Ulsan is a city in South Gyeongsang and the capital of the Ulsan Metropolitan District.
Ulsan is a seaside metropolitan city in the southeast of Korea with a population of 1.2 million. The city is known for its whaling heritage and more recently as the industrial heart of the country.
While Ulsan is not listed in many tourist guides, it is the gateway to the Yeongnam Alps, considered to be one of the most beautiful provincial parks in South Korea. It also has twelve designated "Scenic Areas", from natural icons to man made buildings.
Ulsan today lives in a Catch-22 situation; in some districts it is impossible to escape the industries. Although these industrial sites are breath-taking in scope, a testament to the achievement of man, they blight the landscape. On the other hand, the investment from these industries undeniably makes the city an better place to be.
Ulsan was a World Cup 2002 host city.
Ulsan includes 4 wards ("Gu") and 1 county ("Gun"):
Samsandong, home of the Lotte and Hyundai department stores, can be considered the up-market district. Western fashion brands are available along with a number of western chain restaurants. The neon lit back streets yield a vibrant bar and restaurant culture. The Lotte Ferris wheel is also in this area next to the Lotte Cinema.
Old down-town, Seongnamdong, is good for shopping at low, local prices (there are brand goods shops too however). It is the location of a small number of foreigner friendly/foreigner run bars.
Mugeodong, the home of Ulsan University, is the best place for the young, twenty-somethings wishing to eat, drink and party.
When to visit
The best months tend to be from March through May before it gets too hot. Summer serves up a heavy sweat-inducing humidity along with prolonged rain showers mixed with the occasional typhoon. It remains warm until late October (cited by many to be the best month) at which point the weather turns cold. But it is not uncommon even in December to have warm spells with temperatures plummeting at night. Ulsan sees little snow due to its southerly position on the Korean peninsular and polluted atmosphere - however that is not to say that snow can not fall. When it does fall, it can be heavy.
As Ulsan receives no international flights it is only possible to arrive in the city via the air from two destinations - Seoul (Gimpo) and Jeju-do.
Getting to Ulsan by plane from Incheon Int’l Airport requires a transfer upon landing to Gimpo Airport. It is best to do this via the limousine bus service, which departs from in front of the main terminal at Incheon Int'l Airport every five minutes. The journey then takes about thirty five minutes. The fare is W6,000. Be sure to listen to the announcements on the bus as it will inform you of which terminal you need for your onward flight.
Domestic airplane from Gimpo (operated by Korean Air and Asiana) takes about one hour. Weekday fares start at W62,000 rising to W71,000 at weekends.
The tourist information booth on the ground floor is a must before leaving the airport for great maps of the city and many leaflets on things to do. There is literature on Gyeongju also.
Those wanting to get to and from Gyeongju usually pass through Ulsan airport too. A direct bus service to Gyeongju runs 4 times a day. Departures from Ulsan Airport are at 8:20 11:40 16:10 18:40. Departures from Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, Platform No.5 are at: 7:00, 10:10, 14:30,17:20.
If you are flying in directly to Incheon, it may be more convenient to take the bus from the airport directly to Ulsan. It leaves from stand 10C outside arrivals, costs approximately 40,000 won one way and takes about five hours.
Ulsan has rail links with the rest of the country and it is possible to get to the city without too much trouble or waiting.
KTX started serving Ulsan directly starting in November 2010, although the train station is not located in the city centre, instead to the west of the city in Eonyang. It is for the most part very inconveniently located, being further away from downtown than even the airport, however Ulsan City is accessible by bus from the station.
The regular city buses (yellow and white) cost 1,200 won when using cash, or 1,140 Won when using a transportation card, and are the cheapest, although not the most comfortable way or quickest to get to the city center. The 327, 337, and 807 all runs to Samsan-dong, which is the downtown of Ulsan, while other routes stay outside of the city core. These buses do not use the expressway and even makes some stops that are somehwat out of the way, so they may take considerably longer than the buses below to the city center.
One Chwaseok (seated) bus line runs as well to the KTX station, route number 1703. It costs 1,700 Won by cash, or 1,500 using a transporation card. It uses the expressway to the city center, so it is quicker and has more comfortable seats as the regular city buses.
There are also five express buses (5000 series) which run from the station to various parts of the city. They cost 3,200 Won when paid in cash, or 3,000 Won by transportation card. These buses have the most comfortable seats and make limited amounts of stops along the way. You find easily spot these buses immediately after leaving the station. While not very high frequency (about 2 departures per hour), they are timed to depart after the trains arrive at Ulsan station (with the notable exception of the past two arrives from Seoul). Bus number 5001 goes to Samsan-dong and also stops very close to the Lotte hotel. You would need to get off at the Boram hospital stop (the stop after Namgu office).
Non high speed trains
The existing non high speed Ulsan station has been renamed to Taehwagang (Taehwa River) Station, while only the new KTX station is now named Ulsan station.
With the start of direct KTX service to Ulsan, there are only two slow (Mugunghwa) trains that go to Seoul per day (they terminate at Cheongryangni). One is an overnight train that will get you to Cheongryangni in the early morning. There are no Saemaul trains stopping at Taehwagang Station. Most slow trains now terminate in Dongdaegu Station and Bujeon station in Busan, with a few runs to Pohang and other places.
Taehwagang station is situated a brisk twenty minutes walk from the centre of Samsandong following the main road straight ahead after going outside. Look for the iconic Lotte ferris wheel. Walking from the Lotte Ferris Wheel is truly a brisk walk! Taxis provide a better mode of transportation to the Taehwagang Station, and gives you the advantage of not carrying your backpack or luggage along the sidewalks.
As of December 2013, the part of the line that runs in Haeundae has been completely rerouted between Songjeong station and Centum city. Songjeong station is now slightly further up the main road, and Haeundae station now stops in the new city area.
Getting to Ulsan by car is simple enough using the national expressway system:
Ulsan is well served by intercity buses and it is possible to get to the city from any other major (and not so major) location in the country. The city terminals are located a brief walk across the street from each other in Samsandong with a smaller terminal in Bangeojin. It is also possible to jump off these buses at the major neighborhoods or intersections on the way into the city (Gongeotap and Shinbok rotaries being a notable two).
From Seoul It takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on traffic. The express bus runs from the Express Bus Terminal in Seocho-Gu in Seoul to Ulsan with departures about once every 30 minutes. There also is an intercity bus running from the Dong-Seoul bus terminal once every 30 to 40 minutes to the Intercity Bus Temerminal in Samsan Dong in Ulsan, as well as two departures a day from the same terminal to the Bangeojin terminal.
From Busan There are several options for the Busan - Ulsan route.
There are no ferry services in Ulsan though some people do arrive via work on boats that make port at the shipyards. The nearest international ferry services for the general public are in Busan where they arrive from a whole host of places including China and Japan. It is very rare that anyone would actually want to come to Ulsan for the first time using these services. Many English teachers make use of the ferries in Busan for the E-2 visa run to Fukuoka in Japan.
Ulsan has an extensive public bus network with plans in place to build Light Rapid Transit system in the future.
If staying in the city for any length of time then buying the transportation discount card makes economic sense. It will entitle the holder to a 50 Won discount on fares (200 Won discount on Chwaseok "seated" buses) and a free transfer between bus services if made within the hour. Upon exiting the first bus be sure to place the card over the box with an X and O to initiate the free transfer.
The cards can be bought and refilled at the vendor shacks located next to any major bus stop in the city. Depending on design it should cost no more than 5,000won. This does not include any credit which must be paid for in addition. One great feature is that it can be used on other city transport networks across the country.
Getting around the city by bus is a lengthy and time consuming process. The white express bus services alleviate this somewhat but are less frequent on the routes. The regular yellow city buses cost a flat 1,200 won (1,200 by cash, 1,140 by prepaid bus card) regardless of your journey’s destination. This makes long distance bus travel economical, but for short trips not so much.
Buses run until about 11:30PM in the evening after this they start again early in the morning. Perhaps around 5:00-5:20AM in some areas. The smaller blue buses only circuit the immediate local area many times a day. These cost 800 won or more.
Step onto the bus at the front with exact change if possible. Drivers do give change but nothing more than a few hundred Won. To exit the bus press one of the red buttons for a stop and step off at the back. Drivers will not accept 10,000 and 5,000 won notes. You can use two 1,000 won notes. Just drop them in the slot when you board and the driver will give you change.
Starting on January 1st, 2013 the taxi fare increased to the new fares shown below.
Foreigners use taxis in the city frequently and almost always without problem. They’re relatively cheap to use especially if the cost is shared among others. Once the bus stops running at night they are the only way to get from place to place over long distances.
The minimum fare begins at 2,400won for the first two kilometres and increases by 100 won for every 125 metres thereafter (or every 30 seconds if the taxi is going below 15 Km/H). Taking a taxi between 12 midnight and 4 a.m. will mean an increase of 20% on the minimum fare. 3,360 being the new minimum, rising at 120 won thereafter.
After 4 a.m. passes the minimum fare immediately returns to 2,400. If your driver places it on the higher fare question this action or ask them to stop and get straight out. 4 a.m. and beyond means 2,400 won.
Be aware if the driver touches the meter at any point during the journey. There is only a need to touch it twice, once when the journey starts and once when it is over – that is unless your journey starts shortly before midnight and continues past in which case they may press a button to start increasing the fare by 20%.
Calling for a taxi should cost an extra 1,000 won but it is not often noticed on top of the total fare.
Speak clearly and slowly to the driver as many have problems understanding a foreigner speaking Korean, no matter how good your skills are. It is a good idea to have the address of your destination written in Korean to give to the driver. As the city is expanding rapidly you may be requesting travel to a building they have not heard of before. Written addresses helps them to use their GPS units and conquers any language difficulties.
Be also aware that if you should be involved as a passenger in a taxi in an accident with another vehicle, you may be held responsible for costs incurred - if the driver was not taking you to where you wanted to go - the accident would not have happened. It has happened in the past, and even the police have been called if there is concern that the cost of damages is so high that it could be considered the passenger may not be able to pay immediately!
If you’re in some of the outlying areas and live close to a station then it becomes a viable form of transport into the city. For example, Hogye has a station in the north (Hyomun was closed 2007-06-01). To the south lie Deokha, Onyang and Seosaeng stations.
Tickets will be cheaper than a taxi but slightly more expensive than the bus. However you’ll be into the centre within a few minutes making it well worth that extra couple of hundred won. Check your local station ticket office for arrival and departure times as schedules change depending on season of travel.
By Light Rapid Transit
A Light Rapid Transit (LRT) will be built in the city over the coming years similar to that found in some European cities. The first of the lines will run through Mugeodong, Munsu Stadium, Gonguptap, Samsandong to Ulsan Station then turning north to Hyomun Station. There have been demands from the residents of Buk-Gu for it to extend as far north at Hogye. There are designs to eventually connect the ship yards at Bangeojin to the network.
Construction work has yet to begin and is not to be completed before 2014. The project is to cost at least 1.4 billion dollars.
The primary language of Ulsan is Korean. English is not common especially among the older generations and many younger Koreans are shy about using their language skills. They'll often nod and say yes without really having understood a question - which can lead to problems when asking for directions. The Korean phrasebook should provide some useful words and expressions.
Twelve Scenic Areas of Ulsan
Ulsan has designated Twelve Scenic Areas of interest to tourists visiting the city.
Popular on Munsu Mountain, the tallest in the city. Over 100 sport routes are available from 5.8 up to 5.13
Ulsan is the gateway to Gajisan National Park and is accessible from Eonyang, a suburb of Ulsan. Take a bus to the Eonyang terminal and change for a bus heading to Seongnamsa. Hiking in the numerous mountains around the city is very popular, especially among the Koreans. Just about any wooded area will be flush with hiking trails.
The city has a fabulous river park with walking, running and biking trails. Flowers are plentiful and make for pleasant journeys along the river.
You can learn how to make onggi (Korean traditional china), but you might need a translator. Ulsan University, particularly UNIST, has a large English-language graduate student program.
The most common work available for native English speakers is teaching English. Ulsan has both private schools (hagwons) and a public school program from the Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education. This program is supplied with teachers through Footprints Recruiting in Vancouver.
Ulsan has little in the way of interesting or original items for sale. Foreign residents may be interested to know that there is a large H&M in the UpSquare mall (across from Lotte Hotel). There is also a very expensive Victoria's Secret next to UpSquare.
The second floor of the Samsandong Skyrex apartment building (the tall twin buildings that can't be missed) hosts a buffet called D'Maris which is focused on seafood, but also hosts a large variety of other dishes and is quite delicious. Cost is 36,300 Won per person.
Located around the Taehwa River Station, there are numerous motels to choose from. Typically, these motels will cost anywhere from 40,000 won to 60,000 won depending on the time of year. Be aware that motel prices fluctuate depending on the season and what is going on in the city. If there is a festival on, you could pay more.
There are two jjimjilbangs located near the Intercity and Express Bus Terminals, both of which cost below 10,000WON for sleeping.
Ulsan, like any city in South Korea, is relatively safe by global standards.
There have been several reports of a man in a red sports car harassing foreign women by the Mugeodong McDonald's. However, he is easily frightened away by approaching cars and pedestrians and ducking inside the McDonald's (24 hours) is usually enough to deter him.
Safe driving is an unknown concept in Ulsan. Pedestrians should be extremely careful walking in even pedestrians areas. Be especially alert for motorbike drivers on the shopping streets of Mugeodong and Seongnamdong.
There are many other cities nearby that are cool to check out for a weekend tour