Busan: It’s closer now than everBusan is no longer so far away.
Korea’s new high-speed train, which gets up and running April 1, will take passengers from Seoul to Korea’s second-largest city in just two hours and 40 minutes.
That’s an hour and a half less than it takes on a first-class Saemaeul train, which means that Busan is now truly a day trip.
Because they’re easily reached from Busan by water, the bullet train will also cut the time it takes for many Koreans to reach Japan’s northwestern cities, such as Fukuoka. Taking a ferry to Japan is now a more realistic option for residents of landlocked cities like Seoul and Daegu. Here’s a new look at Korea’s bustling port city and its surrounding attractions.
THE BUSAN TRINITY: RAW FISH, NIGHT VIEWS AND THE SEA
Fresh, raw fish is a big part of what a trip to Busan is all about. The best place to enjoy this treat is Gwangalli Beach, where you can also enjoy a great night view over the sea.
To get to Gwangalli Beach from Busan Station, take subway line No. 1 (there are only two subway lines, which makes things pretty simple) and get off at Seomyeon Station, where you can transfer to the No. 2 line to reach Gwangan Station. The entire trip takes only 40 minutes.
From the Gwangan Station, use exit No. 3 or 5. You will be able to see Gwangan Bridge, which is best viewed at night, when it is lit up. Some people say Gwangan Bridge rivals San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; since opening last year, the 7.4-kilometer (4.6-mile) bridge has become a Busan landmark.
Walk toward the eastern tip of the beach, enjoying the night view, and you’ll come to the Millak-dong Raw Fish Market. Tourists flock to its more than 300 stores, including Millak Town, Gwangan Fish Market and Sea Land Raw Fish Center. This is where to go for the real thing, taken fresh from the sea.
Choose some fish directly from a seller, at wholesale price. Then head for the raw fish restaurants clustered nearby. The proprietors will slice your fish into a fine sashimi dish. The raw fish is followed by hot and spicy fish soup. About 40,000 won ($33) to 60,000 won should be enough to feed three or four.
Spring is the season to enjoy Busan’s famous flounder, or dodari. Koreans have a saying: “Flounder in spring and gizzard shads in fall.” It’s best enjoyed wrapped in lettuce, with a spoonful of soybean paste. Try that, and you’ve experienced the true taste of Busan. (If your schedule doesn’t take you to Gwangalli Beach, by the way, you can get your seafood fix at Jagalchi Market, close to Busan Station.)
Whatever you do with the rest of your night, you can wrap it up at one of the 24-hour restaurants nearby that sell bean sprout soup ― an excellent cure for hangover.
THE OTHER SIDE OF BUSAN
Not everybody in Busan prefers the beach. For many, a favorite weekend getaway is Mount Geumjeong, in the heart of the city. This mountain, 800 meters (0.5 miles) above sea level, has imposing rock cliffs and a thick carpet of green forest.
A good itinerary starts at the Beomeo Temple Station on subway line No. 1. A long, winding road leads to Beomeo Temple, one of the three most famous temples of Gyeongsang province. It is known for its long history and for its national treasures, including a granite pagoda. The real mountain climbing starts at the temple and continues to the Fortress Wall Village, where there are about 120 restaurants that specialize in grilled black goat and traditional rice wine. Even during Park Chung Hee’s military regime, when winemaking was strictly controlled, the Fortress Wall Village was an exception; President Park gave special permission for rice wine to be made here.
A walk downhill brings you to the hot springs area, where about 20 spas are located. Heosimcheong stands out due to its size; it can hold about 3,000 people. Open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday, the hot springs are a good place to enjoy pajeon (green onion pancakes) or galbi (marinated beef). This itinerary, from Beomeo Temple to the hot springs, normally takes four or five hours, but can be shortened to two or three if you take a bus from the Fortress Wall Village to the hot springs.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE, WHY NOT GO TO JAPAN?
From Busan, you can easily reach Fukuoka, Osaka, Tsushima, Hiroshima, Gokura and Simonoseki. Fukuoka, a reputable tourist spot, is only 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Busan. Tsushima, a small island, is only 50 kilometers away.
To reach Fukuoka, you can take a high-speed ship or a ferry. High-speed ships get you there in just under three hours. Ferries generally leave Busan around 6 p.m. and reach Fukuoka the following morning at 9. Complete with shower and toilet facilities, ferries have a variety of rooms available for families or pairs. You can enjoy the night view of the sea from your room. Packages vary from two-day, one-night to four-day, three-night.
For a two-day, one-night schedule, a high-speed ship leaves Busan at 8:30 a.m. to reach Fukuoka at 11:30 a.m. You can enjoy local food at fine restaurants and visit temples in places like downtown Tenzin and Nakatsu. Besides Fukuoka, you can see Space World theme park in Kitakyushu, or Huis Ten Bosch, a “Dutch village” of flowers, windmills and canals, in Nagasaki. If you are a golf fan, Simonoseki is the place. Hot springs in Beppu are another attraction.
Two-day, one-night packages are available at 169,000 won ($140), including hotel accommodations. For more information, call a Busan travel agency.
by Chung Yong-baek