Since Russia doesn’t celebrate Christmas at the same time as us, I had to work until the 31st of December. So as soon as I was able, I flew off to South Korea. I left my house at 8:00am when it was -20°C (-4°F) and walked to the bus stop. Since I was headed to warmer weather, I opted to leave my thick winter coat and winter boots and instead wore tennis shoes and an autumn coat. That made for a particularly cold wait at the bus stop. It seemed like an eternity waiting but it was probably more like ten minutes. The bus ride was only about 15 minutes so I got there pretty quickly.
After a 3 hour flight, I made it to Incheon. From there I was going to Busan. I had the option of flying, taking the train, or taking the bus. It might be surprising but I actually don’t really like flying at all. I prefer other methods of transportation, as evidenced by the time I chose to drive 24 hours round trip to Colorado over the summer instead of flying. But due to an ongoing Korean Rail strike I decided it was safer to take the bus. The bus leaves every two hours from the airport, but I arrived just after one left. Luckily it’s pretty easy to kill time in Incheon International Airport, consistently ranked one of the best airports in the world. I did a tiny bit of shopping, had a coffee, and then picked up some snacks for the bus: an aloe vera juice and honey butter potato chips (delicious).
To be honest, I was disappointed by the 5 hour bus ride. In my head I was picturing a beautiful tour of the Korean mountains and other landscapes, but it turns out that in the winter most of the trees and plants are dead and the mountains weren’t as nice as I imagined (Maybe I’ve been spoiled by BC…). I bet the drive would be beautiful in the Fall though with colourful foliage. We had a brief stop halfway where I got out, stretched my legs, and got what I think was takoyaki (delicious).
Finally I arrived in Busan a little bit after the sun had set. My friends Sunny and Michelle met me at the bus station. Sunny’s parents had come too and drove us all to a seafood grilling restaurant by the water. Platters and platters of various seafood came to us which we then cooked ourselves over a central grill. Apparently the youngest person is supposed to do the cooking and serving (which would have been me) but Sunny’s mom took pity on me and did the cooking. Some of the food like eel tails and abalone would move when you put it on the fire which was super gross and kind of distressing.
Thanks to Sunny for this photo!
I also learned some Korean drinking tradition. Soju is the drink of choice of course. We had some plain soju which was actually nice and smooth and some lemon flavoured soju which was a bit sweet for my taste. You’re not supposed to fill your own glass in Korea; always let someone else do it for you. Before drinking you toast by saying “Geonbae!”, and if you’re drinking with people older than you present, you should turn your head away from them while drinking, like you’re trying not to let them see.
Despite being New Years Eve, we went to bed early. Especially since I had lost two hours and hadn’t got a lot of sleep the night before. We woke up around 4:45am the next day to go out to Gwangandaegyo Bridge to watch the sunrise. Apparently watching the sunrise on New Years is a big tradition in Korea. In Busan, the bridge is blocked off so pedestrians can walk out to view the sunrise. It was pretty cold waiting up there, but we had a good spot. The sunrise was beautiful. When we turned to leave, we were surprised by how many people had come! We didn’t notice while focussing on the horizon, but nearly the whole bridge had been filled.
After fighting our way through the crowds, we desperately searched for an open coffee shop to get our caffeine fix. We went to the Bexco Centre but it was closed and across the street an Angel-in-us coffee was closed also. Finally we found an open café where we got some coffees and something like big fluffy French toast topped with tonnes of whipped cream and it was really sweet but tasty.
After that, the three of us went to Can Market, a large street market in Busan. But first we decided to swing by Book Seller’s Alley, which was unfortunately closed, apparently since it was New Years. There’s a cool set of stairs there though with a children’s picture book painted on the walls. Unfortunately some of the “pages” were painted over so now there’s no ending.
After that, we went to the Can Market. There we tried some rice cakes (delicious). There were three different colours: white, brown, and red. My favourite was red, Sunny liked brown, and Michelle liked the white, so it worked out really well. The ladies at the stand even gave us some extra since they liked me!
We window shopped a bit at the market but didn’t buy anything. Then we stopped at another little stand where we had stuffed tofu soup (super delicious). This was one of the most delicious foods I had in Korea.
Thanks to Sunny for these photos!
Next we went to the Busan International Market, which is a street with lots of food stands. We played a shooting game in an arcade that was really difficult and then we sampled a lot of the food. We started with rice cakes and fishcakes in spicy sauce (eh) which is apparently one of the most popular Korean street foods and Michelle’s favourite. Then we had flat dumplings wrapped around a spicy cabbage and squid mixture with vinegar (super delicious!!). This was hands down my favourite street food. It was so good. Oh man I want some more now. Then for dessert we had seed-filled hotteok (delicious) which is similar-ish to a donut but not sickly sweet. It was pretty good.
Thanks to Sunny for these photos!
After this we went down to Gamcheon Cultural Village which is a beautiful little village overlooking the sea. There are lots of cute little shops there and art. And the houses are all really colourful. There are winding little alleys that go through the homes and we got a little bit lost there, but we got to an overlook on top of a roof where you could see the whole village.
Thanks to Michelle for the top three photos!
Then we went to the island and watched the sun set behind the Gwangandaegyo Bridge where we had stood this morning.
After that we went to Haeundae district to find some dinner. We ended up eating spicy seafood stew (delicious). Busan does seafood really well. After dinner, we walked along Haeundae Beach which is a famous place there in Busan. It was a nice looking, sandy beach. There were people there setting off fireworks and loudspeakers announcing that it was illegal to set off fireworks. Finally we returned to the AirBnB, where I had a long conversation with the sweet host lady. She was really nice and gave me some travel advice for other parts of Korea that I should visit someday.