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Busan May 19, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Busan.

Two weekends ago, we had our first days off since our arrival and were finally blessed with a 4-day long weekend. After debating for weeks where to go, we finally settled on Busan.

Busan is the second largest city in Korean with approximately 3.6 million residents and  is located on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula. As you’ll see from our pictures, Busan is a perfect example of harmony between mountains, rivers and sea. Its geography includes a coastline with superb beaches and scenic cliffs, mountains which provide excellent hiking and extraordinary views. Its deep harbour and gentle tides have allowed it to grow into the largest container handling port in the country and the fifth largest in the world. In the coming years, capacity is set to grow further with the opening of the New Port. The city’s natural endowments and rich history have resulted in Busan’s increasing reputation as a world class city of tourism and culture. While doing research for this post, I found out that Busan is actually sister cities with Montreal. This special connection simply means that Busan maintains special cultural, industrial and trade ties with Montreal and various other major cities around the globe.

KTXAnother aspect of this trip that we were looking forward to was our first experience aboard the KTX. The KTX is a high-speed train that travels in excess of 300 km/h and connects Seoul with various other larger cities around Korea. After 12 years of construction and approximately $18 billion in costs, service on the Gyeongbu Line (connecting Seoul to Busan via Daejeon and Daegu) opened on March 31, 2004. Presently using high-speed track for only part of the distance (from Seoul to Daegu), the new service cuts travel time between Seoul and Busanfrom the standard 4 hours and 10 minutes by regular train, to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Imagine being able to take a train from Toronto to Montreal in just over 2.5 hours that was smoother, quieter and cheaper (less than $40 CAD) than Via Rail. I didn’t think I could hate Via anymore than I already did, but after our KTX experience, I do. The KTX is one bad-ass mofo. I should also point out that Katie’s nickname with most of her students is KTX. She didn’t understand it at first, but has now embraced it to the point that the kids call her “KTX Teacher” as if it’s her actual name and she frequently enters the classroom running slightly slower than 300 km/h.

Many of our readers have been asking for more pictures so for the sake of this post, I’m going to post of series of pictures from our trip and include of brief description of each photo. Let’s get started.

Penguins Capitals Hockey

How great was this series? We were fortunate enough to be able to see Game 2 and Game 5 in their entirety and neither disappointed (Game 2 was the hat trick’s game). We’re in good hands with these two (and Malkin) leading the way for the next 10 years or so. What’s that Katie?…I can only post pics from the trip to Busan?…Fine.

After arriving in Busan around noon on Saturday we made our way to Haeundae Beach and started to search for accommodations. With the long weekend and Buddha’s Birthday taking place that weekend, many of the hotels were booked but after searching for less than an hour we found a reasonably priced hotel for less than $60 per night. This hotel was situated between the W and the Wynn and had two double beds and several of the amenities that were provided to us during our first hotel stay upon arriving in Korea. Since we were travelling with our friends Darren and Kirsten and knew we would be spending very little time in the room, we decided to split the room four ways which meant we were paying less than $15 per person. Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about this hotel being between the W and the Wynn, but something tells me that these names are being used without Mr. Wynn’s consent and that not too many A-List celebs frequent these establishments.

After setting in we headed for the beach.


Since the summer is still about a month away, the beach was nowhere near as busy as this picture which I plucked from the web. But this does you give you an idea of how busy it can get and how much Koreans love their umbrella’s/hate the sun. Because of its easy access from downtown Busan and the famous beautiful beach atmosphere, the beach is busy year round with several kinds of beach festivals and visitors from in and out from the country. The beach is regarded as one of the finest beaches in the world with its great night view, beautiful coast line, white sand, green pine trees, hot spring, and five star hotels.

Since the beach was relatively empty, we came upon a beach soccer game and immediately noticed one of the players who stood out from the others for some reason. Katie and Kirsten couldn’t help but stare and the gentleman was kind enough to pose for some pictures.


Katie made this next one the background on our desktop.


Keep in mind that when we first saw him, he was running on the beach playing soccer. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

ZeffAfter exploring the beach and surrounding area we retreated to our room to freshen up before heading out to dinner. We had dinner at a Japanese place which wasn’t anything spectacular and headed to a bar called U2. The bar was crammed with annoying foreigners and the band was terrible so as we finished our drinks and started discussing our next destination, Katie noticed a familiar face across the bar. For those of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning, you may recall the story of our flight here and our travelling buddy Zeff who we met in line at Pearson International Airport. We spent the entire 22 hour trip with Zeff and exchanged contact info upon arriving in Seoul vowing that we would keep in touch and get together eventually. Unfortunately we both became busy with our own new respective groups of friends and could never find a convenient time to meet up in Seoul. So imagine our surprise when Katie pointed out that the tall blond guy on the other side of the bar looked exactly like Zeff. And sure enough it was him. We couldn’t find an opportunity to meet in Seoul but by chance we randomly run into him in a bar 5 hours south of Seoul. It was like running into an old friend who we hadn’t seen in years, meanwhile we had only know him for less than a day and hadn’t seen him since. We chatted for a few minutes before leaving with our friends to head to the beach for some drinks and then to another bar where Zeff just happened to show up at later as well. We spent most of the night with him and a couple of his friends and shared stories of our first couple months in Korea. Unfortunately we didn’t take any pictures and never got a picture of him on the trip here so I nabbed this pic from his Facebook profile. The Legend of Zeff continues.

Well we’ve reached the 1200 word mark so those of you who’s legs are numb and need to stretch, or go to the bathroom, now’s your chance.

And welcome back!


Here’s a picture of the condom vending machine from our hotel room. I’m still trying to figure out what flavour an AIDS lollipop would be. I’ve narrowed it down to lemon or acid reflux.

On Sunday morning would awoke bright an early (read: almost noon) and headed for the cable car. This popular tourist destination would take us to the top of one of the highest peaks over the city. Little did we know that we were in store for much more than just some nice views.


Here is one of these views on our way up. Keep in mind that this was a relatively clear day.

For this leg of our journey we were fortunate to have our own personal tour guide. Our friend Darren had befriended and few locals back in Seoul and one of them offered to tour us around Busan as this is where she’s originally from. I don’t know what we would have done without her.


This is Katie, Eun-Jin (pretend you’re saying En-gine but then replace the “E” with a “U”. It’s still not right, but it’s close enough) and Kirsten.

The forest as the top was as close to clean fresh air as we’ve experienced since our arrival in Asia and had wonderful little walking paths carved throughout the woods. Every once in awhile you’d come upon a little hut where little old ladies (Ajumas) are preparing authentic Korean cuisine. Under normal circumstances, we probably wouldn’t have tried one of these places due to the language barrier as they didn’t provide menus, but with a Korean at our disposal it was impossible to resist.

Despite there being several tables at our disposal, we opted for the much more primitive traditional option of sitting on the ground. And as expected, the girls loved it and the guys complained and couldn’t get comfortable. Leg cramps aside, it was one of the most enjoyable (and open-minded) eating experiences we’ve ever had.


Even though we had initially requested chicken, we somehow ended up with a duck. And not just any duck, but a fresh duck which had been roaming free only hours before our arrival, and killed in the name of providing us with nourishment. Now don’t get me wrong, I love eating animals but there was something oddly satisfying and disturbing about learning of this duck’s fate. As if somehow having it frozen beforehand makes it any less cruel. Despite the moral dilemna, we decided that we would remember this duck fondly and that his family should be proud of his noble sacrifice. Our memories of this meal will be his legacy and he will be reknowned far more than if he had died of natural causes. Would you rather die early and be appreciated for your contribution to society or live a little longer and never have left your mark? The bottom line is – he was delicious.


Here is Darren being fed by the Ajuma.

After we finished our meal, we boarded the cable car and descended the mountain en route to our next destination. The Beomeosasa Temple.


With May 1st being the Buddha’s 2553rd birthday, the temple was adorned with hundreds of traditional buddhist lanterns, or as I call them – fire hazards.

Situated in the eastern part of Mt. Geumjeong in north Busan, Beomeosasa Temple was founded by venerable Buddhist priest Eusang of the Silla dynasty in 678 and largely rebuilt in the period of King Heungdeok. But I’m sure most of you already knew this.


After exploring the temple and witnessing a very cool drum ceremony performed by some Monks, we realized that the duck was starting to wear off and we went in search of our next prey meal.

We enjoyed another wonderful meal with Eun-Jin and a couple of her friends before retiring back to Haeundae Beach for a few drinks along the boardwalk and then off to bed.

On Monday we hit up the Jagalchi Market, largest fish market in Korea. The life of Busan citizens can truly be felt here. Jagalchi is famous throughout the country for the peculiar local accent of Jagalchi women, fresh fish, and noisy dealing. The fresh fish from the sea are sold via brokers to retailers at the wharf, while street stalls abound with all kinds of sea products. It’s quite a scene, and an even more powerful smell.


With the fish market being our final destination (and this post exceeding the 2000 word mark) we headed for the train station and prepared for our high-speed trip back to Seoul. We were in Busan for less than 54 hours and saw everything from Korean soccer players in thongs to Zeff to AIDS lollipops. It was a memorable adventure which we won’t soon forget.

Oh, and Darren got serenaded on the subway. Enjoy.