This past week, Alex and I took a short trip to Busan. You might remember our Seoul trip from last year, and all the fun we had then. We were naturally excited to see a different part of Korea this year and while there was a disappointing lack of honey toast in Busan, we nonetheless had another incredible experience.
The Busan trip was a bit short notice. We’ve been saving all our money to ship things back to Canada (and to splurge on all the Sailor Moon goodies we can while we’re here) so when it was decided that we should take one last Asia trip while we were still in the area, we did so with not a lot of money and absolutely zero planning. Money was so tight, in fact, that we were almost resolved that this should just be a writing retreat wherein we did nothing but stay in our hotel and maybe window shop if our legs needed a stretch. Fortunately we managed to find enough cash hidden between the couch cushions to avoid this depressing fate and I’m happy to report that we were able to enjoy Busan, even on a tight budget.
When I say we did zero planning, that’s a bit of a lie. We tried to plan. We got the flights and the hotel all worked out, of course, but when it came down to deciding what the hell we were going to do when we got there, we discovered that all the recommended sights (parks, temples, museums, etc) there are in Busan are all literally an hour drive out of the city. Having only one full day to stay there, it put a bit of a damper on our plans to have to choose only one thing to see, if we wanted to see anything. In the end we decided to keep to the local area around our hotel, and sadly abandoned thoughts of going to the modern history museum, the beautiful ocean side temple, or the passport petting zoo (they have a fennic fox and a bearded dragon!)
The first thing that we noticed after getting off the plane is how incredibly friendly the people of Busan are. This isn’t to say that the people of Seoul or Kyoto aren’t friendly, but comparatively, the people we met in Busan went out of their way to help us. Since we didn’t really plan anything beforehand, we didn’t have any conveyance to our hotel after we got off the plane. Alex’s plan was just to take the subway. We found a nifty sightseeing subway map at the airport, but it unfortunately didn’t give much information by way of stops, and the characters on Alex’s subway map didn’t match up with the characters on the metro map. While we stood there, trying to understand the various rainbow of lines and understanding precisely zero Korean, we were approached by a man who asked us where we were trying to go. He obviously had places to get to himself, but he took ten minutes to explain the map to us, help us find our transfer points and then led us to the correct platform. He then transferred twice with us, helped us buy the tickets for the various lines before finally transferring to a different line himself.
Admittedly, I was getting a bit nervous at around the second transfer. Being a woman, there’s always the fear in the back of the brain that a guy being nice is expecting a reward, and in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language or know the customs so well, misunderstandings can be especially problematic (it has happened a few times in Japan already). I hate that I have to give these thoughts consideration because I do want to take people’s kindness at face value. Fortunately in this case it was kindness for kindness’s sake, and to be fair, he also took pains to avoid looking like a creeper. He left the train ahead of us and lingered near the ticket booths for us to arrive, and never looked like he was trying to follow us. In short, he was in every sense a gentleman, and we were very grateful for his help.
The hotel was a short walk from the train station, which was nice because it was raining and we were tired, and just wanted to relax for a little while. Those who remember my rants about the Ibis Hotel will be disappointed to learn that, aside from some suspicious stains on the carpet, Aventree was a delightful hotel with friendly, helpful staff and beautiful, comfortable rooms. The room was spacious with a working, modern touch screen panel controlling the air conditioning and the lights. There was plenty of snazzy counter space with a big desk and a nice lamp to work with. The bathroom was large, clean and came equipped with multiple soaps, shampoos and conditioners, a high pressure shower and motion sensor lighting. The beds (ah, the beds!) were very comfortable, with two feather pillows and a down feather comforter that I seriously considered stuffing into my suitcase before we left. But best of all, our room had an (inaccessible) closed balcony which filtered out the noise of the busy street below. In short, we were very well situated in Busan, as compared to Seoul.
Furthermore, the staff at Aventree were very kind. As soon as we unpacked our things we noticed that we had forgotten to bring our outlet adapter (see, no planning above). We went to the lobby to ask if they knew of an electronic store nearby where we could buy one and the hostess just gave us one to borrow, on the condition that we return it when we checked out. So that saved us some money, and we were only too thankful to take it. On our way out to explore the city, however, we noticed a sign on the interior of the elevator advertising the extra amenities of the hotel. Adapters, it read, were available for a $10 deposit. I don’t know if the hostess forgot to ask for the deposit, or simply decided we looked honest enough to be trusted, but we were pretty happy to be given the adapter deposit-free.
As we arrived in Busan in the late afternoon there wasn’t much that we could do that day except walk around and eat. Having not eaten breakfast or lunch that day, food became our first (and only) concern. Fortunately, the area that we stayed in is nothing but cafes, restaurants, beauty stores, iphone shops and street food. The problem wasn’t finding food, it was deciding what kind of food we wanted, or, in Korea, what kind of meat we wanted. And this is important because in Japan, meat is rare and expensive, and you always feel some bit of buyers remorse when you eat it, but in Korea it’s a dietary staple. I have yet to eat a meal in Korea that didn’t feature meat as its main course.
We settled on a chicken place that looked good, and were greeted by a server who seemed both unsettled and amused to speak English with us, but we got some jokes out between the three of us while he explained the menu. We ordered a basket of five-ways potatoes and some sweet and spicy garlic chicken and a cheese fondue on the side.
There aren’t any proper adjectives in the English language to describe how good that meal was. The potatoes were delicious, first off, but it’s hard to go wrong with fried potatoes. The chicken was absolutely to die for, and we were glad that we only ordered one dish, because it was huge. Even two starving foreign women couldn’t finish it off together. The fondue was out of this world. It was a whole new cheese experience for me, and even after we couldn’t fit anymore chicken or potatoes into our pie holes I considered eating the fondue just as it was, instead of leaving it behind. That’s how freaking good this place was!
Eventually we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and did a bit of window shopping. We didn’t buy much, having not a lot of money, but just exploring the streets of a new place was enough fun for us. We wandered back to our hotel at around eight and settled in for a relaxing night in our comfortable room.
The next day we found ourselves a cafe that served real bagels and cream cheese and a delicious mocha frappe and planned our day. There was so much we wanted to see, and so little time to see it, but since the bookstore alley was in our neighbourhood, it was the first thing on our list. After wandering a while through art alley, we came to this tiny wedge between streets that is a used bookstore lover’s paradise. The shops are tightly packed together, with floor to ceiling books. Even in the rain the books were out on display. Naturally, most of them were in Korean, but we found one store that had a pretty large selection of English books, and it was really, really hard not to spend all of our money there, especially since it was packed with art and history books, which are special favorites of ours.
After that, we went wandering around and found a covered food market which was an absolute treat to our foreign eyes. All sorts of foods were there, from vats of kimchi to halved hogs to live turtles. Most of it smelled absolutely amazing, and we regretted instantly that were were only going to be there for one more day. We spent a long time wandering in and out of the stalls. Alex was especially excited (and disappointed) to find a flower shaping cotton candy stall, but despite visiting it three times at various times of day, and having all its lights on, we never actually found the vendor.
We did find the trick-eye museum though, which was a lot of fun, despite a lot of the exhibits requiring some pretty amazing feats of acrobatics to pull off good pictures. Since it’s a permanent installation, there were a lot fewer people there than at the exhibit at the Aeon mall in Kyoto.
Night found us once again on the search for delicious food. We wandered through pig’s feet alley, which admittedly smelled amazing, but the pig’s feet themselves were too large of a commitment for us to want to attempt trying. We settled on a nice looking barbecue restaurant that had a bunch of happy, laughing young people in it. We managed to snag the last table available. The hostess brought us the small menu and we ordered pork belly, something called Boston butt, and marinated beef ribs, along with some pickled side dishes and romaine lettuce and kimchi. It was supposed to be cook it yourself, but the hostess was nice enough to help us out when we started struggling. Again, the taste was beyond description. Just amazing, all around. It was a bit expensive, but very satisfying. As we left, the hostess gave us a package of exfoliating face wipes as a gift, which was very nice of her.
Even though we packed ourselves full of pork and beef and butt, we weren’t satisfied, and so we stopped for a sweet cinnamon pancake, the likes of which we tried for the first time at the Korean festival in Kyoto last year. From there we popped on over like a pair of bar hopping drunks to a bubble tea cafe, where we brought our stomachs to the bursting point. I should note that here was when we noticed that this song had been stalking us for the entire trip:
Listen to it, seriously. You won’t be disappointed
The next day we had our breakfast at the hotel, but by that time my poor stomach had been so abused by the amount of food I’d shoveled in it that it really wanted no part in breakfast, or in the cafe we went back to for extra caffeine. In fact, it was mostly interested in walking the calories off, so we went up the outdoor escalator to Busan Tower and the park surrounding it. It’s actually a nice little retreat from the main part of the city. We bought passes to go up to the observation deck, and to the model ship museum below it. There turned out to be lots to do at the tower, but we didn’t have time to see it all. It was off to the shuttle bus, and then to the airport.
We stayed only a few short days in Busan, and didn’t move out of the ten block radius of our hotel, but we still did a ton of stuff, and consider it one of our most memorable trips outside of Japan.