One of the biggest highlights for me, as I went to Korea with Chan Brothers and the Korea Tourism Organization, was driving in South Korea.
As I was tasked to go down to Jeonju, which is definitely off the “beaten track”, a host of problems emerged. To start the ball rolling, the further you are from Seoul, the English Speaking Population of Korea slowly diminishes.
Next, there is the problem of left hand drive and right hand drive. In Singapore, the steering wheel is on the right hand side, and we also adhere to traffic rules inherited from our British Colonial Past. However, as South Korea has deep American Influences, they drive on the left hand side of the road. Driving in Korea, means that you need to adjust to this different driving style, and the different traffic light systems in Korea. At junctions, you can still turn right on red, and flashing yellow lights means you can still proceed (at least, I think so). Frankly, I was a bit confused by the traffic lights, and I just tried a “Monkey See, Monkey Do” philosophy as much as possible. These unpredictable conditions, certainly got my adrenalin pumping!
Rental Companies – At the airport, you will see the normal Hertz and other car rental companies that you are used to. So, renting a car in Korea is not difficult per se. Koreans are generally really helpful and friendly, and the personnel at the airports generally speak English.
Chan Brothers got me to rent a car from Avis in Jeonju. I am sure that all of us are familiar with this company. However, Avis in Korea is under the brand name of AJ car rental. However, problems arise, when you rent the car from the countryside rather than Seoul. In Jeonju, my service manager spoke very little English, and we spend most of our time playing charades with one another. Definitely Challenging…
My take is that if you want to rent a car in Korea, rent it from Seoul, or from other famous tourist locations like Jeju Island!
GPS –As I was generally travelling alone, maps are generally difficult to use, as I found it difficult to refer to them while driving. The GPS issued in more “touristy” locations such as Seoul and Jeju Island have GPS with an English option. This makes driving such a breeze, as you can focus on the road, and not be half wondering, if you are going to end up at the right location. If you going to drive in Korea, I would definitely go for the English GPS option.
For myself, I encountered problems, as in the rural areas such as Jeonju, the English option is not available. Therefore even though I got a GPS, it was in Korean, and I was being led around like a blindfolded man, following a Korean Voice. As I was dealing with a Korean GPS system, I got to my destinations by remembering how to keying sequences into the GPS Korean Menu. I simply remembered what to press, when I came to a menu selection in the GPS….However, to complicate issues (things always seem go wrong in the real world)…
In Korea, the GPS does not work via a ZIP or a Postal Code!
You can either key in the address in Korean, which is not an option for me (I don’t think I need to elaborate why… ), or input your next location via Telephone numbers. This complicates the whole equation, as sometimes I found myself at strange locations, as the Phone Numbers on the guide books were out-dated…Stressful man…
And to throw another spanner into the works, after keying in the phone number, you might get various locations with the SAME NAME! To me, all Korean words look the same, and impossible to decipher. So with the many options, I would just take the first one…or its down to scissors, paper stone…
Were there times when you got lost?
Yes I was! There were times when I got lost in my Korean GPS menu, and when my next destination did not have a valid number. At those moments, I just camped out at the Tourist Information Office, and waited for the office to Open. When the Tourist Officers came to work, I then proceeded to ask them for help! I also tried asking people off the streets, but you can hardly find anyone who speaks English in the countryside….
But overall, drivers in Korea are polite, and once you know where you are headed. It is a very enjoyable drive. Just check out the scenery as I discovered Korea. The views are simply stunning, and I felt like I was in a Korean Drama..
If you really want to feel my anxiety about driving in Korea, check out the video I produced for Chan Brothers and the Korean Tourism Organization.