Track Throwdown: Comparing the Train or Subway System of Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo


This is a doozy. But I am slightly proud of the matrix I put up – it’s all metaphorically spit-shiny. How can I not be? I’m the type of traveler who creates Excel files for itineraries, blog links, time tables, commute guides and all of that, and then I step back and admire the shiz out of it.

Allow me to step back and admire the beauty of this particular table. 

I rarely take public transportation in Metro Manila but as soon as you plump me down into a foreign country, I am sooo game with going for the nearest bus or train or subway station. I’m just oddly picky like that or that the commute in the Philippines reminds me so much of the daily grind and that it doesn’t exude the novelty of being in another country.

In this year alone, I was able to go track riding in three different countries and experience firsthand what it’s like to be a commuting local. I’ve taken a liking to commuting on their train and subway systems and here are the my high’s and low’s of 3 different cities/territories when it comes to train tracks.

DISCLAIMER: I have to say that I do have a runaway favorite although each railway system has a special feature that drew it close to my heart. How beauty pageant diplomatic of me. Where’s mah damn crown?


Station Accessibility 8/10
light rail access
Subway access, multi-exit
subway access, multi-exit
Ticket Purchasing 7/10
It was fairly complicated for us to navigate and instead of going straight ahead to the self-service tickets, we decided to go to a ticket kiosk with a person behind it
No manned windows available, however the ticket machines as well as the card refund machines were easily navigated
No idea about individual tickets, but we loaded up our Octopus Cards at airport and took to reloading them at convenience stores. I’d say that’s pretty convenient.
Station Navigation 7/10
It’s pretty daunting. The stations are so large and though most of the signs have English translations, you still have to slow yourself down to be able to follow the right path. All lines are color coded, so that helps. I guess the rushing locals don’t help with your sanity
Headed for the cars? Looking for the restroom? Transfering to another line?
Seoul has got it down pat. They were *this* close to basically letting us follow a Hansel and Gretel bread crumb trail to get o the different parts of the station
Most parts were pretty much self-explanatory but some stations, most near the tourist center in Kowloon, were pretty manic looking with narrow corridors leading to gates and we weren’t able to locate escalators easily enough
Train/Subway Car Comfort and Design 7/10
Very industrial and clickety clackety. Not counting the Shinkansen cars, of course. All cars seemed to have this vibe that they could be upgraded any time soon – by Japanese standards, of course
Exquisite cars. Each line differs from the other in one aspect or another. Some lines had air conditioning, some didn’t. But with the fall weather, we didn’t mind either.
I do not approve of stainless steel seats, especially during the days that I was wearing very short shorts. Although on the outside, they seem almost at par with Japan’s industrial look, the tech that’s installed on the inside of the cars give it one notch above Japan. It’s even more convenient to keep track of your current station than Seoul.
Transfering Lines Not applicable.
All the stations we had to go to were all conveniently located along the Yamanote/ Green line.
Everything labeled. There’s even a line on the wall that you practically trail with your finger so you can transfer lines
In the stations that we were mostly at, transferring lines were pretty convenient. You got off of the train, cross the platform and you’re there on the other line.
Tourist Information 9/10
They have windows with English speaking people inside them. They are easily found in the stations and in bigger stations, were actually slightly elevated so they were even easier to find.
I wouldn’t know where we would’ve gone to if we encountered a problem. Good thing everything was so easily accessible and understandable that we had no sweat navigating the subway system
Information was available but they weren’t easily found near the entrances or exits, instead they were mostly near the heart of the stations.
People Subway Culture 6/10
Quick. No nonsense.
They are quiet and kept to themselves. They rush, like, really want to be able to get to where they need to be with the least amount of human interaction as possible.
Train officlals, tourists, locals all seem to be willing to help out a hand. Despite the fact that they are all heads down staring at their mobile phones, they are the friendliest and chattiest among the three metros.
They all have good enough grasp of English and are hardly running and breaking into a trot to reach the next car.
We met a lot of locals with just them striking a conversation with us.
They come from all directions and they are all headed to all different directions. They all make it feel like it’s a whirl. Nobody came to chat us up but they were very helpful if we tried to ask for directions.





Here we are getting our card deposits back]

Despite them looking like they could marry their smartphones, they are the friendliest bunch of all.]

[Transfering lines were oh-so-convenient, it’s idiot-proof]



[Very daunting, scary and intimidating. But to be fair, this is Shin-Osaka – and it has a lot of lines going through as well as a Shinkansen line]

Color-coded lines. We made sweet sweet love to the Green Line/ Yamanote line during our stay in Tokyo

[Before we got trampled by the rushing yet silent crowd]

[Obviously, NOT rush hour]

[Took us a while to get our tickets. We got very very confused. No hablo Inglese. oh and pardon the ugly nails, I had just peeled off my gel manicure — GEL MANICURE!]



[Prince Edward Station]

[Slightly lost. Slightly lang.]

[From one line from the right to the left.]

[You can’t talk about the Hong Kong train system and not include this gem.]

It was never fun sitting on cold metal seats in cool autumn weather. Nax, #firstworldproblems]


Although I am not an MRT or LRT enthusiast myself, I can say that I do favor the subway and train systems of these foreign countries and commend them all for their efficiency and also openly say that I am looking forward to passing through those turnstiles again someday.

I remember about this mother-and-daughter child in Hong Kong. The Mom’s 6-year old was in a princess costume and told us how they treat Hong Kong Disneyland like a supermarket. They come all the time and the small size makes it convenient to get in and out of the rides and of the park itself. It was a cute conversation that lasted a few minutes: just two moms raving about how Disneyland is a sanity-saver.

Then there’s that one time we were going to Lotte World in Seoul and we encountered an older gentleman who was commuting to work. He started up the conversation by complementing on my great work with creating such a wonderfully amazingly gorgeous offspring. From there, we find out that he was actually a businessman who has made several trips to the Philippines when he was younger and Seoul was still looking to the Philippines for some economic help. He speaks so highly of our country that I am actually humbled by the stuff he told me.

Unfortunately, I had nothing to report on the people in Tokyo. I have to say that I never got to talking to any of them. They all seem to be in a hurry and that doing small talk (to a people who had very little English to start with) was just a waste of time. Maybe next time, *shrug*.



Do you have any stories, good, bad or ugly, about the whole commuting thing abroad? Which city is your favorite and why?




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Eileen Campos loves cheese and The Walking Dead. Currently doing a great job in post grad studies but awful with regards to ruling the universe. She also thinks that she is married to Robert Downey Jr.