After Adam scored an awesome work project in Korea, we started researching a bit more whether to go to Busan or Seoul. While we had heard great things about the night scene in Seoul, we liked the uniqueness that the second largest city, Busan, seemed to present. Plus, we SoCAL’ers (you can call yourself that after living there 7 years right?!) wanted some beach in our lives even if it was winter there. So after Adam globe-trotted a bit to check out KL and Singapore for 24 hours each (I had already been in my backpacking days) and worked near Busan for about two weeks, I hopped on a plane (well 2 planes and a red eye flight to be exact) and met him up there for a long weekend of adventure.
Adam met me at the airport at 7 am and we jumped on the “limo bus” back to our place. We both were immediately in awe of the public transport system here. The bus was super nice and only cost $6 per person for about a 30 minute drive into the city close to our place. We then walked over to the Busan Station (main train terminal) and popped in for a bite. We oggled some of the yummy looking food (egg stuffed croissant like things wrapped in bacon), giggled about all the crazy ones (purple sweet potato doughnut anyone?!) and grabbed a latte before walking one block to our place Hotel Almond. I have a serious LOVE of bathtubs after growing up in East Coast winters and immediately filled ours up to rejuvenate for the day of adventures ahead. This was a major draw of the hotel as the type of rooms that were in our price point all had jacuzzi style tubs. Overall, minus the stiff pillows, I would give this place a 4/5 for Busan options in winter. Convenience of being right next to the Subway station was huge!
Next up was exploring Seomyeon area which Adam had checked out already with his coworkers and had quite the selection of street food options. To get there, we walked three blocks to the Busan Station subway (Line 1) and went about 6 stops north to Seomyeon – the heart of Busan. And man… Adam had told me it was really cold here and even though I was actually quite surprisingly excited for some winter weather during the holiday season, I was not quite prepared wardrobe wise. Not to worry though, the Korean subways got you covered – there were surprisingly tons of stores in the halls leading to the subway. Some were nicer mid-range ones, some were thrift store kinda places and some were cheaper accessories stores. I opted for a hat and gloves from the first cute place we found. For 20 bucks I was all set and I must say the hats they have there were really warm and good quality.
Once we got to Seomyeon, we picked out a few tempura mystery things, pot stickers and sushi and grabbed a Cass beer in case the food wasn’t as good as it looked and sat down in a hole in the wall spot. Not surprisingly, like most Asian street food, it was quite tasty! We then walked around a bit and I poked in some of the vintage stores and a few of the hundreds of tailored coat shops. S. Koreans are really hip and super stylish! It reminded me of NY style but with an Asian flair. I dreamed of buying all the coats I could fit in my suitcase but practicality won out – knowing coats in Cambodia would be a form of slow torture. The red eye flight started to catch up with me so we headed back for a nap and possibly bath #2! 😉
That night, feeling refreshed, we headed over to check out the Galmagi Brewing Co and Haeundae. Haeundae, being one of the top beach areas in the summer for both Koreans, is a 20 minute ride east of Busan Station so we had to hop on the orange and green lines which made for a nice little subway adventure. Unfortunately, the craft beer spot was not open yet. But, we took some snappy snaps of the famous bridge which was decorated for Christmas, squealed in delight that we were on a beach and city gazed at all the lights from the downtown area instead.
Our bellies were growling for some food so we grabbed a taxi from the beach over to the main area. We ended up using our handy dandy Tripadvisor “Near Me Now” feature which if you dont use, you should, to find a yummy Indian restaurant called Punjab. Coming from living in Cambodia, it felt really expensive but comparably speaking it was not too bad. We both thought it was worth it if you are a vegetarian or are not a huge Korean BBQ person.
The next day I was on a mission to see the Gamcheon Culture Village which I had done my Insta research on and is known as the “Santorini of Asia.” After a green tea latte at Starbucks, we got on the subway line 1 (orange) and headed a few stops east to Toseong. From there, we hopped on the 1-1 bus in front of the hospital, just outside the subway line. The bus ride takes you straight up a steep hill with several switchbacks. Along the way, we met a very cute older Korean gentleman that only spoke Korean and found our blonde and reddish hair quite funny.
Social media did not disappoint! This place lived up to it’s insta pics and then some. The houses were the most beautiful collage of color! After a few mandatory selfies amidst the sea of selfie sticks, we made our way over to the info booth which sells maps. Gamcheon does a cute little scavenger hunt-esque type thing where you can try to get all the stamps from the different places along the path. Not being one for staying on the “path” we opted out of this, but it might be a fun activity for kiddos or families.
What I loved the most about this place was all the hidden alleys that interconnected all the houses, similar to the Albayzin in Spain. You could literally get lost for hours and still find something new in this place. We hit up all the usual suspects – angel wing pic, cool colored fish wall art, the wooden house and then went off the beaten path for a few of the other shots below. There were a lot of staged photo op spots but the ones that blew me away the most were down random alleys near peoples homes.
As we made our way back, we decided to make a pit stop at the Jagalchi fish market (Line 1 to Jagalchi Station). There were some crazy exotic fish there and Octopus everywhere! We were not in the mood for seafood but, if you are, just make your way inside the market where you can pick what you want from the fresh assortment and they will prepare it for you right there.
Because we were so close to the Busan International Film Fest and famous street food area, we decided we had to make a pit stop here too to see what all the hype was about. I tried the heavenly waffle cake and we watched as the famous Hatteok (aka Korean doughnuts) were fried and then cut open in the middle and stuffed with an assortment of different seeds. Adam got a Turkish Kebab which is ALWAYS a good choice in my book when it comes to street food. As we walked around I was a bit bummed that I was already stuffed when we came upon a Japanese stand that sold Asian McMuffins. They had two flavor biscuits where they cooked either bacon, eggs, cheese and spinach inside or shrimp, egg and cheese. Hoping I can get my hands on one when we make our way to Japan! After our foodie tour, we headed back to the hotel to get freshened up (aka bath #3).
That night we were feeling food-venturous so we went out on a mission to find something local. I had tried Korean BBQ once before in LA and Adam had tried the traditional kind in Seoul with his coworkers. So instead we found a spot that was jam-packed with Koreans (always a good sign) and peeked over to see what they were eating in the middle of their tables. It looked good enough and we were super hungry so with tongues drooling, we waited a few minutes for our turn. The meal consisted of hot as heck spicy red sauce that they combine with your meat of choice and assortment of choice (rice cakes, dumplings, sprouts, potatoes, etc.) and it stews and cooks in the middle. We had said 30% spicy thinking this would have a little kick but not too much. Man, were we wrong! Mexican food doesn’t have anything on this….Koreans like it SPICY! We had to order rice and extra beers just to cool our mouths down. Not that we were complaining about extra beer… The food itself was quite good but as in Hong Kong the meat was a little too gnarly for our tastes. I guess we are spoiled Americans when it comes to not having grizzle on our meat.
Granted that I did not eat as much because of the whole meat situation, I immediately went for dessert (love me some sweets). We stopped a second time for a waffle cake and it was GLORIOUS. This time you got to pick your flavors in addition to the whipped marshmallow cream thing they always put it in. I got peanuts, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce.
The last day we woke up a little on the later side and were craving some western style comfort food. I had found a spot with Stumptown Portland coffee and pancakes so we caught the subway over to Haeundae to check it out. We found The Pancake Epidemic pretty easily from the Haeundae stop (just walk towards Sea Life center). We were a little disappointed that literally all they have for food is one option but the coffee and pancakes did make up for it. (Bacon and eggs would have put it over the top though TPE!)
Next up was the Haedong Yonggunsi Buddhist Temple, built in 1376 on the water, which we had read was well worth the trek out (and a good budget friendly option as entrance was free). After doing a little blog research, we found that there were two options from Hdae – either a bus ride on line 181 with multiple stops or a taxi. Since the taxi was only about $7 we opted for that option off of the J stop. (All in all, it probably would take about an hour and 15 to get there from Busan Station.) After a short 15 minute ride out there, we stepped out of the Taxi to more street food awesomeness (I got a swirled potato on a stick with this cheesy powder on top) before heading into the temple.
The temple itself was beautiful with stunning views! It is perched on the craggy coastline and reminded me a lot of an Asian La Jolla (in San Diego). We sat on the rocks a bit and did some people watching before heading into the main sanctuary area which consisted of a huge golden buddha shrine and colorful pagodas. The design work, which had been re-created again in the 30’s after the Japanese destroyed it, was incredible. I am continually stuck by the detail oriented art in these structures. You just don’t see that level of craftsmanship anymore especially in something as humble as a temple or church. It was also noted that when you go up the hill the Buddha goddess sculpture is surrounded by hundreds of mini buddha caricatures in the encompassing hills. I am not sure if they are meant to be buddhas for different blessings or are offerings? Anyone know? On the way out, we thought it could not hurt to rub the Buddha of Granting a Son’s belly. (For someday, not now! :))
For our last night, we headed back out to Seomyeon to check out a bit of the night life. After rocking out to some KPOP with these crazy guys, we made our way into a little pub called Jazz 318 Pub.
It was tucked in one of the alleys we had came through after walking out of the subway earlier. The dark lights, American music and kitsch jazz memorabilia made us feel a little like we were back in the states. I opted for one of the many flavored beers and got a peach one. It was a lot like a shandy but sweeter. Adam opted for the classic $6 Miller Lite. We ended the weekend reminiscing a bit about all things American but definitely feeling grateful for a surprise trip for the books! South Korea – can we be facebook friends?
Lesson Learned #26: As Phnom Penh paints over beautiful street art here, I can’t help but think they could learn a thing or two from Gamcheon. Art unites people. It brings tourists. It evokes smiles, laughter and conversation and it helps build your identity in the eyes of the world. Lesson Learned #27: When you need to stock up on Twizzlers because Cambodia does not have any, go to South Korea!