Part of the joys, pains, and general experience of traveling is trying out different transportation modes. So why fly from Japan to South Korea when you can take a ferry?
With 5 daily departure times, the JR Beetle Ferry (not covered by the Japan Rail Pass) leaves from Hakata Port in Fukuoka, located in the SW of Japan. For those of you who get seasick, I know this sounds like the least appealing option ever, but I’m here to tell you that, overall, it was a very smooth ride. Once you get far from the coast, it can get a bit choppy, but it’s hardly unbearable. If you’re willing to give the ferry a shot, it would be best to have something on you to ease any queasy and/or dizzy feelings that may sneak up on you, just in case. Even those of you who got lucky like I did by never being struck by seasickness, be wary and come prepared. You’re crossing the Sea of Japan, after all.
The Kobee/Beetle ferries, as they’re known, were designed so that the bottom barely touches water. The propellers and engines absorb most of the shock from the waves leaving you with a safe, comfortable, and hopefully, puke free ride.
From Hakata station to the port, it is a 10 minute (1300 JPY) cab ride, 30 minute bus ride, or about a 30-45 minute walk depending on how fast your feet move.
On the first floor of the Chuo Wharf Hakata International Port, you’ll find the ferry counters where you’ll be able to check in 1.5 hours prior to departure. In the mean time, waiting areas and restrooms are available as well as duty free shops, and free wifi.
While standing in line to check in, please enjoy the sign that says the vessel may make sharp turns to avoid run-ins with whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures. Not only are they concerned about passenger safety but marine life as well. Cheers to that!
When you check in, have your passport ready as well as a printed ticket confirmation, if you ordered online like I did. You’ll be able to pick your seat, and will be given a Korea Customs card, an arrival card, and boarding passes. You’ll also have to pay a fuel surcharge of 1500 JPY or 1600 JPY, depending on the month you travel. From Busan to Fukuoka, you will have to pay the fuel surcharge and terminal user ticket fees as well which comes out to 27,200 KRW.
One-way tickets cost 13,000 JPY ($160 USD), and round trip tickets cost 26,000 JPY ($315 USD). The journey takes 3 hours to reach Busan/Hakata port, and there are also overnight ferries you can take for a cheaper price.
If you want to check any bags, it’s 1000 JPY per bag, but you’re allowed to bring 3 bags on board with you (2 for free, 3rd for a fee).
Before passing through immigration, you’ll also have to buy a terminal user ticket 500 JPY. Not quite sure what it was for (shame on me for not asking, I know), but everyone needs one because they stamp it just before you enter immigration.
No free wifi on board, but they do play some entertaining Korean/Japanese comedy shows or documentaries. Bring a book, take a nap, enjoy the view of the wide open sea, or ponder the meaning of life while staring out at miscellaneous islands and shadows of the horizon.
When you go, you will, undoubtedly, be outnumbered by Japanese and Koreans, but soak in their liveliness and enjoy the ride.
Ships are clean, super comfortable, lots of leg room, and accompanied with well dressed and well mannered attendants. Food is available on board, but it is quite pricey so buy food at a 7/11 or something beforehand.
On each trip, I was lucky enough to get a one-seater so I didn’t have to share a row with anyone. The chairs were ultra comfortable too, and surprisingly, 3 hours wasn’t enough cozy time with those reclining bad boys. It was quite a peaceful ferrytale to say the least.
So if you’re up for a mild adventure, try the ferry to South Korea instead of flying directly into Seoul. Less hassle, cooler experience.