Taking the JR Beetle ferry from Japan to South Korea

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Months prior to our trip, I’d bought our ferry tickets from Fukuoka/Hakata*, Japan, to Busan, South Korea, online at http://www.aferry.com/jr-kyushu-beetle-ferry.htm. This site makes buying international tickets easy for English-speakers and I found the fares to be actually cheaper than on the Japanese and Korean sites. Both Japan and Korea offer daily ferry routes between Hakata and Busan. The Korean fare is slightly cheaper, but the Japanese “JR Beetle” runs twice daily and offered a more convenient time for us, so I went with that.

[*Hakata is the former name of the city of Fukuoka and both the train station and a port are still called Hakata. This can be a bit confusing when you’re looking for trains as well as ferries since the natural inclination is to look for the name of the city as it is currently known.]

Instructions with our tickets informed us that we needed to be at the port at least 45 minutes prior to departure with printed ticket receipt in hand. Our hotel recommended we arrive an hour early. On a rainy morning, we caught a cab from the truly-lovely Grand Hyatt Fukuoka to the Hakata Port and found ourselves in a nearly-empty modern facility. Apparently, we had more than enough time.

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At the service counter, we exchanged our printed receipt for a real ticket and we were charged an expected fuel surcharge of approximately $20pp then escorted to a nearby machine to pay an additional $5pp for a government tax.

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Japanese government tax machine

We were directed to a 2nd floor waiting area where we eventually showed the receipt from the machine to emigration along with our passports before being allowed into a second waiting area with several duty-free shops. Downstairs from this waiting area was yet another waiting area by the entrance to the pier.

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Escalator to 2nd floor waiting area of Hakata ferry port

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I’d seen photos of the JR Beetle, but I was still a little surprised at how small the hydrofoil seemed for this 3-hour crossing of the Sea of Japan. With the weather increasingly inclement from yet another typhoon to the south, I had to wonder how smooth this crossing would be.

 

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Inside the JR Beetle
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Interior of JR Beetle; tv screens showed an Asian movie once we got going

We were a little disappointed to find the so-called “food service” offered no more than a few snacks and a pack of sandwiches. Opting for the sandwiches and a beer, we settled into our lunch soon realizing that eating was a little tricky in the not-all-that-smooth ride. We hurried to finish our lunch before we got further out into open waters.

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Within 15 minutes of departure, a couple across from us was visibly sick. They disappeared not to be seen again during the voyage. Moments after they left, a woman walking down the aisle fell into David’s tray, sweeping his beer to the floor. She refused to stay down, though, getting up to fall several more times before a ferry attendant got her back to her seat. But not for long. She was up and falling several times during the journey. Meanwhile a young couple ahead of us started making multiple trips to the bathroom, he gripping her upper arm firmly in support. David and I watched all this, hoping we wouldn’t be next. Fortunately, we were fine and even dozed off during the jostling ride.

Despite the rough trip, we arrived in Busan on time. The terminal in Busan is even larger and more impressive than the Hakata Port.

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Busan ferry port

It’s an easy walk from the Busan ferry terminal to the huge Busan train station. Turn left out of the ferry terminal past the taxis and then cross the drive into the terminal before taking the crosswalk across the main street to the blue-windowed Busan Station. The first elevators you come to will go up to the north side of the station, but you’ll have to go around to the front to enter the station. A second column of elevators (further down the main road away from the ferry terminal) will take you to an entrance to Busan Station main hall (and a nice viewing platform offering photo ops of the new Harbor Bridge). Our hotel, Almond Busan Hotel, was just beyond Busan Station, so cutting through the station made for a quick, easy walk.

 

Two-and-a-half months in Asia!

So we leave tomorrow on the trip that inspired me to start this blog: a 77-night ramble through Asia. This trip runs the gamut of lodging, transportation methods, and weather. It’s been a challenge to plan (and a challenge to pack for). We’re excited!

In a (large) nutshell, this trip includes:

  • Our first trans-Pacific cruise [the Aleutians, northern Japan, Yokohama/Tokyo]
  • 2 weeks in Japan [Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima island (where we’ll stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn), Fukuoka]
  • a ferry to South Korea [Busan, a Buddhist temple stay, Seoul, the DMZ]
  • a cruise from Shanghai to Singapore [Okinawa, Hong Kong, Chan May/Hoi An and Phu My/Ho Chin Mihn City, Vietnam]
  • Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat
  • Luang Prabang, Laos
  • a 2-day open-boat trip up the Mekong with a stop at some to-be-determined-when-we-get-there guesthouse in tiny Pakbeng, Laos
  • 2.5 weeks in Thailand: Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a day with elephants and a Thai cooking school), Krabi (scuba diving the Phi Phi islands), the Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, Bangkok
  • a 1st class mega-flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas (courtesy of airline miles and credit card points, a favorite game of ours)

I’ve tried to anticipate the trickier bits and done an incredible amount of research, but I know there will be things I overlooked or had no way of knowing. There are liable to be things that don’t pan out as we’d hoped (or maybe don’t even pan out at all). It’s the nature of travel, and also part of what makes it exciting and interesting. And besides, I don’t want to plan every moment anyway. I intend to focus on experiencing the trip rather than documenting it, but I’ll blog about it when I can. Hopefully, there will be fun as well as useful info to share…and, no doubt, our portion of clueless-fools-in-a-strange-land moments. Wish us luck!

[We’ll be incommunicado for most of the 16-day Pacific crossing, so other than a possible post in the Aleutians 5 days out, we’ll be in Japan before I do any posting. I know going off-grid is a weird way to start a blog, but that’s the plan.]

– Tamara

August 31, 2016