Golden Week 2012 - Part 2: Busan

May 8, 2012 - Busan, South Korea

Day 3

We woke up early to go to the ferry port to catch our jet foil to Busan in South Korea.  It took a while to get there and the check in queue was huge, but we made it on time and were excited about going to Korea.  We slept for most of the journey, which was only about 3 hours and then arrived in Busan in time for lunch.  We found our hostel, chatted with the friendly owner who had loads of recommendations for us and then headed out for lunch.  Ed was excited about Korean food whereas I was feeling apprehensive having heard that Korea is even more difficult for vegetarians than Japan.  My vegetable bibimbap came with meat, so I spent my time picking it out and not really enjoying it that much.  Bibimbap is a rice dish served in a hot stone pot with various vegetables, chilli paste, egg (and meat) on top, the you have to stir up to stop the rice burning on the hot pot and to mix all the ingredients together.  I later managed to get non-meat versions of it and quite enjoyed it.

Busan felt like such a change from Japan.  The streets were busy in a totally different way from the busyness of Japanese streets.  Nobody waits for traffic lights to change to cross the road, the streets are rough and uneven and there are food carts and street stalls everywhere.  It felt more like south-east Asia than I had ever expected it to and was surprised how different it was from Japan.

We planned to go to a park area but ended up in a market and shopping area, where we wandered for ages.  This area was near Busan tower, which was considerably cheaper than Fukuoka tower (as is everything in Korea compared to Japan) and so we went up.  We discovered the Korean tradition of love locks and love tiles, where couples write messages on padlocks and attach them to railing in or near the tower or write on specially designed tiles which are then stuck on the wall inside the tower.  We didn’t have a padlock handy, but bought a tile to write a little message on and stick to the wall in the café at the top of the tower so there’ll always be a little bit of our love in Busan. Aww.

We went back to the shopping area as we’d seen lots of street food that Ed was eager to try, and as it turned out, I could try the spring onion pancakes that they were selling too.  They were delicious, cheap and filling, so my feelings of dread regarding the food situation started to subside.  We wandered around a bit more but it was starting to rain so we went to a café.  Cafes and coffee shops in Korea are numerous, which is something I really liked as it reminded me of the café culture in Greece and Europe in general, and I’ve missed that in Japan.  Their coffee shops also have free wifi and a great range of cakes, waffles and other tempting snacks including honey bread – the single most decadent way to eat bread I have ever come across.

The rain got heavier and heavier and we finally returned to the hostel and started making plans for the next day.  Busan doesn’t have a huge number of rainy day options so we were crossing our fingers for a fine day.

Day 4

It wasn’t raining when we got up but it was a pretty dull day.  We headed to Yonggungsa temple which I’d seen pictures of and read about and was looking forward to seeing due to its location perched on the rocks right next to the sea.  The temple was nice but unfortunately they were preparing for a lantern festival later in the week and so the entire place was covered in scaffolding and strings to hang the lanterns on.  A few lanterns had gone up and they were densely packed in rows of the same colour.  I imagine it would have looked quite spectacular once they were all up.  However it just kind of spoilt the view of the temple and any photos we wanted to take of it while we were there.

We took the bus back to Haeundae beach which was quite quiet, although I’ve heard that it is absolutely packed come summer.  On a grey spring day it wasn’t so popular but we had a nice lunch (I managed to get my bibimbap without meat this time) and then had a walk around Dongbaekseom park on a small peninsula next to the beach.  We visited the APEC house which had been built for one meeting of world leaders from the Asia Pacific area.  It seemed a tad extravagant to build it just for one meeting and then turn it into a tourist attraction but maybe that’s just me.

We wanted to go to the next beach along, Gwangalli, to see the huge suspension bridge that spans the bay and maybe get some night shots there.  We took the metro but got off at the wrong stop and ended up having to walk a long way.  We arrived there long before the sun was due to set though so we stopped for a coffee and a waffle.  We had a walk around the area and Ed tried to work out where would be a good place to take night shots of the bridge.  After the sun set, we spent a long long time, wandering about while Ed tried to get the perfect shot.  He’d wanted to go to a restaurant that some other people in the hostel had recommended to him but it was getting a bit late.  We didn’t find anything we liked the look of (or more accurately that had a menu we could understand and  could both agree on) so we went back to the area our hostel was in and had a repeat performance of wandering and not finding anything.  Just as we were about to give up/kill each other we found a great little kim chi restaurant that had super spicy meat dishes for Ed and tofu stew for me.  We ate far too much and stayed way too late (they were waiting for us to leave so they could close up for the night but we were a bit slow to catch on…) but it was a great end to what had been a slightly stressful evening.

Day 5

We woke up to another grey day and after the disappointment with the temple on the rocks the previous day decided to give Korean temples one more chance to impress us at Busan’s other note-worthy temple: Beomeosa.  This one is up in the mountains and surrounded by greenery.  I’m really glad we visited as it was a beautiful temple and we got an interesting free audio guide that explained the various buildings and parts of the temple.  Korean temples are similar in many ways to Japanese temples but I liked the colourful painting and repeated patterns on the outside and the decorations on the insides reminded me more of the temples we visited in Hong Kong than those in Japan.  It was a bit of a cold day and it felt like it could rain at any time but luckily it didn’t and we were able to take our time and spend the whole morning wandering around the temple complex.

In the afternoon we headed back to the shopping area that we’d been to on the first day to have some lunch and then take a bus down to Taejongdae, the park that we’d planned to visit on the first day.  The weather was looking a bit brighter and we had a nice afternoon walk there.  It’s basically one walking route, a road that goes around the edge of the peninsula, passing by some look-out points, a lighthouse, some of the outdoor gym equipment that’s popular in Korea, a temple and various other things along the way.  It was maybe a 3 or 4km walk in total and quite a relaxing way to spend an almost sunny afternoon.

After that we were a bit stuck between two choices for the evening.  Ed still wanted to go the restaurant he’d been recommended but there was also a light and fountain show in the very opposite end of the city we wanted to see. When we first met we saw a similar show in Barcelona and both remember it as a really lovely romantic evening, and were hoping to recapture that feeling, so we decided to go to the fountain show and then just go for a drink or snack at the restaurant on the way back.  We’d checked how to get there and the time of the show on the tourism website and we arrived about an hour early.  We’d talked about getting some take-away food and watching the show, but it was a bit cold, so we had some Korean rice porridge in a restaurant instead.  We came out about 10 minutes before the show was due to start, but from down the street I could see lights, so we rushed over to see a huge jet of water burst into the air and a fanfare of trumpet music: the finale of the show.  Lots of people were leaving and the fountains continued to be lit up, swaying side to side but only for another 5 or 10 minutes while people were either leaving the plaza or walking around it.  We’d missed the whole thing while eating dinner.  I was pretty depressed, especially as we’d chosen to go to the fountains rather than go to the restaurant Ed wanted to go to.  The show had started half an hour earlier than it said on the website.  In the plaza it did say the correct time, but we never went into the plaza before going to get dinner.  It had also been a long way out to the fountain place and another long bus journey back.  Not the romantic evening I’d hoped for.

We took the bus back and went to the restaurant.  It had been recommended as it was set inside a real cave, and you could sit in this dark, but nicely lit cave, with water dripping down the walls, while eating Korean seafood.  We thought we’d just be able to order a snack or a drink, but it turned out you had to order a full meal.  So Ed ordered the cheapest item on the menu, which, by now, we knew would also come with a huge selection of little side dishes as all Korean meals do.  The side dishes are often vegetarian and with a bit of rice are enough of a meal for me without anything else!

We also ordered some Korean rice wine, which was quite nice.  Much lighter and more enjoyable than sake.  We finally headed home, quite merry and in a far better mood than when we left the fountain plaza. We stopped at a coffee shop (they’re open really late in Korea, which is great!) and had a sugary coffee as the night didn’t quite feel over yet.

Despite the fountain disaster it had been a fun day and we were excited to be heading to Seoul the next morning.

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