Busan is South Korea’s second largest city, with a population of 3.6 million inhabitants (according to Wikipedia). It is located on the southern tip of South Korea and it has the largest beach in Korea. It has hosted the APEC summit in 2005, the 2002 Asian Games, and is aiming to be a host of the summer olympics in future years.
Busan has a city slogan of “Dynamic Busan” and I can see why. It has sites, culture, decent food, and is also focused on the arts… not to mention the world’s largest department store.
Gimhae International Airport is about a 20-30 minute drive to the centre of town. You can purchase a T-money card (the deposit is refundable) and take the metro system into the town. This costs about $10.
The Busan City Tour bus is a hop-on hop-off bus that departs from different stations every 30 minutes. The bus takes you around to the major sites of Busan all for $10 for the entire day starting from 9:30 am to 5:00pm. It sounds like a great deal, of course, but it takes about a 30 minute wait on top of the 30 minute departure times because there are just so many people taking this bus (and not enough busses). As of such, I only ended up using this for one stop which made it a very expensive bus ride.
Things to See and Do
Shinsegae Department Store
This is the world’s largest department store, consisting of two different department stores, I believe- Lotte department store and Shinsegae department store. They even have a Zara and an H&M store within the department store. Most of the items are expensive but the food court has good food for a cheap price. To get here, get off at the Centum City stop on the metro.
Hyundae Beach is where most of the hostels are at. Lots of pub options, coffee shops, and the like. Hyundae beach is quite impressive. It reminds me of some of the beaches in Sydney, perfectly coiffed and groomed.
This is by far the best attraction and the best deal in Busan and it is rated the #1 attraction in Busan on Tripadvisor. The maximum allowed time is 4 hours, I was easily there for 3 hours. For $14 ($12 if you are going on a weekday, and $7 if you are going before 9am and after 8pm) you can enjoy 22 different spas fed by natural spring water (sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate baths) pumped up from 1000m underground. In addition to this, there are 13 different sauna rooms ranging from pink salt sauna room, a Finnish room (temperature was 77 degrees celsius), a hammam style room, a roman style room, and a charcoal room. Also, you can sit outdoors (jackets included) and have your feet soaked in hot sauna water. It is a traditional Korean style spa (jjimjilbang), so basically if you don’t want to see everyone else’s private parts and expose your own, this might not appeal to you. Of course, men and women spas are separated. The sauna rooms are great as you can wear the shirt and bottoms that they give you and they are co-ed. Children under 13 are not allowed inside.
Gamcheon Cultural Village
This was a beautiful town but if you don’t like walking up stairs and steep hills this probably isn’t for you. It is probably the most artistic town that I have seen. The entrance fee is free (but $2 for a mpa) and it is apparently reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy and even Santorini in Greece (I have been to neither so I cannot compare). At the top of the village you see a beautiful view of the village and the ocean.
What to Eat
I found that the best places to eat were at the Shinsegae department store food court! You can get a combo meal for around $7 here. I found that most restaurants tasted the same generally.
Where to Sleep
Most of the hostels are concentrated around the Hyundae beach area. Check out hostelworld and hostelbookers for cheap accommodation in the area. For a hostel room it will set you back about $ per day.
If you want a bit more privacy and more upscale accommodation, Hotel Ibis is near the market but very close to a metro station and quite convenient. The nightly rate is around $90 including tax for a room.
So there you have it, Busan is definitely dynamic! Readers, have you been to Korea? What did you like about it?