By Kwamboka Ngoko
Formerly known as Pusan, Busan is South Korea’s most populous city after Seoul. During the Korean War that lasted from 1950-1953, Busan was one of only two cities in South Korea not captured by the North Korean army within the first three months of the War. As a result, the city became one of the refugee camp sites for Koreans during the war. At the time, it served as a temporary capital of the Republic of Korea. Since then, like Seoul, the city has been a self-governing metropolis and has built a strong urban character.
Busan is a very popular cultural destination among both local and international tourists. It is known for international conventions as well as sports tournaments, constantly attracting large crowds all year long. Also, it boasts of being home to the worlds largest department store, the Shinsegae Centum City.
Teeming with cobalt oceans, lush mountains and endless fares, it’s a city full of surprises and a laid-back vibe that makes it the perfect base from which to explore farther afield in South Korea. Bursting with mountains and beaches, hot springs and seafood, South Korea’s second-largest city is a rollicking port town with tonnes to offer. From casual tent bars and chic designer cafes to fish markets teeming with every species imaginable, Busan has something for all tastes. Rugged mountain ranges criss-crossing the city define the urban landscape, while events such as the Busan International Film Festival and a world class convention centre underscore the city’s desire to be a global meeting place.
So, what are the top things to explore while in Busan?
Gamcheon Culture Village
Representing Busan in the southeast of the country, Gamcheon Culture Village is a mountaintop shanty town that was redeveloped as an art project by students in 2009. Since then, it has become famous for its street art, which crawls down staircases and splashes over old houses.
This historically-rich, mountainside cultural quarter is one of Busan’s most intriguing sights. Originally settled by refugees during the Korean War, tiny hillside homes were constructed by followers of a fringe religious group that believed the universe operates on the basis of a yin-yang dialectic. For decades, the community remained isolated, almost forgotten. However today, this one time pocket of poverty has been transformed into a community of renewal and sustainability. The art students installed a collection of clever decorative pieces best discovered by zigzagging through narrow alleys, peeking around corners and searching out new views from out-of-the way benches creating such a delightful experience.
Gwacheon Culture Village.
It is the longest bi-level bridge over the Pacific Ocean in South Korea. In addition to providing a quick way to get around, the bridge offers breathtaking views of nearby attractions, including the endlessly unfolding ocean, Oryukdo Island, Hwangnyeongsan Mountain, Gwangalli Beach, Dongbaekseom Island, and Dalmaji Hill. Equipped with thousands of LED lights, the bridge showcases a beautiful lighting exhibition at night that changes with the seasons. The bridge offers a majestic beauty when combined with nearby attractions during the day and a romantic atmosphere at night, attracting many residents and tourists.
Beomeo-Sa is a top notch buddhist temple in Busan. This magnificent temple is Busan’s best sight in my opinion, with the early dawn chanting hauntingly beautiful and extraordinary. In spite of its city location, Beomeo-sa is a world away from the urban jungle, with beautiful architecture set against an extraordinary mountain backdrop. Usually, it is a busy place on the weekends as both local and international tourists flock to admire it. First, second and even third visits are often never enough.
This is the only United Nations cemetery in the world and is the final resting place of 2300 men from 11 nations, including the UK, Turkey, Canada and Australia, that backed South Korea in the 1950–53 Korean War. There’s a moving photo exhibit, along with knowledgeable volunteers who share stories about the people in the images. It is a great place to learn about Korean history and culture.
South Korea’s most famous and beloved beach is Haeundae which is about 2.2km-long. The beach is enveloped by a wall of commercial and residential development, granting these buildings a stunning view. Evenings are an ideal time to stroll the beachfront path set against a glowing backdrop of Gotham-esque highrise buildings and, further down the coast, paved trails that yield a panoramic perspective of the breadth of Haeundae’s expansive urban landscape. The beach is a popular destination for revelers over the weekends and endless festivities which mark the Busan calendar all year round.
This is a natural park of Busan with magnificent cliffs facing the open sea on the southernmost tip of island of Yeongdo-gu. It is a representative visitor attraction of Busan with dense evergreen trees and several facilities for tourists such as an observatory, an amusement park, a light house, a cruise ship terminal. For anyone seeking some quiet and solace, or even a romantic picnic Taejeongdae is always the best idea.
Jagalchi Fish Market
Big, bold and salty, Jalgalchi Fish Market epitomizes Busan. An incredible array of seafood, from big squid to red snapper, an all manner of sea creatures with slithering tentacles is served, both alive and dead. The traditional atmosphere coupled with and freshness of the fish make this a staple Busan experience.
Hotteok, a traditional Korean snack, is a small pancake with a brown sugar and cinnamon filling. Busanese hotteok is particularly special thanks to the addition of seeds known as ssiat hotteok. The pancake is grilled in hot oil, stuffed with nuts and seeds and served in a paper cup. It is chewy, crunchy, piping hot, and delicious, capturing the Busan flavours. Seriously, no foodie should visit Busan without trying.
Sulbing is yet another favorite every foodie should definitely try! Served in a heavy earthenware bowl, sulbing is shaved frozen milk topped off with soybean powder and almond slivers. A splash of condensed milk adds delicate sweetness and liquidy goodness. One bowl comes with several spoons and, like most good things in life, is best enjoyed with companionship.