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Published: October 23rd 2012
The beachfront street that we had to cross...Crosswalks don't mean anything in Korea.
At the end of the September early October the Koreans have their Thanksgiving called Chuseok. It's basically just like our holiday where they have horiffic traffic, eat lots of food, and visit family for a couple of days. It was coming down to the wire and we had no plans so someone found a Korea for ex pats group on Facebook called Win in Korea (WinK). We saw that they had a trip down to Busan with travel to/from and staying a cheap hotel/hostel for around 130,000Won which is like $120 for the 4 night/5 days. A bunch of friends and I decided to do it since everything would be taken care of and all we would have to do would show up.
So friday comes along and it was pretty simple since my students had mid terms that day so I basically sat in the back of the classroom and made sure no one cheated which was beyond boring. I wanted to bring my phone to class so I could text and look things up but then I realized that I am now a teacher and that is something I probably shouldn't be doing in class. After the kids
finished their tests and were running around like wild animals (which is typically every day) I headed off to Bupyeong to meet some friends so we could get their a little early and have dinner and drinks before the 10pm overnight bus ride. After deciding that we should get some beers for the long bus ride down there, we soon discovered this was a terrible mistake. When you had a couple beers beforehand and drink another big beer on the bus....you have to pee real bad....by the time we stopped everyone was dying to get off the bus! We drove through the night passing in and out of sleep until we stopped so the bus driver could take a nap for an hour, and finally got to Busan on the southernmost tip of Korea, Gwangalli Beach.
We got to the beach around 6:30/7am and had breakfast and relaxed on the beach as the sun was coming up and making it warmer and make us brave enough to jump into the water. It was actually a great beach with the bridge spanning right in front of us in the bay. So we threw the frisbee around for a while and
Haeundae Beach with Patrick's butt in the foreground
played a mini beach soccer game until everyone was beat from running too much and decided to get into the water. The beach shelf is not a steady decline but instead an abrupt dropoff into the ocean which I found out the hard way after running full speed into the water. Well, it's the best way to get wet I guess!
We hung out at the beach all day since we couldn't check in to the hotel until 3 and when the time finally came around we all checked in and showered and changed and went out to eat and celebrate Chuseok in Korean the American/Canadian/British/South African way and that was by 40oz Cass beers.
For the next couple days we would float down to the beach and lay out and get in the water and explore the beachside restaurants and shops. We had some friends that were staying in the Haeundae Beach area which was a couple minute subway ride away. Haeundae Beach is the most popular beach in all of Korea. It has nice soft sand with high rise hotels across the street overlooking the water and most importantly there are very
little rocks and seashells that littered the bottom of the ocean when you got in the water. Gwangalli beach had a lot of rocks and hard things to step on. So getting in and out of the water was never a fun task. Haeundae was a more crowded, vacation beach with people from all over the world hanging out around there.
After a couple days of lounging on the beach we decided to check out this mountain temple that I had read about online in the hills right behind Busan. It was the #1 thing to do in Busan and #65 thing to do in all of Asia so we decided to try and find it. There were some ragtag directions online of how to find it so needless to say we got lost a couple times and ended up passing through the South Gate of the fortress about 3 times before we found Seokbulsa. The crappy part about it was that one of the area's tour guides pointed us in the wrong direction! After hiking for a couple of hours and getting lost multiple times we were finally on the right track and felt confident we were close.
We passed a couple other foreigners and they told us once we hit the road, just go up. And did they mean it. It was basically a switchback road that made your calves ache just to climb it but when you go to the entrance you knew it was worth it. It was tucked in high above one area of Busan, built against some huge rocks. From the city down below you couldn't see it at all. The temple itself was truly amazing. When you first came upon it you would look up and see part of the temple jutting out like an overlook with a small graveyard just down the hill to the left. You climbed around there was an old bell with a swinging gong that used to ring out centuries ago that stood overlooking the city of Busan below. That wasn't even the impressive part. As you walked through the opening between the 2 buildings where there was a bunch of tiny gold buddha dolls for worship, you came through the opening and there was a huge marble slab for praying and surrounded on all sides were 30-40 foot buddha carvings in the rocks. There were a
couple mini alcoves where you could take a couple steps in and there would be a mini buddha shrine with candles lit and some offerings. Someone had left a small bottle of Soju which looked pretty appealing after the hike but figured it would bad karma to take a gift from Buddha. Then you could climb this narrow and steep staircase that was carved into the rock up to another smaller worship building that was tucked into the rocks. From there you had a gorgeous view of the temple and carvings but also the valley below as well. There was hardly anyone there except for a few sporatic people and a couple cats just walking around staring at you which made the temple feel like it would have felt back in the day. It was definitely worth the hike and getting lost a bunch of times to make it up there. After all that hiking we all decided that we needed to relax and soak in a jimjalbang....
For those of you who don't know what a jimjalbong is, well, it's a spa where everyone walks around naked and basically showers, bathes, sits in different temperature hot tubs, saunas,
and whatever else and you relax. Each sex is separated by floors. 4th floor is for guys and the 2nd is for girls and then when you pay they give you generic shorts and t shirts and the communal area is the 3rd floor. So we head our separate way and of course our friend Adam is first to strip down and get naked so we all had to follow suit. Overall it was pretty cool and relaxing. The jimjalbang was on a hill overlooking Haeundae beach so you could look out the windows and see the beach with all the city lights twinkling over the water.
The next day we took a bus to check out another temple that we had to heard of to visit called Haedong Yonggungsa Temple or Temple on the beach. It was beyond crowded there which was completely different that the mountain temple. Way too many people so it took a little bit away from the beauty of it but it was still really neat. It was built on the rocks right above the water with a giant gold buddha built on the outcropping rocks right beside the water. There were many different
prayer rooms with buddhas all over the place! In the pictures you will see just how crowded it truly is there. After spending some time there and eating lunch we browsed through the street market and ended up getting some street food. It was innocent looking enough....some warm jelly with clumps in a waffle looking thing.....turned out about halfway through we learned that it was bundaegi which is larvae. And I guess they cook them and add some sugar to make a jelly type of stuff...who knows but it wasn't too bad overall once you got over the fact that you were eating bugs. They actually cook them whole and they will sell them to people in cups and give them toothpicks to eat them....yeah.
So after our adventuring and vacationing on the beach it was time for the end. The bus picked us up at 3:30 and we went to meet the other group that traveled on the same bus down as we did. (They went to Japan for the weekend) and they ended up being 3 hours late to get to the bus and therefore put us back in Seoul super late and after the
subways closed. We ended up getting a bus that dropped us off in Bupyeong and we all took taxis back home. Getting back at 1:30 on a school night and having to wake up early and teach the next day after vacation is never fun. Anyway, we survived and had a great trip down to the south of Busan for the last of the warm weekends! It is now getting colder and colder in Korea and I believe that it will be quite chilly here especially with all the humidity in the air.
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