WARNING : this is a long page. Read it at your own peril.
You know what?
Never, ever take a flight that departs for the US west coast from Singapore. It leaves at such an unearthly hour that it leaves one hanging onto their teeth waiting like sleepy dogs being pulled on their leash. Does that make the point to you? Sigh.
Fortunately we had the lounge. A couple of beers, some coffee/tea and plenty of food to go around. Past midnight there was almost nobody else here. Well, we are people right? The associates on duty were simply milling around, hoping, anticipating and waiting for us to leave. Probably really can’t wait for us to go.
Anyway. We have arrived in Seoul.
Because it’s business, Mel determined to take the taxi from the airport to the hotel and not attempt the heckling ride via the limousine bus or train system. It has already been quite a long day…
We got to Busan and made our way to a sumptuous beef rib lunch! The viewing platform from the Lotte mall is indeed wonderful especially with the night lights on. Even the rain did not dampen our moods.
|An early morning taxi to Busan station (₩22,000). The train ride was just a 3-hour ride and the journey cuts across the country. Before long, we had arrived. One thing to know is that the Busan metro ticketing stations only accept ₩1000 notes.|
|↑ Busan Station on a rainy day.
After leaving our stuff at the hotel, we set out for Haeundae. This is where we shall be having a late lunch of beef short ribs. It’s 2pm and initially the place seemed empty, since it is well past lunch time. But then, as we ate more folks started streaming in, even as it continues to rain. The metro journey took more than an hour spanning 26 stations and a change between lines 1 & 2.
|Well, you work for the food. Back in Nampo, we headed out to Lotte mall, whose viewing platform on the 13th floor affords 360° views of the surrounding areas of Busan. Very nice to see the lighted up bridges and buildings. Suan said there used to be a petting zoo on the platform floor but we cannot find it anymore! But on the way back we found large ducks for consolation… Note: lifts stop on the 10th floor & then climb the stairs.|
|From the mall, it was an easy walk back to Jung Gu where the Busan international film festival (BIFF) is held annually. It’s a hip place for youths with a concentration of apparel and skincare boutiques. We found many jewelry shops here too!
But the highlight of coming here is to visit Gukje market. A traditional market, it is a night market after hours with many stalls selling anything from clothes to snacks. In fact, Gukje seems to be organized along the type of goods that is retailed, at least to us. It used to be the place to trade the surplus military supplies and imported goods, it being so close to the port. And adjacent is the Bupyeong market. Also fondly called “tin can” (kkangtong), it started originally as a place where canned goods were traded. But today it has become a general market with a mix of seafood (fresh or cooked), traditional food fare and dry goods. Because they are next to each other, you can easily cross over without knowing!
|Fresh seafood being sold late into the evening. Perhaps some housewife will come along and haggle for fish to cook dinner! Traditional snacks and sweets laid out for customers’ selection. They are very affordable too.|
|↑ The lady was washing kelp, stacking them up for sale. We really wondered, who would be here well past 8pm to buy? We had our dinner at one of the small restaurants in the alleys of Bupyeong market – hand made noodles that looked like udon. The serving was generous and it only cost us ₩7,000! So, we were too full to sample the many snack stalls! Our hotel is located just 5 minutes’ walk away at Y’Z plaza, so we called it a day. We have 3 more days to come by!|
So came to an end the first day in Busan.
The city definitely exudes a distinct vibe compared with Seoul. The KTX train ride from Seoul was actually very comfortable (definitely no zombies), though a few of the passengers looked really worn out. Could have mistaken them for the walking dead!
Our hotel is in the middle of a hive of activity. And initially it was not easy for us to find. And all along the main road of our hotel was a bustle of shops and cafes. So much to see and do already even before you set foot elsewhere!
The Mandi bus tour is a very good way for us to (breathe): head to Gamcheon cultural village, back to Gukje and then onward to SongDo to view the beach and stroll the walkway. Very affordable way to explore the city!
|Today we went to Busan station to join the Mandi history bus tour. It starts at 9:10am and you buy the ticket from the driver. For a whole day (9am-6pm), it only costs ₩10,000pp. Our first stop: Gamcheon cultural village. This is a former cluster which housed refugees from the Korean war.|
|The story of this village is one of how students in 2009 started to cleverly decorate the walls, lanes and stairs with colorful and quirky art – such as the many beautifully painted wood panels that form the shape of a fish. The one thing though is that there is no free map – buy one for ₩2000. But the village is not difficult to explore on your own.|
|One of the must stop place is the viewing platform. It affords views of the entire village all the way to the bay. Spend more time here, as it is the best placed to see most of the sights, albeit from afar.
Now some call this place the “Machu Picchu” of Busan. Frankly we cannot seem to make the connection. So, take what you read in the internet with a big pinch of salt. Perhaps they referred to another village… Today this former refuge is home to a myriad of cafes, small boutique shops. Even the alleys are filled with shops selling all manner of accessories. How about macaroon ice cream?
Now there is this place in the village that many folks seem to gravitate to : the little prince statue. This is a story by French writer Antoine de Saint Exupery.
|Long story short, many come here to take photos, selfies, wefies with the statue of the little boy that sits facing the village…don’t ask, don’t tell.|
|When you are here, it is definitely a treat to stroll through its many alleyways. The alleys are beautiful because they have been vibrantly painted!|
|Well, there is that much to see and do in Gamcheon and we headed back to Gukje on the tour bus. In the day it is drastically different! All the ‘wet’ stalls are open and the smell of fish permeates the air. We had our lunch at one of the small restaurants – this time of porridge pork and offal.|
|Surprisingly it was really busy – the market that is, on a week day. The difference from Seoul is that the place has a lot of local tourists and surprisingly lots of Japanese! Remember each alley specializes in something? Wanna buy lamps? They have a whole street for them! Perhaps buy the weird red statue too…|
|The drive from the Gukje stop of the tour bus circulates around the other attraction sites.|
|Eventually we arrive at Song-Do beach. This is like a little resort they say, but we did not see any large chain hotels here. The sand beach looks inviting, probably in summer and there are platforms in the sea to facilitate those who like to dive into the cool sea in those warmer months. But the highlight was to do the skywalk with its glass lined or see-through grill flooring, where you can see the crashing sea coming against the shores.|
|Actually the beach area (opened 1913) had a ropeway. There are structures in the sea that may suggest this will be restored someday. From the walkway we can see that the shore has numerous benches for folks who like to sit and watch the sunset. We missed the bus at 3pm and had to wait for another half hour for the next one…so watch your schedule even as you wander… Returning to Yeong-do bridge, we walked towards Jagalchi market looking for a potential place to have dinner.|
|The market is really huge with many wholesale establishments that probably supply the restaurants! It’s so cheap, just a pity we could not buy! Whale sashimi anyone? There are two buildings which houses many of the wet market stalls. On the ground floor, there are so many of them, selling mostly the same assortment of seafood.
You can buy the fresh produce from them and bring them to the second floor to have the restaurant cook them for you.
The annoying thing is that all the vendors assume that you are mainland Chinese tourists and try to sell you their most pricey produce! But we have to say that it is indeed a wide variety.
|Sting rays on sale.
Aside from the two buildings, there is also an open area with makeshift stalls.
|This seeming abundance of seafood is due to the fact that Busan is a port city with a large fishing fleet. We decided based on pricing not to eat at Jagalchi market. And we would advise the same for other visitors. It is rather intriguing to visit though and to see the how all of this works.|
Taking the city bus tour is indeed the best decision we made. For a mere ₩10,000pp, you can take this mini bus over and over again. We sure did not let that go to waste so much that one of the mini-bus drivers greeted us as we boarded his bus – again!
We did not spend too much time at Gamcheon which appears to have rave reviews. Instead we went to Song-Do before heading back to Jagalchi. The seafood markets were fascinating to walk through, though not in our opinion to eat in. It’s simply too touristy!
Today we took the Jumbo bus to two peninsula capes – one at Taejongdae and the other at Orkyudo. Beautiful weather continue to hold for us!
Today we decided to take the Jumbo bus from Yeong-do bridge stop instead of getting to Busan station.
At Taejongdae, we alighted and walked to the tram stop. For ₩2000pp the tram takes you to the viewing platform & lighthouse instead of the long uphill walk. We got off at the platform but found that it was closed.
|From the small viewing platform that was still accessible, we could look out to kettle island (can you see the resemblance?), because – as the shape suggests, it look like the utensil. So it wasn’t really a place to stay long. Perhaps when the place is fully reopened, it might be nice!|
|From there we took a short walk and soon was making our way down the many flights of stairs to the lighthouse. Taejongdae was formerly a military zone according to the guide, and it was only in the late 1960s that the place was opened to the public as a tourist site. It is named after a King of the Silla state who used to practiced archery here. At the foot of the lighthouse is a jetty where cruise boats stop.
Up we climbed the lighthouse. It has been operational since 1906.
|Beautiful views from the floor below the beacon of the lighthouse. Where the jetty below are, there are shacks where fishermen will pro-offer fresh seafood for sale.
We understood that oysters can be shucked for a quick meal there! There are cruises that depart from there and goes around the coast and back. Said to cost ₩10,000pp. Not for us today. See how ‘arduous’ the walk to the lighthouse is? Not on the way down but on the way up! There is a walkway along the cliff side that takes you to open area you see behind us in the selfie perhaps take a daredevil picture there!
|Right outside the entrance to the park you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to lunch. So many restaurants and we chose one where lots of Koreans seem to be heading to. We had cold noodles and fried fish. All of that for just ₩26,000. Among the free flow side dish – the potatoes were especially delicious! You can be sure we took many helpings!|
|After lunch it was time to make our way to the next stop – the Oryukdo skywalk. It is a glass floor walkway that juts out over a cliff. Free shoe socks are provided and no high heel/pointed shoes! While it is not as long as the ones now seen on instagram, it is still a nice experience. Best of all – it’s free!|
|Yes it’s crowded, but we were not on a tour and took our time.|
|Down below you get an idea of the height it presides over.||On the double Decker you get a whole different drive experience!|
|And it was time to head back. So the bus ride was in itself a nice relaxing way to sit back and watch the city go by while it winds its way back towards our drop-off at Jagalchi market.|
The day for us ended early but sunset comes early – around 6pm. So we walked over the Lotte again to take in views of the setting sun. Here you get to be Queen for a day with lots of money – Lotte voucher money that is. A whole pallet of the currency sits on the 10th floor. Perhaps there is a lucky draw that we did not know about! Her Royal Highness, Princess Queenie Suan. And her hoard of cash! Talk the Queen counting all her money!
|Our dinner was braised sea eel. It cost us ₩40,000 for a medium serving. Did not eat anything else as we needed to reserve some space in our stomach for dessert.|
|This cake set costs ₩8,000, a pretty decent price.||Osulloc retails green tea products that supposedly hail from Jeju.|
|We topped off the night buying rice cake and cheese covered sausage sticks for a snack. At ₩1,500 per stick, it is an inexpensive way to keep hunger at bay when one is busy walking the city or not having time to dine. There are simply too many snacks to try!
Ration or else you lose the enjoyment of eating!
Lesson: do not be stingy over a few dollars and pay for a tram ride at Taejongdae. The walk, had we been up to it would have taken us almost 1½ hours one way! Not exactly the best use of time. Save the effort for the ascent up the lighthouse instead! The Oryukdo sky walk is not the longest one but definitely a place to stop. There are actually trails all around and perhaps the residents in the nearby condos can enjoy these walks! Yep, condos do sprout like weeds…
We really loved the area around our hotel. There is so much to see and do just by walking around! On the main thoroughfare the city is beginning to put up Christmas lightings. Can’t imagine how this would look like in a few weeks time!
It turned a little cloudy today and it was puffer fish that we had for lunch! Still alive! Did not make it to Spaland, shopping got us sidetracked, but it was ok!
| A free outdoor foot spa! How nice! On a cold day this is wonderful!
|It was a late morning for us as we made our way back to Haeundae again, this time to seek out the Fugu restaurant (puffer fish). Popular with locals, we ordered a standard set and another one that’s spicy and braised. Both tasted wonderful and we are still alive to tell the story…|
|Originally we had intended to spend 3 hours relaxing at Spaland in the nearby Shinsegae mall, but the mall got the better of Suan and we ended up walking around the humongous mall instead. Realizing it was too late, we then headed back to Nampo in the mid afternoon.|
|We love the noodles at this restaurant and if only we can tell you where this was! We had a light dinner because we were intent on having dessert today again. Finally had the opportunity to buy the rainbow cake from the little cafe that is next to Y’Z plaza. Actually we had this in the late afternoon before dinner, using the hotel breakfast area with its complimentary coffee and tea. Suan tried buying some bunny shoes but gave up because it was too pricey!|
Today was more of a leisure day. Mel scored Suan 90% for the day, having missed out Spaland due to the sidetracking from shopping. But the most important thing today was simply surviving the meal of puffer fish!
It’s a pity that Suan did not have sufficient luggage space. Because if there was, she’d probably buy more of the bunny shoes etc…
After a morning train we headed for our Ginseng chicken lunch. Finally walked the Bukchon hanok village before setting off for dinner and the onward journey home!
|Rainy day again. But that’s fine, as we took the taxi back to Busan station for the 3 hour ride to Seoul. Did not see much on the way, though tried to capture how the rural farming landscape looks like. We had our ginseng chicken soup at City Hall station after dropping our luggage at Coex before making our way to Bukchon. Can only say: wow.|
This has to be a fantastic journey. Suan made so much efforts it had to be great and it was indeed so. We’ve now seen the cultural side (Hanok village + real traditional Korean wedding) and touched Busan, a uniquely different city from Seoul. So the rating for this trip is definitely an 9 out of 10! Ok, 10 out of 10!!
Did we learn anything from this journey?
Sort of. We learned not to trust everything that bloggers say… LOL. And we are trying to be one. Seriously. Things change and so does perspective. We all see the world through our own eyes, bias, prejudice, whatever. Many a time what had been penned to paper (so to speak) would have an ‘expiry date’.
This journey has spawned two separate articles which we will place into our handprint stories. These will be focused on :
Look out for them!