Sailing from Busan to Busan, on a 17-hour ferryboat cruise
But when I arrived at the International Ferry Terminal to take the overnight coastal cruise that sails around Busan in the Korean Strait, there were so many tourists that it felt like peak season again. According to Jung Sik, a passenger manager of the PanStar Line, the operator of the cruise, about 350 passengers took the sold-out cruise I was on, along with about 150 staff members and entertainers.
After passing through the metal detector, a shuttle bus delivered us to the ship. As I stepped off, I was overwhelmed by the sight of the white huge vessel, the PanStar Dream. The four-story vessel is 160 meters (525 feet) long and 25 meters wide. It weighs 21.5 tons and can house 668 people, although the operator limits the number of passengers for the overnight sail. It could sail as fast as 23 knots an hour or 42 kilometers (26 miles) per hour.
Each passenger was handed a balloon shaped like an animal made by the Filipino crew and a helium balloon, which everyone was supposed to release together. Few did, however. At 4 p.m. sharp, the steam-whistle roared to signal the departure. Under a crisp sky and fleecy clouds, the PanStar embarked on a 17-hour cruise to the welcome sounds of Dream’s Brass Band.
On the helicopter deck, all of the passengers gathered to square dance as a way to break the ice. The event was led by five beautiful women, wearing white tops and short jean-shorts.
While the photographer snapped shots, I looked out to the sea. On the left, I saw the Oryuk Islands, roughly translated as five or six islands. They were named that way because its sixth, or smallest island, can only sometimes be seen, depending on the vantage point.
Jo Island, where a control center stands, was on the right. The center controls traffic on the strait by communicating with vessels.
Next, we passed Taejongdae, where I could watch several other boats sail around Busan for a couple of hours. Taejongdae got its name after King Taejong of the Silla Kingdom unified the three kingdoms. He was attracted by the superb view and traveled there from time to time to shoot arrows.
The cliff on the coast was an impressive sight. A white lighthouse kept watch on the cliff near an observatory. As I gaped, one passenger, who looked to be in her late 50s, told me the observatory was built on “suicide rock.”
“The government built it because so many jumped off the cliff to commit suicide,” she said. There is also a statue of a mother and son built in 1976 as a reminder for those thinking of suicide to think of the love of their mothers.
Also, we could see Jagal Madang, translated as a field of gravel. The woman told me it took its name because there is so much gravel along the coast. She added that it is one of the must-sees in Busan when I landed.
According to Mr. Lee, the PanStar Dream was built in 1997 in Japan. PanStar Line brought the ship to Korea in 2002 to start a car ferry business between Korea and Japan. That’s why we had to take the cruise at the International Ferry Terminal, even though we just sailed around Busan. The company started its weekend coastal cruise business in 2004. Its maiden cruise came on Dec. 24. Its main business is still the car ferry, and the weekend business is used to raise its company brand recognition.
Captain Lee said the crew uses equipment such as a teletex to inform them of things they need to know, such as where a vessel sank by accident or where a new lighthouse was built. An Automatic Identification System shows which vessels are on the sea around the PanStar Dream. “The system became mandatory after 9/11,” he said.
“We recently received interesting information that the typhoon Ioke is coming toward the Korean Strait. The typhoon was originally a hurricane, which formed in the central Pacific,” Captain Lee said, pointing to a weather map. “It’s the first time that I ever saw a typhoon transformed from a hurricane. That reflects how unusual the weather is these days.”
By the time the short tour ended, we got to Morundae. Some passengers went up to the helicopter deck while others went for dinner. We were served a buffet of Korean, Japanese and Chinese food. The food wasn’t at the level of a five-star hotel, but was tasty.
After dinner, there were dance, magic and acrobatic shows, as well as small concerts ― a guitarist, a saxophonist and the brass band performed on the first floor. Passengers were given glow sticks to wave. It was fun and amusing, but a bit tacky.
Later, people were again called up to the helicopter deck for fireworks. For about 10 minutes, different styles of fireworks exploded above our heads. Even when it ended, passengers kept looking up to the sky, expecting more. Other ships tagged along nearby to watch our fireworks.
Next, the ship anchored in front of Gwangan Grand Bridge, one of the beautiful night scenes in Busan. The 7.4-kilometer (4.6-mile) long, two-tiered bridge was constructed strong enough to resist 7-meter (23-foot) high waves or a typhoon moving at 45-meters per second. The color of the bridge changed continuously.
As it got colder and windy, I came down to my room to sleep for a short time.
At 5 a.m. in the morning, I felt the vessel move again with the sound of a steam whistle, designed to wake us up to watch the sunrise. We sailed to the Oryuk Islands again. For about 20 minutes, the cruise stopped in the middle of the sea near the islands, allowing passengers to enjoy the sunrise. Clouds hung just above the sea line, so I couldn’t see the sun rise from the horizon. But after a few minutes, between the clouds, a round gold disc began to glitter. People on the deck, wrapped in blankets or jackets, watched the moment holding their breath. To be honest, it was the first sunrise I have ever seen, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature.
People then went downstairs to have a continental breakfast, similar to any that you would find in any hotel. Captain Lee said that when the weather gets clearer, usually in autumn, Tsushima Island off Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan, is visible to the naked eye. On that day, it was just a silhouette. In fact, if the captain hadn’t pointed at it with his fingers, I wouldn’t have noticed the island at all.
After breakfast, some enjoyed more scenery on the top deck. The vessel pulled into the pier at 8:30 a.m.
by Park Sung-ha
The weekend coastal cruise costs from 91,000 won ($95) to 275,000 won depending on the room. The cost includes dinner, breakfast and other amenities, including a sauna that has wide windows, and various programs such as acrobatic, magic and dance shows. There is no dress code, and most passengers wore casual attire. For more information, call (054) 464-6400 or visit www.panstarcruise.co.kr. The site doesn’t provide English service, but the staff speaks English.