Before we went to South Korea, I had never heard of Busan. (But that’s not so unusual. I hadn’t heard of a lot of the cities we’ve visited.) With a population of over 3.5 million people, it’s South Korea’s second largest city. It has a subway system, a baseball team, and several beaches, which is about all I need to enjoy a city. Its seaport is one of the busiest in the world. It’s home to the largest department store in the world, the Shinsegae Centum City, and it’s bidding to host the 2020 Olympics. Basically, it’s a pretty awesome place.
Once again, we stayed in a hostel with an incredible ocean view. (Having to share one bathroom with nineteen other people was not so incredible.) We finally had warm, sunny weather so we took advantage of that by walking all over the place. First we went to Beomeosa Temple, which was the first temple we’ve visited that actually felt like an active place of worship. We’ve seen tons of temples and there are always people praying at them, but for some reason, they feel more like tourist attractions than temples. This one finally had that mystical, serene, ethereal atmosphere I thought all Buddhist temples would have. I considered pulling out a cushion and attempting to meditate in front of the Buddha, but that seemed just a little too ridiculous.
Then we went to the nearby Geumjeong Fortress. The bus dropped us off at the East Gate and we planned to walk over to the South Gate and take the bus back from there. Sounds simple, right? At the beginning, we were really enjoying our little hike. We paused to admire the view of the city down below us and a nice Korean couple gave us an apple. When we got over to the South Gate, we took some pictures ??and strolled around for a bit. Then when it was getting close to sunset, we realized we had no idea where the bus stop was. There was a dirt road in front of the gate, but it was way too rough for a city bus to drive on. We decided it must be down in the South Gate Village, so we hiked down there. After wandering around and attempting to ask a few people, we still had no idea where to get the bus. We hiked back up the hill and decided to go over to the cable car. Before we left, I had read this in Wikitravel: “It should be noted that hiking trails are not really well marked in Korea, even if you can read Korean script. Definitely do your research before you hike.” Since this was just a three kilometer hike, it hardly seemed worth worrying about. We started following the signs to the cable car, but it was getting darker and darker and we kept taking wrong turns. And we didn’t know what time the cable car stopped running. And we didn’t have a flashlight. We were getting pretty nervous and I started to picture Bear Grylls style survival situations. Luckily, we made it to the cable car right before it stopped running, so we didn’t have to eat insects for protein or build a shelter out of palm fronds.
Our next day wasn’t nearly as exciting. We checked out the historic Jagalchi Fish Market, but we arrived pretty late, so there wasn’t much going on. The restaurants above the market were too expensive for us, so we went down the street and ate some delicious street food. Then we went up to Yongdusan Park and saw the Busan Tower. After relaxing in the park, we felt up to seeing the above-mentioned largest department store in the world. We couldn’t find cheap shampoo and soap there, but we did see a lot of designer clothes and shoes.
Tomorrow we are taking a ferry to Japan. After that, we have two long bus rides in a row. It won’t be fun, but I think our destination, Tokyo, will be worth it.