If you’re a K-Pop/K-Drama/general K-entertainment fan, you would’ve probably already heard a million and one things about South Korea. More often than not, just Seoul alone.
And if you haven’t been to Busan, I have oh, only about 10 reasons why going to Busan will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
The second largest city in South Korea, Busan is a world-class port city that is known for its beaches and mountains. Unlike the countryside-ish Jeju Island, Busan has more than just beautiful and sprawling nature to offer because of its city life as well as its shopping! In short, it’s the best of both worlds.
Here’s a list of Busan wonders that’s making me want to go back, stat!
1. Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장)
Probably the most popular beach in South Korea and the main attraction in Busan, Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장) spans 1.5km long with an area of 58,400㎡. The name “Hae Un Dae” was given by scholar Choi Chi-Won, who was fascinated by the beach and carved the words “Hau Un Dae” on a stone wall. It’s quite a hit with tourists as scores of them visit the beach annually between June to August, and it’s easy to see why. The sand on the beach is clean and white, composed of sand from the Chuncheon Stream and shells that have been naturally eroded by the wind over time. It makes for the perfect place to hold cultural events, festivals, games, and even buskers.
I was there just last week and it’s Autumn in South Korea now so there were less beach activities, but still makes for quite a nice place for a stroll.
2. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사)
About a quarter of South Koreans are Buddhists, which explains why Buddhist temples are such an integral part of the Korean landscape. In fact, most temples in the country boast impressive architecture designs, and one of the more impressive ones is Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) in Busan. First built by Buddhist teacher Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1376, the temple is located on a cliff right next to the sea. Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (Seawater Great Goddess Buddha), Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary, Yongwangdang Shrine, Gulbeop Buddhist Sanctum (enclosed in a cave), and a 3-story pagoda with 4 lions can all be seen looking out over the ocean. The sound of the waves hitting the rocks mixed with the soft Buddhist chants does kind of lull you into a state of meditation. In not so many words, it’s very “zen”.
Fun fact: There’s even an underground praying chamber that holds drinking water which is said to make people 10 years younger. Tried it. Not sure if it worked for me.
3. Gwangan Bridge or Diamond Bridge (부산 광안대교)
During sunset, at first glance, the Gwangan Bridge (otherwise known as the Diamond Bridge) resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Stretching over 7.4km from from Namcheon-dong (Suyeong-gu, Busan) to Centum City (U-dong, Haeundae-gu), the Diamond Bridge is the largest bridge over the ocean in South Korea. Whether you’re looking at it from a distance or overlooking nearby attractions (Gwangalli Beach, Dalmaji Hill) from it, it’s a feast for the eyes. At night, the Diamond Bridge is dotted with beautiful lights that changes every day and every season, which makes for a pretty romantic setting. And if that’s not enough to satisfy the curious tourist in you, you can even book a yacht to go around and under the Diamond Bridge!
4. Yacht B
If, like me, you’re a city slicker who hasn’t had the opportunity to go on a luxurious yacht ride because you live in a place like say, Kuala Lumpur, with no beach in sight, then Busan is your jam. With so many sailing and yachting opportunities, you’d be hard pressed to find time to do anything else. Depending on the package you choose, the features vary in terms of things to do and the time you’ll spend on the yacht. I went with Yacht B, which offers both regular sightseeing tours as well as functions on the sea. While on-board for about an hour, I got to experience the foot soak and pig out on barbequed light snacks.
The yacht’s journey started from the yachting center in Haeundae, past the scenic marina of Busan, and drifted at a rendezous point below the Gwangan Bridge. Not something I’d forget anytime soon 🙂
For more information on Yacht B, visit their website.
5. Gamcheon Cultural Art Village (부산 감천문화마을)
Despite its poor history, the Gamcheon Cultural Art Village (부산 감천문화마을) is a sight for sore eyes. I was told that the village was once the poorest part of Busan, with houses barely big enough to fit a family of 3 and no proper sanitation. During the Korean War, refugees fled their homes for Busan, which was the only part of the Korean peninsula that North Korea never held. But the original owners have either passed on or moved out, leaving behind a heritage settlement. As such, the government decided to “dress” these houses up with pastel paints, wall murals, and art installations, and turned it into what it is today – the Gamcheon Cultural Art Village. It still has its little alleyways, which makes it all the more quirky. And some houses have either been transformed into tiny stores or cafes. No wonder people call it the “Santorini of the East”.
It’s easily Asia’s artsiest little town. But that’s just my own opinion, of course. Feel free to pay the Gamcheon Cultural Art Village (armed with a camera, of course) and see it for yourself!
6. Dalmatigil Cafe Street
South Korea is very heavily influenced by the Americans be it fashion, brands, technology, or other trends. In fact, the coffee culture has taken South Korea by storm, with cafes and coffee joints mushrooming all over the country. Busan has an entire street dedicated to this trend, called the Haeundae Dalmatigil Cafe Street. The street is lined with internationally known coffee outlets like Starbucks as well as popular Korean cafes such as Angel-In-Us, Hollys Coffee, A Twosome Place, Tom N Toms Coffee, Coffee Gurunaru, and more. A big plus point is that Haeundae Dalmatigil Cafe Street also offers a nice view of Haeundae Beach.
My opinion? Skip the Starbucks outlet and go for any one of the many Korean cafes. They’ve got awesome desserts (waffles, “bingsu”, cakes) to boot too 🙂
7. The Bay 101
When in a marine city, don’t pass up on the chance to soak it all in. And where better to get the best of both worlds (city and beach) in Busan than The Bay 101?
The Bay 101 is a yacht club and a new-ish hotspot in Busan where you can have beer, fish & chips, coffee, and ice-cream while soaking in the fantastic, sprawling landscape. On one side, you’ll get a pretty perfect view of the sea while on the other side, you’ll come face-to-face with Busan’s towering city skylne. And by nature of it being primarily a yacht club, there will be yachts and boats docked along the bay as well as ongoing sailing activities. I imagine this to be a great place to hang out after work for drinks or on weekends catching up with friends. I kid you not, it’s nice to just sit back, take deep breaths, and watch the world go by.
8. Gwangbok-dong Fashion Street (광복로문화패션거리)
I thought that I’d be able to escape splurging (on shopping) while I was in Busan but boy, was I wrong. And no, nobody has to go all the way to Seoul to buy their favourite innisfree/Tony Moly/Etude House/Nature Republic/Missha/The Face Shop sheet masks by bulk because Busan has it very own “little Myeongdong” called Gwangbok-dong Fashion Street (광복로문화패션거리)!
It’s easy to guess why it’s called “little Myeongdong” as it houses many brands that you will find in the Seoul’s Myeongdong. There, you’ll be able to find the famed Korean skincare brands and fashion outlets plus everything else from Foot Locker to ABC Mart, and even standalone stores for kicks such as Onitsuka Tiger, Reebok, Nike, and more. The Gwangbok-dong Fashion Street is also where the absolutely delicious number one Busan street food Ssiat Hotteok (seed-stuffed pancake) is available. So good that I went back for seconds.
9. Haeundae/Dongbaek Park Observation Deck
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never seen a observation deck as long Haeundae/Dongbaek Park’s. It snakes along the Haeundae beach cliffs next to Dongbaek Park and eventually leads to the Nurimaru APEC House. The trick is to really take your time while walking along the deck because the scene from the deck is beautiful so it is the best place to stop and snap the best landscape shots e.g. selfies, panoramic pictures, wefies, Instavideos, groupfies repeatedly! Somewhere along the way, you might see a familiar little mermaid statue sitting on the rocks, overlooking the sea. The statue represents Princess Hwangok from the Naranda, a country of mermaid and mermen beyond the sea. Legend has it that she married King Eunhye of the Kingdom Mugung but she missed Naranda so much that she shed many tears longing for her homeland as she gazed at the topaz bead given by her grandmother-in-law.
Familiar story? Yes, it’s pretty much Haeundae’s version of Denmark’s “Little Mermaid” fairy tale.
10. Seafood Galore
When by the beach or anywhere remotely near the ocean, for that matter, expect seafood. Lots of seafood. So trust me, spend about a week in Busan and you’ll never eat another piece of seafood for awhile. By nature of it being a port city, it means that fresh produce from the sea is an abundance. But the good thing is that by nature of it being South Korea, there are also restaurants that serve Korean barbeque. In Busan, they get the best of both worlds – awesome seafood and awesome Korean barbeque. The portions are huge too, what with the various types of “banchan” (side dishes served with Korean cuisine) so just be prepared to really pig out while you’re there.
Note: Some restaurants in South Korea serve a minimum of 2 pax per table so if you’re a lone traveler, it might be difficult for you to dine in a restaurant.
Special thanks to our friends from AirAsia X for flying me to Busan and for the wonderful experience 🙂
*Skytrax World Airline Awards 2015