China to South Korea and Japan Without Flying

Why Do It?

I dislike flying.  It is a quick way to get from one place to another, but it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. I much prefer the space and and view on a train or ferry. Because of this, I would happily spend 8 hours on a train to avoid 1 hour on a ‘plane. It is much quicker and somewhat cheaper to fly from Beijing to Tokyo, but where’s the adventure? By taking the ground route, you get to meet the locals and see the countryside.

How To Do It?

Although South Korea is connected to China by land, for all intents and purposes, it is an island nation. It is not easy for Westerners to obtain a visa for North Korea and impossible to cross the closed border between North and South Korea. Although this option is unavailable, it is possible to get from Beijing to Tokyo via South Korea without leaving the ground.

Starting the journey from Beijing, regular D and G trains depart Beijing South for Qingdao. D trains take around 5½ hours and cost ¥252 (about  A$45). G trains take about 4½ hours and cost ¥344 (about A$60).

From Qingdao, there is an overnight ferry (The New Golden Bridge V) operated by Weidong (http://www.weidong.com/) departing  Qingdao at 17:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, arriving at the Korean port of Incheon at 11:00 the next day. Accommodation is available in Economy Class (up to 64 sleeping mats in a large room) for ¥750 (A$130), Business Class (4 bunks or 8 sleeping mats in a room) for ¥890 (A$155), Royal Class (a small private cabin with en-suite and 2 single beds)  for ¥1090 (A$190) or Deluxe Royal Class (a large cabin with couch, writing desk en-suite and a double bed) for ¥1370 (A$240). Taxes of ¥150 (A$26) are payable on top of each ticket and must be paid in cash prior to passing through customs.

Tickets are available from the ticket office at 16F Yingdelong Bldg. 15 Donghaiwest Rd, Qingdao, (and possibly the Ferry terminal as well). Tickets may be bought on the day of departure if space is available  but may be sold out. Passengers must be at the terminal 2 hours prior to the ferry departure. To get to the ferry terminal from the railway station, a taxi will cost around ¥30, or you can take bus 8 or 217 for ¥2.

It is also possible to travel via Weihai, departing Beijing on a Monday, Wednesday or Saturday on train K411. The train departs Beijing Railway Station at 22:32 and arrives in Weihai at 13:00 the next day. A hard sleeper will set you back ¥245 (about A$45) and soft sleeper ¥383 (about A$70).

From Weihai, there is an overnight ferry (The New Golden Bridge II) also operated by Weidong (http://www.weidong.com/) departing  Weihai at 19:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, arriving at the Korean port of Incheon at 11:00 the next day. Fares, taxes and accommodation are the same as on The New Golden Bridge V (from Qingdao).

Tickets are available from the ticket office at 48, Haibinbei Rd, Weihai, just next to the ferry terminal. Tickets may be bought on the day of departure if space is available  but may be sold out. Passengers must be at the terminal 2 hours prior to the ferry departure. To get to the ferry terminal from the railway station, a taxi will cost around ¥20, or you can take bus 1 for ¥1.

Both the New Golden Bridge II and the New Golden Bridge V are large ferries – about the same size as the Spirit Of Tasmania which runs from Melbourne to Devonport (27000 tonnes & 30000 tonnes respectively). They are reasonably clean and comfortable, and the journey across the Yellow Sea is (usually) calm and relaxing. They each have several restaurants on board, but they seem to close fairly early. I tried to get dinner after 20:00 and found the restaurants closed; all I could buy were snacks. A dining room sells a buffet breakfast prior to arrival in port.

On arrival in Incheon, it is a pleasant 30 minute walk (around 1.5km) to Dongincheon Metro station (if you have a lot of luggage, I recommend a taxi). When leaving the ferry terminal, walk out through the car park to the main road. Cross using the traffic lights and turn left. At the next set of traffic lights (on the corner with a petrol station), turn right and walk up through the shopping precinct to the end of the road. Dongincheon metro station is accessible via a pedestrian subway. Dongincheon station is on Seoul Metro line 1, which runs from Incheon into the centre of Seoul, and I recommend taking the “Yongsan Rapid” (express) service. Although it terminates 2 stops short of Seoul station, it will overtake several stopping trains. At Yongsan, transfer to a Soyosan bound line 1 train for 2 more stops to Seoul Railway Station.

From Seoul station, KTX trains run frequently (every 10 to 20 minutes) to Busan. The 330km journey takes 2½ to 3 hours and a Standard Class ticket costs ₩57,300 (about A$55). From Busan station it is possible to walk to the Busan International Ferry terminal (about 30 minutes), take a taxi (about 10 minutes) or take the number 1 subway line for one stop towards Sinpyeong and walk about 10 minutes from the Jungang -Dong subway station.

It is not realistically possible to arrive in Incheon in the morning and catch the Ferry from Busan in the Afternoon. The ferry from China arrives at 11:00. 30 minutes need to be allowed for disembarkation and customs, then 3o minutes to walk to the Metro station. A further 60 minutes should be allowed to catch the train to Seoul. That means a realistic arrival time of 13:00 into Seoul. That means that you could take the 13:30 KTX service to Busan, which arrives at 16:08. The latest ferry from Busan to Hakata is at 15:00.

Traveling the other way, it is possible to take the early ferry from Hakata at 8:30, arriving in Busan at 11:25. Allowing 30 minutes for disembarkation and customs, then 3o minutes to walk to Busan station it would be possible to catch the 12:20 KTX service to Busan, arriving in Seoul at 14:57. Allowing 90 minutes to get from Seoul to the Incheon Ferry terminal, that’s an arrival time of 16:30. As the ferry to Qingdao departs at 17:00, and passengers are required to arrive 2 hours prior to departure, it is not feasible to travel to Qingdao in a day, however the ferry to Weihai departs 2 hours later at 19:00, so this would be a plausible option.

At Busan the JR Beetle ferry (http://www.jrbeetle.co.jp/internet/english/index.html) runs 3 times daily to Hakata in Kyushu, southern Japan. Tickets are available from their website, but you may need Google Translate to navigate the booking system. The ferry takes just under 3 hours to get from Busan to Hakata. The ferry (operated by JR Kyushu – a Japanese railway company) is a hydrofoil, skimming above the water at up to 85 km/h. It is comfortable, modern and smooth. The standard fare is ¥13,000 (about A$145).

At Hakata, bus 88 runs to the railway station. It takes around 20 minutes and will cost ¥220 (about A$2.50). From Hakata, Shinkansen (bullet trains) run to Tokyo taking about 5 hours and costing around ¥22,320 (about A$255). If you purchase a JR travel pass, it is much more economical; a 7 day economy pass will cost about A$270, which will almost pay for itself in one trip from Hakata to Tokyo! It is important that the pass is purchased before you leave on your holiday, as they cannot be purchased in Japan. The passes are also not valid on certain bullet trains.

Traveling from Japan to China is essentially the same (in reverse), with a few minor differences. Tickets for the ferry from Incheon to Qingdao or Weihai are available from the Incheon ferry terminal, or from Wei dong’s Seoul office at Sungji Bldg 10F, 585 Dohwa-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (near the number 2 exit of Mapo Subway station on line 5). The New Golden Bridge II departs Incheon for Weihai at 19:00 on Monday, Wednesday & Saturday. The New Golden Bridge V departs Incheon for Qingdao at 17:00 on Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday.

Australian residents (amongst others) do not usually require a prearranged visa for South Korea or Japan (none required for South Korea and Japan’s is issued on arrival). Australian visitors to China DO require a prearranged visa, and you WILL be turned away without one. Visas are not available on arrival in Qingdao or Weihai, and you must have one before boarding the ferry.

Suggested Itineraries

Beijing to Tokyo via Qingdao

  • Day 1 (Mon/Wed/Fri):
    • Train G185, departing Beijing South at 07:45 (arrive Qingdao 12:06)
    • Be at ferry terminal by 15:00, to commence boarding for 17:00 departure
  • Day 2
    • Arrive Incheon 11:00
    • Metro train to Seoul
    • KTX to Busan
    • Overnight at Busan
  • Day 3
    • Arrive at Busan ferry terminal by 07:30 to commence boarding for 08:30 ferry
    • Arrive Hakata 11:25
    • Bus 88 to Hakata station
    • Pick up JR rail pass voucher (must be pre-purchased prior to leaving on your holiday)
    • SHINKANSEN SAKURA 556 departing Hakata at 13:09, arriving Shin-Osaka 15:44
    • SHINKANSEN HIKARI 528 departing Shin-Osaka 16:13, arriving Tokyo 19:10

Beijing to Tokyo via Weihai

  • Day 1 (Mon/Wed/Sat):
    • Train K411, departing Beijing 22:32
  • Day 2
    • Train K411 arrives Weihai 13:00
    • Be at ferry terminal by 17:00, to commence boarding for 19:00 departure.
  • Day 3
    • Arrive Incheon 11:00
    • Metro train to Seoul
    • KTX to Busan
    • Overnight at Busan
  • Day 4
    • Arrive at Busan ferry terminal by 07:30 to commence boarding for 08:30 ferry
    • Arrive Hakata 11:25
    • Bus 88 to Hakata station
    • Pick up JR rail pass voucher (must be pre-purchased prior to leaving on your holiday)
    • SHINKANSEN SAKURA 556 departing Hakata at 13:09, arriving Shin-Osaka 15:44
    • SHINKANSEN HIKARI 528 departing Shin-Osaka 16:13, arriving Tokyo 19:10

Tokyo to Beijing via Qingdao

  • Day 1 (Mon/Wed/Fri):
    • SHINKANSEN HIKARI 501 departing Tokyo at 06:26, arriving Shin-Osaka 09:30
    • SHINKANSEN SAKURA 551 departing Shin-Osaka 09:59, arriving Tokyo 12:34
    • Bus 88 to Hakata Central Pier
    • Be at ferry terminal by 14:30, to commence boarding for 15:30 departure
    • Arrive Busan 18:25
    • Overnight at Busan
  • Day 2:
    • KTX126 departing Busan 10:00 (arrive Seoul 12:39)
    • Seoul Metro Line 1 (towards Incheon) to Dongincheon
    • Walk or taxi to Incheon Ferry Terminal, arrive by 15:00 for 17:00 departure
    • Depart Incheon 17:00

Day 3

  • Arrive Qingdao 09:00
  • Bus 8 or 217 to Qingdao station
  • Train G190 departing Qingdao 11:38 (Beijing South 16:10)

Tokyo to Beijing via Weihai

  • Day 1 (Sun/Tue/Fri):
    • SHINKANSEN HIKARI 509 departing Tokyo at 10:33, arriving Shin-Osaka 13:30
    • SHINKANSEN SAKURA 559 departing Shin-Osaka 13:59, arriving Tokyo 16:34
    • Overnight Hakata
  • Day 2
    • Bus 88 to Hakata Central Pier
    • Be at ferry terminal by 07:30, to commence boarding for 08:30 departure
    • Arrive Busan 11:25
    • Walk/Taxi/Subway to Busan Railway Station
    • KTX136 departing Busan 12:30 (arrive Seoul 15:06)
    • Seoul Metro Line 1 (towards Incheon) to Dongincheon
    • Walk or taxi to Incheon Ferry Terminal, arrive by 17:00 for 19:00 departure
    • Depart Incheon 19:00
  • Day 3
    • Arrive Weihai 09:00
    • Bus 1 to Weihai Railway Station
    • Train K412 departs Weihai 20:50
  • Day 4
    • Arrive Beijing 12:30

Disclaimer

All timetables and prices were checked against websites on 12/06/2013, and are believed to be correct. All times are local times.

Visa information is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. This should be checked when booking your holiday.

China and Japan both use the ¥ sign for their currency, so when talking about Japan, ¥ refers to Yen and when talking about China, ¥ refers to Yuan (RMB). All conversions to A$ are approximate, and based on exchange rates on of A$1 =Chinese ¥5.8, Japanese ¥91 and ₩1068.4 (as reported on 12/06/2013)

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