Trekking around Busan

Busan Travel Blog

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You're in for a long one boys and girls -- better grab a snack and settle in.

Yesterday was my first and only full day in Busan.  Heeding the advice of my guesthouse owner, I skipped Beomeosa Temple, which is hailed by everything I've read as THE sight in Busan (but of course is also out of the way), because as he puts it: "It's just another temple.  You'll see dozens of these standard temples in Gyeongju.  It's better to do things that you can only do in Busan, to get a feel for the place."  The man has a point.

So off I went to conquer Busan, cartoon map in hand.  First stop was Jagalchi fish market, Korea's biggest, which was something of a disappointment.
Jagalchi fish market
  For starters, once you've been to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, nothing else will begin to compare.  Ever.  And secondly, this place just seemed less humane.  Sure, I watched eels being skinned alive at Tsukiji (and promptly lost my appetite), but at Jagalchi, everything seemed so much more crowded (in terms of both the fish quarters and the tiny little street with all the stalls crammed onto it, but for this reference I mean for the poor fish flopping and drowning on top of each other in suffocatingly small tanks) and painful and torturous.  I hurried through as quickly as I could.

From Jagalchi I walked to Yongdusan Park, for which you have to ride a series of eight very steep escalators to reach the park.  Pretty cool, I thought.  So different.  Who rides escalators to get up into a park?  It turns out I had the happy coincidence of being in town at the same time as Korea's food festival, so there were dozens of stalls set up and beckoning me to wander them.
Jagalchi fish market
  It was more like ingredient festival, or raw food festival, not so much prepared food as I was imagining.  But neat to wander around all the same.  I was given some bitter ginseng paste to try and a root of some sort to gnaw on and some sort of dried fish that I turned down, and as I was leaving I purchased a fresh coconut into which they drilled a hole and popped a straw, and caused me to get all sorts of double-takes and quizzical looks as I wandered down to and through the streets below; I guess walking around with a massive coconut in your hands and drinking from it isn't standard procedure in these parts.

I then took a sightseeing ferry from the busy downtown port that is one of the world's largest, with hundreds if not thousands of ships coming and going with a whole manner of freight and cargo and passengers (the ferries from Japan and various cruise ship lines among them) to Haeundae Beach, which is said to attract upwards of one million people on a daily basis in the summer time.
Jagalchi fish market
  A million people!  Every day!  As you might imagine I was expecting this to be among the biggest beaches I've ever seen, but it didn't come close.  Bondi and Manly and all the others I've ever been to in Australia easily have this place beat.  Easily.  And California's crazy deep as they are long beaches would take one look at this place and go "that's all you got?"  Even Miami's beaches are larger than this one.  I mean, it's a decent beach.  Stretches on for oh, maybe a dozen blocks or so.  But that's it.  A dozen.  I could imagine a few thousand people on the beach, perhaps even ten thousand.  But fifty thousand?  A MILLION?!?  These people must lay shoulder to shoulder and three bodies deep.  Yikes.  Remind me to avoid this place in the summertime.
Jagalchi fish market
  Yesterday it was empty; I only spotted two swimmers, and from a distance I'm pretty sure they were tourists.  Guess October isn't high season for the beach.

From Heaundae I continued my trek east to Haedong Yonggungsa, which is a temple perched on a cliff above the sea.  It's amazing.  Gorgeous.  I think as far as Korean temples go it is fairly standard in its architecture and decoration and the such (at least, that is my understanding -- I have yet to see another Korean temple, so what the hell do I know), but its postcard perfect location can't be beat.  And certainly, being my first Korean temple, with its bright colors and cheerful decoration and less somber atmosphere than those in Japan, I was duly impressed.  It really is a sight to behold.

By this time it was well after 4pm and I was beat.
Jagalchi fish market
  I started my day pretty early (after barely sleeping a WINK, due to the chorus of snores -- one absolutely horrifying and cringe-inducing, that was louder and uglier than all the rest) and had covered quite a bit of ground.  I flagged down a taxi and collapsed in his back seat, who to my delight swiveled around and happily chirped "do you speak English?"  You bet I do!  He drove me along the southern cliffs overlooking the sea, both of us screeching out "beautiful! beautiful!" like a bunch of Turret's maniacs, and deposited me at the red carpet entrance to Shinsegae, the world's largest department store.  And let me tell you, this place is BIG.  I don't think you can begin to comprehend the massive scale of this place -- I can't, and I was there.
Jagalchi fish market
  It's what I imagine three or four of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadiums would look like, sitting shoulder to shoulder.  MASSIVE.  Forget city blocks -- this place has its own zipcode.  And we're not talking Marshall Fields or Bloomingdales or Mark and Spencer -- we're talking a caliber that redefines luxury.  EVERYTHING is the utmost level of posh, like Bergdorf Goodman and then some.  When the residents along Fifth Avenue and Central Park West die and go to heaven, this is where they come.  This is luxury MECCA.  And I'm wondering around in cargo pants and a backpack.  Way to dress for the occasion.

Rather than walk around and drool at the absurd abundance of wealth that was not to be mine, I made a beeline for Spa Land, the reason for my coming to
Shinsegae in the first place.
Jagalchi fish market
 
Oncheon is Korea's answer to Japan's onsenOncheon are natural hot springs, pumped up from the earth and are mineral-rich and good for the skin.  Just as onsen are all over Japan, oncheon are peppered throughout Korea.  It's an inherent part of both cultures, and as such it is usually fairly affordable.  (Although being in the nicer parts of Japan, the ones I came across tended to be pricier and having never experienced an onsen I misunderstood and nowhere near appreciated what it was about and was all "I've soaked in a hot spring before, I'm going to save my yen and skip it.
Jagalchi fish market
"  Moronic, this one.)  Spa Land, being in Shinsegae, is ridiculously nice.  I imagine it's what the Ritz Carlton's oncheon would be like, if they built one.  We're talking NICE.  The entrance fee is equivalent to USD $12 and grants you four hours of unlimited hot spring bathing, which is considered highway robbery, as most oncheon are under $3 and you can stay as long as you like (literally, as long as you like -- they never close, and you're welcome to stay and sleep there if you so please, which I hear many travelers do after being locked out of their hostels at 3am).
Jagalchi fish market


At check-in you're given a key, which is really a tiny little computer chip attached to a stretchy rubber bracelet thing that most people wear around their wrists or ankles.  You're supposed to guard this thing with your life, as it's how you gain access to the spa and keep your belongings secure in their locker and is your means of purchasing various services.  It's also waterproof, so you literally strap it on and forget it's there.

I'd read in the guidebook of one woman's experience as she visited an onsen for the first time: "Am I doing this correctly? Is everyone staring at me? Do I look funny?" and then slipping into the water and any sort of thought or stress was gone in a blink.  My experience was pretty much the same thing.  You're in a massive locker room (men's and women's lockers and hot springs are separate) with hundreds of naked women walking around like they do this every day (and I'm sure some of them do).
Jagalchi fish market
  The towel they give you is actually a hand towel, and is more for patting yourself dry at the end, and wouldn't begin to cover your ladybits, should you foolishly attempt to.  So you rip off your clothes and try to act normal about it, poorly feigning the "yeah, I know what I'm doing" thing, and head for the showers.  (It took me a good ten minutes to find the showers, as they're out next to the hot springs and I kept looking for them in the locker room.)  You shower before entering the hot springs, and as the guidebook advised, these Koreans are REALLY getting into the cleansing thing.  There are scrub brushes and washcloths flying, and every nook and cranny is vigorously lathered and scrubbed until it's gleaming.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  To be sure I wouldn't be flagged down or yelled at, I made sure I lathered and scrubbed twice over.
Jagalchi fish market
  You then walk to the edge of the hot spring (this one had more than a half dozen springs at various temperatures and with different mineral content), sit on the edge, scoop up a bowl, and splash yourself with the water to adjust your body to the temperature.  Once you're good and splashed down (again, I'm basically mirroring everything I observe, so this was a good 5-10 minute ritual in itself) you ease into the water.  It's niiiiiiiiiice.

I chose the coolest of the "hot" hot springs (there were also cooler springs ranging from "cool" to "quite brisk" to "holy shit that's cold!," adjectives mine), which was a mere 39.5 degrees Celsius.  And for my little Fahrenheit
friends, 39.
Jagalchi fish market
5 is 103.1.  Don't know about you, but that's pretty hot.  And they only get hotter from there.  Thanks to the hot shower and the splashing with the bowl and the slowly easing in, it felt terrific.  After fifteen minutes or so in 39.5 I felt I was ready for the big leagues.  There was a spring one degree warmer, and I went nah, I know what I'm doing, and opted for the one at 41 degrees and change (which was like medium heat -- I was nowhere near the top).  Mess with the bowl splashing again?  Puh-leeeze.  I'm a professional!  Didn't you just see me soaking in 39.5?  41.6 is going to be a breeze!  I stepped into the water with one foot immersed to about my ankle, and yanked it back so fast you would have thought I was seizing.  Apparently Celsius degrees aren't to be messed with, and clocking in at nearly 107 degrees, that baby was HOT.
Jagalchi fish market
  So back to the bowl splashing and the easing I went, except I didn't go deeper than about mid torso.

It was from this spring that I noticed an older woman walking around in a black lace bra and matching underoos.  (I shouldn't say older -- pretty much everyone there was older.  As for people in my age group I was probably one of twenty or thirty, and there were hundreds of women at this spa.  But again, it was ENORMOUS, so space or being cramped wasn't an issue.)  And I thought, that's odd.  I thought it was odder still that all these naked women are roaming around not giving her any grief, whereas I was approached a few times while showering, which had me convinced I was somehow not sudsing or scrubbing properly.  So she disappears and I forget all about it and a few minutes later I notice there's a sign posted for "scrub room.
Jagalchi fish market
"  I've had scrubs at spas before, and I'm all ooooh, let's go check that out.  So I peak in and it instantly becomes clear what the deal is with the black lace bra and underoos: that was the uniform of the spa staff, the ones that worked inside the hot spring and bathing area.  There were eight or so of these women bustling around.  So one of them comes to me and points to the charges, the explanations for each in Korean.  So without any idea what each is for, I point to the cheapest (approx USD $8).  And she points to my back.  So I'm like how about this?, and point to my legs.  She points to the next price bracket ($18).  So I nod.  But then she points to my face and makes a gesture like "no!" and then points to my face and points to the higher still price ($30).
  Thirty dollars?  I don't know lady, that's pretty steep.  And then I do a double take and I'm like well Jesus, I fork over upwards of $200 at spas at home, WHAT THE HELL AM I THINKING??  So $30 it was.  I am about to make my Mama VERY jealous.

I was laid out and splashed down with buckets of hot spring water, and scrubbed and scrubbed and contorted into positions it's best not to elaborate on and scrubbed and scrubbed some more.  And before all of this she cleansed my face, rubbed different cleansers and gels and wonderful smelling concoctions into it, then wiped it off and tied my hair back.  From there she pulverized a big fresh cucumber, right there next to me (talk about active enzymes!), and applied its chilled pulpy delicious mass to my face, like a thick mask.  Then the scrubbing and contorting followed suit.
Toddling up the escalator to Yongdusan Park
  Afterward I was rubbed down with a sweet smelling oil, the cucumber washed from my face and coffee grounds and something else I couldn't place the scent of was rubbed onto my face.  Then I was pulled to my feet and sent off into the land of hot springs, dripping with a whole manner of salts and oils and coffee grounds and it was AMAZING.

I had intended to relax in a steam room or sauna, but being freshly exfoliated and facialed I opted not to, and simply showered and put on the "bathrobe," which is actually a uniform of cotton shorts and a shirt resembling a medical scrubs top.  I then exited the wet commotion of the spa/steam/hot spring/locker room area and walked through the lobby and upstairs to the plush, tranquil coed areas.  By this time it was after 6pm, and I was famished.  I went to the restaurant, which has absurdly tall (two stories? three?) ceilings and enormous floor to ceiling windows -- I mean, this place is POSH.
  They sat me down next to a window, where I got to look out over (now dark) Busan.  I ordered green tea (felt very spa and zen and apropos to do so) and fresh kiwi juice and bibimbap, which is my favorite go-to Korean dish at home, and consists of a bowl of rice topped with a beautiful array of fresh vegetables and usually an egg and some meat (except I obvs order mine sans meat).  The usual feast of assorted kimchi and side dishes and vegetables and spicy chilies and sauces were put in front of me (sadly, no photos as I wasn't about to whip out a camera in a spa and be beaten senseless for it), as well as a giant bowl of Korean miso soup and my bibimbap (sadly, sans egg).  It was DELICIOUS.  I ate every last morsel.  As for the kiwi juice, I'd never had freshly squeezed kiwi juice on its own before, and it was sublime.
  Thick yet drinkable, pulpy, icy cold, refreshing -- utterly delicious.  I was in HEAVEN.

From dinner I wandered over to the "relaxation room," which is dimly lit and has hundreds of big leather reclining chairs, each with their own personal flat screen tvs.  We're not talking leather reclining chairs like an overstuffed and squishy lazyboy, we're talking big, oversized (but not overstuffed or squishy) chairs with supple leather that just scream luxury first class.  I snuggled in with some towels as blankets and zoned out for a bit.  But I wanted to try everything!  And my four hours was rapidly coming to a close.  So after about thirty minutes or so of mellowing out, I went to a room with yoga mats and big exercise balls and a giant flat screen with beginner pilates on continuous loop.
  Did some stretches and a few yoga poses, checked my email at the neighboring business center, salivated over (yet restrained myself) the massage menu in the spa area, and made my way back to the locker room to change into my shameful travel gear and check out.  It was SO wonderful to live and feast and be pampered
like a king, if even for a few hours.  I LOVED it.

The spa was clearly the highlight of my day -- eons above all the rest.  (Especially considering thus far trying to get anywhere in Korea is an absolute nightmare, particularly when armed with a cartoon map and things aren't where they're supposed to be.)  I felt gloriously relaxed and content and the lack of sleep and the constant looking in the wrong places for ferries and temples and such was far behind me.
  Such a wonderful way to end a day.
lunitacrazy says:
You hooked me with the oncheon. I'm definitely trying that next weekend.
Posted on: Feb 20, 2016
world-traveller123 says:
busan was great as well, was there a few weeks ago
Posted on: Nov 12, 2012
zillahdeGroot says:
What a great story! I'm in Busan now, enjoying it lots.
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012
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Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Jagalchi fish market
Toddling up the escalator to Yongd…
Toddling up the escalator to Yong…
Up the escalator to Yongdusan Park
Up the escalator to Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
Korean Food Festival
View from Yongdusan Park
View from Yongdusan Park
View from Yongdusan Park
View from Yongdusan Park
Busan Tower in Yongdusan Park
Busan Tower in Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Yongdusan Park
Fresh coconut!
Fresh coconut!
Busan Port
Busan Port
Busan Port
Busan Port
Jagalchi & Busan Tower from the wa…
Jagalchi & Busan Tower from the w…
Busan Port
Busan Port
Fishing on the rocks
Fishing on the rocks
Look at all those boats!
Look at all those boats!
Taejongdae Observatory
Taejongdae Observatory
Taejongdae Observatory
Taejongdae Observatory
Taejongdae Observatory
Taejongdae Observatory
Gwangan Grand Bridge
Gwangan Grand Bridge
Nurimaru APEC House
Nurimaru APEC House
Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach
Haeundae Beach
Busan International Film Festival
Busan International Film Festival
Silk worms
Silk worms
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Goddess of Mercy - Haedong Yonggun…
Goddess of Mercy - Haedong Yonggu…
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Haedong Yonggungsa
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Shinsegae
Cool lit up sculptures outside Shi…
Cool lit up sculptures outside Sh…
Cool lit up sculptures outside Shi…
Cool lit up sculptures outside Sh…
Cool lit up sculptures outside Shi…
Cool lit up sculptures outside Sh…
Busan
photo by: yasuyo