Sunday, January 2, 2011

Starting the Year in Busan

Busan is the 2nd largest city in Korea after Seoul, located in the southeast corner of the country. I've been wanting to visit there for a long time, but was waiting for a 3-day weekend since it's over 4 hours away by bus. My school was nice enough to give us the Friday of New Year's weekend off, so I caught a bus with Aaron Friday morning.
There was still at least 6 inches of snow on the ground in Gunsan, but as the hours went by, there was less and less snow to the south and east. We didn't have to go very far for me to feel like I escaped the bleak, icy roads of Gunsan. The weather is Busan is known for being nicer than most other parts of the country, not as humid in the summer, and warmer in the fall and spring. We checked into our hotel after navigating the (yeah! new to me!) subway system. Our first stop was the Fish Market, the largest in Korea. It was late afternoon and chilly, but beautiful clear skies and as good a day as any for people to buy and sell all sorts of seafood.

It was New Years Eve, so we got ready to go out for the night. I wanted to do something fun, but not too crazy, as I long ago decided that tired and hungover is no way to start a new year. A friend had recommended an Indian restaurant, and I was excited just to eat some much-missed ethnic food. The food was good, the wine was delicious and affordable (rare in Korea), and the decor was lush, over-the-top, and romantic.
Then to Gwangan Beach for a chilly stroll and view of the city and bridge lights. Fireworks were for sale and families were lighting them off along the shore. Then to a bar chocked full of more foreigners than I've seen in one place in a long time. We listened to good music, did the countdown, sang Auld Lang Syne, people-watched, and turned in not-too-late.
I feel like in every other post I mention how much I miss Western breakfasts, so of course I had to seize the opportunity for one in Busan. At an Irish pub/cafe the next day we had eggs, baked beans, fried tomato, toast, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and coffee. It was noon and there were definitely people who had not been to sleep yet. The guy at the table behind me had a bleached mohawk and was drinking a beer and said a prayer over his food. Later as I was about to leave, the server brought around jello shots for every one. It seemed like a novel idea, but after some deliberation I decided to pass, and my shot was gladly accepted by the table next to us.
With full bellies we walked along Haeundae Beach, possibly the most well-known beach in Busan. Apparently it is completely packed with bodies in the summer time, and I'm glad I could go when I had a little more breathing room. But for a cold winter day, there were still quite a few people out walking around.

We came across this sand sculpture, and I didn't even realize until later that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit. After the beach, we headed to northern Busan to a jimjilbang. Jimjilbang is a Korean spa, and this one was called Hurshimchung which is known for being the biggest one in Korea, and ostensibly all of Asia. From the women's locker room, you go up into the tub area, which is a beautiful and grand upstairs room with domed glass ceilings and many pools and shower areas. There are hot tubs of different temperatures, with oriental herbs, with foots soaks, with falling water, dark caves, outdoor tubs, cold tubs, saunas, swimming, you name it. It was packed on the first day of the year, full of families with kids running around, starting 2011 with health and cleanliness. Of course, I couldn't take pictures, but here is a picture from Google Images of the inside.
After the tubs, you can get a tropical-looking flowered shirt-short set to go downstairs to the co-ed area where there are several saunas, a resting room, an oxygen room, massage areas, and a snack bar. It would have been more relaxing if it weren't packed to the brim with people, but it was still an awesome experience. In the evening, we went to a German-style brewery, the first brewery I've been to in Korea. The beer was better than your average national brew, but nothing to write home about. It tasted like sour lemon-hops water, and if there are any brew masters out there reading this, I'm sure you could find a job in Korea real fast. I appreciate that they are trying though, and maybe in years to come they will get the methods and recipes dialed in.
On Sunday morning we went to Beomeosa Temple, which was lauded in my guidebook as being Busan's "most impressive sight". I like temples and it was beautiful, but after 10 months of being in South Korea and seeing many temples that all look the same, it was nothing new. Still it was a gorgeous morning and great to be out of Gunsan.

We stopped for lunch after the temple, a typical and casual Korean meal of chamchi kimbap (seaweed roll filled with rice, tuna, pickled radish, and other veggies), kimchi fried rice, kimchi stew, and side dishes such as (you guessed it!) kimchi, marinated bean sprouts, kimcheed radish, and fish cakes. Before getting on the bus home we wandered through a market in Nopo-dong, where I got some dried persimmons. Here they dry them whole, so they end up resembling an apricot, and they are delicious. Overall I really like Busan as a city and am so glad I could ring in the new year here.


Katherine Jenkins said...

Hi Amber! How goes it in Korea? Looks like you had a fantastic New Years Eve in Pusan! I miss Korea when I look at your pictures. I have a very good friend still in Pusan. I should have connected you two, but am just reading your post now. Hope you are having a good time still!

AmberAnda said...

Hi Katherine! Thanks for your comment! Yes, I am still enjoying myself here, though I'll be ready for a change of scenery when the time comes. It's colder than I'm used to, but as long as I can still get outside to walk or ride my bike, I'm happy :) I really liked Busan and am glad I made it down there. Thanks for reading and take care!