Korea destinations – Busan

I came to Busan mainly for one thing – connection to Fukuoka. Busan and Fukuoka are so close to each other that you can take a 3 hours ferry ride to reach the other shore. Well, i didn’t do enough research on this, and i presumed that Jeju Air flights are as cheap as it gets, so i booked Jeju Air without looking around. For a half hour flight it was bloody expensive. No wonder the plane was 80% empty! Air Busan also flies the same route, so you might want to check them out as well, if you choose to fly. Anyway, i hate ferry rides.

So, since i was going to Busan for the first time, i had to check it out. In my itinerary, I made no plans to visit the so-called top attractions there, as i figured i would have had enough from my visits to Seoul and Jeju just before. In fact, when i got to Busan, i decided to scrap my original plan to visit the Songdo coastal walk and instead, to go to the Nampo shopping district.

Well, i can tell you Busan was more enjoyable than expected. We were focusing mainly on food and shopping. Let me first offer you an important travel tip. The cheapest way to go from Gimhae airport to the city is probably to use the light rail (KRW 2500). I tried searching but did not find regular local buses that go to the city, only to further destinations. The light rail station does not have a stored value ticket vending machine, but you can get it from a convenience store inside the airport terminal building. I did so, and the 7-Eleven staff seemed reluctant to sell me the Hanaro card (KRW 2500 each), and of course i couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. I tried to recharge the card at the light rail station, but couldn’t, the cards were faulty! I ended up buying single trip tickets and getting a new pair of cards from the ticket vending machine at Sasang station, where you transit from the light rail to the metro line. The cards, called cashbee, were only KRW 2000. I would suggest you do the same if you’re taking the light rail and metro into the city. To summarize, Tip #1 On arrival at Gimhae airport, buy a single trip ticket to get to Sasang station, then get the Cashbee card from the ticket vending machine at Sasang station. For the return trip to Gimhae aiport, you can use the Cashbee card.

I had originally planned to sample Dwaeji Gukbap at Ssangdoongi Dwaeji Gukbap on the next day, but as it was already well past lunch time, and it was drizzling, i decided to go immediately to Songjeong Samdae Gukbap, which was near my hotel in Seomyeon. Nothing could be more comforting than a hot bowl of pork broth on a rainy day. I suspect Ssangdoongi would be marginally better than Songjeong Samdae, if at all. Songjeong Samdae is certainly more conveniently located, at the Seomyeon food street. We were so satisfied.

Dwaeji Gukbap
Dwaeji Gukbap (soup with rice already incorporated) and Suyuk Baekba (pork slices served with rice and soup). The pork slices of Suyuk Baekba were more fatty and tender than the pork slices inside the Dwaeji Gukbap. If you have room for only one of the two, definitely go for Suyuk Baekba. The sauces for dipping the pork were so good.
The menu
The menu in 4 languages – Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese
Koreans are double boiled soup experts
Koreans are double-boiled soup experts

Next stop, Shinsegae Centum City, record holder the largest department store in the world. We missed our stop on the way there, and the Busan subway is designed in such a way that you have to go through the payment gantry again in order to travel in the reverse direction, unlike the typical subway stations where there is a common platform for both directions. Tip #2 Be careful not to miss your subway stop. The current station name is indicated inside the big green rimmed circle, on the wall. It’s unfortunate that there are few clues given inside the subway train to tell you where you are, and the wordings for the station name on the wall are way too small.

9 floors
Shinsegae

Shinsegae Centum City is a very spacious mall. We had desserts at a basement cafe. I had to have bingsu one more time before i leave Korea.

Bingsu with red beans, pumpkin and shreds of red date. The red beans were very much inferior to the one at Mealtop.
Bingsu with red beans, pumpkin and shreds of red date. The red beans were very much inferior to the one at Meal Top.
The waffles were sticky inside (in a good way), similar to the one at Mealtop.
The waffles were sticky (in a good way), similar to the one from Mealtop.
"Do" was asking to have a bread (yes, even after lunch and dessert), and in order appease him, i bought this from Lee Heung Yong patisserie, and it's really good (everything inside looked good).
“Do” was asking to have a bread (yes, even after lunch and dessert), and in order appease him, i bought this from Lee Heung Yong patisserie, also at the basement level, near the subway entrance, and it’s really good (everything inside looked good).

Since Shinsegae was an upscale place, there wasn’t much real shopping that can be done for average Joes like us. I decided to check out Centum City Mall, the building next to Shinsegae. Little did i expect to come across Dore Dore cafe, the cafe famous for rainbow cakes. I had originally wanted to include Dore Dore in my Seoul itinerary, but felt that it was a little out of the way. Now that it pops up in my path, i definitely had to grab a slice of that rainbow cake.

Do and Re posing in front of Dore Dore
“Do” and “Re” posing in front of Dore Dore
The cake is good - dense and moist. What's interesting is that the layers of cream is even better. It is not just whipping cream, it is some kind of cream cheese. No wonder everyone else ordered the other version of the rainbow cake which is fully covered with that cream. The latte is good too.
The cake is good – dense but fluffy and moist. The layers of cream is even better. It is not just whipping cream, it is some kind of cream cheese. No wonder everyone else ordered the other version of the rainbow cake which is fully covered with cream. The latte is good too.

We looked around Centum City Mall a bit before hopping onto a taxi to head to the next item on the itinerary – dinner at Maniju (마니주 Tel: 051-754-1911). To be honest i was already way too full, but couldn’t miss out on this restaurant that specializes in grilled eel. I foreknew, when planning the itinerary, that this would be a welcome change from BBQ meat.

The restaurant is right beside a seafood wholesale market. The cylindrical tank on the bottom right is where they store eels.
The restaurant is right beside a seafood wholesale market

This restaurant doesn’t receive many foreign guests (yet), and they were surprised that we showed up. We were almost treated like celebrities – a young man who served us helped us do all the grilling! All the other guests did it themselves. We obviously looked like we were clueless about grilling the eel.

Hot charcoal
Hot charcoal
Medium size
We had absolutely no idea how to handle this
It took quite a bit of effort to cut up the eel into such small pieces
It took quite a bit of effort to cut up the eel into such small pieces
We saw the neighbouring table ordering this and did the same. Just looking at this photo makes me salivate.
We saw the neighbouring table ordering hot pot Ramyun and we did the same. Just looking at this photo makes me salivate.

Honestly speaking, i was too full to be able to fully appreciate this meal, but my better half enjoyed this thoroughly. We don’t get to eat fresh eel in our part of the world (the Teriyaki marinated ones are most likely frozen eel), so it was certainly worthwhile coming here. It was so heart warming being served by the young chap, who tried to reach out to us foreign guests using Google translate, even telling us about fireworks over the Gwangan bridge.

Maniju is almost 3km from the nearest subway station, and walking this distance was part of my itinerary, as this would allow us to take in the views of Gwangan bridge as well as Haeundae beach. It was a long walk, but interesting enough.

A newly developed area of Busan, on the same side as Centum City where all the latest and greatest is happening.
A newly developed area of Busan, on the same side as Centum City, where probably all the latest and greatest is happening.
Do posing with a very life like statue of an attractive woman diver
“Do” posing with a very life-like statue of an attractive woman diver
View towards Haeundae beach
View towards Haeundae beach
Gwangan bridge
Gwangan bridge

As mentioned, my morning itinerary of going to the Songdo coastal walk was replaced by a visit to the Nampo shopping district, and i think it was a good choice. We were actually able to do some shopping here, and more importantly, to sample street food.

No 18 Wandang - Korean style wonton noodles. Nothing spectacular to be honest but this was comfort food. It was amazing how quick the wandangs were made - something like 3 per second.
No 18 Wandang – Korean style wonton noodles. Nothing spectacular to be honest, but this was comfort food. It was amazing how quickly the wandangs were being made – something like 3 per second. Be sure to catch a glimpse while you’re there!
Cold buckwheat noodles. Nothing special.
Cold buckwheat noodles. Nothing special as well.
Ssiat Hotteok. This was the most popular stall at BIFF square, which is more of a street food square.
Ssiat Hotteok. This was the most popular stall at BIFF square, which is more of a street food square.
The only celebrity i could recognize - Ennio Moricone
The only celebrity i could recognize at the BIFF square walk of fame – Ennio Morricone
The churros were pretty good. I guess Koreans are good with all things made of floor - think pancakes and waffles. Churros is obviously piece of cake to them.
The Churros were pretty good. I guess Koreans are good with all things made of floor – think noodles and waffles. Making Churros is obviously a piece of cake to them. Yes, they’re good with cakes and pancakes too.
Chives pancakes, eaten Korean style - stand by the stall
Chives pancakes, eaten Korean style – standing by the stall

I expected Gamcheon Culture Village to be the highlight of Busan, but it was a little underwhelming. There wasn’t a lot to see, and the tagline “Santorini of the east” is what a person who hasn’t been to Santorini would say.

A welcoming atmosphere at the entrance to Gamcheon
A welcoming atmosphere at the entrance to Gamcheon. The lanterns mark the suggested route to navigate.
Whoever allowed an apartment block that sticks out like a sore thumb to be built right in the middle of Gamcheon ought to be shot
Whoever allowed an apartment block that sticks out like a sore thumb to be built right in the middle of Gamcheon ought to be shot (must have been already)
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Individually, the buildings are less than ordinary, but when you put them together, it delivers a visual impact
The alleys are not all that pretty, nor do they smell good
The alleys are not all that pretty, nor do they smell good. But these are real homes belonging to real people.
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There must have been some coordinated effort in the choice of colour

 

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Stair to see stars, probably the steepest stairway running through Gamcheon
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Gamcheon is proof that any living environment can be improved if everyone did something collectively about it
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The greatest benefit in living in a place like this is health-wise. I saw a senior citizen skipping through the stairs.

As is mostly recommended, we took a taxi up to Gamcheon, directly from Nampo. Tip #3 Definitely take a taxi to Gamcheon. Forget about taking the bus, or worse, walking from Toseong station. That would be a complete waste of time. For the return journey, we walked, downhill. It would take only 15 to 20 minutes to get to Toseong station, but we were yearning for a coffee break, and we found Vui Cafe less than 100 metres from the station entrance. It was a boutique cafe, a welcome change from the franchised ones.

Vui cafe - KRW 3500 for the latte and KRW 4500 for the cake, cheaper, and actually better than what you get at franchised cafes
Vui Cafe – KRW 3500 for the latte and KRW 4500 for the cake, cheaper, and actually better than what you get at typical franchised cafes

My better half was telling me she wanted to try fried chicken one more time. I did last minute research and found out that Giant fried chicken (Geoin Tongdak 거인통닭) was supposedly “the best” in Busan, and it was located right in the middle between Toseong and Jagalchi stations. It was a crazy proposition, to have dinner right after coffee break, but it was the most logical thing to do.

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The original one was better than the spicy, and most people actually ordered only the original. This was way better than Kyochon fried chicken!
The streets around Jagalchi station are a mix of fresh food stalls and restaurants
The streets around Jagalchi station are a mix of produce stalls and restaurants
The tofu looked so appetizing
The tofu looked so appetizing
There's no need to visit the aquarium when you can see all these creatures for free in restaurant fish tanks
There’s no need to visit the aquarium when you can see all these creatures for free in restaurant fish tanks
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I get the feeling that Koreans have eaten up more than their fair share of seafood!
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And i finally got to see the red coloured food stalls so often featured in Korean serials, near Jagalchi station. Too bad we just had dinner. There were no less than a hundred stalls like these, selling more or less the same food. Koreans are so unafraid of competition and toil. Salute!
The night scene around Seomyeon looks more like Japan than Fukuoka does. It has the highest concentration of restaurants i have seen, ever. Koreans are true foodies.
The night scene around Seomyeon looks more like Japan than Fukuoka does. It has the highest concentration of restaurants i have seen anywhere, ever. Koreans are so willing to spend on dining, and i think that’s a good thing. It encourages innovation in F&B.

I guess being less hectic than Seoul made Busan rather enjoyable. If i ever needed to visit Fukuoka again, i’ll definitely visit Busan as well (or vice versa). The two-country combo is very compelling indeed!

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