After a few days of exploring all that Seoul has to offer – the palaces, museums, parks, and nightlife – we headed to the other side of the country to Busan (부산). With over 3.5 million people, this is the second biggest city in South Korea. Famous for its beaches, hot springs, and international film festival, Busan is a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists. It’s also the biggest port in the country and fifth busiest in the world. Speaking of superlatives, Busan also boasts Korea’s largest beach (Haeundae – 해운대) and longest river (Nakdong – 낙동강), as well as the world’s largest department store (Shinsegae Centum City – 신세계 센텀시티). In Korea, bu (부) means cauldron, and san (산) means mountain – the city is located at the foot of a mountain that resembles a cauldron. To help you plan your visit, here are some of the top things to do in Busan:
Hit the Beach
A beautiful day on the beach.
The above-mentioned Haeundae Beach is the biggest and most famous, and it can get quite crowded during the summer months. There’s also Songjeong Beach (송정해수욕장) and Gwangalli Beach (광안리), which are both a bit quieter with less people. No matter which beach you choose, you can rent chairs and parasols to kick back and relax, try your hand at riding a jet-ski, or just float around in an inner tube. If you want to do as the locals do, get in the water fully clothed – you wouldn’t want to get enough sunshine to get a little tan.
Fully clothed in the sea.
Go Temple Hopping
Image by midnight.here on www.flickr.com.
There are quite a few temples in Busan that are worth visiting if you’d like to add a little culture to your beach holiday. Haedong Yonggungsa (해동 용궁사) – the Dragon Palace Temple is unique from many of Korea’s other temples in that it’s on the shoreline and not in the mountains. The best time to visit is in April, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom and people are celebrating the birth of Buddha.
At the edge of Mt. Geumjeongsan (금정산), you’ll find the Beomeosa Temple (범어사). This ancient temple was built way back in 678 and has undergone many restorations and repairs in the 1,300 years since. According to legend, there is a well on top of the mountain with water of gold and a golden fish that came down from the sky. Hence the name of the mountain, which means “Gold Well” and the name of the temple, which means “Heavenly Fish.”
Take a Hike and a Soak
Hiking the Fortress Wall.
-Image by Sjekster on www.flickr.com
As it’s surrounded by mountains, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of hiking trails in and around Busan. Trails are not exactly well marked, so do some research or consider hooking up with a local to show the way. After spending the whole day ascending peaks out in nature, it’s time to kick back and relax. Busan is known for its many hot spring and sauna options; the hard part is choosing which one to go to. If you’re in the mood to go big or go home, hit the above-mentioned world’s largest department store for the massive Spa Land Centrum City. This huge complex features countless saunas, baths, and places to relax. It’s different from the usual jimjilbang (찜질방) in Korea, though, as children under 13 are not allowed and a 4-hour time limit is imposed.
Eat, Drink, and be Merry
As a coastal city, Busan is known for its fresh seafood. Take a trip to the Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치시장) – the largest and most famous in the country. Eat some raw fish right there on the spot, or have it cooked up the way you like. Of course, you can always find tasty street food or good ole’ Korean BBQ if you need a break from the seafood.
BBQ and beers… doesn’t get much better than that!
If you’re looking to wet your whistle and enjoy a bit of nightlife, you’re in the right place. There are literally thousands of places to get a drink in Busan, from hole-in-the-wall bars with no frills and cheap beers to over the top nightclubs like this…
Take a Night Stroll on the Beach
Busan at night.
After a big day, head back to the beach to sit in the sand and check out the city illuminated in neon lights. It’s a much more peaceful place for a stroll at night as the crowds really thin out. You might even catch a street performer, such as this puppeteer we saw on our visit:
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Busan, whether you’re into the great outdoors, culture, R&R, the culinary scene, or just partying it up and recovering on the beach. Although it lives in the shadow of Seoul, Busan should definitely be considered amongst the best cities to visit in the Far East and should certainly be included on a trip to South Korea.