Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Swim with Sharks in Busan

Dun dun.

Dun dun.

Dun dun.

Careful, he's hungry. I ran into this guy at the Busan Aquarium. I had a few days off from school and decided to take a trip to Busan, the second largest city in South Korea...or Seoul with a beach. While the Busan aquarium may not have had fish swimming in toilet bowls and washing machines, for a mere $120, you can actually go diving in the shark tank! They only do it on weekends and you have to book it in advance, but I'm thinking it might be worth making a return trip for...hopefully the sharks don't think that I'm bite sized.

I also found what appears to be the stuffed animal version of Nemo's dad after a night on the town. Lookin' a little out of it there eh?

Moving on from the never ending rotation of questionable stuffed animals...I stayed at the Pusan Hostel, which I discovered is actually a temporary hostel, a.k.a. a giant apartment located in super ritzy complex (please refer your eyes to the picture below). Lesson: you can live in a fancy apartment as long as you rent it out to 20 other guests on the weekends to pay the bills. It was a bit far from the major downtown areas but I had a room to myself and a fabulous view of the ocean! Definitely one of the nicest apartment complexes I've seen in Korea so far.

View of the buildings from a neighboring park.
 Though I've traveled a lot, this was my first true solo trip abroad, going to a new city by myself. Traveling in Korea isn't like traveling in Europe where you're guaranteed to run into other foreigners where ever you go. During the day I went sight seeing with other people from the hostel, a small group of English teachers and travelers, but at night I would generally go out and just make friends with the first English speaking people I could find, which were surprisingly few and far between for such a big city! Nevertheless I had a great time!

My adventures started immediately after I arrived. I wanted to try and get a nice view of the city, so I began walking up a nearby hill thinking I would get to the top, see the city and walk back down, but the trail kept going and going...I ended up hiking 5 kilometers around the rocky coast before I finally found the view I was looking for.

Parts of the trail were just a man made path, you can see the fence.

 Getting there...

There it is!

I knew Gwangalli Beach, a popular nighttime destination, was just beyond that bridge. What started as me looking for a bus or taxi to Gwangalli turned into another 5-ish kilometer venture until my toes finally hit the sand. I re-energized with a true American meal: a chicken quesadilla with avocado. Back home this wouldn't be news/blog worthy, but finding good Mexican food and avocados for cheap in Korea after weeks of nothing but kimchi, Korean BBQ, and dumplings was like stumbling on the holy grail. I ate it at the Fuzzy Navel, a popular restaurant across the street from the beach.

This is a picture of Gwangalli at night. On the right you can kind of see the crowds (there was a concert going on further to the right). There are three beaches in Busan, Haeundae being the largest and most popular, but Gwangalli is known for its nightlife.  I've been taking a lot of pictures with my iPhone, for the most part I think the quality is decent, but for night time I need to start carrying around a real camera.

The next day I checked out the Haedong Younggungsa temple, famous for its beach side location. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. While it certainly was beautiful (you can't go wrong with a good ocean back drop), I noticed that the temple also looked somewhat familiar:

Me forgetting to throw up my peace sign!
Because of the many wars and Japanese occupations, most temples in Korea are reconstructions...with identical paint jobs. Most of the Haedong buildings looked like smaller versions of the ones at the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. I guess in general it just didn't have the same wow factor as other historical sites I've been to (though perhaps I've become a bit jaded).

Afterwards we went to Songjeong beach, which I'd recommend going to if you ever find yourself in Busan. Most people head straight for Haeundae Beach since it's large/well-known/has lots of touristy things to do, but if you're looking for a cleaner, less crowded beach for a relaxing day, hop on the #181 bus and get off when you see water! It's very close to the Haedong temple.

Since it rained Friday we skipped the beach and went to the aquarium which was awesome, evidenced by the opening photos. After that we went to Spa Land, the most amazing jimjilbbang (Korean spa) ever! It's inside Centum City, an urban development which is also home to the world's largest department store (they love superlatives in Korea). It's definitely a great place to relax if you're in Busan, but it might make all subsequent jimjillbbangs look pretty lame. It has 13 saunas, each with a different would you like your hot steam room? Turkish? Or Roman bath style? I opted to lounge in the outdoor hot spring (I know, life is rough).

Inside the department store....personally I think the Guggenheim could sue for copyright infringement...

Then we trekked to the other side of Busan (it is absolutely huge) and shopped around the BIFF Square where they hold the eponymous Busan International Film Festival. The outdoor markets in the area are enormous, you could spend hours just walking through the streets and combing through the various kiosks. I myself like to buy cheap funky socks:

I spy with my little eye...Obama socks.

A very tiny part of the market area.
We also checked out the famous Jagalchi fish market. And by checked out, I mean we walked in, saw this lady wrangle an octopus, turn it inside out, put it in a plastic bag, and give it to a customer....after that we decided we'd pretty much seen all we needed to see at the fish market. While we were walking away we saw another octopus unsuccessfully try to escape from the red bucket of doom...sorry buddy!

After regaining our appetite we tried some of the famous street food. If you go to Korea and eat nothing else, try hotteok. It's fried dough filled with brown sugar and nuts...the heat melts the brown sugar so it turns into a gooey unbelievably good.

And for the grand finale: we went up the Busan towers for some lovely views of the city!

Sorry for the poor picture quality...again I was just carrying the iPhone...but yes, that is another giant department store. Korea: the country that likes shopping more than I do.


  1. Gorgeous city. One of the only parts of the country I never got to visit.

  2. It's a good excuse to return to Korea!



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