For many people who come to Seoul for the first time, the thought of traveling around such a large city can be very intimidating. While there are taxi services in Korea, these sometimes can be very expensive options for one to utilize. So for a lot of visitors or new people who don’t have a car, public transportation is the way to go. There are a number of options for trains and buses to get around Seoul or even to go from one end of the country to the other. To aid in all of this, many rely on apps that can be downloaded to their smartphone to help them plan their trip(s). But which app is the easiest to use and which is the hardest to use? I will give you my honest opinion of different apps that I’ve used and how much I would recommend them to a visitor to Korea. The 3 apps that will be reviewed today are Google Maps, Kakao Maps and Naver Maps. We will start by reviewing Google Maps and review the apps in alphabetical order.
If you have an Android phone, you already have this app on your phone and probably use it often as a GPS when traveling. For a number of websites, this is the default app that they will use when giving you directions on how to find them. While Google Maps may be more of a global template or standard, that doesn’t mean that it will work the same way for you in Korea.
The biggest pro for using this app is that if you are using to it figure out what bus or subway stop you need to get off at, it will tell you before you approach that stop. In my case, using a Pixel XL running Android 10, I received a notification similar to a text message that I needed to get off of my bus in 3 stops. This is a very useful feature for those who are from countries that are used to turn by turn directions being given to them. It will even ask you how crowded your bus is so that it can better predict what times are the best times to leave a location and get on that specific bus or subway to get to a destination.
With all of this in mind, you would think I would give this app my highest recommendation. However, I simply cannot do that. The reason is that Google Maps doesn’t always work in Korea, which sometimes leads to some confusing results. In my case, I was supposed to be in one building, but it showed me as needing to go to another building. Also, there are some locations that it showed me as not having a good way to get to. Because of this, I would give Google Maps a mid range recommendation. If it can find your location and you are trying to go somewhere near a bus or subway stop, it can work great for you. But it can also take up data and I would recommend using another app at the same time as a backup just in case.
It’s no secret that if you are going to live in Korea, you will have to get used to using Kakao at some point. Kakao is the way that many young people communicate with each other and is a Korean alternative to WhatsApp and Skype. So when I heard that other people used Kakao Maps and were happy with it, I was eager to try it myself. The results? Disappointment. For some reason, Kakao regularly gave a result of not being able to find my location, even if it was a transportation station. It was also confusing since other apps worked fine finding the locations I was looking for. It would be one thing if this was due to an internet issue. But with other apps working it clearly is not an internet issue. It maybe that I am somehow using the app incorrectly or maybe it works better if the results are typed in Korean instead of English. Hopefully I can figure this out soon and see if this is a viable option or not.
While many non Koreans have heard of Kakao, a number have not not heard of Naver. But Naver is a large corporation in Korea and do have their own GPS software that you can download as an app. The biggest pro for this app has been that it has been more consistent for me to use. When talking to other non Koreans who have been in Korea for a while, they also recommend Naver Maps as the GPS program that they use to get around. The directions seem to be very accurate, with the app telling you the names of the stops that you will come across on your way to your destination. This makes it easy to make sure you are heading on the right bus or subway line if you are confused.
Best of all, Naver tells you about how much your trip should cost. This is very handy if you are going to have to take both a subway and a bus to your stop, or if you are trying to figure out if you want to take a taxi to your destination. If you are taking a taxi, it will let you know if there are any tolls you’d have to pay to get to your destination. For taxis, buses and subways, it will tell you what they recommend as the fastest and shortest routes, along with other options to help you pick the best way for you to go.
If you are a Westerner and are used to your app telling you when to get off and where to get on verbally, this app won’t be the app for you. From what I’ve experienced, the app is designed to use less data and simply will list things out for you so that you can see what’s a head and what to do. If you are used to that approach, this will work fine for you. But if you are not used to this, and if you have to make transfers between subway and/or bus lines, this can be an issue for you. There’s really no way to simulate this process outside of using it here in Korea, so it’s hard to help one to prepare for this.
My overall conclusion is that out of these apps, I would recommend Naver Maps first, followed by Google Maps for a person who is new to Seoul. That being said, this is being written in September of 2019. This means that updates can be made to these apps that could change which one is the most useful to use. It also could be that there is a better way for me to use these apps that will change my mind as well. As I continue my journeys here in Korea, I’ll keep using each app and seeing what I can do to use them better. If you can think of anything I may be doing wrong, or if you can think of a different app that would be good to try out, please let me know.
With so many options being available, there’s no reason to feel stuck using an app that doesn’t work best for you personally. Keep searching until you find the right one for your travel needs, and you’ll be traveling around Korea like a native in no time.