Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Ferry to Fukuoka (and Back)

This is going to be a long, boring post about taking a high-speed ferry, the Kobee Beetle, across the East Sea/Sea of Japan from Busan to Fukuoka (and back). The rides themselves weren't very interesting, but I think sharing my experience would be helpful for anyone who wants to take the trip in the future. In the words of a friend, "I mean, Japan's right there. It'd be a shame not to visit while we're in Korea."

My ferry was to depart from Busan on Thursday morning. I had booked my ticket weeks in advance with help from my co-teacher through a travel agency called Joy Road (조이로드). They emailed me my confirmation number and detailed instructions (in Korean) on what to do when I got to the ferry terminal.
View of Busan from my window seat on the ferry; you can see the shopping centers of Nampodong and Busan Tower.
Busan --> Fukuoka
Take the subway line 1 (orange) to Jungang Station (중앙역), get out at exit 10, and walk across the street and through the large gate to the Busan Port International Passenger Terminal (부산국제여겍터미널). Go up to the second floor to the counter for Kobee/Miraejet (they appear to be the same company; both run the same high-speed ferries, as opposed to the slower "cruises"). Check-in ends about forty-five minutse prior to departure. For both trips, you must pay a "terminal tax" (which is BS, but there's no way around it) as well as a "fuel surcharge" for your ticket. The latter of these is actually part of your ticket price, only it changes periodically depending on the price of oil, so it's not calculated until you arrive. For me, the additional fees were about 23,000KRW.

After going through super-fast security and being stamped out of Korea, I boarded the boat! To my surprise, the interior was set up like an airplane cabin, with neat rows of seats and narrow aisles. The TV was showing Running Man before and after the safety instructional videos. There was supposed to be wifi, but it didn't work for me. It wasn't a boat you could walk around in, so I stayed in my seat and looked outside. The view of the coastline of Busan was nice, and then the view of the open water was a thrill, but due to high winds, the waters were rough; several times the boat ran straight into a wave and all I could see outside my window was the white spray of water. I didn't become completely seasick, but I found it more comfortable to close my eyes and drift off. The trip took 3 hours.

Upon arrival in Japan, immigration was an awkward affair. I hadn't put down the telephone number of my friend (an American who lives in Japan) with whom I'd be traveling, so the immigration officer tried to ask me what the number was, or why I didn't have it, or something. He didn't speak more than a few words of English, and I couldn't get anything across to him. The officer next to us was speaking fluently in Korean to another passenger, so I wondered if I should try Korean. But eventually the officer gave up and let me through. Customs was also awkward; the officer searched my bag very thoroughly while asking me extremely rehearsed questions (in English) about my travel plans and past experiences and if I was bringing any illegal drugs into the country.

And then I was in Japan! Hakata Port International Terminal. (The ancient city of Hakata (博多) was merged with Fukuoka (福岡) hundreds of years ago, but it is now the name of the ward where Fukuoka's port and train station are located.) You have to take a bus to get to the actual city: routes 11, 19, or 50 to Hakata train station. Fortunately, my friend had prepared very detailed instructions on how to take the buses (enter from the middle and grab a ticket; you can get change for a 1,000 yen note on any bus, pay the fare with exact change only, depending on the number on your ticket (from the port to Hakata Station is 220 yen)) and where to go from there.

The Kobee Beetle, high-speed ferry
Fukuoka --> Busan
After a wonderful weekend traveling around northern Kyushu, I found myself back in Fukuoka on Monday afternoon for the ferry ride back to Korea. From the new and beautiful Hakata train station, bus stop E, I took bus 88 to the Hakata Port International Terminal (博多港国際ターミナル), last stop on the line. (There was tons of traffic due to a large Seijin-shiki taking place nearby.)

The Kobee/Miraejet counter is on the first floor. The fuel surcharge was 2,000 yen and the terminal tax was 500 yen, the latter payable via a small vending machine by the entrance (because Japan). I had to use my Korean with the clerk, and I really wonder if my American accent was stronger than her Japanese one.

A few funny comparisons between the Busan terminal and the Fukuoka one: at the latter, there was no security prior to boarding. I just showed my boarding pass and terminal ticket and then went to town at the duty-free shop before getting on the boat. At Busan, the security had been quick, but it was at least there. Also, photographs of the boat and pier were not allowed, but at Fukuoka, I snapped a shot of the Beetle. And upon entering Korea again, customs was almost a joke. I breezed through the line (there were 10 lines for Koreans and 1 for non-Koreans) and then walked through a security scanner with all layers of clothes on. It even beeped, but I was let through, and no one checked my bags. I think due to the heavy traffic of returning Korean vacationers, customs and immigration didn't give a hoot about who or what was coming through.

Oh, and thanks to great weather, the trip back to Korea was very comfortable. I took a three hour nap.

So that's that! If you're interested to know more about the ferries between Japan and Korea, leave a comment. Or just go with Google; there's a ton of good information out there.

Translate