Small fishing boat dock in Haeundae
11:00 PM Friday
I didn’t know if I wanted to Busan for the weekend and to do it solo!
What did I know about Busan other than it’s on the Korean coast and probably has boats?
My solution: Sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning.
9:30 AM Saturday
I woke up and realized- Ding! Yes, I wanted to go to Busan. So, off I went!
Me and Solo winging it
My travel choices can feel impulsive and random, at times. I like to plan things in advance… but I’m also not very good at it.
Thus, I don’t always give ample time to research my cities beforehand. But nevermind. Traveling in Korea can be easier compared to other countries. In many ways, it is possible to wing it..
On the train ride over, my quick-sketch brain drew 3 bucket-list goals for my two-day trip:
a) Experience sleeping at a jjimjilbang
b) Explore the Jalgachi Fish Market
c) Visit Haeundae Beach.
What I experienced within this two day weekend was much much more…
Busan is the second largest city in Korea. Approximately 1 hour outside of Daegu, it’s dubbed Korea’s San Francisco, due to the fact as Korea’s largest port city. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Golden Gate city. It’s home to raw fish markets, bridges, beaches and occasional adorned with hilly and clustered neighborhoods resembling San Francisco city.
Arrival into Busan Train Station
Jalgachi Fish Market
Busan is a large, sprawled out city. It’s not naturally intuitive to travel if you’re short on time.
Surprisingly, unlike many metropolitan cities, subway lines in Busan don’t always offer door-to-door service to popular tourist attractions.
Instead, buses and taxis must be taken, which opens potential loopholes for tourists to get lost.
Excursions to well-known temples will cost you a bus trip that could take a little guesswork, if you haven’t directions prepared in advance. In fact, I spent half a day with a Busan All-day unlimited metro pass, attempting to find places via metro and bus lines. I finally gave up on it as a time-efficient way to tour the city. Noteworthy attractions off-the-urban-beat such as the Gwangali Live Fish market and Rodeo Art Street, literally felt like a mile hike away from the subway… and I still didn’t reach them.
Haeundae Beach can be easy to get to, by bus, if you know the number. Otherwise, it’s a 10-15 walk from the metro station.
So how did I ultimately see Busan?…
5 Interesting Ways to See Busan:
For the short time I was there, I actually explored a lot. Here the highlights of my weekend – these are places I would definitely return to…
1. Take the City Bus Tour
While Busan doesn’t shout “hard” to a tourist, it also doesn’t inspire ease. So I have one recommendation…
Located right outside the Busan train station is the Busan City Bus Tour . Take it.
It’s a quick, easy, cheap and wonderful way to get an overview of the city highlights as well as, door-to-door access to some of the obvious attractions. As I noted, Busan is a huge city so the tour offers 2 courses ( a Haeundae route and a Taejongdae route . You can transfer from one course to another ) and a night tour. Admission gains you entry aboard a double-decker bus and discount on admission to participating museums, memorials, etc… Moreover, the tour helped me realize what I’d want to see on my next visit to Busan.
Busan City Bus Tour (website here)
Admission: 10,000W Adults; 8,000W for KTX ticket holding passengers
2. Jalgachi Fish Market
If there’s a photogenic grit or raw edge to Busan, this wharfish area hits a memorable note. Just say- rubber rain boots! (You’ll see a lot of them here)
While I my love for seafood never hit passionate cries, this is an area I would definitely return to. Ajumma’s (aka older aunts) and ajosshi’s (aka older uncles) are the working population here and you will see fish in a way you’ve never seen them before… and in massive quantities. Whether dried and hanging, toothpick splayed, skinned or live, I’m convinced there’s an art and pride to some of the fish sale displays here. You can check out the daily catch of each vendors’ stall and then go into their tented dining area to have them clean, cut or fried.
How fresh do you like your sushi?
If you want to try some of the culinary pleasures here, but the grit of the outdoor tented fish stalls are not your thing, just head down to the end of the street to Jalgachi restaurant. It’s a big building, housing two levels of eating and viewing spectacle.
The ground floor houses is a warehouse of vendor stalls, with tanks and live fish, clams, crustaceans where you can view and pick what will be taken upstairs to be cooked for your plate.
The 2nd floor is a large open restaurant, populated with drunken groups of Koreans dining on tables and in booths, where your fish will be brought and sliced or fried for sushi. This is a place which prides itself on the “freshness” of its catch and freshness is taken literally. Just make sure the contents or decor on your plate aren’t wiggling before you bite into them.
Note: This is a very photogenic spot, but Koreans don’t seem to like being photographed. I recommend you ask before shooting or set up some stealth shooting.
3. PIFF Square (Gujke Market)
Housing the annual Pusan International Film Festival every October, this area is also known as Gujke Market and it is aflood with local shoppers and tourists.
A giant maze-like shopping and restaurant area reminiscent of Seoul’s Myeongdong shopping area or Daegu’s Banwaldong, PIFF Square is a fun spot to get out to. Local food and product vendors are sprinkled throughout the alleys and streets to add to the flavor.
Youngdusan Park and tower are close neighbors- a stroll to the top can gain you a nice view of the surrounding city.
4. Haeundae Beach
On a nice day, Haeundae Beach strikes a nice balance of casual beach chillaxing and people-watching.
Young couples stroll the boardwalk fashioning trendy outfits from the Korean version of couples’ Vogue – heels, man-purses and sports coats- which make you think Boys Before Flowers (a popular K-drama) but ala beach. All around, you see family beach picnics, frisbee playing and beach volleyball.
Nearby is the Busan Aquarium for added recreation and a tourist information office for assistance. The few chic hotels which line the main boardwalk- or neighbor it’s backstreets -turn into the nightlife hotspots of the area and possess the impression that you might get from visiting nightlife on the Las Vegas Strip. Restaurants and hotel clubs and bars are a buzz with expats and hip Korean locals. It’s not a very big area but it adds a small glitz to an otherwise dark and quiet town.
Haeundae Beach can also draw a strange crowd
5. Haeundae Spa (Sleeping at a Jjimjilbang)
(You can read about my experience here)
First Look Pictures of my first weekend trip to Busan and reasons why you should visit: