Monday, 13 February 2012

Two Days in Busan

This weekend I finally visited Busan, Korea's second city. How did I get there? I took the FREE bus. Yes indeed, it's possible to travel between Seoul and Busan for absolutely no money at all! The free bus is for passport-holding foreigners only, as part of a tourism boost for Visit Korea Year. There is also a service that runs between Seoul and Jeonju.

Thanks to the free, comfortable, 4-5 hour bus ride, this ultra-low-budget weekend away cost me less than 60,000 won in total, which is probably less than I'd spend in a weekend if I stayed in Seoul. Fabulous.

My first impression of Busan was that it is just as busy and hectic as Seoul, perhaps even more. On the subway or in the shopping centers, it's almost impossible to distinguish between the two cities, yet in other areas I felt like I was in a different country. The city is really large, and tourist attractions are spead out across it, so I spent quite a lot of time traveling.

Day 1 - Seo-gu Area

My first call was Jagalchi Fish Market. While a fish market may not sound exciting at first, this place really is mind-boggling! I've never seen so many creatures of the ocean, outside the ocean. Silvery fish with long, tapering tails are laid out in neat rows, strange and unusual molluscs crowd tanks, whole octopi are laid out on display for browsing customers, and presiding over all of these stalls are sturdy, weathered women in bright pink aprons. Behind the stalls are tiny restaurant tents filled with lunch-time diners gobbling up the fresh fruits of the sea.

From Jagalchi station, I took a short bus ride to Amnam Park. This is a coastal area of cliffs, rocks and woody trails. Coming out of the bustling market center, this place felt like the polar opposite, bewitchingly relaxing and peaceful. There were only a few other people around so it was quiet and calm. The rich blue-green of the sea was beautiful against the red striped cliffs, and the waves whispered softly.


From Amnam, you can follow a steel staircase for about 1.4km around the coast to Songdo Beach. This is a small, sandy beach and nice enough although not as popular as the famous Haeundae.


Night

Keeping in mind my budget, and also my need for some relaxation, I decided to spend the night in a jjimjilbang (Korean spa). A fellow traveler in Seoul had recommended a place called Vesta Oncheon Sauna at Dalmaji, overlooking Haeundae beach. I had also been told that it's hard to find on foot, but of course I ignored the advice and tried to walk there. Big mistake. I got horrendously lost and ended up asking directions. Now, I don't know if all Busan peeps are this nice, but the lady I asked was so helpful, she insisted on flagging a taxi down for me and giving directions to the driver. She definitely made my day.

Vesta turned out to be alright, a fairly good jjimjilbang, but very very crowded. Needless to say it was impossible to get any sleep, not least because the floor was hot enough to burn. But thanks to a hot shower  and a lie-down on the pebbles in the salt sauna, I was rested enough to face another day of exploring the city. When dawn broke, Vesta's floor-to-ceiling windows offered a great panoramic view of the sun rising over the beach. I got up and left before 7am.

Day 2 - Haeundae and Beomeosa

I walked down to Haeundae Beach at first light. Being winter, there were only some early-morning runners around and a few determined tourists. I imagine the picture in summer would be quite different. After wandering for a while I caught a taxi to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. This Buddhist temple is different to others in the country for it's location - built right on the cliff edge. It's a beautiful sight, and popular with tourists who come early to watch the sunrise.


There is a lot more to see around this area of Busan, but I wanted to spend my last few hours in the city somewhere else. I found the bus stop on the main road outside the temple and caught the only bus back to Haeundae Station.

A long subway ride later, I arrived at Beomeosa in the far north of the limits of Busan. I hadn't researched the area, I only knew that there was a famous temple there, but after exiting the subway station it wasn't easy to find. Nevertheless, I found it eventually, and this places merits its own blog post.

There is plenty to do in and around Busan to fill a weekend. And that's not even counting the parties and night life, which I've heard is pretty amazing, in summer at least. I can see why everyone raves about this great Korean city.


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