As much as I’d like to believe that I’m well-traveled… I suppose I am really not, compared to a lot of other people who have the privilege to jet set around the world. I’m working to change that fact in the near future, of course. I’ve written a fair bit about the places I HAVE been to, but there’s way too many different places that await my exploring around the world, and I’m getting impatient!
List of countries I’ve toured thus far only include: USA, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and umm.. yeah, I think that’s pretty much it. I’m absolutely dying to visit Europe, Japan and Maldives. Thanks to Korea Tourism Organization Singapore, I’ve got one more cool place to add to my “been there, done that” list…. which is… South Korea!!!! DAEBAK!!! Annyeonghaseyoooo! I had the amazing opportunity to visit the vibrant cities of Busan and Seoul, & share with you guys my itinerary for the trip. I did a frantic happy dance and yelped in excitement when I received the news that I’d be doing this travel assignment. While not exactly a full on travel blogger, I do love to discover, snap, share and live a fulfilling life so hopefully I’ll be posting more travelogues in the next year to come!
First off, before our flight at Changi Airport, we went to get ourselves a portable wireless device that would enable us to have wifi anytime, anywhere while in Korea! It caps at 500MB per day, and works for as long as you rent it for. Along with a prepaid SIM card, we were able to update social media sites whenever we wanted… it felt so good to stay connected to home 24/7, even though I was halfway across the world! The best part is that you can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously, so if you’re on a tight budget I guess everyone could share one on a group trip. Get yours at Changi Recommends Counter @ Changi Terminal 2.
We flew Asiana Airlines directly to Incheon airport, and while full of turbulence (no thanks to weather conditions), it was a relatively comfortable ride. The air stewardesses were all good looking in a typical fair-skinned, doe-eyed Korean way, and I had my first Korean meal onboard – bibimbap! Delicious, as far as plane food goes. After a 6 hour red-eye flight, I was delirious to arrive at Incheon airport. I was immediately blown away by how modern and high-tech everything was! I thought Singapore was crazy about staying up to date with technology, but I think the Koreans have surely one-upped us on this. Wifi is everywhere, alongside state of the art gadgets and infrastructure.
The cute girl you see above was my traveling partner for the week, Gwen, who’s here representing TheSmartLocal.com! Located a short walk from the arrival gates, we bought our tickets to board the KTX (Korea Train Express) ride to Busan, which takes 4 hours +.. and thus began another epic journey. When we finally arrived at Busan, the weather was beautiful – warm, not too humid, sunny and absolutely welcoming!
According to Wikepedia,
“With over 3.6 million people, Busan is South Korea’s second largest city and largest seaport. Busan is known for its beaches, hot springs, nature reserves and events such as the city’s renowned international film festival held each fall. Busan is a good destination for those seeking a more laid back atmosphere than Seoul. Located at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, Busan’s important port gives the city an international flair, with sailors from around the world trooping through and a growing number of tourists.”
I present to you: the highlights of our 2 days in Busan!
• Shinsegae Centum City (신세계 센텀시티) •
A true shopaholic’s heaven – it is, impressively, the world’s largest department store. Someone like my mother would go crazy here. It’s so huge, in fact, that we were rather daunted just by the sheer size of it when we walked in. The row of shops seemed never ending. I didn’t know where to start taking photos amid throngs of shoppers everywhere, so I settled for visually appealing shots at the food basement, which we headed straight for because we were starving travelers. Even the food court area offered tons of delights! We couldn’t resist a strawberry nutella crepe with vanilla ice cream and a cheesecake slice.. it was to die for. I heard that Spaland is one of the mall’s most popular attractions, being great value for money and a must-do if you don’t mind getting naked in front of everyone. Regretfully, we were too exhausted on our first day there and weren’t feeling up to it, so after some half hearted browsing of the mall, we headed back to the hotel early to catch up on much needed rest. I wish we’d gone back another day to check out the mall properly, but our days were packed with activities. You have to check this place out if you visit Busan!
Directions to Shinsegae Centum City: From Busan Station, take subway to Centum City Station (Busan Subway line #2)
• Oryukdo Skywalk (부산 오륙도 스카이워크) •
The Oryukdo Skywalk can be found at Oryukdo Seungdumal, on the southernmost point of Igidae Park’s coastal walking path. It’s a U-shaped glass walkway that spans 9 meters toward the sea, making it seem as if visitors are floating over the ocean because of the transparent panels you’re walking on. You’ll even have to put on special shoes before you enter the area so as not to damage the glass.
I am terrified of heights, so I was stuck dead in my footsteps for awhile, before I plucked up the courage to walk towards the edge of the path, clinging onto the railing and trying not to look down at seemingly impending doom as much as possible (even though that’s the whole point!) It didn’t take long for me to forget about my phobia and worries. The view of the Oryukdo Islands, the costal line and with the cool ocean breeze blowing in my hair… was breathtaking. A picture perfect postcard moment straight from the movies! I stood there for quite some time, taking it all in, feeling extremely grateful for all that I had in my life at that moment. Busan is such a photo worthy place, and this has to be the best spot of them all. My top recommended spot for you to visit in Busan because you’ll get unforgettable photos to remember your trip by!
Directions to Oryukdo Skywalk: Take local bus No. 27, 131 and get off at the last stop at the back gate of Oryukdo SK View Apartment.
• Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치시장) •
The Jagalchi Market is Korea’s largest seafood market. After the Korean War, the market solidified itself as a fish market. Most of the people who sell fish are women, so the women who sell here are called ‘Jagalchi Ajumma,’ ‘ajumma’ meaning middle-aged or married women. This market represents Busan and is famous throughout the country. If you visit, you can eat fresh raw fish right at the market. Even these days you can see women selling mackerel, sea squirts (ascidians) and whale meat (!!!) on wooden boxes along the road. Every year in October the Jagalchi Cultural Tourism Festival is held, and it is easy to visit because of the convenient transportation provided by the subway. The Jagalchi Market is where you can see the lifestyle of the indigenous Busan natives.
It really tickled my toes to see an octopus escape out of an ahjumma’s bucket onto the floor… and her furiously grabbing it and shoving it back where it belongs! The type of sashimi found in Korea is significantly different from the usual Japanese favorites. No salmon, tuna or sea urchin here. There were many sea creatures I have never even seen in documentaries before that had my eyes bulging at the very sight of them. How fascinating to think that people eat such vastly different foods around the world. What’s native to them, is 100% alien to me. There’s lots to see, smell and eat around here. The Jagalchi Market is by far the most bustling market I’ve been to – a great place to absorb the lively atmosphere and feel like a local as you weave through their rows and rows of stalls with ahjummas offering assorted, bewildering and strange seafood, dried goods, cooked food and more! There’s even an aquarium section where you’re guaranteed the freshest catch. It’s full of life – your seafood is literally still swimming in tanks and buckets and can be prepared for you on the spot… I would’ve loved to try the famous live Korean octopus (that wiggles out of your plate and sucks onto your throat as you eat it) but I’d just recovered from food poisoning barely a day before, and I wasn’t about to take any chances.
Directions to Jagalchi Market: Jagalchi Station (Busan subway line 1), Exit 10. Turn right onto Jagalchi 3(sam)-gil Street. Walk for 5min, then turn left to arrive at Jagalchi Market.
• Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) •
When you visit a country that is as culturally rich as Korea, you HAVE to visit at least one of their well-known temples. Most temples in Korea are located in the mountains, but Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is situated on the coast of the north-eastern portion of Busan. This superb find of a tourist spot and temple offers visitors the rare find of a temple along the shore line. Statues of the twelve zodiac animals greeted us at the entrance. The main sanctuary of the temple was reconstructed in 1970 with careful attention paid to the colors that were traditionally used in such structures. Other special sites at the temple are the 108 stairs and stone lanterns lining the rocky landscape. After going down the 108 steps (which we also had to climb back up…), you’ll be delighted to discover the stunning sight of the temple next to the sea. It was absolutely worth the cab ride here! By the way, cabs in Busan are affordable compared to the rates we pay in Singapore, and most importantly… making your getting around to your destinations extremely convenient. I wouldn’t recommend cabbing in Seoul, though, since the traffic there is much more congested.
Many people often come to this spot on New Year’s Day to make a wish for the new year as they watch the sun come up. April is an especially beautiful time of year with cherry blossoms in full bloom. The birth of Buddha is also celebrated in April (following the lunar calendar) and offers a spectacular night view as the temple area is aglow with electrically lit lanterns. Oh, I have to return to Korea during Spring… Imagine this place in Spring, during sunset. Jesus. Or in this case.. Buddha?
Directions to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: Haeundae Station (Busan Subway Line 2), Exit 7. Take Bus 181 and get off at Yonggungsa Temple (용궁사)
• Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장) •
Probably the most famous beach in the country, Haeundae Beach is 1.5 km long, 30~50m wide, and spans an area of 58,400㎡.
The entire stretch of beach area is littered with countless similarly themed large umbrellas to shade the funny Koreans who seem to like the beach, yet not the sun that comes with it. The sand of this beach comes from Chuncheon Stream and shells that have been naturally eroded by the wind over time. Swimming seems to be an immensely popular activity with the locals there, but we decided to just stroll along the beach and people-watch instead of taking a dip as I would rather enter the waters of a secluded white sand beach in a tropical climate, far away from any tall buildings or city.
There’s a lot of cafes, street stalls and food shops around the Haeundae area for you to retreat to afterwards, so we settled for lunch at a small eatery just a two minute walk from the beach. BBQ-ed pork belly, a green onion pancake, finished off with honeycomb ice cream… which is THE best thing since sliced bread. You’ll never look at soft serve ice cream the same way again, because it’s not just soft serve, it’s heaven in a milky cup (or cone). You need to buy some Softree and take it along with you to Haeundae Beach!
Directions to Haeundae Beach: From Busan station, walk 172m straight & take bus 1003, get off at Haeundae Beach stop and walk 169m to Haeundae Beach.
• Gwangandaegyo Bridge (부산 광안대교) & City Night Lights •
It is the largest bridge over the ocean in Korea, and a significant landmark in Busan. It’s pretty cool to be driving on in the day time.
But you should see it with a panoramic view from Geumjeongsan Mountain (금정산). Wow. I wish my loved ones were there to witness it with me. Equipped with artistic light, the bridge showcases splendid light that changes every day and every season. The nickname for the bridge is “diamond bridge” for the way it sparkles when the sun goes down! Busan lights up like a christmas tree in the evening, sporting neon signage and dazzling colorful light displays in every corner of the city. It’s nothing like I’ve seen before! There’s a daily tour bus that takes you around to the best spots in town to look at the lights, but we decided to hire a taxi to go straight up the mountain instead, so we could enjoy this view in privacy!
Directions: Take a cab to Geumjeongsan Mountain. Forget about public transport for this one, finding your way around in the dark at an isolated place will not be easy.
• Galbi / Kalbi Beef •
Although not exclusive to Busan, it was here that I tried one of the most delicious beef I’ve ever had – galbi beef, grilled over charcoal – absolutely divine!!!
It was melt in your mouth, puts a happy smile on your face and leaves you thinking about it for months afterwards kinda good. All kinds of wonderful. I’m salivating just thinking about it.. Probably my number one favorite thing about going to Korea was all the delicious Korean BBQ meats I had. Pork belly and beef…. I could have that everyday, coupled with my cold noodles!
With that, concludes my short and sweet time in Busan – a laid back and breezy start to our trip, and my first taste of what the slow life would be like if I were to live in South Korea as a local. I felt like it gave me a pretty accurate look into the life of the average person who didn’t live in Seoul, which is a lot more hectic than Busan for sure.
The landscape and environment is totally different between the two cities, and while both has its charms, Busan is more for the traveler who wants something out of the ordinary, someone who’s out to seek the cultural and quaint charms of a country that are hidden away in a coastal town. I’ll be continuing this travelogue with a Seoul edition soon, so more delicious Korea visuals wait for you then!