I am an “Army”, a BTS Army. If you know the K-pop scene, you would know who BTS is, and that the group’s fans are referred to as “Army”.
As an Army, one of my dreams was to visit the iconic BTS Bus Stop, featured on the group’s album cover for You Never Walk Alone.
The bus stop is so famous that you can just search “BTS Bus Stop” online and find the exact spot on Google Map. The bus stop is located near the coastal town of Gangneung at the Jumunjin Beach, some 220km from Seoul in South Korea.
Having done extensive research, I knew that I could take a two-hour bullet train from Seoul to Gangneung and from there, continue on a local bus to Jumunjin Beach to see the bus stop.
So, in November 2022, after South Korea reopened its borders to international leisure tourists, I booked a flight to Seoul and was soon on my way to fulfilling my dream.
I knew that travelling within South Korea was not without its challenges, unless you spoke and read Korean. Thank goodness for Google Translate and the numerous YouTube vlogs in English that helped me navigate the city.
My first hurdle was buying the bullet train ticket. I found that most of the self-ticketing machines accepted only credit cards that were issued by Korean banks. The machines that accepted international credit cards were few and frustrating to use. So I had to go to the counter and get my ticket from there, though the queue was quite long.
To my dismay, when it was my turn, I was told that tickets to Gangneung were sold out on every single date that I was in South Korea! I did not pre-book the ticket online as I’d wanted to choose a suitable day weather-wise for a day trip.
My Plan B had been to take an express bus but then that would add some hours to the travelling time.
Fortunately, I had known of the super-early 6am bullet train, which they normally would not sell to tourists (office workers and students get priority), but I tried my luck and somehow managed to secure a seat.
Yes, it helps to do your homework before any trip.
So, at 5am on my travelling day, I made my way from the hotel to Seoul Station on foot. It was a half-hour brisk walk. The sky was still dark but the city of Seoul never really sleeps, with many blinking neon lights turned on throughout the night, shift workers huddled in corners and quietly chatting, and the occasional car whizzing by. I appreciated the tranquillity on the city streets at dawn.
The bullet train ride was uneventful. The only thing that struck me was that at no point was my ticket checked by anyone. Not at the entrance, not on the train, not at the exit. Wow. You could actually just hop on the train, enjoy a free ride and nobody would be the wiser ... but of course, I I don’t recommend it.
Reaching Gangneung at 8am, I was just in time for a quick breakfast of black soya milk and gimbap before catching bus 314 which would take me to Jumunjin Beach. The bus meandered through the small town for an hour, punctuated by stops made by the local folks as they went about their daily business.
People-watching was fun, and I was reminded again that the journey to the destination was just as interesting as the destination itself.
My heart skipped a beat when the bus finally reached Jumunjin Beach. “Jumunjin” means pine tree in Korean and indeed there were lovely pine tree forests just before the beach. The beach itself was magnificent with fine sand and soft waves. How refreshing it was to have the cold wind blow at my face – I even tossed my hair around!
As I wandered along the beach, I finally chanced upon the piece de resistance, the blue-paned BTS Bus Stop. I was a little surprised that there was no crowd, but then the peak of the hype was about five years ago. There was just a handful of people around waiting patiently and taking turns to do same thing I was there for: Pose and take a few shots, just so that I can tell the world, “I was here”.
I could tell that they were fellow Army, converging from all over the world to this iconic spot. We helped each other to take the best pictures, as a selfie would not do justice to this special moment.
I lingered around for as long as I could, distilling the moment into a precious memory, before moving on.
Was it worth it, though? To travel four hours one-way just to see a bus stop? To me, yes. But I won’t recommend to anyone who is not a BTS fan.
So, my advice is to just go do things that are meaningful to you. It does not matter what others think, just do it. You only live once!
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.