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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!