Some people say that it’s the people you meet who will make or break your trip. It’s more or less true when I think of my short stay in Busan.
A beautiful port city in the south, Busan has a rich history and culture that feels all too different from the coldness of Seoul. While Busan is a vibrant big city, not unlike Seoul, it has a slight touch of a grandmother’s loving hand.
On my first full day in Busan, we had breakfast together with the host’s family and the other two guests—a first. The Airbnbs we chose in Seoul were obviously operated as corporations, where I didn’t speak more than 3 sentences to the hosts. Sitting down for breakfast was a pleasant experience where we got to learn more about the culture and the host. He gave us recommendations for the routes to take to see as many things as we can in just the short two days we had there. Our stops were going to be the Gamcheon Culture Village, Jagalchi Market, and Taejongdae.
This is where the crazy begins.
My friend felt sick and decided to stay back while I went onto explore Busan on my own. I managed to get to Gamcheon Culture Village, a previous shooting location for an episode of 1N2D S3, where I immediately regretted my decision to a) Not bring sunglasses b) Not bring sunscreen and c) Wear jeans. The weather cleared up miraculously, giving way for the sun to hit my face like a ray of death. Perhaps it was nature’s way of telling me to be careful of what will happen to me later—but I didn’t catch on until it was over.
As I was about to finish up my touring of the culture village, I asked a middle-aged lady to take a photo of me. She was with two of her other friends and she very happily helped me take several photos. After thanking her, I moved onto the attraction I was looking for, a wall installation with hangul characters called 향수 (Hyang-su)—Nostalgia. I was taking a photo of the installation when someone tapped my shoulder.
Turning around, I see a lady who spoke to me in Korean straightaway. “Are you travelling by yourself?” When I asked her to repeat herself, she asked me again, only this time explaining that her friend who took the photo for me just minutes ago said I reminded her of her daughter, and that they have a car and will be going to Gukje Market.
“Do you want to come with us?”
As the good girl that I am who knows how to look after herself—I said yes.
Mind you, I don’t recall any lessons from my parents teaching me about stranger danger, probably because they were always around. When they finally stopped watching me, I was already old enough to understand that it’s probably not a good idea to follow strangers. Except this time there must’ve been something in that free breakfast I got from my host.
I even fell asleep in the car. Twice.
They ended up driving me to Taejongdae instead of going to the market like they planned. They walked around with me on the uphill trails, even though two of them were having some problems with their knees. They took care of me as if I was their niece and looked at me with kindness. I am so thankful that they were just people who wanted to take care of somebody who was alone. They hoped that their daughter would get the same experience when they travelled abroad as well. I easily could’ve been trafficked, but the heavens were kind to me that day.
Aside from possibly dying or getting mugged or sold, my day in Busan was beautiful. From the colourful sights of the Gamcheon Culture Village (and basically a leg workout), to the beautiful Taejongdae where I saw the rush of the southern sea, and to the delicious food I had at Gukje Market, I was quickly falling in love with a city that wasn’t mine to have. I will not forget the way the ladies smiled when I told them I learned Korean from watching so much TV, and when I wolfed down the food at the market after barely eating anything the entire day. While Seoul was just hot—Busan was warm like family.
1. Try not to leave for Busan on a weekend. Getting KTX tickets will be difficult, especially if you do it last minute.
2. Check for any major holidays and make sure you’re not travelling during that time. I happened to crash into Memorial Day, that’s why there was so much traffic.
3. If you want to take a photo with The Little Prince, go there in the morning and make it your first stop. Once more people arrive, there will be a long line up.
4. If you are going to Gamcheon Culture Village in a group, don’t bother waiting for a bus and just split a taxi. It’ll only cost you about ₩5,000 and it will be faster and more comfortable. The village buses are tiny and while I got on the bus, I was standing right on the steps where people use to get off the bus—not the most pleasant experience.