Busan was a pit-stop for me after hectic Jeju and Gyeongju so I didn’t really plan for anything in particular. Hence the haphazard nature of my itinerary and I think I missed out a few spots here and there. Well, there’s always next time!
Day One – Nampo, Jagalchi and Yongdusan
After being serenaded by ahjussi crooners in the noraebang (KTV) next to my motel in Gyeongju for the entire night, I woke up with the darkest eye bags ever and started rolling down to the reception with my backpack to check out. The young dude at the reception had even darker eye bags and we nodded at each other silently. Sound-proofing should be made mandatory for all noraebangs in South Korea and trot should be banned.
After a quick breakfast together, the reception guy asked me where my hostel in Busan was. I told him I was going to stay at Haeundae and would be taking the inter-city bus to Busan. Shaking his head, reception guy told me to take the train straight to Haeundae station in Busan instead. Apparently, I would end up with a 45 minute subway ride from the bus terminal in Busan to my hostel at Haeundae. What a life saviour! Tip: Always befriend the reception guy!
Arrived at Haeundae station at about 1.30pm and checked in into The New Day Hostel. The hostel’s a 5 minute walk from the station and was clean and modern. I took the lower bunk bed in the 6-female dorm (Tip: Always take the lower bunk!) and proceeded to explore Busan.
It was dark and rainy so going to the beach was not a good option. I stared at the map of Busan on the hostel noticeboard and decided to go to the Nampo area to see what’s there.
It was a long subway ride to Jagalchi market and I was greeted by dead fish and assorted sea life everywhere I turned. The market was crowded with tourists and ahjummas selling EVERYTHING from the sea. Everything. I couldn’t even name half the stuff on display.
There’s only so much death I could handle so I decided to walk along the pedestrian shopping street of Nampo which was basically another Myeongdong. Soon, I found the famed escalator for Yongdusan Park. I like escalators. It brought me up to the observatory tower and I paid a ransom of 4000 won to go up the white building. Stepped out of the lift and immediately regretted spending 4000 won for a view of Busan’s harbour and concrete buildings. If container ships and large cranes are your thing then there might be a slight chance you would enjoy the view. If not, forget it.
Went back down to Nampo street and decided to finally have lunch at a beef soup joint. (Tip: Try to eat at odd timings when there’re fewer customers at most places and the restaurants are less likely to frown upon solo eaters.) Looking at my huge bowl of beef soup with large chunks of beef, I soon realised that Busan is all about size – the largest shopping centre, the tallest fountain, fifth largest port in the world and biggest fish market in Korea. Even the kimchi servings were hefty.
Day Two – Taejongdae & Gamcheon Culture Village
Woke up at 7am and had 2 eggs and toast bread with butter, courtesy of the hostel, for breakfast. One Singaporean family was cooking up a storm with instant rice, canned tuna, baked beans and cheese. Then out came their ultimate weapon – Ipoh 3-in-1 coffee. My god, the smell of it was giving me caffeine withdrawal symptoms and I started staring at them intensely with wide-opened eyes like a drug addict. Being Singaporeans, they didn’t seem to notice that I was going cold turkey and continued to brew more cups of that wretched drink for their loved ones. Then there was a slight tap on my shoulder, “You want?”
It was a smiley middle-aged construction Uncle from Malaysia, offering me a packet of coffee mix. I almost cried and was so close to hugging him.
I started the kettle boiling and thanked him over and over again while making cups of that heavenly brew for him and myself. Construction uncle smiled and patted me on the head, telling me that I reminded him of his son. I smiled like an idiot while sipping the coffee.
Wait, what? Son?! -_-
I soon realised that I had to take the same frigging long subway ride to Nampo in order to get to Taejongdae. After arriving at Nampo, it was another long ride on bus #100 to the park. The bus driver woke me up from my slumber and kindly pointed in the direction of the park. I bowed and tumbled out of the bus to be greeted by ahjummas wanting to sell gimbap to me.
Found my way to Taejongdae’s tram station and bought a multiple-stop ticket for 1500 won. As I made my way to the queue for the tram, I started hearing very familiar voices. Voices I have heard in Namdaemun and on the slopes of Seoraksan. Voices that send a shiver down my spine.
The sight before me was astounding. Nope, it wasn’t the magnificent coastal view or a bear. It was the snaking queue for the tram, made up entirely of ahjummas and ahjussis. I gasped and wanted to turn and run for my life.
After staring at them for ten seconds, I decided to drag my supposedly younger arse up the hill, choosing exertion over irritation of being in an enclosed space with the likes of them yet again (the experience of being stuck with them in a cable car in Seoraksan still haunts me).
Turns out, it was a good move to do a bit of hike around the national park. The walk had fantastic views of the coast with waves hitting the rocks and small islets in the far horizon. I also met a troop of kindergarteners clad in adorable yellow sweatshirts, yellow sun hats and Poporo sunglasses. They were huffing and puffing, following their teachers up the stairs of the cliff like ducklings. Cutest things ever. Some were whining, some were encouraging and dragging their whiny friends, and some just stood still, like statues, refusing to move. Poor teachers had to carry some of them and I helped to carry two of them to the bus stop. Back nearly broke.
Came to a rest stop and desperately needed some water after carrying 2 very cute toddlers who kept kissing my cheeks but there was no one there! I called out loudly and a sleepy ahjussi emerged from a reclining chair with an equally loud yawn. I must have been his first customer of the day.
He handed me a bottle of iced water and pointed at me while mouthing, “Mi-nam!” I looked over my shoulder, wondering who he was refering to and realised he was talking about me. Mi-NAM?! NAM! -_-
I shook my head and shouted, “Ani, Aniyo! Chonen nyeo-ja ah!” Ahjussi stared hard and snickered with a soft “Mianhe” and went back to his nap on the chair.
What is this? Mistake Amy for a Boy Day?!
Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised why. I was dressed in a checkered plaid shirt over a black Red Hot Chili Peppers tee with an army green parka tied around my waist, skinny jeans and yellow Timberland boots. Standing at 5’9″ with a cap covering my already very short hair, I really looked like a guy. Damn it.
I continued my hike after being disheartened for being mistaken as a dude yet again and arrived at Taejongdae with its iconic red and blue structure and silver compass needle.
The wind was extremely gusty, threatening to blow my cap away. As I looked down from where I was, I spotted 2 brave souls all the way down at the bottom of the cliff, standing right next to the ocean with its rippling waves. Apparently, there are dinosaur tracks down there. I took in the various factors – gusty strong winds, rain, huge ocean waves and a long flight of stairs, and decided to stay where I was and soak in (literally, thanks to the rain) the coastal view.
The observatory had a photo exhibition by Choi Ji Woo, a Korean actress from Busan. She’s the one who was always crying in Stairway to Heaven, a famous k-drama. You can also look out for a small islet shaped like a teapot from the observatory, aptly named Teapot Island.
I waited for the tram and prayed very hard that it wasn’t filled with the A&A gang (ahjussi and ahjumma). It wasn’t and I was whisked off to the entrance of Taejongdae park.
Gamcheon Culture Village
Took bus 1-1 from Toseongdong station for Gamcheon Culture Village and managed to bang my big head on the roof of the mini-bus. The mini-bus swung up the hills and I loved the nauseating ride. A handsome haraboji dressed sharply in a suit and a straw hat
asked told instructed me to take a seat (an-ja a) but I told him it was fun (jaemi-so) to stand and swing around. He laughed and called me a pabo. There was also a young Cacausian guy with a huge camera, looking out of the window anxiously every 5 seconds. I told him to relax cos’ driver ahjussi knew when to boot the tourists out of the bus.
Gamcheon reminded me of Treasure Hill in Taipei and Naksan Mural Park in Seoul but with better exhibits and a much bigger walking area. Pick up a map from the visitors’ centre and collect stamps along the way from different points. Exchange the completed map for a free postcard at the end of the tour.
Murals covered most of the walls in the village and art installations filled the empty houses. There were also sculptures along the way and a nicely decorated toilet with a view of the entire village. The area is still very much residential, with the locals drying their clothes and vegetables and striking up conversations with the lost tourists.
Getting lost is all part of the fun and you just have to follow the little wooden fishes mounted on the walls to help keep you on track. Ended my walk in a little cafe with a bowl of patbingsu (shaved ice with red beans and sweet milk).
Day 3 – Haeundae, APEC house, Gwangalli beach and Busan Fireworks Festival
Went in search of lunch near the hostel and chanced upon a little noodle place along the narrow alleys beside Haeundae beach. This is one of the many reasons why I love Korea – food is readily available everywhere and at anytime. Grabbed a steamed meat bun on my way out after a hearty bowl of spicy kalguksu (hand cut noodles) and made my way to the beach. It was a gloomy overcast day with rain threatening to pour anytime. Thought that Busan aquarium would be a nice wet weather diversion but was put off by its exorbitant admission fee – 25,000 won. So I decided to spend my money on a bottle of Hite beer and lie on the sand, listening to the waves.
Thanks to the weather, the beach was empty, save for a few souls wandering around with umbrellas. I got bored after a while and spotted a wooden boardwalk in the distance. It was a coastal walkway to Narimaru APEC house which boasted a view of neighbouring Gwangalli beach. There was also a half-naked Korean mermaid statue and a small suspension bridge along the way. The entire Haeundae beach can be seen from the look out points and the APEC house had an exceptionally clear view of Gwangalli beach and the iconic Diamond bridge.
After snapping a few photos for the local tourists at APEC house (one of the things that happens frequently to solo travelers), I decided to walk to Gwangalli in the rain.
The crowd grew bigger as I got nearer to Gwangalli and soon there was a human jam plus a traffic jam. Then I realised the reason for an empty Haeundae. Every Busan soul was at Gwangalli for its annual Fireworks Festival that evening. Free fireworks at the beach! I nearly died of excitement as I pushed my way through the crowd and got a spot on the sandy beach beside young party revelers. There were plenty of foodstalls and beer stations with a live k-pop concert. I got ‘adopted’ into a group of young university students who had food and booze and we danced crazily to the music. When the fireworks started, the crowd went mad.
Watch this Youtube video for the Fireworks Festival. I didn’t manage to take a single decent picture of the fireworks due to shaky hands post-soju.
Everything else was a blur after the fireworks and many bottles of soju and beer. All I remember was how badly I had to pee while lining up for the ladies and I decided to join the Q for the gents since everyone seemed to pee faster there. No one stopped me anyway.
I somehow made my way back to my hostel in Haeundae in a taxi and went straight to bed with nary a care for personal hygiene.
Guess who was nursing a major hangover the next day on the way to Suncheon.