Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 5 – Exploring Busan

Today is going to be one of those days that I don’t think will be beaten for the rest of this trip. It didn’t start out that way though. The resultant “hiker’s neck” pain and some features of the room in general kept me from going to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. A strong painkiller later and I finally drifted off, but we both awoke feeling pretty damned terrible. We needed Busan to deliver, and it exceeded expectations.

We started the day a bit late, but found our way to Jagalchi Market – the largest fish market in South Korea. Unlike the old Tsukiji Market I saw in Japan, this market is very much split between buying and consumption. The ground floor is filled with all types of live fish and shellfish (including some really knobbly ones I have no clue what they were) and the first floor is split between dried fish and places to eat. The twist being that if you buy seafood in the market below, you can have it prepared for you at a fixed rate by the eatery.

If I knew anything about selecting seafood I might have given this a go, but instead ended up splitting a dish with the hub that I never got to try in Jeju and was looking lonely on the ‘to eat’ list: abalone porridge. This is not something I ever would have expected me to willingly order, but this is the premier fish market in South Korea and these aunties know what they’re doing. When this came out with the green tinges rather than pure white (because of the abalone innards) I knew this was going to be the good stuff. And it was, to the point of completely relaxing my stomach that was still suffering from last night’s chicken mistake. It was a gastronomic miracle, tasted good too.

The fish market is right on the edge of the sea, so if you walk through you can get some pretty spectacular views of the surrounding city as it meets the ocean. You also get to see just how clean the water is here in Busan, with shoals of fish swimming next to the building and men with poles on nearby bridges trying to make a catch.

Two blocks away from the fish market was our next attraction: BIFF Square, named after the Busan International Fish Festival. Usually this is one of the places to get some good food, but at this time of year things are kicked into high gear because we managed to luck out and book time here when the actual festival is on. We’ll be going to a screening tomorrow, but for the moment I got to appreciate all the additional stalls plugging various facets of the festival.

Of course I still got some street food, starting out with a hotteok filled with cinnamon sugar and various seeds. It was delicious and made for a great dessert… which was until we walked a few blocks. Not only were there many amazing looking restaurants, but we ended up at a massive row of busy aunties selling pretty much every street food on my wish list. I was full by now, but keen to restore faith in Korean Fried Chicken, I bought a small cup for about £2 and it was all I was hoping for.

Properly stuffed I had to walk away from all the amazing food and head to our next destination: the rooftop observatory of the nearby Lotte Mall in Gwangbok. It’s a really handy tip that the hub picked up, but the rooftop deck and gardens are completely free and actually pretty empty. The gardens themselves are really tranquil with animal art and manicured lawns (although I’m not sure about the wooden dachshund cocking his leg).

The views themselves are more than worth the detour, especially because they’re free. It was at this point where I could really feel myself starting to fall for this city and just knowing that this was going to be a special day. Perfect weather, and yet the UV rating was low enough that I didn’t need to reapply sun cream, and despite the fact that we packed a lot in, nothing felt rushed.

We browsed the mall for a bit, but we’re planning to do more of that tomorrow morning with the Lotte Mall closer to the hotel, so we bought some waters and went underground to find out next destination – Busan Tower. This fairly recently built tower stands out in the local Nampo area and, for a tower with good views of the surrounding area, is surprisingly cheap.

Towering above the Lotte Mall, these views were definitely better – just not as free. We could see some of our future destinations from here and it really made it sink in just how sprawling this city is and just how much it’s had to warp and twist depending on the rather difficult surrounding terrain. We could have properly explored the nearby Yongdusan Park, but it looked pretty standard so instead walked ahead to Gukje Market.

We didn’t spend too long here because, being visitors, there really wasn’t a lot that we could actually buy here as its aimed more at household goods than anything a tourist could bring home. Although, I did see some rather cute cushions that did give me pause.

Since we were both getting a bit peckish, we walked back to the row of aunties at BIFF Square and ate some delicious Korean dumplings before making a bit of a long journey to our final daylight destination. It took longer than we expected because of some map issues, but that’s what happens on holidays.

In any event, we made it to Gamcheon Culture Village just before 5 thus giving us about an hour to have a look around before things closed and the sun set. I loved it here. The story of how the residents of this group of lean-tos managed to completely create an area of note out of hard work and by turning it into an attraction is so inspiring. You see this in all the different ways they have painted their houses and in all the weird and wonderful artworks throughout the designated tourist route.

Seeing the houses hugging the hills in all their various colours makes this feel like a Korean take on the white houses of Santorini. Just that these houses may have an elephants head sculpture mounted on the front or be covered in colourful statues of birds with human heads. There’s a bunch of lovely souvenirs and food shops too, including one where you can get candy floss in the shape of various animals. I settled for a rather nice blueberry ice cream and my husband got himself a really cute derpy cat mug from one of the local artisan shops.

I took some pictures of the houses as the sun set over the nearby mountain and we scrambled down a road to catch to buses (that my husband managed to divine us incredibly quickly) to our final destination of the day and, apparently my first sandy beach in over a decade. No, it isn’t the big famous Busan beach (as that’s in for tomorrow) but we ended up going to Songdo. I had forgotten just how good it was to sit on a sandbank and watch the sea, doubly good as no one else was sitting there on the beach with us.

The reason we actually came here was for the curved “cloud trail” walkway that goes out over the sea and gives you good views of the sea and nearby Songdo. It doesn’t take that long to walk and, since our ticket to Busan Tower gave us a discount, I suggested we went for a ride on the nearby cable car. After all, the night was young and the cable car would still be in operation for a few more hours.

The views from the cable car was the sort that you can’t really capture on a camera, although I do love the picture I got of the walkway below. As it was late, we got a whole car to ourselves there and back so we could just marvel in the views by ourselves. That isn’t to say that we just did a return trip, oh no there’s things at the other end.

For one thing we hadn’t had dinner yet, so we bought some interesting looking corn dogs (mine is the one with potatoes, his the one with crushed ramen noodles) some fruit juices and had a bit of a wander around the area where there was a whole bunch of dinosaurs for some reason.

Like moving and noise making animatronic dinosaurs. This, with the background classical music, left me in stitches. I have no idea why they are here or why one of them was wearing a hat, I’m just so glad that they were there as it made no sense whatsoever and I was living for it.

There were some more serious things up here, like this lovely dragon and some lovely art pieces around memories and capsules. But if I were to ever go back here it would be for the nonsensical dinosaurs and the beautiful nighttime view you get of Busan from the observation terrace. Today I have seen Busan from so many different angles and times of day  and found new ways to fall in love.

The same can be said about the food, which we got in one of the many restaurants in Nampo after an amazingly brief bus ride. These black bean sauce noodles (or jjajangmyeon) was the meal I was hoping to find this evening after a day of street food and stomach magic making porridge. Not a lot left on the wish list left now, which gives me a lot more room to explore – although I want a proper non-convenience store kimbap.

I still can’t quite believe all we managed to fit in today, this really has been one of the great holiday days. Tomorrow has a lot to live up to, especially as it’s also our wedding anniversary. Can’t wait to see how this turns out.


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