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This is a little photo essay on vehicles I’ve seen in Korea. You may be familiar with some — for example, passenger cars, so common I’m not even going to include them. Others may be new or unusual for you. This is a bit of a work in progress… as I update the page, I’ll post regular blog entries to let you know.  As always, click on a picture to open the full-size copy.


Backpacks:  I read-or-someone-told-me that the basic rigid (metal frame) backpack was originally based on the rigs that Korean porters used during the Korean War.  And, interestingly, when the movers unpacked the truck, they carried the boxes on their back, reaching behind themselves to get a grip on the bottom.  Not sure that would work for me, but they did carry the most extraordinary loads.

The example shown here was in the Namdaemun Market, and was one of several lined up as if for sale… but it looked as if it was a “working” backpack, which would make sense in the dense, pedestrianized market, and I have seen a few in use there (but wasn’t quick enough on the draw to get a photo).


Yogurt Carts:  These come in a variety of sizes, often with additional cool-boxes strapped on.  Most that I’ve seen are motorized, but the 3rd one below is an eco-friendly push-cart with bicycle tires.  It’s the only one of its kind that I’ve ever seen, all the others are the boxy motorized ones.

These ladies, who all dress alike, sell yoghurt.  Like milkmen of old, they make their rounds delivering standard daily orders of yoghurt.  But they carry extra too, so you can always buy a bit of yoghurt!


Paper Collectors:  This category is fairly depressing.  There are large numbers of old people, both men and women, who seem to spend their days pulling hand-carts around collecting paper and cardboard, in all weather.  While it’s good that so much is (presumably) being recycled, this looks like something that originated in the 50’s after the war and somehow has just never been updated.  Unlike the delivery bikes below, I’ve never seen an updated version of the “paper cart”.


Bicycle Delivery:  This is definitely something from another day-and-age, and my guess is that in 5 or 10 years you won’t see any more bicycles or delivery men like this.  Most of the work has moved to scooters and, in particular, to motorcycles of varying types (see below).  But for now, you can still see the bicycle delivery man from time to time.  Given the size of the city, I also suspect the deliveries are comparatively (!) local.

The design of delivery motorcycles closely follows that of these (clearly old) bicycles, and is probably based on the original “push” bike design:  longer, reinforced frame; seat well forward; giving extra long cargo area behind the driver, who has to sit quite upright, as in the 3rd picture.


Motorcycle Delivery

Well, the first thing to say is that you can’t swing a dead cat on the streets of Seoul without hitting a motorcycle deliveryman.  They are everywhere, delivering everything, in numbers (and with loads) waaaay beyond anything I’m familiar with.  I had two frozen turkeys delivered for Thanksgiving, from across town, on ice in styrofoam boxes.  And they come in several flavours (the delivery cycles, not the turkeys, that is) … .. .

Scooters:  I’ve seen these mostly for fast-food delivery, for international and local brands.  Not unique, but (for the likes of McD’s, BurgerKing, etc) not something I’ve seen much elsewhere.


Motorcycle  Delivery:  Whee!  This is the part you’ve been waiting for, the overladen motorcycles tearing through the streets of Asia?  It’s not quite the same here as in, say Vietnam (where we were for Christmas), where the loads were sometimes just plain crazy.  But you do get motorcycles with rather large loads.

The part that I find most interesting, though, is how they design their bikes, which are the direct descendants of the push bikes above:  a longer cargo platform, often with a customized stretched frame, and drivers sitting very upright as for the bicycles above.  How they park is interesting, too:  a metal pole, stored in a sort of scabard on the side of the bike, is unsheathed and used to prop up the bike.  Quick, effective and keeps the bike fairly vertical compared to some kick stands.


Three-wheelers:  My personal favorites.  No “auto-rickshaws” or “tuk-tuks” here, thank you, these are generally delivery vehicles (even a few I’ve seen that looked designed to carry passengers), and are often modified motorcycles.

The first couple look like they were produced in a factory, but most of the others look to be custom modifications.  As you can see, these run the gamut from light private trikes to heavy-duty cargo trikes pulling trailers.  And you thought trikes were only for kids!


Portable Stalls  

Portable Stalls: Not the trike-converted-into-a-stall as above, but the proper kiosk-type that  you see everywhere.  Not much to say here, but you’ve always wondered where all those stalls on the streets come from, haven’t you? From the controls, I think they might even have little electric motors for moving them around.

Most of them have electricity from long extension cords.


Public Transportation

First, just to say that the public transportation system in Seoul is fantastic:  very extensive, well integrated, easy to use and cheap.  And with the bad city traffic over often long distances, that’s a real plus!

Second, get a “T-Money” card.  You can buy them in the staffed ticket booth in metro stations.  The physical card cost3,000 Won (approx. 2 Euro or 3 US Dollars), then you charge it up.  Almost any trip you make will cost you just over 1,000 Won (around 0.70 Euro or 1.00 US Dollars).  Often, you can use them also to pay for taxis and some convenience stores & attractions also accept thm.  They’re smart cards – just charge ’em up, swipe ’em on the pad as you enter & leave the bus or the metro system, and the fare is deducted from your card.  Remember to swipe the both as you get on & off / enter & leave… that is important!

Taxis: Every city has ’em.  Seoul has three common types of taxis that you can hail on the street [a.k.a. “two more types than, many places”] and, apparently even more types that I have not been aware of (such as services similar to the phone-only minicab services).   Whole webpages about taxis, e.g., on the lifeinkorea website.  Anyway, three basic kinds:

  •  White taxis, which aren’t great.  Not always very clean.  Seldom seem to know where I am going, never seem to know how to use the SatNav, and when they figure it out, they don’t trust what it says.  But life is an adventure, eh?
  • Orange taxis, otherwise known as International taxis.  For some reason, they disappear whenever I want a taxi and I end up in a white taxi.  However, the orange taxis are pretty good — seem to know where they’re going, know how to use a GPS, sometimes have a bit of English (which can be helpful if, like me, your Korean is still a tad basic), are clean & tidy..
  • Black or Deluxe taxis.  Say no more.  These are more expensive, but know exactly where they’re going and are spotlessly clean.  These are the ones we book, e.g. if we need an early morning taxi to the train station.
  • International taxis.  I’d heard about these and finally spotted them in the wild!  There seem to be two flavours here, the black (“Foreigners Only”) and the yellow (no mention of who can use it, but I suspect also foreigners only).  Why do I think these are, at best, no more expensive than the Black taxis?

And there are finer gradations such as the mini-van version of a taxi etc.


Buses:  Kind of like the taxis, there are a lot of different kinds of buses… yellow, green, blue, red, airport… The map on the right explains it all (well, mostly all).  And like the subway, there’s a great app for finding out your bus (I like the feature to find stops near you and then drill into the buses, including maps, to see where you can go.  Problem is you’re spoilt for choice:  just too many options.

As for the taxis, whole pages on the web about this.  The LifeInKorea page on buses is pretty good, as is the Visit Korea bus page from which I’ve (mostly) copied the following definitions.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Yellow bus myself.

  • Green buses [feeder routes] travel shorter distances and carry travelers between transfer points such as subway stations and longer bus routes.
  • Blue buses [main routes] travel on major roads and run for relatively long distances through Seoul.
  • Yellow buses [loops] operate on a closed circuit within a district of Seoul.
  • Red buses [commuter lines] are express buses that travel from Seoul to suburban areas.



Subway & Train:  The subway system in Seoul is huge.  There are both apps and the online SMRTC subway map, with which you can pick your starting & destination stations, and it calculates the best route, with times and transfer instructions.  Getting around is a doddle.  Remember yer T-Money card!

Pictures of subways aren’t easy to come by.  Here are a few features of the system that I found unusual, which are reflected in the pics below

  • Screens showing location of trains, so you have an idea when the next one is due.  A bit pointless since the wait times are so short, but I can think of some systems that could use this (Washington DC, are you listening?).
  • Barriers between the public and the tracks.  By “barriers”, I mean “glass walls”.  See the before-and-after shots below.
  • Color-coded train floors.  What line was the 4th shot taken on:  red, blue, green, purple or yellow?  Green!  (Yes, the lines also have numbers.)



Other Stuff (mostly cars)

Wierd Cars: I said this section was mostly cars.  I’ll add more shots as I find them…


Parking Lots:  Wierd windowless tall, narrow white buildings dot the city… multistory mechanical parking lots!  The cars are on a giant vertical conveyor belt.  Empty slot cycles into view… drive your car in… and it’s whisked away.  This is totally cool!  I haven’t used one yet.



 Posted by on 30 Jan 2014

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