Our final Asian vacation outside of China was a short jaunt over to South Korea. I had arranged to meet my cousin there for a week and David, having used more of his vacation already that year, opted to join us for just a long weekend at the end. After arriving in Seoul we found our way to our hotel, then to a fried chicken restaurant, and eventually onto a train the following day headed to the southern port city of Busan!
Booking a train the night before was not too difficult, but finding the closest station and figuring out the maze of subways we needed to take to get there was a different story. We were staying in Gangnam for the first part of our trip and it was readily apparent that the subways were designed for commuting and not tourism in this section. Luckily google maps actually functions outside China, so navigation got a little easier as time went on. We finally made it to the station with ~10 minutes to spare which was just enough time to pick up some delicious foods before heading to our seats. Upon our arrival at our hotel in Busan we were greeted by a rather comical elevator sign and advised to try the pork noodle soup as it was popular in this area.
Fortunately for me Megan happened to be knowledgeable about Korean food, so after dinner we went in search of bingsu, a delicious shaved ice dessert. There must be some kind of cream over the ice and this particular dish is generally topped with fruit. Somehow I let Megan talk me into a small size to share…Which was fortunate as our dessert ended up being massive!
The following day we had signed up for a full day tour to maximize our sight seeing in Busan. Our itinerary included:
- Songdo Sky Walk
- Gamcheon Culture Village
- Busan International Film Festival Square & Gukje Market
- Jagalchi Seafood Market
- Yeongdo Bridge
- Samgwangsa Temple
- Mt. Hwangnyeongsan Observatory
Before I tell you about the sites themselves allow me to set the scene. We were waiting in our hotel lobby eating a light breakfast and waiting for our group to come pick us up. Someone walks into the lobby, says they’re here to drive us to meet our group, and we all proceed out the door together. We have been informed this man is not our tour guide, he will just be driving us to meet them. Based on my experience in other Asian countries, this could mean he speaks little to no English and will just be taking us from point A to point B. We get into the car and quickly find out not only does he speak English, but he speaks English with a southern accent! Just imagine that for a minute. A South Korean man speaking fluent English with a hint of a southern drawl. Needless to say we were highly amused. It turned out he did a one year exchange program in high school with a family in Kentucky and they got along so well he was invited back to finish high school there. He later decided to attend University in the southern state of Texas and now works for this organization that puts together local and global tours. Between university and starting his new job, however, he served his 2 year mandatory time in the South Korean army and we had some really interesting discussions about the tensions between North and South Korea. From his perspective most of the people in Busan favored the US military and naval presence, though we would get a slightly different opinion on this later during our adventures in Seoul. The general impression that we got from him was that the tension between the two parts of Korea has been present for many years and the threats being made today were no different than those they received on a regular basis. Now…back to the tour!
Gamcheon culture village was a really neat site to see. It started off as a shanty town of refugees fleeing all 8 regions of Korea during the Korean war. Today Busan has opted to preserve its historical significance rather than redevelop the area. As part of this project all the buildings were painted bright vibrant colors and a lot of artistic influence has been brought to this area. One benefit of touring around on such a gloomy day was that there were relatively few tourists about, so we got the place mostly to ourselves.
The Samgwangsa Temple was in rare form during our visit as they were preparing for the lantern festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. hundreds (perhaps thousands) of lanterns were hung all around the temple complex giving it a very festive feel. Each of the lanterns was purchased by several different people or families which is just incredible when you consider how many were already hung up.
Our final stop was to the top of a mountain observatory where you can get some really good views of Busan. I was particularly intrigued by how the city was built up around this mountain range in the Southern part of South Korea.
Upon returning to Seoul we took a jaunt over to the Mapo area north of the river and had some fun at the trick-eye museum, wandering through row upon row of cosmetic shops, and eating more delicious foods.
After a lot of walking around and shopping it was time to grab some food and relax before David joined us the next day. We went in search of a Korean barbeque, but the area we ended up in was near a few universities with a relatively large international population. We walked around for the better part of an hour before we decided we should just settle for some good beer and a slice of pizza in this quaint little restaurant. We also got to watch some super old cartoons they were projecting onto the opposite wall. Somehow we persevered…