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Published: August 12th 2010
From the rural calmness of Jeju Island to Korea’s second largest metropolis, we allowed ourselves four days to explore this bustling port city. We had both been keen for a while to experience Busan, our original first choice destination in Korea. With such lofty claims such as ‘the fifth largest port city’ in the world, you would assume there would be no shortage of things to do in Busan. However, what we found was a markedly different city from Seoul. The best way to do justice to Seoul and its plethora of activities is the fact that I have not yet wrote a blog on the city, as it was literally going to take me a year’s worth of visits to the city to do it justice. And so, we landed in Busan with raised expectations.
To say we were left disappointed as not accurate. Whilst Busan lacks Seoul’s 24/7 vibe and does not possess the same cultural diversity, it is clear that the city prides itself in its obvious differences with the capital. You only have to spend a small amount of time here to realise Busan, although filled with traffic and noise, is a much more relaxed city,
its ‘beach-city’ personality pouring through the streets. It’s a place where you see shop owners sitting in the street basking in the sunshine and the sea breeze. It’s a place where its inhabitants venture down to the waterfront at night time to dine and drink in that easy going, cosmopolitan way.
We checked into our hostel, all of thirty yards from Jagalchi fish market, the first of many sights we decided to take in. Perhaps ‘sights’ is the wrong word to use in this instance since everything about Jagalchi fish market attacks the sense of smell like nothing I have experienced before. This market is the largest fish market in Korea. Filled with local women dicing a decent portion of the Pacific Ocean populous into pieces, highlights included the King Crab tanks, where the crabs were simply gargantuan with faces resembling that of the Predator in both size and appearance! We were also witness to numerous octopi making a mad dash for freedom, seeking out their salty salvation. Sadly, one little chap made it ten yards away from his tank, only for his female captor to mercilessly yank him from the ground and hurl him back into his murky
One noticeable aspect of Busan is the extensive Russian population, particularly around the central Busan Station. Indeed, what is labelled with signs proclaiming the area as ‘China Town’, it is consumed with an eastern European presence. Amusingly, the Lonely Planet guide indicates this area can be particularly dangerous during the night time, where the risk of mugging amongst other things can be greater than in other areas of the city.
Whilst in Busan, we also were afforded the chance to take in a couple of temples. The first we visited was Beomeosa Temple, situated high in the hills above eastern Busan. Despite Beomeosa being one of Korea’s most well known temples, it nonetheless retained a level of serene beauty and this tranquillity was only emphasised by the dramatic mountain surrounding. The second of our temple visits was to the centrally based Samgwangsa temple. We decided to visit this working temple at dark where the lantern lit courtyard of the temple would be at its most enjoyable, and it did not disappoint. Despite being the only tourists here, we were not once made to feel invasive. Even here, with Buddhists in mid-meditation, we were approached by a couple
This landed on Amy's hand during our visit to Beomeosa Temple
of Buddhist ladies offering us chocolate!
One of the primary draws that pulls in the tourists to Busan, particularly during the summer months is that the city offers numerous beaches to ‘relax’ on. I say relax in that way because, and I offer this as a warning: never go to Haeundae Beach! Ever! It is Korea’s most famous beach, but I would submit it should be more viewed in infamy and disgust. It is a huge beach, but when the sun comes out on Saturday, it can get up to 500,000 people, per day! I have no idea how many people were on the beach the day we visited but I would not be surprised if it was somewhere approaching that figure! People literally have two yards of space each, resulting in the beach resembling more of an ants nest of activity than a place to relax. Further west is the more moderate Gwangali Beach. With its ‘no too busy’ beach and awesome view of Gwangan Bridge, it was a good place to take in a different side to the city. As the sun began to descend, we grabbed some dinner in one of the ocean-side restaurants and then
relaxed on the boardwalk and watched the city come to life with lights. Even Gwangan Bridge lights up at night, something that brings many people to this area at sundown.
On a final note, one of the highlights of our trip to Busan was our visit to Shinsegue Centum City department store, or better known as the largest department store in the world. We did not go here to shop however. The purpose for our visit was to experience the biggest spa in Asia, and all I can say is it did not disappoint, from its Roman baths to its Finnish saunas and everything in between, it was well worth the £6 entrance fee!
Overall, we enjoyed Busan, its relaxed atmosphere impossible to ignore and easy to enjoy. I would say that I still prefer Seoul as a city to spend time in but certainly, the laid back attitude of Busan did start to grown on us as the time went by there. But for now, it’s back to the reality of work and enough of beaches for a little while!
On a different note, since returning from Jeju and Busan, we have booked flights for a
trip to Japan in late September, which we are obviously very excited about. Until then…
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