Monday, September 24, 2012

Busan! - More than just a Beach.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided to take advantage of what was likely to be one the last summer weekends and head to Busan (부산) for some beach time. Although the weathermen (or women?) were calling for rain, Saturday dawned nice and sunny  - okay, so there were a few ominous clouds on the horizon, but we decided to chance it anyhow, and good thing we did because we had a blast!
Splashing around at Gwangalli Beach (광안리 해수욕장). I love the way that the city comes right up to the water.

Korea's second largest city, Busan lies along the south-east corner of the peninsula and is famous for its wonderful beaches, great nightlife, colourful architecture and youthful spirit - not to mention having the world's largest department story, the Centum City Shinsegae, and Korea's most famous fish market at Jagalchi. With a perfect mix of small seaside fishing town (depite being the fifth largest container port in the world), elegant boardwalk, urban jungle and hillside cafes, the character of Busan can only be described as charming - if it can be described at all :).

Beach time! Thank you Lawrence for showing us around!
We were lucky enough to not only get some swimming and sight-seeing in, but to also manage to meet up with some of the friends we hadn't seen since our orientation back in February! We Gwangju-ites also used the trip as an opportunity to gorge on some of the Western food (Mmmm, real delicious beach-side patio hamburgers and french fries) that is so scarce in Gwangju.

Cutting through the city much like it does in Daegu, Busan is where the Nakdong River meets the Sea. Across the Nakdong from us is, Centum City Shinsegae, the World's Largest Department Store. It's filled with all the designer boutiques sections you could ever desire. The best part for me by far though was the food court in the basement. Delicious gourmet foods from all over the world at a more than reasonable price. It reminded me more than a bit of Harrods in London in that respect.

The view of Haeundae (해운대) Beach from Dalmaji (달맞이) Hill.
At 2km long and in the heart of the city, Haeundae is easily one of  Korea's most famous beaches. Dalmaji lies at it's the northern end and, in addition to  providing wonderful views of the city, is home to the lovely 'moontain' road hiking trail from which you can observe the moon.  As we were feeling adventurous, we opted for a little night hike. Here is the view from one of the lookout points.

Being somewhat cheap and longing for a nice soak in a lovely hike after our night's expedition, we decided to stay the night at The Vesta, a jjimjilbang up on the hill. It was awesome! Although it boasted smaller pools and less sleeping space than other jjimjilbangs I've stayed in, it not only had a rooftop terrace with an unbeatable view, but a balcony with a heated outdoor pool (encircled with a waist-high fence of course) on both the men's and women's bathing floors -because who doesn't want a lovely view of the city while they lounge in a hot tub in the nude? All jokes aside, it was a great choice. I also got the hands-down best massage I have ever received while there. Cost was 50,000won for full body massage and exfoliation - the latter of which was hilarious since my masseuse's reprimands and tutting informed me that I apparently do not regularly exfoliate myself up to Korean standards (I think she could tell that my last jjimjilbang exfoliation occurred in March). I felt like a small child being scolded for not washing behind my ears! The ladies there were phenomenal though and the massage included a chiropractic adjustment that was better than some I've received from licensed chiropractors!

The morning view over Heaundae.
Sunday did not dawn anywhere near as clear as Saturday had (it was, in fact, tipping it down with rain) , but you can just barely make out the bridge across from Gwangalli in the left side of the photo.

On the way down the hill.

Exploring the Jagalchi fish market (자갈치시장) in the southern end of the city.

Some adorable little shrimplets.

And of course no Korean market could be without red bean fish! I love these. They are essentially  pancake batter filled with sweetened red bean paste. According to my Korean co-workers, you know it's winter again (apparently they don't believe in fall), when the read bean fish stalls come out! 

Our delicious fish fry lunch. Less than 7,000won each.

Ships in the port.

The indoor market. The sleekness of the building belies the chaos that resides inside.

The Busan-ese really like their fish!

Fortunately, so do I!

After enjoying our delicious lunch, it was time to head off toward Beomeosa (범어사).

Beomeo Temple is one of the major urban temples in Korea. The complex itself was built in 678 and dates to the Shilla Dynasty era although many of the buildings are much younger (due to repeated Japanese invasions).

The Pagoda, or the temple's ancient reliquary, essentially a stone vessel for sacred items.

The artwork at Beomeosa is easily some of the nicest I've seen at a Korean temple thus far.

A natural stone slab that was incorporated into the temple.

While the artwork is wonderful, the buildings themselves are not that spectacular. What is breathtaking though is the mountainous setting of the temple - it was especially haunting in the rain.

Over all, it was a lovely weekend. My only regrets are: 1) that we were prevented from hiking Geumjeongsan (the mountain which rises over Beomeosa) and exploring Geumjeong Sanseong (the Three Kingdom's Era fortress at the top) by the rain. We could have done it, but neither of us were all that willing to endure a 3 and a half hour bus ride home in soaked clothing. And, 2) that we didn't make it to Haedong Yonggungsa, a stunning temple built into the cliff-side overlooking the sea. I was desperate to see it before we went, and yet still somehow failed in that endeavor. Hopefully there will be a next time!

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