Busan is a city in South Korea that has always had a special place in my heart.
When I lived in Korea in my mid-twenties, I would travel to Busan several times a year to relax on the beaches, dance in the nightclubs, and eat Busan-style ssiat hotteok, one of my favorite Korean street foods. The port city had an energetic spirit that reminded of Seoul, one of my other favorite Korean cities.
On my most recent trip to Korea, I decided that I would visit Busan again, however, this time I planned to skip the party scene to discover more of what the city had to offer from a cultural and touristic standpoint.
Love Motels (러브호텔)
When I traveled to Busan, I decided to stay in a love motel. Love motels are often depicted as having a seedy reputation because they are frequented by young lovers and unfaithful spouses.
Despite the negative reputation that they have earned, I personally like staying in love motels due to their low cost, cleanliness, and accessibility.
A love motel is similar to any motel with a few key differences. The first key difference is that they often have some kind of theme, like the one pictured above. Love motels also have special ‘products’ for those that want to engage in lovemaking, and they come equipped with full amenities including a computer, bathroom products, and a hot tub.
In Busan, I stayed at the K2 Motel (now called The Hotel 7th), located about 20 minutes north of the famous Jalgachi Market on Line 1 (red).
Haedong Yonggung Temple (해동 용궁사)
Haedong Yonggung Temple is a famous and unique Buddhist temple in northeast Busan. Unlike most Korean temples that are located in the mountains, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a rarity because it sits perched atop a hill overlooking the East Sea.
Despite traveling to Busan a number of times when I lived in Korea, I never made it over to this famous temple. After seeing it in person, I highly recommend adding it to your travel itinerary for the views and the serenity.
Curious to know more about the practice of Buddhism in Korea? Check out this article by the Seoul Times.
Hello Beaches: Haeundae (해운대해수욕장) & Gwangalli (광안리해수욕장)
Haeundae Beach is probably the most famous beach in all of South Korea. Setting the world record for being decked out in a massive amount multicolored beach umbrellas during the summer months, Haeundae is quite popular with both locals and foreigners.
If you happen to visit the spring, like I did on my most recent trip, the beach will be nearly empty with the exception of a few people relaxing and taking photographs.
Located a short subway trip away from its more famous neighbor Haeundae, Gwangalli Beach is a popular local beach in Busan that has fine white sand and the beautiful Gwangang Bridge set as its backdrop.
Unlike Haeundae, Gwangalli has a lot fewer tourists during the summer months, which means it is easier to have prime access to the water. Gwangalli also has a nice boardwalk where you can find a good selection of bars and restaurants to keep your stomach happy. At night, the bridge lights up and is quite a sight to be seen.
Busan Gamcheon Culture Village (부산 감천문화마을)
One of the most interesting places in Busan is the Busan Gamcheon Culture Village (also referred to as Taeguk Village). I knew that during my trip to the city, I could not pass up seeing the village as it kept reappearing before me all over the internet.
While some people have given this tiny village all kinds of names such as the ‘Santorini of Busan’ and the ‘Machu Picchu of Busan’, I personally think that the village, with its sloping hillsides covered with beautiful pastel houses, looks the most like the favela that I stayed during my trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Gamcheon Cultural Village is a residential area that was originally a shantytown built by Korean refugees during the era of the Korean War. Later, it became inhabited by people that practiced the Taegukdo religion.
Over the years, Gamcheon’s houses began to become more and more developed and people started turning their one-story houses into two-story houses. In 2009, the village was given a renovation by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism with hopes of turning Gamcheon into an artistic tourist destination.
The outpouring of money into the village from the local government certainly paid off for Gamcheon. These days, the village has a massive influx of tourists due to its beauty and popularity after the Korean dramas ‘Running Man’ and ‘We Got Married’ were filmed there.
Jalgalchi Market (부산 자갈치시장)
There is nothing quite like the experience of visiting a fish market. After visiting several fish markets in Asia including Noryangjin in Seoul, where I ate live octopus and Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, where I bought fish to make sushi, I was excited to be checking out Busan’s famous fish market for the first time.
The market is pretty large, composed of both an outdoor and an indoor section. For time’s sake, I only visited the outdoor portion of the market, which was lined with various stands beckoning me to try their fresh fish. I politely declined the friendly vendors as I made my way through the narrow walkway.
Ajussi Ssiat Hotteok (아저씨씨앗호떡) – BIFF Square
You know how they always say ‘save the best for last’? Well, that is exactly what I did during my trip to Busan.
Although I had eaten my fair share of hotteok in Busan, I could not pass up the opportunity to have another go at eating the savory dessert again on my most recent trip. Hotteok in the southern region of South Korea is much different than that in the north. The delicious little crunchy treats are stuffed with a variety of seeds (ssiat) and brown sugar.
One of the most famous stalls in the area is Ajussi Ssiat Hotteok which has been around since 1987. It has been said that people travel from all parts of Korea just to eat this famous hotteok which has attracted celebrities such as Lee Seung Gi.
When you visit, do not let the long line for the hotteok deter you from trying the food. The line moves very quickly and it is definitely worth the short wait!