Photo: Turtle Island at Songdo Beach
Sometimes you meet someone in life and you instantly click, finding hundreds of similarities. Other times, it's hard to come up with ten things in common, let alone one thing. Meet Tomoe from Japan and Kayla from America, two girls who are an example of the second type. Not only are they opposites in looks, their individual styles of travel are very different. While Tomoe enjoys traveling to places like markets where she can feel the atmosphere of the local residents and enjoy regional foods, Kayla prefers to visit quiet locations where she can take in the beautiful natural surroundings in peace. Despite their differences, these two girls had an unforgettable journey together. Let's follow their lead and learn about their exciting trip to Busan!
Being completely different from head to toe, the two girls were able to find one similarity in their lives. They were both introduced to Korea through friends, and have lived in Korea for many years. Over the years, they have both traveled extensively within the country, but stated that Busan was one of the best cities to visit.
"Busan is a very exciting city for tourists. You can see a variety of landscapes from the ocean to the mountains, enjoy delicious foods, and the difference between night and day is outstanding. In the daytime, the city has a simple and charming atmosphere, but it becomes increasingly vibrant and active at night. – Tomoe & Kayla"
Busan is clearly an attractive city, as evidenced by these two complete opposites finding something they could agree upon. Over a two-day trip, the girls visited seven locations, selecting a mix of must-go sites in the city and lesser-known, hidden attractions to discover the charms of this coastal city.
Photo: The girls walking along Songdo Beach
The first location the girls wanted to visit in Busan was Songdo Beach! The first public swimming beach in the nation, Songdo Beach has a history of over 100 years. Compared to other beaches, Songdo is on the small side, but it features plenty of things to see to keep it interesting. The most recognizable features of the beach are Songdo Cloud Bridge, simulating the feeling of walking over the ocean on clouds, and the sculptures and turtle egg-shaped benches installed on Turtle Island just off the coast.
Photo: Songdo Cloud Bridge (left) / Turtle egg-shaped bench (right)
Songdo Cloud Bridge is the longest over-water walking path in Korea, and is well-known for the glass and metal grating installed on the floor in various sections along the trail. These see-through areas allow you to see the ocean just below your feet, really driving home the feeling of walking on air. The ocean breeze will gently pull you along until you reach the entrance of Turtle Island, hidden within the mouth of the turtle head-shaped rock that gives the island its name. The island is dotted with various sculptures but the one that caught the eyes of both girls was the bench shaped like a turtle egg! Sitting here, they discussed how the bench was unique and very cute, but that its largest charm was the unobstructed view of the wide ocean. The benches are great to take a moment to rest your tired legs, or snap a quick photo to remember your trip.
Photo: Taking a souvenir snapshot at Gamcheon Culture Village
After spending an hour or so at Songdo Beach, the girls headed to their next attraction, Gamcheon Culture Village. Also called Lego Village and the Santorini of Korea, the village is comprised of brightly colored buildings all appearing to have been stacked one on top of the other. A site more often visited by groups of female travelers than males, the village produces a unique atmosphere with wooden fish-shaped signs directing the way on paths up and down the hill and through the colored houses on each side.
"Gamcheon Culture Village is like entering a fairy tale world. There are so many great spots to take photos, and the winding alleys feel like you're in a maze. Of course there will be times where you'll get lost but that's part of the fun of being here. You can see all the hidden attractions you wouldn't have seen if you didn't get lost. - Tomoe"
Photo: Fish-shaped wooden signs easily found throughout the village (left)/ Statues of The Little Prince and the Desert Fox (right)
The village is dotted with great spots for photos, but there are a few special areas where visitors line up for a chance to get a great shot of the village spread out all around them. One of the most popular of these spots is at the top of the hill, sitting with The Little Prince and the Desert Fox, gazing out at the buildings looking like a giant staircase down to the ocean beyond. The girls waited for about 15 minutes to take their photo.
Photo: Participating in the stamp tour (left) / Postcard received for completing the stamp tour (right)
The village is great to spend hours wandering wherever you would like, but for more of a guided trip around the village, paying a small fee for the stamp tour is also recommended. After collecting stamps at a total of nine locations throughout the village, you can receive a postcard featuring the village as a small souvenir.
"I was looking forward to Bosu-dong Book Street the most out of everywhere in our Busan trip. The tiny bookstores lining the alleys are really impressive. I wish I could stay in one of the book shop-slash-cafes for hours, drinking coffee and reading book after book. –Kayla"
Photo: Still-life of Bosu-dong Book Street
The third location for the girls' Busan tour was Bosu-dong Book Street! With the collection of small alleys lined with small shops filled to the brim with books, this was bookworm Kayla's number-one choice. When the girls arrived, Kayla's expression completely changed. It was like watching a child in a candy store as she touched book after book, opening them to read a sentence here or there at random before moving on to yet another story. After a few minutes of browsing through the piles of disorganized books, she found one she knew she just had to have and promptly bought it.
Photo: Scenes from Bosu-dong Book Street
The street only stretches about 200 meters, but the girls spent around one hour here, losing themselves in the books. When they found books written in their own language, they were happy, like meeting an old friend they hadn't seen in years. At times, the girls separated, browsing stacks of books written in their native languages, only to reconnect moments later, looking at the same book and sharing memories or commenting on the story.
Photo: Enjoy fresh seafood at Haeundae Food Tent Zone
The girls spent longer than expected at the Bosu-dong Book Street. By the time they arrived at their accommodations in Haeundae, the sun had already set. Just taking time to put their things down in their rooms, the girls quickly headed out to Haeundae Food Tent Zone for some dinner. Located right next to the sandy beach, the area is famous for drawing in film directors and actors looking for a late-night meal during the Busan International Film Festival period.
Haeundae Food Tent Zone's largest draw is the fact that it is right next to Haeundae Beach, allowing for the tents to sell the freshest seafood! Even Kayla, who usually has no interest in food, was satisfied here. “You can really feel the ocean since we’re so close; even the food tastes like the ocean,” she expressed, continuing that she will remember the taste of the seafood for a long time.
Photo: Nightscape of Busan as seen from The Bay 101
The first day of their Busan trip ended with taking in the nighttime scenery at The Bay 101. The Bay 101 is the hottest place in the city and is famous for its beautiful views when the sun sets. A short 10-minute walk from Haeundae Food Tent Zone, The Bay 101 is easily accessible. The exterior of the building is like a giant gift, holding cafes and restaurants with great atmospheres inside. Also known as a date spot for couples living in Busan, The Bay 101 is great for taking in the night over a cup of tea or a fancy meal.
Photo: Beomeosa Temple grounds
Dawn of the second day has arrived, and the girls head to Beomeosa Temple located on Geumjeongsan Mountain! While the sun beat down on the girls the first day, the second day was quite cloudy, with a few drops even falling. Rather than deterring the girls, it simply amplified the peaceful mood of the temple. The old temple buildings peaking in and out of the clouds created a picturesque scene.
Photo: Beomeosa Temple after the rain (left) / Forest trail inside Beomeosa Temple grounds (right)
"There are a lot of temples in Japan as well, but they are really different from the style of Korean temples. Japanese temples are very simple, but Korean temples have so many bright colors used in the Dancheon (patterns used in traditional wooden buildings) so they seem more active. – Tomoe"
During the two hours at Beomeosa Temple, Tomoe's face took on a more serious expression. She couldn't help but wonder what situation could have happened to make people come at such an early hour to pray, and marveled at the forest trail leading through tall, straight bamboo stalks.
Photo: Riding on the monorail up the 168 Staircase
The last stop on the trip was to Choryang Ibagu-gil. Choryang refers to the area, and ibagu is the local dialect of Gyeongsang region for “story.” During Korea’s difficult past, the area was settled by poor people who created a community of houses all the way up to the top of the steep hill. Recently, a monorail was installed to make it easier to reach the peak.
Photo: Monorail entrance (left) / Basement of Ibagu Craft Shop (right)
The monorail operates in an extremely small area, only running between the bottom and top of the 168 Staircase. The trip is over so soon, it feels like the wait to get on is longer than the ride itself. After the girls got off the monorail, they headed to Ibagu Craft Shop. This cultural space offers a chance to see the history of Choryang-dong at a single glance, and traditional school uniforms and hanbok are available to try on for a small fee in the experience center set up in the basement.
Photo: Writing a postcard to be delivered one year later (left) / Yu Chi-hwan Postbox (right)
After trying on the costumes at Ibagu Craft Shop, the girls walked to Yu Chi-hwan Postbox. This slow-postbox is a great place to visit before leaving. For just the price of postage, you can get a postcard and send a message to whoever you choose. The postcard will then be delivered one year later; won't that be a surprise! Even the sender may forget they sent anything. Tomoe chose to write to her family, while Kayla wrote to her future self, thus ending their two-day trip to Busan.
Photo: Dongnae Pajeon (top left) / Mul-milmyeon (top right) / Tofu pouch (bottom left) / Bibim-dangmyeon (bottom right)
Dongnae Pajeon: A representative food of Busan, Dongnae pajeon (green onion pancake) differs from other regions in the fact that it is soft rather than crisply fried. You can enjoy this food at the area around Dongnae Spa zone.
Milmyeon: This food, made from wheat noodles, is a traditional food of the region easily found in restaurants throughout Busan. It is especially popular in summer, and comes in two varieties: mul-milmyeon (cold wheat noodles) and bibim-milmyeon (spicy wheat noodles).
Tofu pouch & Bibim-dangmyeon: Experience foods only found in Busan. Both are made with dangmyeon (cellophane noodles) and can generally be found at shops throughout Gukje Market or Bupyeong Market.
Kayla's comments: For me, Busan is synonymous with the beach! Personally, I liked Songdo Beach way more than the more popular Haeundae or Gwangalli Beaches. The beach was small, but it was really clean and pretty. The turtle statues and shapes throughout the beach area were also really fun. I enjoyed trying to discover more turtle shapes hidden around the beach and on the cloud bridge. The cloud bridge itself was also really nice, since it let us see the whole ocean. I felt like I was on a ship sailing out to sea.
Tomoe's comments: The attractions of Busan are nice, but the best part of any vacation for me is the food. For any foreigners planning on visiting Busan, I definitely recommend trying the local specialties like bibim-dangmyeon or tofu pouches.
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* The above column was last updated in June 2016 and therefore some information may differ from what is presented here.
<Last updated on June 30, 2016>