Not An Itinerary But A Bucketlist
You're forewarned....this is a long post...
The Tourist Spots
Probably one of the more well-known of the tourist spots, especially seeing as Busan is the nation's summer city. Expect a packed beach in the warmer weather, and if you're feeling up to it try your hand at paddle-boarding.
The streetfood in Haeundae Market is pretty well known as it's in a convenient location for swim, sun, and nightlife; popular tastes would be 어묵 (eomuk) fish cake.
...Though if I'm being honest...I would suggest getting streetfood elsewhere since I've gotten better 어묵 in Busan. Instead, try one of the restaurants lining the water or head to the underground aquarium. There's also Dalmaji Hill, which is a little away from Haeundae's main thoroughfare and known for its art galleries and cafes.
My favorite recommendation would be to explore 동백 (Dongbaek) Island. It's not an actual island, but has a nice stroll and a few statues of some legendary figures. Check out and read about Busan's mermaid!
Korea's Most Famous Water Temple: Haedong Yonggusa
This is really more of an extension from Haeundae since--if you want--you can take a cab or hike over to Haedong Yeonggusa Temple. Originally built in the 1300s, Yonggusa went under a number of restorations in the 1970s due to damage from Japanese invasions. The temple is famous for its ragged landscape as it's perched on a cliffside overlooking the ocean. Crowd sizes depend on the time of year, with winter bringing the fewest amount of people and summer the most.
There are a few different areas within the temple complex, so be sure to take your time exploring!
Approaching the entire area you're flanked on either side by food-stalls and religious statues. I'd definitely try a 호떡 (hotteok) since the warm, honey-filled treat is especially delicious on a breezy cliff-side. Continuing onward, you'll pass through twisting staircases with special Buddhas whose bellies you pat for different types of good luck. As you head toward the main area, statues wait below a crowded bridge while people, hoping for good luck, try throwing coins into their stone mugs.
Gamcheon Cultural Village
I've yet to make it to Gamcheon Cultural Village *cue sadness* But besides Busan beaches this is probably the second most famous tourist attraction. The neighborhood didn't use to be so happening, as it was actually a poorer district with a mish-mosh of houses sprinkling the mountain. It wasn't until 2009--when they painted the houses in hopes of attracting visitors--that the neighborhood picked up. Busan artists collaborated and made art all centered around the theme "Dreaming of Busan Machu Picchu." Now, hundreds of people get lost between the brightly colored, sloping alleyways with murals and street-art not-so-hidden around every corner, taking photos and lingering by coffee shops that've come about in the past ten years.
A few famous spots are the Little Museum, Library Stairs, Busanfornia Panoramic Viewpoint, Culture Station, Little Prince Statue, Fish Swimming Through The Alley street art, and Socks Shop. There are, however, a number of mini museums made inside a few houses that are open to the public. There are also a few specially designed houses like House of Light, House of Darkness, and House of Peace.
Getting to Gamcheon is a little out of the way. You take the train to 토성역 (Toseong Station) and get out at exit 6. From there you take bus 1-1 or 2-2. With the warm weather approaching, expect an update to this post with my photos!
Nampo thrift shopping and Jagalchi
And, finally, Nampo.
Nampo is one of the main shopping districts of Busan, but I would suggest getting yourself lost. There is of course the Lotte Department Store and a plethora of big brand names--checking out Gentle Monster sunglasses would surely empty your savings.
But like I said: Get lost. Loop around the twisting turns and crowded streets of Nampo's Gukje Market, Though even then--be sure to blur the lines between Gukje Market, Bupyeong Market, and Kkangton Market as they all border one another with an indistinguishable route. You can find everything from western goods to thrifted pieces to Korean skincare. Oh--and food of course. If you've got a craving for seafood in particular head across the street to Jagalchi fish market, buy your lunch and enjoy it upstairs.
Close by you also find the Jungang subway stop. I mention this particular location mostly due to its proximity and that it hosts an underrated, lesser known point of interest: The Bosu-Dong Book Street. If you time your trip just right you may even catch the Bosu-Dong Book Festival and be able to dabble in a bit of book-making for yourself. There's also a particularly cool photographer's shop that offers the street's bibliophilic atmosphere as a backdrop.
I hesitate to ever consider my opinion's a 'local's' point of view--I know how I feel when some people dare to claim that title after a year in NY--but I will offer my perspective as someone who's here living her day-to-day life.
I don't mean hang around Busan Station watching trains come and go, but I live in the area and know its worth more than a come-and-go spot. And though I'm still struggling to really figure it out, my neighborhood has been undergoing so much construction. I sometimes tell my friends I feel like I'm witnessing the Korean version of gentrification. New high rises, a waterway near our 시장 (traditional market), and boutique styled coffee shops or hairdressers. But make no mistake--the neighborhood's certainly no Brooklyn.
Many of the houses had originally been constructed for refugees during the Korean War, and between China Town and Texas Street you'll find a lot of Busan's immigrant population from Southeast Asia, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, and....umm I'm sure I'm missing a few places. Definitely explore a bit around for restaurants--my co-teacher told me about an award winning soup-dumpling spot and I found an Italian restaurant that reminds me of my Mediterranean home--but make Choryang Milmyeon Restaurant a definite stop.
Milmyeon--cold flour noodles--is a Busan-styled noodle dish, and while this restaurant is famous for its milmyeon, it also has massive, delicious dumplings. I swear they're nearly the size of my fist. Choryang Milmyeon is such a popular spot that sometimes, while running errands, I'll spot a line that curves out the store-doors and down the street. If you order take-out, the cashier will advise you that the meal's best enjoyed within in fifteen minutes.
Nearby you can also explore 초량 이바구길 & 산복도로 -- Ibagu-Gil or Choryang's Story Road. The road starts near Busan station and climbs atop the nearby mountain. As you follow the path, you learn more about Busan's history and Choryang's specific refugee stories. The road features historic figures, but also the everyday people who'd had to build a new life in Choryang. You can find more information at the Ibagu Workshop--and also prepare for a 168 stair climb.
Finally, once you're up there, take a detour to Choryang 1941 and Choryang 845. The first is a famous Japanese-style cottage cafe built during colonization and seen in the drama Just Betwen Lovers. They specialize in milk tea, and making the trek up in winter had definitely been worth it for their seasonal maple flavor.
I'm not a mall person, and while Centum's Shinsaegae Mall is impressive, I'm here to gush about SpaLand. (Though I guess for some of you it's worth noting that this Shinsaegae is the largest mall in the world. Whatever. Back to Spas.)
If you're a guest English teacher, chances are your given apartment doesn't have a bath. All those days picking the perfect bathbomb at LUSH, the lavender body oil you'd spent stupid amounts of money on, the hours spent flipping through comics with half a leg hanging out the tub? Done. No more. You might not even have a separate shower in your bathroom--you could (very well will) get a wet-bath.
SpaLand is my savior. It offers a Korean-style sauna experience (jimjilbang) with some luxury twists. Depending on the day you'll receive a wrist-band key and pay an entrance fee of about 8,000 to 15,000 korean won (8-15 US dollars). This offers basic access to the different hot baths and sauna rooms for 4 hours. Anything else you spend is added on-top and charged on your key when you leave. What could possibly spend your money on? Well...
Cafe treats, breakfast/lunch/dinner menu at the restaurant, personal massage, facials, full scrubs, health class, massage chairs, snack-bar treats...
Oh, and just so you know--the baths are same-gendered and completely nude. Definitely try to set aside any discomfort and enjoy them! Unfortunately, I don't have too many photos from SpaLand because I try not to use my phone when I go. Y'know. Detox and relax or whatever...
I'll try to take a few next time I go, but you definitely won't see any of the actual bathing areas!
I'll try to keep this section short because Busan's hiking needs a post of its own. My friends and I have got a bit of a running joke that we live in "Bu-mountain," considering all the mountains that surround and scatter the different neighborhoods. (산 or "san" also means mountain in Korean, and we're trying to be clever....key word "trying"...)
So far my favorite hike is near Beomeosa (번어사), whose temple has a history of over 1,300 years.
Other notable hikes include Jangsan (장산), with its active mines and amazing view of Haeundae, Taejongdae (태종대), showcasing a ragged coastal cliffside and lighthouse; and Igidae (이기대) whose approximately 5km coastal walk finishes at the Oryukdo Skywalk.
Busan has the beach and sun, of course, but its mountainous terrain offers beautiful treks for any season! Be careful, though. Korea's been having a bit of a boar problem as of late. Even in urban areas. Below are two more hikes I've yet to explore for myself...
Seokbulsa (석볼사), a secluded temple with Buddhas carved into the mountainside!
Hwangnyeongsan (황령산)and Geumnyeonsan (금련산) twin peaks within a massive park covered in cherry blossoms come spring.
Wander and Explore - Nightlife, Culture, and Stationary Stores
This next little section focuses on a few little areas that have their own shopping, nightlife, cafes, and museums. I know this post has gotten long enough as it is, so I'll try to make them bullet-points....
Whew! Okay I know I'm cutting things short. I can already think of another ten things I want to do while living here in Busan. Songdo Skywalk, Dadaepo Beach--and more importantly the secluded inlets nearby its Molundae Cliff--Samrak and Daejo ecological parks, pampering myself with a visit to Ananti Cove Haeundae (and going broke in the process), seeing another Orchestra performance at the Busan Cultural Center, hike the mountains near Gwangali for a more secluded vantage point during the Fireworks Festival, go to every and all music festival come summer time, take Korean cooking classes, be at the red carpet for Busan's International Film Festival, rent out a room at the Busan Cinema Center to binge watch movies with friends, take photos of the magnificent sculptures during Haeundae's Sand Festival--
God I could keep rambling.
Today in particular, after breakfast at Gwangali...I'd just felt such a surge of love for my Korean hometown. I leaned against the open window pane to the warmth of the sun and the bustle of the beach across the way.
Thank you. For the beer, boys, boars, and bottomless bucketlist. All the wacky adventures--nightlife to wildlife--and my everyday happenings. Thank you.
From guides to rants.