Where: Busan, second city of South Korea. Busan is sometimes called Pusan because P and B are a bit interchangeable in Korean.
When: I visited Busan many times between 2011 and 2014.
Why: I first visited Busan in 2011. Jeff and I stayed in Haeundae for a weekend and then we flew from Busan Gimhae airport to Taiwan.
In 2012, when we lived in Dongtan, we came to Busan on a number of occasions, either to see friends, to have a beach weekend or just whilst passing through.
Finally, in 2013, Jeff and I moved to the island of Geoje-do, which is about an hour from Busan. As Busan was our nearest major city, we spent many days and weekends here, shopping, partying and having fun.
Map and geography
As it’s a city built around bays and mountains, Busan is quite a spread out, strung out city. The conurbation runs up valleys, between rocky, pine covered mountains – which makes for a really cosy, beautiful city – but it does mean that it doesn’t flow together. It can take quite a while to cross the city between districts. I think this is why they built the great Gwangan Bridge across Gwangalli Bay, just so you can bypass all of the mountains and city traffic by zooming over the sea.
Some of the main areas of the city are:
Nampo/Jagalchi/Busan Station/Harbour: In my mind, this is the centre of the city. This is where I went for shopping and where the major transport interchange is (Busan Station). Jagalchi is where you will find the famous fish market. Nampo is great for shopping. The harbour is here for ferries to Japan and you can visit Yongdusan Park and Busan Tower.
Hadan/Sasang/Gimhae: These three areas are to the west of the city and this is where we travelled to from Geoje, to get onto the subway system. Seobu bus station is in Sasang and the airport is in Gimhae. This area is based along the estuary of the Nakdong River, the longest river in Korea.
Oncheonjang and Beomeosa: Both of these areas are located up a valley which runs from the centre of the city, up to the north. I’ve mentioned them because this is a really beautiful area of the city which is great for hiking and for fun. Beomeosa is the location of one of Busan’s most famous temples, and Oncheonjang is the location of the cable car and Hur Shim Chin Spa, one of the largest spas in the world. The hiking here is fabulous, and you can walk along the mountain tops, high up above the city. Seokbulsa Temple, which is carved into the rocks, is here on a mountain top.
KSU (Kyungsung University): This area, located between Busan Station and Gwangalli, is a party area. There are loads of cool restaurants, bars and clubs here.
Gwangalli: Nice city centre beach overlooking the fabulous Gwangan (diamond) Bridge. There’s quite a few cool bars on Gwangalli Beach and it is less hectic than Haeundae. We stayed next to the beach on New Year’s Eve 2013/14, and they held a wonderful sunrise celebration on the beach. This is also the focus of the firework festival, though it does get nuts busy. (There’s a suggestion below about how you can get the best views of the fireworks festival, without having to brave the chaos of the crowds).
Centum City area: Modern area between Haeundae and Gwangalli. The Centum City area is an area of huge glass skyscrapers and modern builds. Here you will find the largest department store in the world (Shinsagae), Spa Land, and BEXCO, which is a concert and exhibition space.
Haeundae: Haeundae is like Daytona Beach. It’s a beach resort located to the east of the city, with lots of huge hotels, love motels, bars, restaurants, and the aquarium. It’s a fun party place to be and was usually the focus of our visits to Busan.
Songjeong: Beautiful surfers beach in a much quieter town, to the east of Busan. Jeff and I spent our anniversary here and we took my parents here too when they visited. It has a lovely sea front with a preposterous number of coffee shops. Yonggungsa Temple, a sea front temple located on a huge rock overlooking the sea, is located on the far side of Songjeong.
Obviously there are many more parts to this city, but these are the areas that we went to most frequently.
In 2011, whilst he was searching for a job in Korea, Jeff thought that he might be moving to Busan. As there was a chance I might join him there, I had a look at the city on google maps satellite and I became fascinated with this intriguing city, weaving around the wriggly coast with steep, temple topped mountains. From above, Busan looked super-cool: it had loads of country areas in the city centre to go walking; it even had a road which ran over the sea. It was a city that fascinated me and that I was super excited to visit.
In the end, Jeff found a job in Dongtan, and I went to join him there. We spent just over a year in Dongtan and then in May 2013 we moved to the island of Geoje-do, which is just around the coast from Busan, about an hour by bus. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to visit the city many, many times and to get to know this amazing metropolis quite well.
Busan is Korea’s second city, located in the south east corner of the country, diagonally opposite Seoul.
Busan is a big, busy, sea-side city with a huge harbour. It’s an exciting, developing, modernistic metropolis of sky scrapers, humungous bridges, tunnels and neon lights. There’s always lots of building work taking place and you can almost see the city growing in front of your eyes.
Busan is also a city of beaches and mountains. The land here is mountainous and so the city has been built around and under the hills. Urban areas run up valleys, with pine-bedecked mountains on either side of them. The jiggedy jaggedy, wild rocky coast hides some beautiful, golden-sandy beaches – right in the centre of the city. Here there is a lovely mix of city and countryside. In Busan, you’re never too far from a beach, a market or a corner store.
Busan is also a university town, and where you get universities and beaches you get nightlife. To be honest, we mostly went to Busan to party, but this was because they had a fabulous mix of western and Korean pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars. There was great craft beer, cool cocktails and food from all around. They also hold regular, world-class festivals to draw visitors here.
Like most second cities, Busan is unpretentious and a little rough around the edges when compared to the capital city of Seoul – but it is a fun, energetic place to be and I like it! If we ever return to Korea, I think we’ll move to Busan.
Busan is an ever changing city, and in the three years that we visited, the city really developed. So many new cool bars, breweries, specialist restaurants, hostels and hotels sprung up. Also, as we got to know the city better, we discovered different districts and new places.
Busan is an exciting city; a key city of the world that should perhaps be more famous than it is. With Air Asia making Busan a hub-city in 2014, hopefully international access to the city will improve and many more visitors will be able to use Busan as their gateway to South Korea. Although I love Seoul, I prefer Busan for its more laid back air, beaches, festivals and fun.
Busan has an international airport called Gimhae Airport. Gimhae Airport is a small but efficient airport, which is a hub for budget airlines in east Asia. When we first lived in Korea, there were virtually no budget airlines and we usually flew in and out of Incheon airport in Seoul. By the time we left though, we were using Gimhae as our gateway airport because there were so many more good, cheap, international flights.
Air Asia has now made Busan it’s hub for South Korea, which is great as it connects Busan to Kuala Lumpur and the rest of the Air Asia southern hemisphere network. J and I were able to take advantage of their launch and we flew from Busan to Australia for £120 each!
The Gimhae airport website has an up to date list of all the destinations you can fly to from Gimhae, and who with.
There weren’t a huge amount of amenities at the airport when we were there, especially air-side. Before departures there were a couple of restaurants, exchanges and coffee shops. Air-side there was a small 7-11, a duty free, an exchange, a manicure shop and one small cafe/coffee shop. They did have free computer terminals though and free wi-fi.
Gimhae Airport has a subway station on the purple line (which wasn’t open on our first visit). The purple line runs to Sasang, where you can connect to the green line for the city centre. Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal is in Sasang, and you can get buses from here across Korea. There were no hotels around the airport when we lived in Korea, but there were a few motels in Sasang, so we stayed here when flying in late or out early. (See the where we stayed section for more information).
Buses run direct from the airport to Haeundae, to major cities in Korea and, for us, to Okpo and Gohyeon in Geoje-do (more information about this service can be found on the Geoje-do page). You can buy tickets directly on the bus.
There is an information centre at arrivals where you can pick up useful Busan maps and leaflets.
Busan is the terminus for the main KTX line that runs from Seoul, down through the centre of the country via Daejeon and Daegu. The line splits when it comes out of Busan, with some KTX trains going via Ulsan and Gyeongju to DongDaegu, and some trains going via Gupo and Miryang to DongDaegu.
The main station for trains is Busan Station, which is on orange subway line (Line 1).
Gupo is a KTX station to the west of the city. Gupo is on the brown subway line (Line 3). Gupo is a better station for connecting to Gimhae airport, as it’s just on the other side of the river to the airport. We stayed overnight by Gupo station before flying out to Taiwan, and the taxi to the airport only took ten minutes.
There is a train station at Haeundae, to the east of the city. We used to catch the slow train from Haeundae to Suwon and Seoul on a Sunday afternoon. This direct service is very slow but also very cheap. You can also catch trains from Haeundae to locations in the south east of the country, including Ulsan, Gyeongju, Pohang and Andong.
The regional trains that run up the east coast and across the south of the country depart from Bujeon station. Bujeon station is located on the orange line (line 1).
To find train times, prices and to book tickets (in English), visit the Korail website.
Intercity buses are a good, cheap way to travel around Korea and as it’s the major hub in the south Busan is very well connected by bus to most towns within Korea.
The main bus stations are Seobu intercity terminal, and Busan Central Bus Terminal/ Busan Dongbu Gyeongnam Intercity Bus Terminal.
Seobu Intercity Terminal is in Sasang to the west of the city. Sasang is on the green subway line (line 4) and is also the terminus station for the purple line (Busan Gimhae Light Rail Transit), which goes to Gimhae Airport. Seobu was our bus station for buses to Geoje. There were quite a lot of shops and love motels around the bus station.
Busan Central Bus Terminal and Busan Dongbu Gyeongnam Intercity Bus Terminal share the same building in Nopo-dong. Nopo-dong is quite a long way to the north of the city, and is on the orange line (line 1).
There is also a bus station in Haeundae and there are direct buses to/from Seoul.
Find out more on the Visit Korea website.
Ferries run from Busan to the Japanese island of Tsushima (which is inbetween Korea and Japan), and to Fukuoka and Osaka on the Japanese mainland. You can find directions and contact information for Busan harbour on the Visit Korea website, and you can find prices and times, and book tickets on the aferry website.
Busan currently has five subway lines:
- Orange (line 1): runs from Sinpyeong in the west of the city to Nopo, right up in the north. Important stations on this line are Jagalchi and Nampo for shopping, Busan Station, Oncheonjang for the cable car and the largest spa in the world, and Beomeosa for the temple.
- Green (line 2): runs from Yeongsan in the north west of the city, to Jangsan, which is in the east (just past Haeundae). Major stations on the green line include Sasang (for the bus station; KSU (Kyungsung University), for bars and restaurants; Gwangalli beach; Centrum City for shopping, spas and exhibitions; and Haeundae for the beach.
- Brown (line 3): Runs from Suyeong to Daejeo, where it links to the purple line. I think of this as the bypass line, as it runs from the east of the city, straight across the top, to the west of the city.
- Blue (Line 4): New blue line that runs from Minam, up the valley to Anpyeong. To be honest, I don’t know any of the places in this valley, and didn’t use this line as it opened as we were just leaving, so I can’t really tell you a lot about it (soz).
- Purple (Busan Gimhae Light Rail Transit): I feel a kind of special connection to the purple line as when we first went to Gimhae airport, they were just testing the line and it opened a few days later. The purple line runs from Sasang, which is to the west of Busan and where one of the bus stations is located, to Gimhae Airport and the town of Gimhae.
The major subway interchanges are at Seomyeon and Yeonsan.
You can buy tickets from all of the stations or use a T-Money card. T-Money cards are Oyster style cards that you can use to pay for transport across Korea. You can buy T-Money cards in subway stations or at convenience stores. The only bad thing with the T-Money cards was that we could only top them up in the districts we bought them, so we could use our Seoul T-Money cards on Busan public transport, but we could only add credit to them in Seoul.
You can view an integrated subway map and plan your journey at www.humetro.busan.kr.
Because traffic in Busan is often very busy, we tended not to use the city buses, but stick to the subway instead. However, if it was late at night or at the weekend, the buses were a good alternative means of getting around.
Local buses in Korea tend to run at a set price (advertised by the door). You can either pay the driver, who can give you change, or you can use you T-Money card.
There are a lot of bus routes in the city, and I haven’t found a map for the buses in English. However, you can use google maps to plan your journey and this will tell you which buses to get.
Taxis in Korea are cheap; and sometimes, because of the bridge which zooms over the sea, it can be less hassle and quicker to get a taxi between districts in Busan, especially if there are a few of you. All journeys should be metered.
What we did in Busan
Busan was our nearest major city when we lived in Geoje and so we headed here for shopping. If I needed clothes, I tended to go to Busan.
A good places for shopping is the Jagalchi/ Nampo area, which has loads of cute clothes stores down the back streets and main-chain stores on the main road.
Hidden further down the back streets is Gukje market with cool clothes and loads of second hand (vintage) stores. This is a great area for pottering around and for buying cool discount T-Shirts, though it can get pretty crowded on a Saturday afternoon. I like this area because they have a branch of my favourite Korean cutie store (Artbox), there’s loads of interesting food stalls and there’s also a cat café (called Yang Yang).
Another great place for shopping is the Shinsegae and Lotte department stores at Centrum City. Shinsegae is the largest department store in the world. It has many high street franchises inside such as GAP, Zara and H&M, as well as lots of high end franchises too. It also has a fabulous food hall, which is a cool place to go and drool, an ice rink and Spa Land (see below for more info on Spa Land).
There’s a nice little mall just up the road from Haeundae Station with GAP, 8 Seconds and a ZARA. I liked to pop in here if I was in the area.
If you want to buy fish visit Jagalchi fish market, which is close to the harbour and the Nampo shopping area. Lots of touristy articles go on about how great the fish market is, but to be honest, unless you are buying fish it’s only interesting for about five minutes. If you do buy fish you can take the fish upstairs to one of the restaurants and they will cook it for you. It’s not my cup of tea (herring), but if you are a foodie you may wish to do this.
I have also heard that there is a shopping village in Gimhae. A lot of my colleagues went here and they raved about it. I think that this is the Lotte Premium Outlet. I’ve not been there myself, but if that’s your cup of tea, I have heard that it is quite good.
Because it has a jiggedy jaggedy coast, Busan has loads of fun beaches.
The two most famous beaches are at Haeundae and Gwangalli.
Haeundae is like Daytona Beach. The beach here is long and wide, there is a pretty promenade where lots of events take place and skyscrapers and casinos overlooking the sand. It’s a nice beach: the sand is good, it’s clean and the water is not too rough. However, I have seen photos of Haeundae in beach season and it looks preposterously busy; like you can’t move busy. The life guards can be a bit overly bossy here too, but otherwise it’s a fun, central place to hang out.
It used to be that in the evening you would see lots of small groups having bonfires and setting off fireworks on the beach, but this seems to have been discontinued now. Although I am sure this is a good thing from a health and safety and a litter perspective, I miss setting off fireworks into the waves.
Gwangalli beach is a lot like Haeundae in that it has a nice promenade and skyscrapers, but it’s a little bit quieter even though it is closer to the city centre. Gwangalli beach is surrounded by the Gwangan (diamond) Bridge, which is beautiful. Again, the life guards can be overly bossy here but you can still swim and splash about.
My favourite Busan beach is the beach at Songjeong, which is a small resort to the east of Haeundae. To get here you have to take a train, a taxi or bus 181 from outside Haeundae station, but this gorgeous curve of golden sand makes the journey well worth it. Songjeong beach is a quiet but funky beach. It has a more relaxed, chilled out vibe and people surf here. Jeff and I stayed here for our anniversary and it was a lovely quiet, pretty place to stay. They don’t have many bars on the promenade, but they do have a preposterous number of coffee shops.
You can find out more about Songjeong Beach on the Visit Korea website.
Two other beaches that I heard are pretty good are Dadaepo Beach and Songdo Beach. Both are to the west of the city centre. Dadaepo is apparently a very low key, relaxed beach. The largest water fountain in the world is here. Songdo beach is closer to Nampo. Again, it seems to be a much quieter beach, one more for locals.
Busan Haps magazine (which is the local ex-pat magazine) has a great guide to Busan’s beaches, which includes maps and transport information.
To be honest, this was our primary reason for coming to Busan. Busan has a really cool bar scene, so you can lie on the beach all day, then go party it up at night.
The key areas we went partying in were Haeundae, Gwangalli and KSU (around the university).
Haeundae and Gwangalli have quite a relaxed, beach party vibe, with lots of open, fun bars serving sugar sweet, seaside cocktails. The great thing about partying in these areas, is that if you want to save some cash you can grab a beer from one of the convenience stores and go drink it on the sand. Gwangalli tends to be more chill than Haeundae, as Haeundae seems to be the place where the frat boys and the woo girls head to (sometimes the woo girl is me).
KSU is your stereotypical East-Asian, party frat area with flashing neon galore, restaurants, touts, crowded, crazy thin streets, kebabs, music and chaos. If you want messy, this is the place to head to.
I’m sure those in the know will tell you that there’s loads of other cool places to go out to play in Busan, but these are the three areas that we mainly went to. A good source of information on where to party in Busan is Busan Haps magazine. You can read this online or pick up a copy in most Western Bars in Busan.
For specific information on where we liked to go out to play, see the where we ate and drank section below.
Korea is a great country for festivals. There always seemed to be some sort of festival going on to celebrate a kind of food or flower or religious holiday or something. It was great. To try to draw in additional visitors, Busan has some amazing, world-class festivals and we have been lucky enough to go to some of them.
For information on all the events and festivals happening in the city, check out the listings section of the excellent Busan Haps magazine.
I’ve heard from people in the know that Busan’s Firework Festival is the best in the world. I don’t know if it’s the best, but we went to see it and it was bloody brilliant! The fireworks were fired off Gwangan (Diamond) Bridge and there was a hour of full-on, non-stop explosions, booms and bangs. It was amazing!
I have a top tip for the fireworks festival: If you go to Gwangalli Beach, which is supposed to be the best spot to watch the fireworks, it gets very, very, very, very, very crowded (like, not able to go to the toilet crowded). You can book a table at one of the bars or restaurants on the sea front, but these cost a couple of hundred dollars, plus you have to buy drinks. However, Gwangalli is overlooked by loads of skyscrapers and if you can find a way to access one of these you can get some of the best views of the festival.
My anniversary present to Jeff was to book us beds at Centum Guesthouse for the firework festival. This hostel is in a penthouse, on the 42nd floor of a skyscraper at Centum City, and it overlooks Gwangalli. It cost us about £15 each to stay there, and we had the best view of the bridge. We watched the fireworks whilst sat on a fluffy sofa, drinking cold wine. It was wonderful.
New Year’s Day
For new year’s eve 2013/14, Jeff and I booked to stay at a really cool hotel overlooking Gwangalli Beach. I didn’t know that people in Korea celebrated the sunrise of New Year’s Day; not until I was woken up at 5.30 a.m. by blaring music and 10,000 people outside our hotel bedroom window. However, I am really glad these early birds woke me up because this allowed me to see a stunning sun rise and to welcome the new year with a celebration.
Koreans tend to celebrate the dawn of the new year and so will head to high places and beaches; places with good views of the sunrise. On Gwangalli beach they had a (very loud, very early) festival stage which played (very loud, very early) party music. Thousands of people gathered on the beach to watch the sun rise over Gwangan Bridge, and as part of the celebration there was music, a polar bear swim and a fly-past by some cool helicopters.
About five minutes before the sunrise the festival MC shut up, so that everyone could enjoy the dawn of the new year in peace; and the people on the beach released hundreds of balloons, with their hopes, dreams and wishes for the new year attached.
It was unexpected, beautiful and stunning, and a wonderful way to start the year.
I was so lucky to see this (J slept in with a pillow on his head to shut out the noise), especially as we didn’t know this was going to happen. We got a great deal to stay at the Aqua Palace Hotel and our 11th floor room overlooked the beach, the bridge and the sunrise. I think we had one of the best views in Busan of the sunrise – if not the best view in Korea (see photo at the top of the page). For more information about the Aqua Palace, see the where we stayed section below.
The Busan Film Festival seems to be a pretty big deal, and many slebs come to Busan for the film festival. The focus is mostly on the huge home-grown film industry and Asian films, though in 2013 they showed films from 70 countries.
We’ve not been to the festival, though we were there once when they were setting up the stages on Haeundae Beach, and it looked pretty cool.
The film festival usually takes place in October in Centum City, Haeundae and Nampo-dong. You can find out more at www.biff.kr.
Most Korean towns have a jimjilbang bath-house, and they are one of the things I loved most about Korea. They are like wonderful mini-spas. Busan has many jimjilbangs, possibly the largest spa in Asia, a waterpark and one of my favourite spas in the world.
My favourite spa in the world is Spa Land, which is in Shinsegae Department Store in Centum City. Spa Land is a wonderful spa, bath house place, and at only ₩12,000 to ₩14,000 (about £7 to £8), it’s very good value. Spa Land consists of uni-sex bath houses and many mixed relaxation areas.
Obviously, I don’t know what the men’s bath house is like, but the ladies’ bath house was lovely. They had five or six hot baths to laze in, a cool pool, a couple of saunas and steam rooms (with TVs in), loads of showers, two outdoor hot springs and a massage area (where you have to pay extra for treatments or scrub downs etc). I had a massage on my second visit, and it was a bit brief, but effective and only ₩20,000. As it was quite quiet, I didn’t have to wait too long (the first time I went the wait time was an hour and a half), and the massage lady came to find me in the spa pool when she was free.
As with all jimjilbangs in Korea, dress code in the bathhouse was completely naked – even the outside bit.
If you need products, you can buy them from vending machines using your key and then pay at the exit.
The mixed sex area is at the side of the Shinsegae Department Store. Here there is a huge glass wall, like an enormous green house, which you can laze under. This is lovely in winter. In this area they have a number of specialist relaxing rooms/areas, including a foot spa, a Roman spa, a pyramid room, rooms made of special materials, rooms with special ions or coloured lights, and relaxing spaces with fountains and stuff. My favourite room was the bamboo bass room, where you lie on a lovely warm floor that vibrates very gently to the bass in the gentle music being played. It was so yum and relaxing (though I did get a little annoyed with the people using their cell phones in the relaxation rooms).
In the mixed area they also had lots of day beds for lounging, TV screens, fountains and water features and a small shop. Outside they had a foot spa, where there were lots of shallow hot and cold pools that I could soak my feet in.
Upstairs there was a restaurant, a hair dressers and a room with oxygen boxes (I so wanted to have a go in one of these, but it cost extra). Also upstairs was a really cool relaxation area of reclining loungers, with their own personal TV screens. It overlooks the upper part of the glass dome, and it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. This was a great place for a relax and a snooze.
Spa Land does not let children under-13 in, which I hate to say, does make it a lot more relaxing. However, unlike most jimjilbangs in Korea, Spa Land is not 24 hours so you cannot stay there overnight (unfortunately).
You can find out more about Spa Land (in English) at the Visit Korea website, or read about a trip to Spa Land on the CNN website. The official webpage for Spa Land is on the Shinsegae website, though this is only in Korean. However, this may be useful for up to date prices and times etc.
The largest spa in Asia (according to them) is Hur Shim Chin Spa, which is to the north of the city, close to the cable car and Seokbulsa Temple. The spa is based around the Dongnae Hot Springs, which used to be used by Korean royalty. The spa is located in Hotel Nongshim. Hotel Nongshim also has its own brew-house, so after you have bathed you can go and have a nice beer (yay). You can find out all about the spa (in English) at the hotels website: www.hotelnongshim.com.
Finally, there is a water park attached to the Aqua Palace Hotel on Gwangalli Beach. We booked to stay at the Aqua Palace on NYE 2013/14 (see the Where we Stayed section for more info). What drew us to the Aqua Palace was the water park and we were given free tickets to use the water park as part of our hotel package. Unfortunately though we were unable to go as we didn’t have time. Oh well, we’ll have to go back.
The water park has slides, a wave pool, bathing pools, water jets, water cannons and a jimjilbang/spa area. It looks pretty fun. The pool areas are mixed so you wear swimming costumes. You have to wear a swimming cap too.
You don’t have to stay at the hotel to use the water park and spa, you can just go in for the day. It costs ₩25,000 on weekends (about £20) and ₩20,000 in the week (about £15). www.aquapalace.co.kr.
There’s loads more jimjilbang bath houses in Busan. I found a great list here on the Busan Medical Tourism website.
Apparently Lotte have built a huge water park at Gimhae which looks amazing. It hadn’t opened when we were in korea but was due to open in 2014. Find out more at www.global.lotteworld.com/waterpark.
Bomeosa Temple is a Buddhist temple, tucked away in the beautiful mountains to the north of Busan. Jeff took part in a temple stay programme here a few years ago, and in 2011 he took me there to see this gorgeous sanctuary.
The temple is located in the most wonderful location: it’s high up in the hills, up above the city, surrounded by pine forests, by a white-water river, within earshot of cuckoos. It’s just such a beautiful place and the views are stunning, overlooking misty, grey mountains.
You can walk up to the temple and if we’d have had time I’d have loved to have done this, although it’s a long hike uphill. As we were short on time we travelled from Bomeosa subway station to the temple by taxi.
The temple is made up of a number of huge buildings and shrines. There are beautiful entrance gates, a great central courtyard and loads of interesting statues dotted about. The main temple building was off-limits when we were there, we think this was because there was a funeral taking place. We were however able to visit the shrines and the museum (full of relics from the temple. I found it a little boring – sorry Bomeosa).
I liked Bomeosa Temple but it wasn’t as striking or as interesting as some of the other Buddhist temples I’ve visited, such as Bomunsa temple, which is on Seokmodo island off Gangwha-do, or Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju. I think this is because Bomeosa Temple is more of a working temple rather than a tourist attraction. It isn’t showy.
To find out more about doing temple stays in South Korea visit www.templestay.com. This website explains what a temple stay entails and you can make reservations for a number of temples. I’m not sure that a temple stay is my cup of tea (you sleep on the floor and are woken up at 4a,m, to do 108 bows) but Jeff loved it.
There was a cash point at the temple (I found that hilarious for some reason), a gift shop and hiking trails in the wood.
We caught the metro to Bomeosa station and then caught a taxi up the hill to the monastery. The taxi cost ₩8,000 won (about £5). We caught the bus back down the hill and this dropped us off just up the road to the station. The bus stop for the monastery was just on the main road, between the main car entrance and exit.
Seokbulsa is a hermitage located on top of Geumjeongsan Mountain, in the north of the city. Readers of Lonely Planet have voted a visit to Seokbulsa as the number one thing to do in Busan. It’s a bit of a hard slog to get to but it’s well worth it.
Seokbulsa translates as Stone Buddha Temple. Three of the walls of the temple are made up of 40ft boulders that sit on top of the mountain and the Buddhas of the temple are carved directly out of this mountain rock.
Because it’s on top of the mountain and very hard to get to this is a very quiet, very isolated, very peaceful, stunning temple.
I visited Seokbulsa on one of my final days in South Korea. It was one of the major things left on my list that I was determined to do, so when I had a few spare days in Busan this is the first place I headed to.
To get here I travelled to Oncheongjang Station (Line 1) and then walked up to Geumgang Park. From Geumgang Park I caught the cable car up to the fortress walls at the top of the hill. The cable car was fun and the journey took about five minutes. I couldn’t see much though as it was a pretty hazy day. The cable car cost ₩8,000.
You can find out more about Geumgang Park and the cable way at the Visit Korea website.
From the upper cable car station I followed the directions from this Busan Haps article.
The walk to the temple started off quite easy. I was strolling through summer forests, along the side of a lazy river; but once I got to the road to the temple the way became really steep and pretty tough going. Some friends of mine visited the temple and they told me that it is a little known secret that you can actually get a taxi up to the temple. They discovered this, like everyone it seems, after walking all the way to the top.
The actual hermitage is gorgeous and there are stupendous views over Busan. It was so quiet up here. The stone carved Buddhas are at the far end of the temple and they are so enigmatic and interesting to see. This really is one of the coolest temples in South Korea and most definitely worth a visit. Because I visited on a week day it was really quiet when I was there and I was lucky to be able to have the temple to myself for most of my visit. I spent a lot of time lookng at all of the carvings, climbing staircases and through holes in the rocks. There was one other visitor who was doing venerations to the main Buddha – but other than that it was just us and the birds of the mountain top.
Yonggungsa Temple was the other temple that I was determined to see before I left Korea. Yonggungsa Temple is a sea front temple located on a huge rock, overlooking the sea. The temple was very picturesque though I visited on a weekend and so it was extremely crowded too – and a few of the other visitors were quite rude and aggressive to me, which didn’t seem very Buddhist.
The temple itself though and the setting were magical. I visited on a misty day and sections of the temple kept emerging and then disappearing in the clouds. There were times when the misty sun light caught the spray from the waves and the air became a golden sparkle.
At the temple was a huge, fat, laughing, golden Buddha, a cool dragon statue, a funky bridge and a sea-front, rock top, cairn shrine.
Yonggungsa Temple is located to the north east of the city, just past Songjeong. To get to the temple I caught bus 181 from outside Haeundae Station (from the bus stops on the opposite side of the road to the station). For more information on the temple visit the Visit Korea Yonggungsa page.
Nampo-Yongdusan Park temple: There is a small Buddhist temple located between Nampo’s main shopping street and Yongdusan Park. It’s of note because you ride an escalator to get to the temple.
I’ve never actually been inside the temple as it has always been shut up when I have been there, but it is fun to ride the series of escalators up to the park – especially around Buddha’s birthday when the escalators are decorated with Chinese lanterns and prayer flags.
When I first moved to Geoje, they were preparing the lanterns for the Buddhist lantern parade at the top of the escalators.
Being a mountainous, coastal city, there’s loads of cool hiking in and around Busan. The Every Trail website has details of some cool hikes.
Yongdusan Park and Busan Tower
Yongdusan Park is in the centre of Busan, next to Jagalchi and Nampo. The park is located on top of a small hill. You can get to the park by riding the series of escalators, up from the main Nampo shopping street.
You can get great views of Busan from Yongdusan Park – but you can get even better views from the top of Busan Tower, which is located inside the park. Busan Tower is an observation tower and is 120 meters high. An adult ticket is ₩4,000 (about £2.50).
Incidentally, I visited Yongdusan Park just before Buddha’s birthday in 2013 and they had all of the carnival float lanterns in the park. They were pretty cool. They had dragons and people and nekid ladies and all sorts.
The Aquarium is in Haeundae. Not been there myself but people say it is pretty good. It has one of those under-water tunnels that you can walk through. ₩21,000 for adults (about £15). www.busanaquarium.com.
Busan Museum of Art is located between Centum City and Haeundae. www.art.busan.go.kr.
There’s a really fun, newly opened ‘museum’ in Nampo called the Trickeye Museum. At the Trick Eye museum you can take lots of pictures of yourself with famous painting and optical illusions, so you are a part of the picture. It looks like a lot of fun. Tickets are ₩10,000 for adults (about £7).
Where we ate and drank
I’m combining the eating and the drinking section for Busan, as often we would do our eating and our drinking in the same place. Many of the places that we frequented in Busan were bars/pubs with food or restaurants with cool drinks.
There are hundreds of cool bars in Busan and lots lots of new venues and drinking-areas are opening up all of the time. Even whilst researching this section I discovered loads of cool new places that I’d like to go investigate.
Below is a list of the places that we liked to hang out at, but this is a very limited list. For more information on where to drink in Busan visit the listings section of Busan Haps or the City Awesome website.
There’s so many places to eat and drink in Haeundae. Haeundae is where we headed to when we wanted our western fix or if we want to get our frat-boy/woo-girl party on.
Fuzzy Navel was my favourite place in Haeundae as they sold the best margaritas in Korea and great tacos. Most of the seating was around the bar and combined with the open front it was the most beachy bar in Haeundae; so when I drank here I really felt like I was on holiday.
Fuzzy Navel could be a little expensive but they did offer set menu prices earlier on for Mexican food and a margarita. They could also get a little too loud later on, especially upstairs.
Fuzzy Navel had a few sister bars including a Fuzzy Navel on Gwangalli Beach and a beautiful bar called Tap and Tapas. Neither were as good as the original though and we found Tap and Tapas to be a bit of a rip-off (they gave me a mouthful of wine for ₩7,000/£4).
You can find out about all the Fuzzy Naval bars at www.fncompany.co.kr.
Wolfhound was a great Irish pub at the centre of all the action. They did the best fish and chips in South Korea and had a great menu of regular-pub food (including bangers and mash, cottage pie, English breakfasts and even apple crumble). They serveda wide selection of beers and ciders and prices were pretty reasonable. We tended to go to Wolfhound the morning after the night before, though we have been in on the evening too and it has a pretty cool, relaxed atmosphere. Wolfhound has a sister pub in Itaewon in Seoul, though the Busan one is nicer.
Wolfhound had a lot of special offer and special event nights, though these tended to be in the week so we weren’t able to take advantage of them.
I also liked to pop in to the Wolfhound to pick up the latest copy of Groove Magazine.
Geckos is a gorgeous bar located on the sea front, on the Haeundae promenade. They served cool cocktails and amazing calamari. They were a little bit expensive, but their superb location made it worthwhile. I loved coming straight out of the salty sea to the bar, then sitting outside eating crispy, garlicky calamari washed down with cool white wine. I came here and had calamari and sparkling wine on my last night in Korea. It was yum.
Geckos have done so well for themselves that they’ve opened up a huge restaurant on the floor above. I think they also have a branch in Itaewon, Seoul.
Sharky’s is an old stalwart on Gwangalli Beach and whilst we were there they opened up a branch in Haeundae. They were a little bit set back from the sea, but the food (San Diegan/Mexican/Burgers/Salads etc) was amazing. Their drink prices were pretty reasonable and they had board games. www.sharkysbusan.com.
Rock n Roll House is located on the fourteenth floor of a tower block on the sea front, so they have amazing views over Haeundae Beach, Gwangan Bridge and the ocean. Before they banned them, it was lovely to sit up high watching the bonfires and the fireworks on Haeundae beach.
We went here to party it up and if we want to be frat boys and girls (they have beer pong).
The lift up to Rock n Roll House is located behind Twosome Coffee, next to Burger King, on the sea front. We once had a great adventure when the lifts stopped working and we walked down the fourteen flights of stairs, investigating ever floor on our way down.
Billy Jeans was located to the east of Haeundae. It was a pretty cool Cheers style bar, and was a cheaper option in Haeundae. I think this is the sort of place I would go to if I was a local. www.busanhaps.com/billiejean.
Thursday Party was a pretty popular bar in Haeundae though Jeff and I thought it was a bit too ‘fratty’ for us, so we tended to go elsewhere. They have a couple of branches in Busan and expanded across Korea in our time there.
Gwangalli tends to be quieter and less pretentious than Haeundae (not that Haeundae is that pretentious itself). It’s less fratty. Most of the bars are located on the road that runs along the sea front, so all have great views of the beach and Gwangan (Diamond) Bridge and its light show.
Sharky’s is a stalwart on Gwangalli Beach. This San Diegan bar is located at the far end of Gwangali Beach with great views over Gwangan Bridge. They have really friendly staff, movies, reasonably priced drinks, amazing food (the salmon and the burgers are great!) and a shuffle board. Sharky’s is a great place to while away the hours on a wet afternoon and a good place to hang out with your mates. www.sharkysbusan.com.
We went to the Galmegi Brewing Co. for NYE 2013/14 and it was a fun place to see in the new year. They have amazing craft-beer at great prices. The pizza menu is limited but delicious. They also have a beer festival. The bar is small but busy and every time we have been there, there has been a lovely, friendly atmosphere. www.busanhaps.com/galmegibrewingcompany.
Bruns Week is a restaurant that serves amazing western food such as salads, mac n cheese, burgers, breakfasts and quiche. The food here was great and the cocktails were cheap. Brunsweek is about half way down the promenade.
There’s a branch of Fuzzy Navel on the sea front, which is cool but not as cool as the one in Haeundae. I don’t think these guys serve tacos and the like.
There’s two sea front Thursday Partys too. www.busanhaps.com/nightlife/thursday-party.
There was also a Cold Stone on the sea front. I love Cold Stone. For people who don’t know this company, what they do is they mix ice cream with interesting ingredients (such as cookies, chocolate chips, various fruits or candies etc.) on a cold stone. It is yummy. www.icoldstone.co.kr.
KSU or Kyungsung University is an area of Busan located between Gwangalli and Nampo. As it’s a university area there are loads of bars and restaurants here. KSU is more Korean style than western style, with neon lit, thin streets, beer hofs and chicken joints, noribangs and hostess rooms.
Mapo Galmaegi (마포 갈매기) (or circular eggs as we call it) was my favourite restaurant in Korea. There was a branch in KSU. We loved Mapo so much that we would sometimes eat there three times a week.
The Dragon Dream is a bar in a cave which was used as an ammunition store in the Korean war. Today, the only explosive things you’ll find in here is the dong-dong-ju (the ‘local’ booze) and the dragon.
Jeff and I love cave bars as we met in a cave. Jeff had been to Dragons Dream before on a previous visit and loved it (from what he can remember) and so we had to go.
Dragon Dream is not easy to find. It doesn’t look like a cave from outside: it looks like a restaurant with a dragon in the garden. It’s only when you walk through the restaurant that you’ll find the cave bar at the back.
It’s more of a tunnel than a cave, with stone tables and a dragon. It’s slightly damp inside the cave and apparently there are spiders, but drink some dong-dong-ju and you really wont care.
Dong-dong-ju is a ‘local’ booze, served in a cauldron, drunk with a bowl. It’s a strong makoli (Korean rice wine). It scared me but when I tasted it it wasn’t too bad – it just tasted like mildly fizzy banana milkshake. Dangerously it didn’t taste too alcoholic either, though it is incredibly strong. I have discovered myself that dong-dong-ju gives really bad hangovers.
The cave bar also served food and we had great pajeon (omelette/pancake) and kimchi here. The last time we visited the food had gone upmarket and was more expensive, but it was still a fun place to be and perhaps the most interesting bar in town.
It’s not the easiest bar to find, even local taxi drivers don’t tend to know where it is, but you can find comprehensive directions (including photos) on the City Awesome website.
In the Dongdaemun district of Seoul, there is a wonderful Uzbeki restaurant that we have visited a few times called Samarkand. Samarkand also had a branch in Busan, in the Little Russia area, which is near to Busan Station. This Uzbeki restaurant served amazingly delicious food from Central Asia, such as plov, kebabs, pasties and great salads. We always had a long feast, washed down with lots of 7 and 9 beer, when we went here.
Where we stayed
When we first started visiting Busan we would usually stay at the same motel in Haeundae. We called it Mum n Pop’s (I never did find out its real name). It was an okay, good value motel located close to the station and at ₩40,000 per night was pretty good value. However, as Haeundae gentrified their prices crept up and they were no longer worth the prices they were trying to charge. We started to book our accommodation more traditionally, and we actually found some pretty good deals by booking via Hotels Combined.
We’ve stayed in quite a few places in Busan. Below are our favourites:
Aqua Palace, Gwangalli
The Aqua Palace is a circular hotel, located on the sea front at Gwangalli Beach. (It looks like the Rotunda in Birmingham). Rooms here usually cost in their hundreds of pounds, but for some reason we found it for £90 on NYE 2013/14. Now £90 is a lot to me and Jeff. Normally we wouldn’t dream of paying that much for a hotel, but it was a special night and a special place.
Our room had the most amazing view over Gwangan (Diamond) Bridge. It was a huge suite, with a glass wall overlooking the beach and the bridge. The room had two extremely comfy double beds, a seating area, and lots of special touches such as wine glasses. They had also left us a free blanket and hand-warmers, so that we could keep warm whilst celebrating NYE.
When we checked in they gave us vouchers for breakfast, the water park and free coffees in the coffee shop, none of which we were expecting.
The best thing about the hotel (for me) was the location as I had the best view of the 2014 sunrise over Gwangan Bridge and I enjoyed watching 10,000 people celebrating the new year outside my bedroom window, whilst I was all snug in my rug with a coffee, watching from up high.
Sadly we didn’t use the water park as we had to get back to Okpo but I hope to go back one day.
Benika Sonjung Hotel, Songjeong
For our third anniversary Jeff and I wanted to stay somewhere pretty and nice but easy to get to, so we booked to stay at the Benika Sonjung Hotel which overlooks the quiet and pretty Songjeong Beach.
Benika are a chain of hotels that we have stayed in across Korea. They tend to be slightly nicer than other hotels. Most of them seem to be 4 star hotels. When my parents came to stay with us we stayed in a Benika Hotel with them in Gyeongju.
The Songjung Hotel has a great location overlooking the beach and the rooms were pretty nice and comfy. Our room was at the side of the hotel so we looked towards the headland. It was still a lovely view and we enjoyed watching the people below us having rooftop parties.
The room was fine: nothing overly special but everything worked, it was clean and pleasant and comfy.
The room cost us ₩120,000 (about £80) which is a lot more than we would normally pay for a hotel but it was a special occasion. I booked the hotel through booking.com.
Lord Beach Hotel, Haeundae
We’ve stayed in a few motels in Haeundae. The only hotel we have stayed in, and the one we took my parents to, was the Lord Beach Hotel. Hotels tend to be slightly nicer (less seedy) than motels but cost a bit more. The Lord Beach Hotel had nice rooms though they were slightly run down.
You can sometimes get some quite good deals for the Lord Beachy, especially if you stay mid-week. We’ve paid between ₩60,000 to ₩90,000 (£40 to £60).
Popcorn Hostel, Haeundae
I had five spare days in Korea at the end of my Geoje contract. Jeff had flown off to Australia before me and I had a few days to myself to potter around and say goodbye to the country; so I booked a room in my favourite part of Busan, Haeundae, and spent my final days visiting spas, hiking mountains, eating great food, sitting on the beach and thinking, and visiting the temples I had missed. For this visit I stayed in a dorm room at Popcorn Hostel.
Popcorn Hostel has a great location in Haeundae, close to Geckos bar, to the east of the resort. From the breakfast room I could see straight down the main road to the centre of Haeundae and the beach area.
The hostel was friendly and the dorms comfy. I liked the common room with it’s beachy views. One night I chilled out here and watched Taken.
The only issue I had with this place was that some people were there long term and they’d made their bunks into private rooms, which always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable when dorming it; and the breakfast set-up was slightly chaotic. For breakfast there were eggs, toast and toppings, coffee and cereal available, which you had to cook and clean up yourself. Korean young people tend to like to group cook and work together – so there were groups dominating the kitchen, and it was hard as a single person to slot in to the system.
Otherwise this was a great located, cheap and good place to stay, and if I return to Haeundae alone, this is the place I’d stay.
9 Hotel, Sasang
I spent my last night in Korea at the 9 Motel. I also spent the night before I got engaged here, as Jeff and I both flew in from other sides of the world and met up at Sasang before heading back to Geoje (little did I know, there was an engagement ring in Jeff’s bag).
The 9 Hotel is a good quality hotel, located right next to Seobu bus station. It was clean and had great rooms with computers, huge baths, fridges, slippers, big TVs and wi-fi. We liked staying here as the owner, Leo, was really friendly (he remembered Jeff from a previous visit).
There’s a large E-Mart and Homeplus near by for Western food and drinks, and the restaurants around the bus station are right next door.
There were no hotels next to Gimhae airport, so this was a good place to stay if we were flying in early or late. We booked through booking.com.
Centum Guesthouse, Centum City
The Centum Guesthouse is located in the penthouse apartment of a 45 story sky-scraper. It is a small hostel that has some of the best views in Busan. I booked this place so that Jeff and I could have a great view of the firework festival.
There are two rooms with bunk beds (one with eight, the other with six), and a living room/kitchen area. There is one shared bathroom for the whole hostel, though this didn’t seem to be a problem when we were there.
Most of the walls in this property are made of glass and so we had the most stunning views throughout the hostel. We sat on a fluffy sofa to watch the fireworks on Gwangan Bridge, and then we fell asleep over looking the lights of Centum City. In the night, I couldn’t sleep as I was sick, but it was wonderful to watch the city wake up below me. I spent hours following all the little cars, wondering who was in them and where they were going.
Breakfast was a make it yourself kind of deal, but it was good. The hostel is more of a guesthouse: staying here is like staying in your friend’s very nice apartment, but it was a great place to stay in a good location and the most perfect spot to watch the firework fesival.
I paid ₩25,000 (about £20) for a bed in a dorm room for each of us. It was a little expensive, but for the festival it was perfect. I booked the rooms through Hostelworld.
Kim’s House, KSU
Kim’s House is a cheap hostel located near to KSU and Gwangalli. We stayed in Kim’s House 2, which is located in a nice house close to Busan Museum.
The house was very traditionally Korean, which was nice. It had a wonderful wood smell. We booked the private room, which was 5 foot 8 inches high. I know that as when I stood up my head touched the ceiling. It was warm, cute and comfy though and great for one night.
The guesthouse had all the facilities you could need, such as wi-fi, computers, hair dryers etc. Like Centum Guesthouse, it was like staying in a friend’s home. The lady who ran it was super friendly and helpful.
We booked through booking.com and the room cost us ₩44,000 (about £30).
The tourist office has a really cool map for Busan, which contains loads of useful information about navigating the city, what to see etc. You can pick these maps up from the tourist information offices. The tourist offices I know about at are at Busan Station, Haeundae and Gimhae airport, but I think there’s a few dotted around the city. Or, you can download all of the guides to your computer.
When it comes to my website, this really is just an over view of what we have done and some options for Busan. There’s is so much to this city that we haven’t seen or experienced and there are much better websites than mine that focus on this city.
For comprehensive information, the best place to start is Busan Haps. Busan Haps is a monthly magazine that you can find in venues across the city. Busan Haps is a listings magazine, so has excellent information on what is happening in the city and where to eat, drink and play. They also have excellent articles about things to do in and around the city. www.busanhaps.com.
Whilst researching this page a website which I have come across a lot is City Awesome. They seem to have comprehensive listings, blogs, information about what to do and what to see in Busan, with specific information about each district of the city. It’s an easy to navigate, fun site. www.cityawesome.com/busan1.
Visit Korea is the national government’s tourism website. It has lots of info about what to see and do in the city, and it has really useful contact and visitor information, including opening hours, prices and directions. www.english.visitkorea.or.kr.
Dynamic Busan is the city’s official website. It’s written in a very Korean style, but contains lots of useful information: www.busan.go.kr. The Busan Tourism Organisation website has lots of tour suggestions:www.bto.or.kr.
Other useful sites include:
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
If you notice any mistakes, or think you have something to add to the page, please leave me a message in the comments box below.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.