A lot of people come to Korea completely unprepared for one of the most unique/interesting/strangee Korea-things: road-side pit stops. Seeing as my girl JoLeah is mere hours away from me in Jeonju (having landed at Gimpo Airport this morning!!!), she is probably experiencing one of these AS WE SPEAK (well... as I type... you'll probably be reading after she's here!) NOT TO MENTION my mama and aunt will be here next week, it's about time for this post!
I remember my first bus ride down to Gwangju from Incheon International... I had no idea what to expect. The bus pulled off the road and there we were... in a parking lot. I was like "Uh, is this Gwangju? Well that was quick! I expected it to be... bigger... and... wait...what?"
I had been sitting in the front row of the bus with my Bible on my lap, wide awake after having slept the whole plane ride. My eyes must have given me away as they widened with concern, and my eyebrows were probably way up and scrunched with my WHAT-ON-EARTH-IS-THIS-I'm-confused face. A kind, kind girl next to me spoke English and noticed that I was reading the Bible, so she introduced herself as a fellow Christian, and showed me where to find the bathroom.
I pray that if you're reading this and you come to Korea, you'll have a similar Good Samaritan on your bus who will guide you through a noisy, busy rest stop and feed you (even if you think those weird fish-paste skewers are gross, it was so kind of her to share!)(and now I love them. OH HOW THINGS CHANGE.)
In case you don't have such an experience, allow me to be your guide!
The Expat's Guide to Korean Rest Stops
Most buses will make a pit stop about half-way through the drive. For example, if you're going from Seoul to Gwangju, it takes around 3.5-4 hours, so expect the bus to stop about two hours into the drive.
FIRST THINGS FIRST. Look at your bus as you get off. Notice the departure and destination names, as well as the time you left. It should be in lights up on the top left of the wind shield. Also double check your lisense plate number and take a mental not of what your driver looks like, just in case. The bus will only stop for approx. 10-15 minutes at the rest stop, and I have seen the drivers leave people before, so get ready to hustle!
I generally take a snapshot with my phone, because I usually nap on the bus and my brain is a little foggy when I've just woken up. I don't want to be lost at a rest stop in the middle of the night so... pictures help!
Next, you're probably going to need to go to the potty first. Look for a giant sign that says 화장실 (hwa jang shil) - this means "toilet" in Korean. It's usually the biggest sign around, and very often it's pink and blue. Easy enough!
While you're waiting in line, older women sometimes try to push you out of the way. Korea is still very much a Confucian society, so elders have priority on most things... sometimes I get really irritated with this, sometimes I just take a step back and let them go, cause I'm the foreigner and I'm younger and they probably just really have to pee.
Most stalls in the restroom have western-style toilets, but some have squatty potties. You'll see the symbol for a squatty on the door, like so:
Open the door and... Voila! Supposedly this is gaining popularity in the west, because it's a really healthy way to... er... shall we say, "release."
Here's an example of a typical stall:
FUN FACT: most stalls have a "courtesy button" that plays music or white noise while you're in there, and most have a mirror at eye-level so you can check yourself out while doing your bid-ness. It's a hoot!
Wash your hands with FREEZING COLD water. Sometimes there's soap, sometimes not. Whatevs. Then, sometimes you can JET DRY! Other times, drip dry. Whatevs.
If you want to know more about bathrooms in Korea, I wrote this post about them a few months ago. Check it out here.
Now that your first priority is taken care of, you have a few minutes to look around. There are tons of street food stalls with all sorts of popular snacks. I'm not big on most Korean street food, so I usually skip these and go for the coffee shop or convenience store.
Ahhhh coffee, my love! Angel-in-us is one of the most popular coffee brands in Korea.
Caffe Bene is another very popular coffee shop. This rest stop had both! YUM.
Inside, there is always a cafe with noodles and misc. other Korean food. Since your bus won't wait very long, you should probably not even try to order anything. It'd take to long to arrive, then you'd have maybe 30 seconds to eat it before you have to go. If you're driving, though, this is great!
There's always a convenience store to check out, though!
There will be tons of snack options, from puffed rice cake, to hard boiled eggs, to dried pollock (fish)...
...to dried squid, chips/crisps, and cookies...
...tons of soda...
There's also usually a stall or two selling who knows what, and they're usually blaring awful (and awfully LOUD) 'traditional' music over the loudspeakers (may I again emphasize the LOUD part?) They have everything from cassette tapes (really), glittery visors, and dancing toys. It's pretty funny. Definitely unique!
Make your way back to your bus... remember that there are probably 25 almost-identical buses parked together, so you should remember the general location of your bus and your license plate number, like I mentioned earlier.
THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME! OH NO! I'M LOST!
Just kidding. FOUND IT!
Return to your seat, pop open your snacks, and settle in to watch an hour of Korean news, reality tv, a K-Drama, and/or baseball game until you reach your final destination. Or take another nap.
I hope you enjoyed your Korean rest stop tour ;) Until next time!