Gamcheon Cultural Village
Gamcheon is a village in Busan of colorful houses built in a staircase-fashion. The entire village is like a giant piece of artwork, with every wall covered in murals and the streets decorated with sculptures created by the residents. This area was originally a religious settlement of believers of the Taegeukdo faith, and the current Gamcheon was later established here.
Chelsea and I had fun wandering around this village on our first day in Busan.
In the evening, we met up with Chelsea's friend Caitlyn, who teaches English in Busan. She took us to dinner at a darling little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was hidden away in a back alley. We ate kimchijieon (kimchi and seafood "pancake") and kimchi-jjigae (kimchi soup) and drank Makgeolli (traditional alcoholic rice drink). After dinner, we went to Gwangalli beach.
There was a lot going on at the beach. There was a band performing, and lots of young people out-and-about. The area reminded me a bit of Surfer's Paradise in Gold Coast, Australia, because of the liveliness of the area and how the beach sits right next to skyscrapers.
We had fun splashing around in the water and watching the light show on the Gwangandaegyo bridge, which is visible from the beach. Caitlyn also helped us plan out our itinerary for the following day, since she has spent almost a year living in the city.
We began our next day here at the Jagalchi Market. I always love markets, but this area was especially interesting to explore. It felt so much more grungy than where we had been the night before, and I appreciated the diversity of the city in that way.
I'm not sure what the purpose of it is, but in a couple places in the market we saw eel skinned alive... these ones in the picture below were still moving!
Behind the marketplace are the boats and fishermen themselves.
There is also an inside part of the market, where you can eat seafood or buy dried fish.
It was so fun to peek into everyday life here in Busan. I was surprised that we only saw one other foreigner our entire time in this market!
In the afternoon, Chelsea and I caught a bus to Taejongdae, where we went on a little hike to cliffs facing the open sea. The most popular spot here is a lighthouse, but we were happy at a different spot we found.
It was kind of foggy, but still warm. We had fun splashing in the waves!
I had fun climbing around the rocky cliffside. Fishermen had attached these thick ropes to the side of the cliff to make it a little easier to get around.
On the beach, some locals had set up a little tent restaurant, where you could eat fish fresh from the sea!
In the evening, Chelsea and I had our first experience at a Jjimjilbang, a traditional Korean public bath. Our friend Caitlyn who lives here had recommended Hotel Aqua Palace as a beautiful place for a good price. We paid a flat fee of 15,000 KRW (~$15 USD) for entrance to both the public baths and the "relax room." The public bath was a very unique and interesting experience. Upon check-in, we received pajamas for the "relax-room" and a towels. We left our belongings in a locker room, and then head to the gender-specific baths.
First, everyone has to "shower" - there is a long line of little plastic stools in front of a small mirror and a handheld shower head. You sit on the stool and clean yourself (next to ~20 other women of all ages) before entering the baths. You can choose between ~10 different pools at different temperatures to soak in. There was one bath outside in the fresh air, and there was also two saunas at different temperatures. It was basically a bunch of hot tubs and ice baths. It felt strange at first being naked around so many strangers, but then I realized how normal it is in this culture. There were mothers with their children and elderly women, people of all different life stages there to bathe.
After bathing, we put on the pajamas given to us and head upstairs to the "relax room." I was expecting a peaceful place where people would be meditating or resting... but it was just the opposite! It was dark and there were mats laid out around the room where you can lay down and rest if you wanted to, but many people were much more active. There were elderly people who purchased food and had picnics, young kids building forts, and teenagers playing Mariokart on their ipads... There were even people drinking. It felt much more like a social hub, rather than a "relax room," haha. Apparently there is another "relax room" designated for sleeping, as you can actually stay the night at these places!
Chelsea left on the morning of our 3rd day in Busan. Originally, I had planned on exploring a few more cities in the southern part of the country, but I changed my mind. I felt like I had seen so much over the last few weeks, and not given myself enough time to process it all. So, I booked a few extra days in Busan with plans to stay until my departure for Myanmar. My first solo-day in Busan began at the Beomeosa temple complex.
Beomeosa is a Buddhist temple located on Mt. Geumjeongsan. It was absolutely stunning. There were so many buildings here, each decorated with incredible detail and vibrant colors.
There were many locals who hiked up to the temple to pray, and there were also monks who live here walking around the area.
Seomyeon is an especially busy part of the city. There is an underground shopping center here, as well as an entire street dedicated to medical procedures! "Seomyeon Medical Street" is lined with different clinics, especially plastic surgery ones. I kind of accidentally stumbled into this area in the afternoon. It was definitely a big change-of-pace after having spent most of the day in the mountains at the quiet temple.
This was not my favorite part of the city. I thought it was strange and sad how popular plastic surgery is here, and how widely it is advertised. I've seen a lot of ads on the subways as well for all kinds of plastic surgery. The following photos are all of plastic surgery clinics on Seomyeon Medical Street.
"Solo" travel wasn't solo for long, as I met some cool people at the hostel I'm staying at here in Busan. On my fourth day here, I visited the Haedong Yonggunsa Temple with two French girls, Chloe and Farah, and a Brazilian guy, Diogo, that I became friends with.
This temple is so beautiful, and sits along the coast. The sounds of religious chanting and the waves crashing mixed together to create a unique and peaceful atmosphere as well.
After the temple, we head to nearby Haeundae Beach. We swam there until it started raining pretty heavily.
On my fifth day in Busan, Chloe and Farah and left for Japan, but Diogo and I went back to the Beomeosa Temple and did a hike in the mountains there. We met a Russian girl, Tatiana, and a Korean guy, Shin, on our way up, and we all did the hike together. We were so thankful for Shin, because there were many forks in the trail, and signs were written only in Korean!
Gujke Market & BIFF Square
After our hike, Diogo and I were HUNGRY, so we went to the Gujke Market and BIFF Square area to fill up on all different kinds of street food and explore.
Last Night in Busan
On our way back home that evening, we randomly met this kind Korean woman, Jong Hae, on the subway. We communicated via her broken English and google translate... it was a random connection, but something just clicked and we got along so well! She invited Diogo and I to her home in the countryside for dinner, and we left with her. But part of the way there, we realized that we wouldn't make it back in time for my early morning flight, and so had to change plans :(
My final day in Busan was definitely the best, but it left me feeling like I wasn't quite ready to leave South Korea yet. That night (or actually, the next day) at 2am, I received an email saying that my flight to Kuala Lumpur for the next day was delayed by several hours, meaning that I would miss my connecting flight to Myanmar. I was so stressed out about what to do, but I left the next morning for the airport and got things sorted out. My flight got changed to two days later, and my friend invited me to go to the town of Gyeongju with him!