Big in Busan: A Long Weekend in Korea’s Top Holiday Destination

Hey everyone!

Good to see you here again, I always appreciate a good click 🙂

So, this past year (as in 2013) I have been decidedly terrible with uploading photos. To Facebook, to my blog, to anywhere. Absolutely terrible. Just ask my friends (*cough* Sehar!) and you will find out. The reason for this is that I take so many photos (many of them good!) that the idea of sifting through them just seems a liiitle too difficult at any one time… or at all.

Thus, it never gets done… until now!

Yes folks, I have decided to sift through my camera and relay the stories behind the images. Many of these are from some amazing holidays I was fortunate enough to take throughout 2013. Much to my friend’s (and my memory card’s) relief, I will now commence this series, starting with… Busan!

Lanterns at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) in Busan
Lanterns at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) in Busan

My friends Sehar & Thomas, my boyfriend Gavin and I decided to head to Busan for the Children’s Day long weekend in early May. Before we left, we weren’t even sure if we would make it because the buses and trains had all filled up and no seats were available. Instead of my usual fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants attitude to travel, in Korea you gotta be organised and remember to book ahead. There are too many people to book a trip on a whim at the last minute (although that does give me a good thrill!).

Luckily for us, the day before we had to leave our principal was able to book us bus tickets that were only ₩25,000 each. Praise Jebus! We left on the Friday night (May 2nd) and had until Monday to relax and generally just hang out and be gluttonous Western pigs (well, me at least) in Busan.

When we got there, after a small hiccup with our taxi driver’s GPS, we found our hotel: The Hot Motel. Grrrowl! It was a love motel and its roof looked like this:

The roof of our love motel... Trippy!
The roof of our love motel… Trippy!

As you may know, in Korea there is a tendency for most/all hotels to actually be love motels. What are these, you ask? Well, in Korean culture (as far as I can tell – I am no expert, to be sure) male-female relationships are bound by a number of subtle but strict customs which place a lot of stress and angst on both partners’ shoulders. To put it delicately, love motels are somewhere men and women (or men and men, or women and women, or any other combination you can think of) can come to have “relations”. Because of this, you may find some… interesting stuff in your motel room. Mirrors, questionable wall decals , extra basins, more mirrors… it certainly gives you an interesting glimpse into the human underbelly of Korea, quietly but surely pulsing beneath the well-groomed facade of modest perfection.

But moving on!

So our first day, we went for a walk in search of a delicious lunch. And what a lunch we found! We discovered an amazing Korean buffet that had all sorts of meat you could imagine. For some insane reason, I have no photos of the food so I will glide over this one quickly. Just know that if you are in Busan, you can get an amazing meal that you will want to tell your grandkiddies about!

Later on, we decided to check out Spaland in Lotta Plaza. This was my introduction to Korean 찜질방 (‘jjimjilbang’ meaning ‘spa/sauna’ in English… but we still refer to it as the ‘jjimjilbang’ ’cause we cool like that) and it is one I will never forget. I managed to take one shot before I relaxed into an inanimate mush:

My first Korean jimjilbang at Spaland, Busan
My first Korean jimjilbang at Spaland, Busan

I can highly, highly recommend this jjimjilbang for any of you looking for one in Busan. It was clean, enormous and so luxurious. Basically, it’s a communal spa/sauna designed to make you relaaaax. Men go into one side, women in the other, and then you better be comfortable with yourself and your friends because it is time to get… butt nekkid. Yep, you will see a whole lot of stuff in these places that our delicate Western sensibilities may not yet be accustomed to, that’s fors ure. But trust me, the Koreans are fine with it and will happily have a chat with you, and if you’re not careful you may just find one of the ladies starts scrubbing your back for you. I’m not kidding! It’s so normal for them, and (in the women’s side at least) it’s actually really peaceful.

Anyway, there are also joint lounging areas for men and women, and communal saunas too. We went in the baths for a while and then spent some time with the boys in the saunas. This was also my first experience with bingu (빙수), Korea’s famous (in Korea) iced dessert, which I will forever be thankful for! I was obsessed with these things all summer, so a bingsu post is definitely warranted. Y’all need to know about this goodness!

I decided to treat myself to a facial at Spaland and my god, it was the best 40 minutes of my life! I swear I could have passed out in that room, I was so amazingly relaxed. It was the most peaceful, indulgent thing I have ever done and I wish I could do it every day. I came out of there feeling like the world was a giant bouncy rainbow and I was its uncoordinated queen. It was incredible! If you are interested in checking out Busan’s Spaland, click here (webpage should translate to English) and then get yo’self over there, stat!

Our second day was spent on the famous Haeundae Beach. This is actually quite a pretty beach that stretches along the coast for miles. However, you won’t see any of that in the following photo as it was incredibly overcrowded and a lot of people were standing up, fully clothed with no intention of swimming:

Busan's famous (and overcrowded) Haeundae Beach
Busan’s famous (and overcrowded) Haeundae Beach

Despite it being packed to the limit, it was so nice to be near the sea again. That’s the thing with Seoul: there ain’t no sea for miles to come. I actually really love how mountainous Korea is, and even in Guri you don’t have to look far to see the outline of mountains in the distance. I love the greenness, and it makes me feel weirdly secure knowing they surround us (the mountains, not our ‘neighbour’ up North!).

So, I was determined to swim. My friend Thomas and I decided to go in although no one, and I mean NO ONE was swimming. Given, it was a cloudy day (as you can see) and it wasn’t that hot, but still. As I always say, you gotsta swim on the beach! But in Asia, that’s not really how it works. It was the same in Nha Trang in Vietnam (where we went last year – maybe I will one day do a post on that amazing holiday too!): during the day, no one was swimming. In Vietnam, no one was even on the beach. That all happened after 5pm as they try so hard to avoid the sun… which, funnily enough, is what me and my white skin do as well. But back to Busan – one dip in the water and I froze! It was over pretty quickly but it definitely happened. The post-swimming shots weren’t so nice, so here is a pre-swimming shot of me and Gav chilling on da’ beach:

Gav and I on Haeundae Beach :)
Gav and I on Haeundae Beach 🙂

That evening, we headed out in search of a fun night on the town. As often happens, when you go looking, you often don’t find. So, it rained and there was drama and we ended up back at home reasonably early. A good night by any standard! 😉 Although, there are quite a few night spots in Busan that would be good if the weather was nice, so you can definitely have a good night out there!

Interestingly enough, one of the clubs we went to (Club Elune in the Paradise Hotel) had pictures of Tom Cruise partying there. After a quick Google search, I discovered that he was actually given an honorary citizenship of Busan earlier in the year and had come by to do a tour of the area. So random! Although, Busan is Korea’s up-and-coming centre for dramatic arts and they do have a burgeoning film festival (why do I know all this?), so it makes sense. Still, it was funny to see him in the same club (with his shades on, of course)!

The next day was Sunday, our last day (*sob!*). We decided to make the most of it by checking out Busan’s famous Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) . I am so glad we did this; it was absolutely stunning. It’s right on the coast of Korea and it has a beautiful view of the water against the rocks, trees and the temple itself. A little something like this:

Me and the temple
Me posing with the temple

When you walk up to the temple, you pass a line of Korean totems, representing something similar to Chinese year symbols: rabbit, cow, dragon, horse. The whole walk was just so peaceful and beautiful. As it is a temple, people are generally in a really calm and thankful mood when visiting, which makes it very pleasant! They have a statue where people come to pray for traffic safety, which is novel but also very practical (that’s the Korean way).

You walk down some winding stairs and across a stoned bridge to get to the temple. The beautiful thing about this walk is that you are surrounded by lanterns (that’s them in the first picture in this post)! They are so colourful and lively, and in the new year when people come to pray for themselves and their families, they are lit up as they are actually electric. So beautiful. There is also a cute market near the temple with hot food and handicrafts. I ended up buying some little ceramic zebras for my class (because they used to say ‘jebra’ which I thought was so cute… also, I’m a big softie). The perfect way to end our perfect long weekend! If you want any more information, go to the Haedong Yongkungsa Temple website here.

Yonggungsa Temple through the leaves
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple through the leaves

After this, we headed to the station and got the train home, which was actually less crowded and more comfortable than the bus, FYI. Our relaxing weekend in Busan was unforgettable and so beautiful, it is one of our favourite memories together, even now. Great friends, great scenery and great food, the perfect combination! If you are umming and ahhing about making the trip to Busan, please just do it. You can thank me later! And if you’ve been to Busan, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Thanks for reading! Until next time,

Steph x