We made our first trip to Busan this last weekend. Boy, did it live up to the stories.
Eric and I took advantage of a long weekend we had for Korea’s Children’s day holiday on May 5th (similar to Mother’s day but they have a parent’s day and children’s day.) Our boss Brian had encouraged teachers, weeks in advance, to take off that Friday, May 6th for a 4-day weekend and many did. We gathered a small group of friends to go explore Busan together, a mix of some veterans of the city and some nubies like us. We were inspired because it was going to Wayne’s last weekend with us here at DGEV. He is moving on to a teaching job in Guatemala for a while, he doesn’t like going away parties, so this was our way to honor him with a lot of fun disguised as saying goodbye.
Our adventures began with booking a place: we found only a few AirBnb’s that could accommodate our group size, but quite a few people wanted to get their own spaces. So I once again turned to our handy-dandy Lonely Planet Korea book and found the recommendation of Hotel 1, with the cost being less than $55 a night we booked it, luckily we found openings (they are now fairly booked up for the summer), and got ourselves a Romantic capsule room. The hotel’s aesthetic is marble white everything, it’s right on the beach some rooms face the ocean, some don’t, they have a rooftop that looks out over Gwangali (광안리) beach and the street below, at the very top they have a staircase that can really only be used for snapping photos and posting onto social media sites. Very different from what Eric and I usually gravitate towards, but was weirdly fun. They have a cafe in front that has white stadium seating that guests can sit on and people view.
On Thursday we took the Mugunghwa Train (무궁화) from Daegu to Busan, it’s the slow train costing only ₩8,000 one way. Mugunghwa trains are a part of the Korail system, they are the slowest tier of trains because they stop at many of the towns and villages that other Korail trains don’t. If you have the time and want the savings I highly suggest the Mugunghwa, but it is a very packed train at times so book early to get a seat so you don’t have to stand!
The two most popular beaches in Busan are Haeundae and Gwangalli beach. Hotel 1 is right on Gwangalli street and it was a blast. I wouldn’t stay on the beach if you don’t like lively nightlife, because it was packed at night, but our hotel room faced the mountain so we were tucked away from the noise.
Thursday night we ate at a bomb pizza place called SOL TAPHOUSE-솔탭하우스 delicious but pricey. Jemima said there were going to be fireworks - we now suspect because of the holiday - so we went to hang out on the beach when all of a sudden there was a drone light show above the water. Inspired Collin went to go buy fireworks at the 7-eleven. Families and others were shooting theirs off by the water.
Friday morning Eric and I walked the beach early in the morning and it was utterly peaceful and sunny. We tried to find our free breakfast in the hotel but no one was around and we didn’t find it, so we wandered. Coffee shops weren’t open until 9 am so we sat on the beach waiting for things to open up. There wasn’t much of many good breakfast spots so we ended up trying to go back to our hotel to see if we could find our promised breakfast at the hotel and sure enough a bag was hanging on our door with instant ramen and cereal - delicious and free. We packed instant coffee and went up to our rooftop lounge for the first time for a morning hang.
Wrangling 8 people for brunch was difficult but Dana picked an amazing spot for a great breakfast #2. It was a Turkish Sand Coffee/ Brunch cafe , they served the best iced coffee we had in a long time.
The plan after brunch was to get Dana checked into her AirBnb and then head out to Lotte World for an evening of rides.
We made the choice to go after 4 pm because tickets were cheaper, but long story short we traveled on two long subway journeys and up a hill to get to the amusement park all to find out the rides had a 200 minute wait and the park would close before we could get on any rides. Dana was really sad, she was telling our friend Kelly to turn around and not come when we took a group photo to mark the occasion. We decided to go find some dinner and then to noraebang 노래방!
Norae 노래 meaning song and 방 (bang) meaning room for song room - karaoke!
Dinner, beach hang, saw the drone show one more time, then found a close noraebang for late night fun. The noraebang was very similar to any karaoke place other than the one outstanding difference - the Korean videos that played with the songs we choose. I’ve uploaded a few for your viewing pleasure.
We stayed out until 2 in the morning, which I has been a minute.
As a side story I started to go home because I was feeling bloated and it was 2 am, Eric was going to stay out and call me when he was coming home (only one room key) but then realized his phone was dead, he had to come running after me, I was all the way to our hotel - maybe 5 blocks away. Theenn while I was filling my water bottle and somehow I dripped a little bit of water into an electric socket on our one table and blew the fuse for our room. This was all translated and figured out with the lovely late-night young Korean staff member who came to investigate our room, I didn’t even realize some water had dripped in there. With no AC we slept with the window open and in the morning our switch in the breaker was flipped back on. (It had to dry out? And couldn’t be turned on until morning? Not sure.)
Saturday was our better successful day, we walked around the Gamcheon Cultural Village (감천문화마을.) Someone online said that it’s “is the epitome of beauty and chaos, all rolled into one” and I would totally agree with that. The village is nestled into the side of the mountain on the southwest part of Busan.
Gamcheon has been historically a poor community, close enough to the Busan port that the neighborhood sprung up to house cheap labor for the growing industry. But it was transformed into a city icon in 2009 when the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism called out for a public art-themed renovation to convert the village into a cultural-tourist hub. The transformation of Gamcheon was made with the co-operation of residents, artists, and local authorities. Through the little museum they have, we learned that there was support in infrastructure and rebuilding that happened, I hope that this all has benefited the community in more positive ways than negative. It was a little odd walking around knowing we were taking pictures of people’s homes and walking through alleys that felt right in front of people’s doors. And in true Korean style there were many “Instagram spots” with lines of people just waiting for their photo or gift shops all over. The information center and signs all tell and warn tourists to be mindful of your noise and intrusion… but… it felt a bit weird. They do have a cute map though and can go on a scavenger hunt looking for fun curated spots all over the village.
We ended the trip with a delicious meal at a Thai restaurant. Then Eric and I booked it to our train station to get back to DGEV.
Highlights: White rooftop deck, beach hang, Turkish hot sand coffee, brown cheese, the feeling of experiences of happening in-between places, swimming in saltwater, noraebang, warm weather, fresh air, that delicious pizza, doughnuts, fireworks on the beach, meeting up with Kelly in Busan randomly, getting off the beaten path at Gamcheon village, taking pictures.
Lightlights: The pajamas I stole from Hotel 1 that they provided, the slippers that we had to constantly wear in the hotel were pretty much made of tissue paper, trying to walk up the stairs at the top of the hotel and how utterly scary it was, Collin claiming he can eat a whole pizza and then not eating a whole pizza, Dana claiming she was lazy but then always being the one at the front leading us with her hand stretched to the sky, silly breakfast GS25 food.
Lowlights: Not getting into Lotte World, fuse blowing, seeing white dudes partying without masks, grumpy fellow travelers being worried about time, being together with people and having a feeling that you’re not.