South Korea - Busan
Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is frequently referred to as ‘Seoul by the sea’, but it has a more laid back, low-key vibe and we prefer to think of it as ‘Seoul with soul’. Charismatic and enthralling, it offers a welcoming base from which to explore the south of the country.
Famous for its beaches and seafood, Busan is home to South Korea's largest fish market - Jagalchi Fish Market, and the country’s best-known beach - Haeundae Beach. You will also find here one of the world’s largest container ports, which provides a confetti of ships scattered over the sea that look almost romantic at sunset.
There always seems to be a festival or cultural event taking place in Busan. The best known is the acclaimed Busan International Film Festival, which comes to town in October, and sees big name stars and wannabes rub shoulders on Haeundae Beach. Also taking place at Haeundae, the slightly less glamorous Polar Bear Swim Festival sees over 5,000 swimmers brave the icy January waters.
What to do in Busan
- Get a sense of the many personalities of Busan with a stroll through Jung-gu, the characterful but slightly ‘rough-at-the-edges’ centre. At Shanghai Street, you’ll enter the ceremonial gates of the city’s Chinatown, whilst at Texas Street you’ll find yourself in the middle of Busan’s cosmopolitan heart. Lose yourself in the maze of stalls, soaking up the sights, smells and tastes of the atmospheric Jagalchi Fish Market. Now you’ve seen the city up close, head to the top of the Busan Tower, for stunning views over the boats that litter the horizon.
- Haeundae Beach is a ‘must-visit’ whilst you are in Busan. This small strip of sand is prized by the affluent and guarded by high-rise luxury dwellings, hotels and shops. During the summer (July - August), hundreds of South Koreans and an increasing number of overseas visitors descend on Haeundae to swim by day and party by night. In front of the beach you’ll find a strip of seafood stalls selling everything from lobster to octopus: pick your meal from a tank and it will be cooked and served to you in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t get fresher than that!
- On a hillside on the outskirts of Busan, Gamcheon Culture Village transformed from un-desirable neighbourhood to arty attraction when residents decided to brighten up the community with vibrant murals and quirky sculptures. Spend a couple of pleasant hours strolling through the colourful lanes, visiting galleries and stopping for coffee.
See food... and eat it!
If you like seafood, plan your trip to coincide with Busan’s Jagalchi festival, which takes place in late September / early October. Alongside common festival inclusions of fireworks and street parades, Jagalchi features a surprise seafood auction, cooking demonstrations and a raw fish contest, offering the opportunity to chomp your way through plenty of seafood samples.
Busanites deliver the Korean language in a staccato accent, firing out words at very high speeds!
Getting off the trail in Busan
- Marvel at the spectacular 7th century temple of Beomeosa, perched on a mountain 30 minutes from Haeundae Beach. Monks continue to go about their daily rituals, undeterred by wandering visitors. Fires and invasions mean that much of the complex actually dates from the 18th century, but the temple’s rich colours, stone pagodas and location, on the forested slopes above the city, make it a very special place.
- Geoje, South Korea’s second largest island, is easily reached by an impressive 8km connecting bridge. Boasting spectacular coastal scenery, it offers excellent hiking opportunities alongside quiet beaches. It was also home to the largest POW camp during the Korean War, which has now been transformed into an interesting visitor centre. Head for the rock formations at Haegeumgang and the flower-bedecked paradise of Oedo.
- Hike in the hills of Jirisan, South Korea’s largest National Park, though you are unlikely to see any of the resident bears. Even if you don’t fancy pulling on the walking boots, a trip to the temple of Hwaeomsa is enchanting, particularly if you get there early in the morning before the crowds descend.
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