Busan, South Korea

Bupyeong Kkangtong Night Market - Busan, South Korea

A couple of weeks ago, my boss offered to send NJ and I on a two night trip to one of three cities in Asia: Hong Kong, Seoul, and Busan; flight and hotel paid for.

This has been his habit for several years now; a bonus of sorts for successful school years, but usually we have more notice and time to prepare. We chose Busan, because pollution concerns keep us out of China, and we’ve been to Seoul before. Busan sounded interesting, and the opportunity to eat some authentic Korean food again was hard to pass up. However, we didn’t know anything about Busan, other than its geographical location.

In fact, we had so little time to prepare, and so many other stressful things were going on, that by the day of our flight, we still hadn’t had time to print any maps, learn even basic phrases to get by with, or even research places to go see. We were so convinced that the shortness of the trip (only one full day) and the horrible weather forecast (rain) would mean more, unneeded stress that we decided we might just eat and stay in the hotel room exclusively.

I am so glad we didn’t.

Even though we didn’t have a map. Or any plans. Or speak a lick of Korean…. We still had an amazing time, and it all started the moment we got off the plane.

I am used to being able to speak the language of the country I am in. I have a fairly conversational level of Japanese, and when that fails, usually a mixture of English and Japanese works. In Taipei and Seoul, we didn’t need any of the native language at all, because there was enough support in the former two to get by.

Busan is different. The city likely doesn’t see the levels of tourism that other places see in East Asia, and translations were few and far between. The subway maps were really hard to navigate. Luckily, a kind young man stopped to help us. He helped us buy our tickets, led us through the gate, and then escorted us halfway to our destination, through two separate transfers. When we finally parted, it was with a nod and a smile. One for one.

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We stayed in an old area of Busan known for its film festival and night markets, Gwangbok-ro. Our hotel, Aventree Busan, is part of the Agoda brand, and I can’t recommend it enough. The staff were extremely friendly, and when I realized I’d forgotten to pack our power converters, they lent us one for free, even though the hotel requires a deposit. Two for two.

Our first night, we went to the self-proclaimed “best chicken in Busan” restaurant, and indeed, had some of the best chicken we’ve ever tasted. Spicy, sticky, soy-sweet chicken with thick cheese fondue and fries changed our minds at first bite: we wanted to explore, weather be damned. Our server was delightful, and helped us choose a meal that would fit our spice tolerance. Three for three.

The next day, we left early, determined to make the most of our one day and explore as much as possible. A brief breakfast at Coffee Mr. Dutch (an excellent coffee and tea house) and we were on our way to Bosu-dong Book Street, which is about as amazing as it sounds. An entire city’s block worth of book stores. Book stores and only book stores, with so many books that they were using the overstock as high beam bracers and door frames. So many books that each store could pick a specialty: an encyclopedia store, art book store, children’s book store, and more. A very dangerous place to be for a bibliophile, as they have books available in many languages, and many, for very cheap. Four for four!

Next up was Bupyeong Kkangtong Night Market, teaming with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and cuts of meat. Motorcycles buzzed their way through the throngs of people and old men pulled massive fruit carts that looked far too heavy for their hunched frames. Old women in visors haggled the prices of kimchi and fish, and children dashed about on sandals that looked ready to fly right off their feet. Five for five.

We took a short break at a Starbucks nearby after perusing the markets, when I recalled that the Trick-Eye Museum should be nearby (and after looking out the window, we found it pretty quickly). Hard not to go to a fun photo opportunity when it presents itself, and for a measly $8USD, we couldn’t pass it up. Below are some of the shots NJ got of me (and six for six!):

At this point we were pretty tired and hungry. NJ picked the dinner that night, and Korean BBQ won. We found a really nice, open-air place on Pigs’ Feet Alley (and while I didn’t try the specialty, I admit the smell was mouth-watering). Korean BBQ restaurant styles have one huge advantage over Japanese-style BBQ: they use hoses to suck up the excess smoke, so the air around the table stays fresh. The meat was heavenly. There really is nothing like authentically marinated and prepared Korean BBQ. The restaurant owner also cooked half our meal for us, showing us how to cook the meat in the proper fashion. Seven for seven!

But our night of food-tourism didn’t end there: I bought rose ice cream from a vendor, NJ and I shared in hotteok, a sweet desert pancake filled with a mixture of brown sugar and roasted seeds. I’m linking a recipe because everyone in the world must try this at least once in their lives. We finished the night off with boba tea. Too full to think, and too full to care! Eight for eight!

All of that was done leisurely, and with a flight leaving at 4PM the next day, we knew we’d only have time to squeeze in one more thing. When we’d first arrived in Gwangbok-ro, I’d noticed a strange escalator.

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Turns out this escalator actually takes people up a mountain. We rode it happily, luggage in hand, to go to Busan Tower, because the weather had turned miraculously sunny, and in my life, I’ve never had a good view of a city when I plan to go see it. Busan Tower is absolutely worth going to see on a clear day. The view is tremendous, and it was the perfect final inning for our perfect game in Busan.

All in all, a well-spent trip. Even without a map, or a plan, or any Korean language skills to help us. This trip taught me that spontaneity can be a wonderful thing, even in a completely unfamiliar environment. So, my suggestion to you: get out there, and get lost!

If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the photos, and our visit to the Model Ship Exhibition Hall in Busan Tower, check out my Flickr gallery here:

https://flic.kr/s/aHskm6dYeK

56 thoughts on “Busan, South Korea

  1. What a great journey!! Love all the pics – so much RED foods, haha.. which means they are all spicy!!! Thank you for also linking my hotteok recipe~it is gooood isn’t it?? 😉

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    1. SO GOOD! Thank you for writing it out in a way that I could find it! 😀 Did you know your recipe is the #3 Google search result? ^_^ Congratulations! I can’t wait to try your recipes!

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  2. Great article, Alex!

    I lived and worked in Busan for many years (Seoul too). Nice to see some familiar places 🙂 I do miss Busan at times. Some of those old women in visors are all candidates for Judge’s in MegaCity 1…

    Korea is very different from Japan despite being so close (I suppose parts of Osaka are similar though). I’m somewhat surprised that you weren’t able to use any Japanese though. There are a lot of restaurants around the port area that cater specifically for Japanese tourists that come over on the ferry from Fukuoka (I worked there as well). Still, it sounds like you did well 😉

    If you ever decide to head over again I’d be happy to let you in on a few restaurants and pubs that you just have to visit and which are all off the beaten track!

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    1. Wow! I’m beginning to feel like we have quite a bit more crossed experiences that I thought originally! That’s really cool that you were in Seoul. What were you in the country for?

      To be fair, I could use some English, and some Japanese, but not when I really felt I needed it. There is one word everyone knew, though, and that was ONE! 😀 Which was always spoken with an emphatic finger movement. One of my favorite things about ordering food in Korea. 😉

      Yeah, I’d definitely want those recommendations if we go back. The food was out of this world, and unlike in Japan, lots of unpickled greens!

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      1. I was engaged in defensive counterintelligence operations (I can’t name the countries here). I was brought in specifically for risk assessment regarding cultures, resources, and methods with an aim towards ‘bringing in assets’ from other ‘agencies’.

        I maintained my cover for a number of years as an ESL instructor, moving to various theatres throughout Asia as required. Hopefully, no one will find… hang on I just need to answer the door…

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    1. There’s way more in CA than I ever gave it credit for, though! If I ever live there again, I’m going to try and find new things to go and do. But yeah… the trip was pretty awesome. 🙂 The food made my body very, very happy.

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    1. Thanks so much, Lynz! The crazy thing about a lot of those pictures is that I actually had to bring DOWN the color saturation to make the details stand out. Korea is a very colorful, yummy place!

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  3. It sounds like the two of you had a WONDERFUL time and I love seeing all of the amazing pictures. I’m kind of glad you didn’t stay in the hotel to write as you had originally thought. You experienced a whirlwind of awesome things and not only does that feed the soul with joy it also feeds your writing, even if not directly.

    You are making me very excited for my own trip next year. Most of our time in Kyoto and at least one day in Osaka is set aside as ‘get lost’ days. There are a few things I specifically want to see and do, but mostly I just want to get out on the streets and see what there is to see!

    I would love to see South Korea someday too, and now I will definitely have to check out Busan if we ever get to go!

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    1. Yeah, I’m glad, too… and you’re right! I got a bunch of creative energy bursts once we got back… wrote three blog posts and started a new short story! It was good for me to spend a couple of days away from my to-do and just centering myself and my imagination again. 🙂

      You’ll love your get lost days in Japan! It’s going to be amazing! ^_^

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    1. Yeah, definitely. I always plan things a little loosely, just so we have an idea as to what is in the area…. but I didn’t even get a chance to do that this time around, so we were flying blind the whole way. 😛

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    1. Same here, but the same thing happens here, too! I wonder why I still feel the need to plan, given that…. but oh well… Thanks a ton. Glad you enjoyed the photos!

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  4. I’m so impressed with everything you managed to squeeze into your one day, along with some great food. I am a big fan of Korean BBQ, having been introduced to it in LA by my daughter. She lived in South Korea for a year and had a great time, spending her last month touring around the country on her own. Good choice for a one day visit!

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    1. Yeah, pretty amazing, especially give that everything we did was within three blocks of our hotel! Busan has a bunch of great places…. we only got to visit a fraction of what was actually there. Most of the famous “Busan” places are actually an hour bus ride out of the city!

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  5. I just dont know how you put up with such a draconian boss, what a terrible place to work!!!! Great photos as always with a great write up to boot. One of the countries still on my list to do, hopefully when I’m in Japan late next year I’ll manage to get across.

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    1. I know, I know. My life is SO. HARD. 😛 (But seriously, it’s all downhill from here, in terms of employers, haha. Thanks, BOSS.)

      You should definitely go. I think you’d really enjoy it…. there are a bunch of places we really wanted to go, but time constraints kept us in a mere three block radius. I enjoyed Busan a lot more than Seoul!

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  6. I have never thought I’d have a reason to visit Korea. But that travelogue was very inspiring. Remarkable photography on the market shots. My eyes practically watered looking at the spicy kimchee and peppers photo.

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    1. I’m really happy you enjoyed it! It was a surprise wonder, for sure. I went in with one of my worser, pessimistic moods about how much “fun” it was going to be, but it really ended up blowing me away. 🙂

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  7. That Trick Eye Museum looks amazing! It looks like each set is a kind of 3-D rendering of artwork, with props and such that you can touch – but from way away, it only looks one- or two-dimensional. Is that close to what it’s like in person?

    Also, I would never, ever tell a fellow writer what kind of story they should write about… But all of your Asian adventures must be inspiring you in some way, right? 😉

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    1. Yep! Most of those set-ups were all just stickers on a wall. In some places there was a wall cut out, or barrier to sit/straddle, but for the most part, they were totally 2D. 🙂

      And yes! I finally started a new story… Horror this time. The working title is “The Leeches of Kuro Sato,” and I’m pretty happy with the general premise. 🙂 Going to try to submit this one to short fiction markets!

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  8. I’m pretty sure, Alex, that you and NJ have created the ultimate itinerary in my opinion. I think that in the blink of an eye, I’d joyfully follow each of your footsteps from this trip. The books, the market (oh my god that market!), the museum and the food, food, food! Yeah, this sounds like a truly spectacular trip, and one you might want to market in a guide book.
    I want hotteok!

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    1. Everyone should want hottoek! 😀 I really suggest trying the recipe out. It’s seriously a bit of heaven, if heaven were nothing more than warm, gooey, flavor. 😉

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  9. I love a happy ever after, even if it’s only for a day 🙂 I’ve heard lots of good things about Korea from a blogging friend who taught there a few years back but it’s not a place I’d given thought to going.

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    1. I had been to Seoul before, but my experience there made me a little indifferent. But it was fantastic, and I am really glad I gave it the chance to impress. 🙂

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  10. Everything about this sounds amazing. Your food photos had my mouth watering (*wipes up keyboard*). The escalator up the mountain would be quite an adventure… but the BOOKS! A whole street of books?! Incredible!

    It sounds like you packed a lot of excitement in your short trip. Thanks for sharing this with us. I feel like I’ve been on a mini holiday, thanks to your post.

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    1. Sorry, I totally lost your comment in all the others! Thank you very much. 🙂 Yeah…. it’s a full week later and the smells and tastes are still haunting my senses. I want to go back! The escalator was really fun, and super convenient since we were packed with our luggage for the airport. It made it possible to see one more cool thing before leaving. 🙂

      Yeah…. books. Ah, books. I wouldn’t mind spending whole weekends there, but I might get tagged as a loiterer. 😉

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  11. So glad that Busan offered so much while you were there on very short notice and you partook in the stuff!

    Savour the experience.

    I realize fantasy fiction and illustrations is your passion but it will be there after you leave Asia for you to continue writing.

    But not the stuff that you are living in /visiting now. So write more about Japan, etc. with photos! It’s not boring to us.

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    1. Oh, I would definitely never consider it boring! I love this stuff. 🙂 I’ll probably continue to blog about it even when I’m not living here anymore. My fiction gets its inspiration from real life, but besides for book reviews and writing techniques, I never really blog about it (that, I think, would be boring to others! 😉 )

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  12. The colours from the market are amazing and the TrickEye Museum photos are wonderful silliness! 🙂 ‘m still trying to figure out the divided body on the couch!
    As you’ve proven, sometimes those unplanned activities turn out to be the most fun!!

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    1. The couch one is really fun and easy. The bottom is just a mannequin, and I’m half inside the couch for the photo. 😉 We did another trip like this in Kyoto to a trick art museum, but this one was far superior!

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      1. I had to go back and look at it again because what threw me off was the fact the bottom half appeared to be dressed the same way you were. I’m guessing that was a coincidence?

        The pictures definitely made it look like fun!

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    1. That’s good to hear! I went there with no expectations, and had a blast. 🙂 Makes me curious about other places I’ve written off without trying…

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  13. Spontaneous trip but so glad to hear it went well. Sometimes you really just have more fun when you don’t have a fixed itinerary and you are free to roam around. I love the thick cheese fondue you are talking about. Mmmm, I am a cheese love and that is making my mouth water. Also, that serving of fries and wedges looks so delectable and I bet they tasted just right, not too soft or not overly crunchy 🙂

    That strange escalator looks like something you’d see out of a Korean horror movie 😀 I remember watching a Korean horror movie set in a shopping mall some years back and it has a similar vibe.

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    1. Yeah, the photos of the escalator definitely make things look a bit creepier than they were. It was quite peaceful with all the sunny weather. 😉

      The cheese fondue was fantastic. I don’t think N J will ever be satisfied again until we can find out exactly what cheeses were used to make that awesome flavor.

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    1. Hey, I got by with little to no Korean, haha. 😉 It was a blast. I’ll just absorb all the info in the books through osmosis…. Hopefully. 😛

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  14. Wow. Thank you for the tour. It was so interesting. Another reminder to carpe diem seize the day. I’ve been trying to muster the strength to get to the beach. I’ve been rundown and the beach is only a short distance away and I’m wanting to photograph my friend’s book there for a review I’m writing. I feel like you’ve just given me a bit of a boost and lunch might be perking me up too xx Rowena

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    1. It seems you went! I’m glad that you did. 🙂 It looks like you had a great time. Traveling like this has definitely made me wonder how many little treasures i missed in my hometown because I wasn’t aware enough to go looking.

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