Japan has an annoying tradition of having lots of public holidays and not much regular paid leave. In particular, there’s a time known as Golden Week at the end of April and start of May, when about five public holidays fall within the space of two days, meaning everyone takes an extra couple of days of leave to get a long holiday and go away somewhere. That would be fine, except that it means prices get crazy expensive for all the popular places in and around Japan. So much worse than Christmas elsewhere.
All that to explain why instead of going somewhere in Japan or to some other well-known tourist destination, I went to Busan for a few days. Busan (pronounced Pusan) is the second-largest city in South Korea, but I’d never heard of it until Overwatch (a game I play far too much of) added several places in a futuristic version of the city as playable locations. It looked interesting and was only a couple of hours flight from Tokyo, so I figured I’d give it a go.
I booked several AirBnB “Experiences” to fill up the days with something more interesting than just wandering around. It turned out to be a great decision; I had three mornings with three awesome friendly hosts, doing a bunch of things I couldn’t have done on my own.
The first one of these was a tour of the fish markets to get some Korean-style sashimi and clams, which we then ate at the host’s house.
Igidae Coastal Walk
After my seafood lunch, to my great surprise (having read the weather forecast) the sun came out, so I decided to wander along a coastal walk my host had recommended.
My host also informed me my visit coincided with the start of the celebrations for Buddha’s birthday, so all the temples were decked out in colourful lanterns. Samgwangsa Temple is famous for having vast numbers of these, so it sounded like it was worth a look.
The next day I’d booked a cooking lesson with a mother and daughter in their house. If you know how much I enjoy cooking, you’ll know how much of a highlight this was. All the dishes were surprisingly simple to make (apart from all the time I spent being embarrassingly bad at julienning vegetables). Great to have a couple of things added to my “I’m hungry and I just want something quick and tasty” repertoire and a couple added to my “let’s make something fun together” list.
Centum City Department Store
It poured with rain in the afternoon (the weather forecast wasn’t so wrong after all), so I reluctantly decided to visit Centum City, the largest department store in the world. I’m not a big fan of shopping (read: not at all a fan of shopping), but I was still grudgingly impressed by the sheer scale of the place.
Temples and Sightseeing
The next day, I met up with some more lovely hosts and went off on a drive around various temples and other attractions near the city.
Alleyways and Coffee
On my final afternoon I wandered around some backstreets and found a satisfyingly hipster coffee shop recommended by the official Busan tourist board.
- It’s interesting (and a bit sad) how many multi-building apartment block developments there are, where every building looks the same and is just numbered 101, 102, 103, … I guess that’s just what you have to do when so many people want to live in such a small area, but it feels so impersonal.
- I thought the Japanese public transport card system was good, but the Korean one surpasses it! Not only are the sensors equally good at detecting your card in a wallet full of other cards (unlike certain other systems, cough Snapper cough), the software is so much better at not getting confused when you do weird things like enter a station, have second thoughts, leave again, go in again, go through a bunch of different gates while trying to change trains, etc.
- Korean is a surprisingly hard language to pronounce. I thought it would be similar to Japanese and/or Chinese, but it’s quite different again. It’s particularly interesting how certain consonants sound different depending on whether they’re at the beginning of a word, beginning of a syllable, or end of a syllable (for example “b” is pronounced more like “p” at the start of a word, hence “Pusan”)
I’m glad this was my first impression of Korea: somewhere with beautiful traditions, impressive modern flair, friendly AirBnB hosts, and amazing food. Definitely somewhere I plan to visit again!