Photo Stories: Busan

TL;DR: Book stuff through AirBnB, it's awesome

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 ten 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.

Weird Sashimi

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.

So many kinds of shellfish and ... other seafood. We got some of the orange "sea squirts" in the bottom left to try.

Also some of these weird things. In English they're apparently called spoon worms, and in Korean they're called dog's ... well, you can probably guess which part of the dog.

As someone who gets fish from the supermarket, it's interesting and a little disconcerting to watch a live fish get picked up, killed, washed, filleted and cut into sashimi slices in about 5 minutes.

Served up. So appetising ... If you're interested, the spoon worm is rubbery and tastes like whatever sauce you put on it, and the sea squirt starts off fine but has a sour seawater-ish aftertaste that's not so pleasant.

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.

On the way I came across these fun artworks on the pavement next to a university. Maybe someone's art project?

The walkway is extremely well maintained, and so nice and green. Interesting to see how many people ignored all the giant "don't climb out onto the rocks" signs ... Koreans clearly aren't rule-following to the same degree as Japanese people.

Busan reminds me a bit of a giant Wellington - in atmosphere as well as appearance. Both cities are built on hills next to the sea and have a casual seaside vibe, but Busan has about ten times the population.

Samgwangsa Temple

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.

I spent most of my visit wandering around with my mouth open, astonished at the spectacle. For context, this photo probably shows less than a quarter of the total number of lanterns.

Standing under the lanterns and looking up is equally spectacular.

I was so jealous of all the people wandering around with fancy DSLR cameras ... my phone's night shots aren't quite up to par.

Cooking Class

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.

Yours truly marinading bulgogi beef, and dreading all the julienning of all the vegetables in front.

So pleased with the finished product though!

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.

This giant room is one half of one of the food courts.

Instantly my favourite store ... until I remembered I only had hand luggage and couldn't bring any wine back with me.

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.

The temples had the same coloured lanterns as Samgwangsa, although on a much smaller scale. Interesting to see all the repeated symbolism of dragons, north/south/east/west personified, white elephants, and so on.

This colourful art style is something that appealed to me when I saw it in the Overwatch Busan map, so it's great to see it in real life!

My hosts also took me back to their house and got me to wear a traditional Korean costume, which was a lot of fun (and, of course, gave me some costume ideas for my fantasy worlds ...)

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 much more fun seeing this colorful patchwork of houses than all the identical new apartment blocks.

I genuinely thought I was buying half this slice of cake ... the portions are so generous everywhere! The coffee was the best I've had in Asia, but still not quite as good as New Zealand.

Random Thoughts

The Diamond Bridge by night ... look it up on Google, there are much better photos!

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!

Posted on 4 May 2019
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