Sitting on the south-easternmost point of the Korean peninsula, bustling Busan is the country’s second largest city. Its location along major shipping routes connecting Asia, Europe and North America has made it a top trading port but its claim to fame in tourism comes from its enchanting blend of the past, present and future.
While the Busan of my childhood was already a popular summer destination (thanks to the lovely Haeundae Beach), today it has grown into an internationally loved leisure and cultural hub. At first glance, it may appear to be yet another metropolis but Busan is blessed with an abundance of natural, historical and cultural sites that the city has gone to lengths to preserve and share with visitors.
Where time stands still
Gamcheon Culture Village is a photographer’s dream. Built overlooking the sea and spread across the steep incline of a hill, the neighbourhood is an eclectic collection of tiny, colourful houses. As you wander through its narrow alleys, it’s easy to feel like Alice in Wonderland especially with works of art—abstract, quirky and downright fun—leading the way. Your path will likely take you past the occasional gallery, art studio and café, all beckoning you to slow your steps and enjoy the moment.
Given the village’s cheery disposition, it’s unsurprising that most visitors do not know its history—that it was once a giant refugee camp. During the Korean War (1950-1953), people from all over the country fled to Busan, the provisional wartime capital. Many found makeshift homes in the village, which continued an unassuming existence until 2009. That was the year the government stepped in to spruce up the neighbourhood, and to rally the residents, artists and the local administrative office to turn the sleepy village into the creative community that it is today.
As fresh as it gets
A short distance from Gamcheon Culture Village is Jagalchi Market. I highly recommend visiting it for a taste of old Busan, both literally and figuratively. This is the grand old lady of Korean traditional markets—it’s the largest in the country, in fact. Enter its compound and you’ll immediately be greeted by an endless array of live seafood. Smiling ahjummas (middle-aged ladies) will be hawking their wares, gesturing for you to take a closer look. In the building that looms over Jagalchi Market, you can choose from the catch of the day and enjoy it freshly prepared at the dining floors above. You should also venture out along the streets, where more vendors, restaurants and fresh produce eagerly await patrons. Whether or not you choose to have a meal here, it’s quite an experience just to mingle with the locals and take in the many sights and sounds of a market buzzing with action.
Into a brand new world
Busan has undergone many modern transformations in a rather short period of time. The opening of Shinsegae Centum City in 2009 was part of this. Taking Korea’s moniker as a shopping paradise to a whole new level, the mall is the largest of its kind in the world. With 10 full floors of shopping, dining and entertainment options, there’s clearly something for everyone here. Shinsegae, which is Korean for ‘brand new world’, is also the country’s first local department store brand with a history stretching back to 1930. Inside Shinsegae Centum City, the past and present also meet in Spaland. As a modern take on the traditional jjimjibang (public bath/sauna) concept, it is a comfortable and easy, albeit less authentic, way for foreign visitors to experience Korean-style public baths.
Also in the Haeundae area is Marine City, an upscale neighbourhood credited for adding a touch of glitz and glamour to Busan’s trading port image. Here, a cluster of high-rise buildings stands proudly alongside the seafront. It’s a magnificent sight when night falls and the water sparkles with the reflection of dazzling city lights. Consider spending an evening at a rooftop bar in this area just sipping cocktails and admiring the view—many locals do!
If you prefer a calmer and quieter environment, head over to the nearby Gijang Café Street instead. Like the rest of Korea, café culture is well and alive in Busan. There are many unique and original cafes lining the streets here and most of them serve coffee with a spectacular view of the sea.
So what will the future bring?
Busan purports to be ‘the City of Tomorrow’ and I agree. It never stops learning, growing and improving. Change is constant in ‘Dynamic Busan’, and as someone who was born and raised here, I’m excited to be part of its future.
I hope you will find a chance to visit Busan soon and allow us to share our history, heritage and our vision of tomorrow with you!
Come stay with us:Citadines Haeundae Busan