For most, Seoul is the only city that’s known in the nation of South Korea, with many more concerned with the near-by border. Many tend to forget about life on the other side of the country. Few will have heard of this bustling beach destination nestled on the southern coast. However, Busan would turn out to be one of the best cities I have EVER travelled to, and it took me all of 2-days to come to this conclusion.
South Korea’s second largest city boasts an outstanding natural beauty wedged between the majestic rolling hills and gentle coast. Home to beautiful nature, International film festivals, some of the largest selections of seafood available worldwide and extraordinary cultural quirks.
My first objective upon landing in Busan was to head to the only existing United Nations cemetery; the UN Memorial Cemetery. This enormous site is dedicated to over 2000 fallen members of the UN from 16 nations during the Korean war (1950-53). A UN officer guarding the gate will approach and ask your nationality before granting you access into the monumentally large park. Soon you’re met with the site of open fields of segregated groups represented with the nations flag along with their victims graves and monuments. Within you’ll also find the Memorial Service Hall and Memorabilia Hall.
The most surprising thing about the cemetery is the staggering amount of nations that were involved in the conflict. Some incredibly obscure and unusual nations were involved, fighting under the banner of the UN. Such include Thailand, New Zealand, Greece, Columbia and even Ethiopia.
Some nations have also dedicated some fascinating monuments commanding each nations section, mostly by the nations that received the highest number of casualties. These include Australia, Canada, USA, Turkey and New Zealand. The other surprising thing was learning how much the UK was involved. I had no idea. Not only were they involved, other than South Korea and the US, Britain received the highest number of casualties.
Amongst the park you’ll also find a number of monuments dedicated to the fallen, including the Wall of Remembrance, which holds the name of every lost soul.
This is one of the biggest highlights Busan has to offer, standing as a monument to the city. Taejongdae park is found on the southern tip of this little gem of an island; Yeongdo. Here you’ll find an incredible picturesque opportunity to trek along the coast on the well maintained roads and regular wooden decks as places to take a second and soak in the extraordinary natural beauty.
Taejongdae was named for a former king (604-661) that chose this place as his favourite spot to practice his archery. Within is an incredible breadth of traveller interests spread widely across the coast. The walk can become tiring up the regular rise and falls, however there is relief for the lazy amongst you. There is a regular “train” driving in-between all the sites worth seeing.
The most notable attraction to this park is the outstanding natural beauty on display. The park provides an incredible view back across the coast on either side of Busan, showcasing (in my mind) one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A humble restrained development restrained by the monstrous rise and falls of the utterly untouched mountain surroundings.
Despite the parks extraordinary beauty and instagram worthy views, it doesn’t end there. Within the park you’ll also find a wide variety of treats scattered around. Those include two temples on either side of the park; Gumyeongsa and Taejongsa Temple.
At the very tip of the island you’ll also find Yeongdo lighthouse, the best photo opportunity. Beneath the lighthouse you’ll also find Sinseon Rock, named after the myth that gods would come here to kick-back and relax. There’s also a monument called Mangbuseok, dedicated to the story of a grieving woman who’d husband had been taken to Japan.
Possibly the most surprising aspect of the park is that it doesn’t actually close, you’re able to access it 24/7. You’re both able to enjoy the spectacular sites at sunset, and the lighthouse at its full potential during the night.
Although getting between most of Busan’s attractions is made as easy as possible, this one requires a bit more effort and research. The very efficient subway doesn’t actually go to Yeongdo island. The only option available to you is taking the bus (from Busan Station; number 66, 88 and 101, Nampo Station; 8 and 30) for ₩1200
Yet another huge highlight Busan has to offer is the biggest fish market in all of Korea, Jagalchi Market. This is destination which can be smelt before its seen. The influence of the market has seeped into the surrounding streets with every merchant flogging their own display of sea life on offer for your consumption.
Within the building, you’ll find three rows of endless aquariums separated to each individuals personal storefront. A classic scene from scooby-Doo where these vendors and aquatic life repeats itself seemingly to infinity. Absolutely any and every sea creature that’s considered sea-food can be found. Everything you’d expect to see: clams, monstrous crabs and lobsters, and all manner of fish, some of which are simply enormous.
However, there’s a bonus upstairs. Not only do you get the spectacular display of aquatic life for sale, they’ll also cook whatever you buy! Upon selecting your fish or crustacean, you’ll be led upstairs with the merchant carrying your selection and handing them over to the chefs upstairs where they’ll prepare it for you in classic Korean fashion. Multiple plates of unknown little dishes to compliment your seafood.
Although stretching outside the urban surroundings of Busan’s city centre, escaping into a peaceful heaven is only a short subway ride away. Heading towards the heart of the mountainside you’ll come upon one of the most spectacular temples this part of the world has to offer. This is could easily be considered one of the best temples I have visited. This would undoubtedly be considered the number one attraction in Busan.
Beomeosa Temple is nestled amongst the forest blanketed mountain side of Geumjeongsan Mountain. The temple has been home to many devoted monks since its restoration in 1613, and sees a regular loyal gathering of Buddhist and worshipping visitors alike.
Its quite obviously a still-functioning temple. After passing through several gates you’ll enter the courtyard where there are several halls within. Within these halls and all the way around them you’ll be greeted with the site of worshippers kneeling and praying to the tune of Buddhist monks tapping away.
This temple also has an extraordinary opportunity for a true enlightening experience. Beomeosa Temple has a temple-stay program, where visitors from any walk of life can stay at the temple, for an opportunity to experience Buddhist culture and perhaps learn about oneself.
Its fascinating to sit back and watch the amazing spectrum of devotees worshipping in the tranquil soundtrack of nature and murmured prayers. It an awe-inspiring place to observe. All which is in the spectacular enclosed nature of the forest cover mountainside which surround it.
Its possible to explore outside of the temple into the surrounding area, delving into the wilderness. There’s a guided pathway through the surrounding forestry which holds an untold number of plant species. So beautiful in-fact that the surrounding woodland and valleys have been designated a natural monument. Not surprising.
God-bless South Korea and there fantastic sense of tourist needs. Take the subway (Line 1) to Beomeosa Station before taking Exit 5. From here have a look for a blue sign on the main road to the effect of “Bus to Beomeosa Temple: 100 meters this way” which heads you towards the bus stop needed. Catch bus number 90 (₩1200) which will also take you back.
Gamcheon Culture Village
This really is an extraordinary site to behold, a truly quirky yet oddly beautiful view. Gamcheon Culture Village has the unusual opposing sites of clear “slum life” yet visually fascinating with vibrant pastel colours bathing the entire mountainside downwards towards the coast. This has earned the village the nickname of “Machu Picchu of Busan”.
The beautification of the area came from the efforts of students in 2009 which turned this one mountainside slum into one of Busan’s biggest tourist destinations. The make-over resulted in practically every structure being given a non-conformable bright colour, artwork on building-sides, the roads, the stairways in-between. The results speak for themselves.
This is very much a quirky attraction. One of the best photo opportunities that the area has to offer. An extraordinary amount of buildings stacked upon each other linked with narrow steep walkways that lead down towards the coast. With the plastic surgery came an influx of business in the form of galleries, cafe’s, nick-nack stores and everything welcomed to keep increasing the area’s economy.
Take the subway (Line 1) to Toseong Station (Exit 6). From here go to the bus stop in front of the hospital where you’ll take a local bus (numbers Saha 1-1, Seogu 2 or Seogu 2-2) which will take you all the way (₩900). Bare in mind it can be quite difficult to make out which bus you’re supposed to take. If you’re lucky, a lot of the time the bus will have a sign on it (either on the front or the side) saying “Gamcheon Village”.
Bare in mind, these are local buses, so basically mini-buses. For a man of my size, this is a problem when you’re unable to stand-up straight in one. ALSO, South Korean bus drivers are fucking mental! Every driver believes he’s in control of a 4-wheeled drive sports car, flying around corners to the disadvantage of the older women in the back. So much so my bus to the village actually crashed into an oncoming car…
Once home to two humble cinemas built following the nations liberation following Japanese rule, following a major renovation for the upcoming Busan International Film Festival transformed the area. Today its as substantially flash as the name would suggest. Not only has the make-over done wonders for the Korean film industry, but has also gone a long way to put Busan on the map as an International city.
The squares renovations and advancements has spread across the surrounding area, bringing with it the congregation of high-class stores and flash advertisements. Along the streets you’ll also find orderly lines of snack stalls of all variety, conveniently segregated to their own sections. One for the fish, snacks, and trinkets.
You’ll also find a mini “Korean/Any Famous Actor” walk-of-fame. Honestly you’ll be lucky to recognise any of the names. However there are a few famous names with the likes of Willem Dafoe and Oliver Stone.
Noticeable from all around Busan, it stands at 120 meters as a talisman for the city. The spectacularly illuminated tower has been designed to model a Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple. The tower also offers an opportunity to mount its peak and observe the expanse of the city and the coast.
It will also provide an equally incredible site at night, glowing in consecutive colours. Along with the tower you’ll find several other unique pieces of architecture such as the Bell of the Citizens and a flower clock. There are also a few monuments, none greater than the statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
Gwangalli Beach & Gwangandaegyo Bridge
Although Busan may not be your typical holiday resort, however in recent years a clean-up and the development of the local area has turned it into a hot-spot for the youth. Busan has a fair share of beaches (7 in-fact) along its modernising shoreline, providing plenty of beach day opportunities. However Gwangalli beach can claim to be one of the best, from here you’ll be provided the best possible view of Gwangandaegyo Bridge.
The shore-line really comes to life when the sun goes down, as the light show begins. This incredible piece of architecture crossing the city’s coast has been a popular site for any tourist’s camera. It has been made even more of a fantastic view at night, with the addition of hundreds of LEDs which now beam the bridge alight.
If there’s one thing the Koreans know how to do, its food. God bless them and their wonderful sense of what a meal should be! Ordering a single dish will ALWAYS be served alongside several other mini taster dishes of vegetables and meats prepared in indefinite ways. Each mouthful is different and combine to your hearts delight. My personal idea of heaven.