[TRAVEL] The (x)clusive Guide to Busan for First-Time Travelers

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I find it a miracle how I haven’t visited Busan considering the number of times I’ve visited Korea. This time around, let me present to you the (x)clusive Guide to Busan should you be visiting the city for the first time.

To be very honest, I was really excited when I realized that Busan was included in the itinerary for the Familiarization Trip this time around. I mean, it’s Busan! What’s there to complain when I’ll be surrounded by sun, sand and sea? What more when it’s the hometown of many K-Pop artistes such as Infinite’s Hoya, A-Pink’s Eunji, NU’EST’s Minhyun and Ren, and BTS’ Jungkook and Jimin, just to name a few.

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Getting to Know Busan

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The second largest city in Korea (and home to approximately 3.7 million citizens), Busan is filled with high-rise apartments, crowded streets and a convenient transport system. Though this description may seem generic, and sound just like Seoul, it is different with points of similarity. As a first impression, the people living in Busan come off as straightforward and brusque, yet once you get to talk to them, you would realize that they are actually easygoing and friendly. They are not what you would expect considering they are living in a modern metropolis as they exhibit overwhelming friendliness and warm hospitality, usually common in the suburbs, despite the blatant language barrier, and this is definitely one of Busan’s charm in my opinion.

(A/N: Absolutely felt the friendliness when we cabbed to Haeundae Beach. The taxi uncle was confused as to where we were going since we pronounced ‘Haeundae’ wrongly. We were worried that he was annoyed as he was speaking rather loudly and we were actually scared that he would chase us out. However, once he figured out where we were going, he actually continued conversing with us and getting all excited since we were his first Singaporean passengers. Though it sounds as though he was shouting, it was actually just his way of expressing his excitement, which was really interesting for us three and we definitely fell more for this city.)

One interesting fact is that Busan is named Korea’s summer capital, as its six beaches attract thousands of tourists from throughout the country during the months of June to August. It’s definitely the city to visit should you want a slice of sun, sand and sea during the summer months.

With a prime geographical location, Busan is also the perfect example where the harmony of mountains, coastlines and cityscapes come to life. It boasts a list of impressive natural endowments, as well as a rich history, that makes it an increasingly popular tourist and commercializing destination. What more not to love about Busan?

How to Travel to Busan?

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There are a few ways to travel to Busan from Seoul – by air, train and bus.

By Air

There are daily flights from Seoul to Busan and vice versa via various airlines such as Korean Air, Asiana, Air Busan and Jeju Air. Flight duration is about an hour. For exact flight timings, you can refer to their respective websites.

By Train

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Busan is actually pretty well connected on the Korean rail network and a main hub for the high speed KTX trains.

The KTX trains from Seoul take around 2.5-3h, while the cheaper alternatives such as the Saemaeul trains and Mugunghwa trains take around 4h 45min and 5h 30min respectively.

Tickets for the trains are easily available for purchase over the ticket counters. You can also purchase them at the automated machines in the stations since the machine is available in English language as well. However, I would strongly recommend you to make your purchases in advance online on their website and collect them via your credit card on the day of travel. This comes in handy especially if you plan to travel during peak seasons, when tickets could sell out quickly. So do not take the risk and purchase your tickets in advance. The price for one way standard ticket is around 55,000KRW. Should you be travelling to other cities, do consider getting the KORAIL PASS instead as it’s definitely cheaper. There are options for 1-7 days passes and should you travel in groups, a discounted price is available as well. Click HERE for more information with regards to the pricing.

My recommended way of travel to and fro Busan would definitely be via the KTX trains because the journey isn’t that long and is in actual fact pretty manageable. The seats are comfortable and more spacious that the flight seats, with ample leg space to stretch. Snacks are available for purchase should you get hungry on your journey and the best part of all, there is actually free Wi-Fi (It’s slow and limited, but hey, that’s better than nothing, right?).

By Bus

There are various options by bus from the different bus terminals in Seoul. Pricing for each ticket ranges from 20-40,000KRW depending on the type of seat you are getting. Travelling time would take around 4.5h.

Should you decide to depart from Seoul Express Bus Terminal, you can visit HERE for more information with regards to the bus timings and availability.

Directions to Seoul Express Bus Terminal: At Express Bus Terminal Station (Seoul Subway Line No.3/No.7), take the underground passage that leads to Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Follow the Gyeongbuseon Line signs which are posted everywhere in the station. Do note that Line No.3 offers an easier route to the terminal than Line No.7.

How to Travel in Busan?

Getting a Transportation Card

Liken to Seoul’s T-Money (and our very own EZ-Link Card), in Busan we have the Hanaro Card/Mybi Card. The cards can be used for the Subway, Light Rail, Taxis and Local Buses. The physical card itself costs around 6,000KRW and you can top-up the cards at almost all the subway stations and some of the convenient stores. These transportation cards also offer a 10% discount off the subway. If you leave a train station and get on a bus within 30 minutes, the price of the bus fare will be reduced to 250KRW. The minimum subway and bus fare cost around 1,200KRW so it’s pretty much the same as the cost of the public transport in Singapore.

Do note that Hanaro Card/Mybi Card can also be used in Seoul. Likewise, the T-Money system card that is used in Seoul can also be used in Busan. So if you already own a T-Money, you do not actually need to get a Hanaro Card/Mybi Card.

Busan Subway Guide

The subway system in Busan is less complicated than the one in Seoul. There are 5 lines that make up the subway system in Busan.

Here’s a map of the subway system for your easy reference.

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Busan City Tour Bus

For those who are sceptical with regards to exploring on your own, there is another easier alternative which is the Busan City Tour Bus, where you could choose the loop tours (where you can hop on and hop off the bus as many times as you want with a day ticket) or the themed tours (where reservation is necessary beforehand).

The point of departure for the Busan City Tour is usually in front of Arirang Hotel at Busan Station Square. Should you take the subway, you could alight at Busan Metro Station, Exit 8 or Busan Railway Station, Exit 1.

The fare for adults is 15,000KRW and children at 8,000KRW.

Do note that there are NO SERVICES ON MONDAYS unless it is a Public Holiday. So do make sure you check before you travel.

Places to Visit in Busan

Considering the time spent in Busan, a mere day and a half, we tried covering as many places as we could and here’s a short list of the places we’ve visited and think that you should as well.

Places Visited

Jagalchi Market

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The biggest fish market in Korea, you get to enjoy the freshest seafood right off the port here. Absorb the sight of affectionate Jagalchi ajummas and ajusshis shouting across the stalls as they welcome you. The vitality of these sellers is what makes this fish market unique. At here, it’s where I see the biggest shells. Have you ever seen clams the size of your fist? This is definitely the place you would want to visit if you are curious to see a variety of seafood in XXXXXL size.

Direction: Jagalchi Station (Line 1, Exit 10). About 300m towards Jagalchi 1-gil on foot.
Website: jagalchimarket.bisco.or.kr

Gukje Market

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Gukje Market is Busan’s largest traditional market. Liken to Seoul’s Nandaemun Market, you can totally feel the old-fashioned marketplace spirit right here at Gukje Market. The shops at Gukje Market sell an assortment of products, including both new and used items. Since vendors deal with both retail and wholesale sales, items are relatively inexpensive and reasonably priced. The shops usually open from 0900h to 2000h, but are closed on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month.

Direction: Jagalchi Station (Line 1, Exit 7). Go 30m, turn left and walk straight for about 5min to reach the market.
Website: tour.bsjunggu.go.kr

BIFF Square

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Having been renovated as a cultural tourist attraction, and promoting the advancement of Korean’s film industry, the BIFF Square has indirectly contributed to Busan’s new found status as an international cultural tourist city. Try spotting the various handprints of both movie celebrities and renowned directors at BIFF Square. Another reason to love BIFF Square is the street food that can be found here. If restaurants dining is not your style, you will definitely enjoy eating the various street food offered here.

Direction: Jagalchi Station (Line 1, Exit 7). Walk straight, turn left. About a 5min walk after exiting the station.

Gwangalli Beach / Gwangandaegyo Bridge (Diamond Bridge)

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Coupled with the Gwangandaegyo Bridge (more commonly known as the Diamond Bridge), the Gwangalli Beach is the place to be to enjoy some amazing night scenery. At night, the Diamond Bridge lights up, creating a picturesque image as it cuts across the sea. We arrived at Gwangalli Beach since early evening in an attempt to catch the sunset but it was too cloudy that evening. Nonetheless, we witnessed a pretty shade of orange-pink, which definitely compensates the wait.

Fun Fact: The Diamond Bridge acoustic system and three-dimensional scenery lighting system comprised of the largest scale bridge LED lighting system in the world.

Direction: Gwangan Station (Line 2, Exit 3 or 5). An approximately 700m walk is needed before you reach the beach area. (A/N: Should you have no idea where to walk, just follow the crowd since almost everyone is literally walking towards that direction.)
Websites: gwanganbridge.bisco.or.kr / gwangalli.suyeong.kr

Haeundae Beach

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Haeundae Beach was literally packed with people when we arrived, which goes to show how popular this beach must have been. Finally witnessed the signature umbrellas being lined up in neat rows, we were surprised that every single one of them in the main beach area was occupied. It was a pity we could not stay longer as it honestly would have been an amazing experience to spend some time under one of those rented umbrellas and take in the amazing weather. After all, summer is all about the beach experience!

On a random side note, if I were to visit Busan again, I would love to call for some food take out here at Haeundae. I heard that the take out service in Korea is super amazing and despite the wide beach area and identical beach umbrellas, the take out restaurant would still be able to find you amidst the crowd. I really, really want to try that out for myself. However, if any of you out there is willing to conduct this experiment for me, I’ll be thankful!

Directions: Haeundae Station (Line 2, Exit 5 or 7). A 600m walk is needed towards the direction of Haeundaehaebyeon-ro.
Website: sunnfun.haeundae.go.kr

Shinsegae Centum City / Spa Land Centum City

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The Shinsegae Centum City Department Store is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest shopping complex in the world. This is the place to fulfil all your shopping needs, however, it is pretty much similar to our very own Ngee Ann City, so do not expect the pricing of the items to be cheap.

Nonetheless, what caught my attention at Centum City, was definitely Spa Land. Spa Land Centum City is a gigantic modern jjimjilbang (Korean-styled sauna/spa) located inside Shinsegae Centum City Department Store. This spa is like no other and definitely takes the jjimjilbang concept to a whole new level. Rather than the usual jjimjilbang that are usually family and friends-focused, Spa Land offers a more refined and upscale experience. No, I haven’t had the chance to experience first-hand, but this is definitely on my to-go list the next time I step into Busan! Though there is a 4-hour limit per visit, the pricing seems affordable considering the lavish interior and services.

Directions: Centum City Station (Line 2). The station is connected to the shopping complex.
Website: centumcity.shinsegae.com

Taejongdae

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Located at the southernmost end of the Yeongdo Coast, Taejongdae is my favourite out of all the places I’ve visited in Busan! It offers a beautiful view of the ocean, cliffs and on clear days, one can even spot Japan’s Tsushima Island.

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Admission to the park is free, but many people (me included), would usually opt for the 2,000KRW ticket to board the Danubi Train* that will take you to designated locations around the park. You can definitely walk as well, but as a heatwave warning was issued during the period we were in Busan, we decided to opt for the easy way out. The roads are inclined at an angle so do remember to wear comfortable shoes should you decide to take on the challenge of walking around the park.

*The trains leave in approximately 30min intervals, so the wait may be long, but they usually move pretty quickly.

Something memorable that happened that morning was when we witnessed a mini forest fire, where bouts of black smoke could be seen in the direction of the forest area at Taejongdae after we alighted the bus. Volunteers were shouting at us to take note of the small calamity and to be careful but as we could barely make out what they were shouting, we continued our journey. It was only when we heard the sirens from the Fire Engines and Ambulances that we realized the situation on hand. A memorable incident to start our day in Busan that’s for sure.

Directions: Nampo Station (Line 1, Exit 6). Transfer to bus 88 or 101 and get off at Taejongdae stop.
Website: taejongdae.bisco.or.kr

Place I Want to Visit Next

Having spent limited time in Busan, I came out with a few places I would like to visit during my next trip to Busan. So here’s a few more alternatives should beaches not be your travel style.

Gamcheon Culture Village

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Dubbed as the Santorini of Korea, Gamcheon Culture Village was on my to-go list since forever. However due to time constraints during this trip, I wasn’t able to visit this ‘Lego Village’. Famed for the sculpture of ‘Little Prince and Desert Fox’, it has become a photo zone for tourists visiting the village. Friends who had visited the place mentioned that every alleyway and every turn is photo-worthy, where art installation pieces coupled with graffiti could be found all around the village. It’s like treasure hunting, but this time around for Instagram-worthy shots. Should you be in Busan, do give this place a visit. The photo above was snapped by Wilson, who was on the same familiarization trip as us. Doesn’t the picture make you want to visit the village?

Directions: Toseong Station (Line 1, Exit 6). Transfer to Seo-gu Town Bus 1-1, 2 or 2-2 and drop off at Gamcheon Culture Village.
Website: www.gamcheon.or.kr

Oryukdo Skywalk / Oryukdo Galmatgil (Igidae Park)

Having heard how beautiful the place is, all I want to do is take in the coastal scenery as I stroll along Igidae Coastal Walk should I have the chance. At Oryukdo Skywalk, one also gets a bird’s eye view of the sea, which sounds like an ideal spot for some self-reflections. If a break from the bustling city life is your cup of tea, you should probably give Oryukdo Skywalk / Oryukdo Galmatgil (Igidae Park) a chance.

Directions: Kyungsung University / Pukyong National University Station (Line 1, Exit 3 or 5). Transfer to Bus 27 and alight at Yongho-2-dong Resident Centre. A short walk towards Igidae is needed.

Sampo Coastal Road

Sampo stands for Mipo, Cheongsapo and Gudeokpo Villages located between Haeundae Beach and Songjeong Beach. Hikers on Sampo Beach Road can visit lighthouses with various shapes and ports in quiet fishing villages. Sounds like an ideal destination for some quiet soul searching, am I right?

Directions: Jangsan Station (Line 2, Exit 1 or 3). Walk 900m towards Cheongsapo entrance crossroad and then another 500m towards Dalmaji Eoulim Madang.

Food to Eat in Busan

To be honest, the food listed below are probably not what the locals will recommend but these are the food we ate during our short stay here. Not too sure if Busan is famed for anything special, but here’s our food list if you are curious!

Fresh Sashimi / Live Octopus

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Where better to eat seafood than in Busan. As such, during our visit to Jagalchi Market, we had fresh sashimi and live octopus for lunch. To be very honest, I’ve no idea what fish we were eating, but it tastes good and had no fishy aftertaste. Even our friend who has never tried raw fish took a bite, so I guess it is not that bad. The live octopus was pretty disappointing though since it was not moving thus we could not have the complete experience of tasting it. But seafood, checked.

Pork Soup

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This was a hidden gem to be honest. Tucked at the corner before entering Jagalchi Market, this Pork Soup is my favourite. It’s actually pretty bland tasting, but after you add the Salted Fermented Shrimp/Chincharo(?) (새우젓), it’s a dish to die for. Certainly wouldn’t mind having it every day because it’s the ultimate comfort food.

Street Food

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I know street food is nothing special since it’s available in Seoul as well, but the hotteok here is a little different from the usual ones you can find. It comes with cinnamon as well, but coupled with sunflower seeds. Plenty of the hotteok stalls here have been on TV before so don’t be surprised if you have to queue to get a taste of it.

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The usual favourites of odeng (fishcake on sticks) and tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) are must-eat items as well.

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Our favourite street food has to be this chicken-tori. So so sooooo savoury. We were even kind of sad when we went back the second day but the stall was not there anymore.

Chicken and Cola / Beer

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What can go wrong with Korean Fried Chicken? After a day out, nothing beats having some chicken in your system. Best coupled with iced cold beer (for those who can drink) and cola (for those who can’t).

Naengmyeon / Kimbap / Kimchi Jjigae

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Settled one of our lunch at Kimbap Cheonguk (known as the chain store for affordable Korean food) and nothing beats a bowl of icy cold naengmyeon in summer. We also had cheese kimbap along with kimchi jjigae, and this is where you can get a simple yet super fulfilling meal should you decide to fulfil your cravings for Korean food.

Festivals in Busan

There are many festivals in Busan and with regrets, I didn’t manage to attend any this time around though Busan Sea Festival was happening the week I was there. Two caught my attention when I was browsing through the list so should you plan your trip, you could definitely try to include them in.

Busan Fireworks Festival

This is the biggest fireworks festival in Asia, held along the entire area of Gwangalli Beach and Gwangan Bridge every October. More than a million of local and overseas tourists enjoy this annual fireworks festival, where diverse fireworks are coupled with a splendid laser show, backed up with theme music. Who doesn’t love fireworks and should you visit in October, you know what to do!

Busan International Film Festival

Busan International Film Festival is one of the most significant film festivals in Asia. The focus of the BIFF is introducing new films and first-time directors, especially those from Asian countries. Another notable feature is the appeal of the festival to young people, both in terms of the large youthful audience it attracts and through its efforts to develop and promote young talent. If you are into movies, then this is the right festival for you to attend. More information can be found HERE.

Random Side Notes

Busan Satoori

Having limited interaction with the locals in Busan, whenever I have the chance, I am always amazed at the Busan Satoori used. I was confused initially as I could barely make out what they were saying but after some simple conversational starters, you get the hang of understanding it. Now that I think about it, the Busan Satoori just makes the interaction more intimate and personal. It’s kind of different from the usual Korean Seoulites used, but it’s pretty much understandable, if you are worrying about not being able to comprehend what the local Busan people are saying.

Seagulls

When you think of Busan, you think of seagulls. At least that’s what watching Korean variety programmes taught me. To my disappointment, despite visiting the beaches, I didn’t see a seagull at all. And let me reiterate, NONE AT ALL. Perhaps it’s the places that I’ve visited, but I definitely added this to my next to see list in Busan.

Ending Rambles

Hopefully this guide will be useful should you be heading to Busan for the first time. And on a random side note, do remember to NOT wear canvas shoes should you visit the beach for a more wholesome experience. I totally regretted not wearing a pair of slippers and my shoes unknowingly ate up mouthful of sands, which was a chore to clean up. Do not make the same mistakes as I did!

This article is brought to you by Korea Tourism Organization (Singapore). Stay tuned for more as (x)clusive brings you more exciting stuff with regards to our summer escapades in Korea earlier this month. Next up would be more out of Seoul adventures, so stay with us.

MORE PHOTOS!

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