For some unknown reason, Korea thinks that children are important enough to warrant a national public holiday, crazy I know. Luckily we more than happy to both critique this decision and take advantage of the corresponding 4 day weekend.
We headed right to the bottom of the peninsula, to the City of Busan, Koreas’ second city. From our little nook in the north, it was a total of 5 hours travel. The journey started out quite standard for us, bus and train into the heart of Seoul. From there it was a quick transfer onto Korea’s KTX high-speed train for a quick 2 and a half hour journey to Busan.
The KTX is really a world class train service, I remember taking it a few years ago and the change even from then has been huge. Zipping through the Korean countryside at just under 300km/h, connecting Koreas 4 largest cities with ease. Take note Australia, just build the damn east coast high-speed rail already!!!!
We arrived into Busan late in the evening, about 11pm. Our Airbnb was a little across town in a great neighbourhood alongside Gwangalli Beach. What should have been a short 10-minute taxi ride was slightly lengthened by our taxi drivers extreme blindness and inability to read a phone screen. Luckily the old fallback of repeating the nearest subway station prevailed as usual.
We were met at our Airbnb by our host, Chi-dong, and given a very comprehensive tour of our place. It was a large studio apartment only 2 minutes walk to the beach. Having shared a king single bed for 3 months the sight of a queen sized bed was enough to nearly bring on the tears.
Next morning after a semi-sluggish start we set off on our first adventure of the weekend, Yonggungsa Temple, set on the cliffs to the east of Busan. Joined by a ragtag crew of newly minted EPIK teachers, we began the journey up the hill to the temple.
The temple was spectacular, set into the cliffs, with sweeping views of the ocean. As Buddha’s birthday was approaching the whole temple was fitted out with colourful lanterns. Bright colours are a common sight in Korean Buddhist temples, it really makes them distinctive and memorable.
After being all templed out, we headed back to Busan for a leisurely afternoon at Gwangalli Beach. Koreans love the beach, they just seem to hate the sun and also the water. Sunbathing, random group games and day-camping where the order of the day.
That evening we celebrated Cinco-de-mayo the only way a group of 7 educated white people can, margaritas and tacos in a Korean Mexican restaurant called Fuzzy Navel. At this point, I recommend you watch John Oliver’s video on ‘dressing up as other races‘. Luckily there wasn’t an awkwardly stereotypical sombrero or fake moustache in sight. Just some awesome people and some awesome food. We won’t mention how we confused Sarah’s meal for ‘service’ (free food when you order lots) and collectively smashed it down… Sorry, Sarah!!!!
The next morning we set off to one of the more sombre sights in Busan: the UN War Memorial and Cemetery. This is the second time I have been here and I am still impressed by the grounds, the quality of the memorials and the subtle yet appropriate way the memorial commemorates those who fell in the Korean War. This I believe is the only UN-run cemetery in the world.
The next bit of our trip saw us head to the worlds largest department store. Shinsegae Centrum City. It takes quite an effort to put the like of Takashimaya Shinjuku to shame but this one certainly does. Also, next door is one of the towers of the future US President Trump. Eeeeek!!
What happened next is not available on camera because it isn’t allowed and no one wants to see pics of us naked. The previous seven adventurous souls from before headed off to our first experience in a Jjimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). Within Shinsegae is a magical world called ‘Spaland’, this massive version of a bathhouse is equipped with everything a stressed out Korean would need to relax.
On arrival at Spaland, you are directed to male and female changing areas. There, it is expected that you strip down and join in the communal act of cleaning yourself before entering the spas and the rest of the facilities. Once naked you are to make your way to the shower area where you wait your turn to strip your body of filth and dead skin. Using a towel called an ‘Italian towel’ you can shower, wash your hair and clean your teeth all in the privacy of a room filled with hundreds of naked dudes. Or in Sarah’s case the ladies. Once clean of worldly filth you are free to soak for as long as you want in the hot baths. Once bathing is complete you don some damn comfy pyjamas and head out.
Spaland is split across 2 levels with a myriad of sauna’s, massage rooms and an awesome outdoor heated foot pool. The hottest sauna was 72 degrees, so hot you could feel the burn on your feet in seconds. In total, we stayed for about 4 hours at Spaland.
Entry is about $20 for 4 hours and there are extras like massages, oxygen therapy and other things I don’t know the name of. You just use the tag on your wrist to keep track of the extras and pay for those at the end.
The next day three of us set off to the neighbouring ancient capital of Gyeongju. But since this blog is already way too long we shall save that for another time.
Lastly on Sunday morning before we headed home to the frigid north we had just enough time to check out Gamcheon Culture Village. Regular readers would notice some similarities with Ihwa Mural Village in Seoul. Gamcheon is set on a steep hill and has gone through a similar mural and cultural upgrade. Interesting (well to Chris anyway), the whole area lacks any reticulated water supply, with each individual house having a small water tank on their roofs.
Ok, we are over 1,000 words. So here endeth the blog. Hope you enjoyed Busan.