taxi cabs here (if you don’t count the hair-raising driving skills).

So, we hopped in his cab and looked out on the city of Andong. That is, until we left the city of Andong.

“Where is he taking us?” Chickpea asked.

“I don’t know, but maybe it’s somewhere cool,” I reasoned.

While stopped at a red light, we talked again with our taxi driver.

“Mask festival,” we said. “Mask festival.”

“Oh yes,” he answered.

After glimpsing a sign on the side of the road announcing the historic Hahoe Village — 20 more kilometers ahead — we realized what was happening. We had the taxi driver pull over and explained we did not want Hahoe Village, we wanted the Andong Mask Festival.

“Oooohhhh,” he said. And proceeded to take us to the front gate, which was about four blocks from the train station.

Twenty-five thousand won poorer, we walked around the festival grounds (which were huge) and decided to head back downtown until the actual performances began. Once we hit the area near the train station, three taxi drivers approached us.

“Hahoe? Hahoe?”

You be the judge.

P.S. Although we never made it, the Hahoe Village is supposed to be another must-see in Korea. But instead of a taxi, take the bus no. 46 that leaves near the tourist information booth a block or two down from the train station. At about 1,000 won, it’s a much cheaper option.

***

The Andong Mask Festival should definitely be on your must-see list if you make it to South Korea in the fall. With a full schedule of traditional Korean plays and dancing from all over the world, you won’t be bored. And even if your butt starts to hurt, the festival grounds are full of craft tents, food stalls and dozens of strange mask-related characters to pose with.

Check out our video!