Busan is like a fun and quirky new friend. We first noticed the feel good factor in town when standing on the platform waiting for a metro train. The train was heralded in to the station by an exuberant short burst of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons through the loud speakers. Every train in this city gets this treatment. (We later noticed other cities all had their own choice of music for their trains).
In the Nampo area of town there is a hill with a path winding up through through the trees, following this to the top we found Yongdusan Park with great views over the town and the surrounding hills covered with cherry blossom trees. Good timing as it was our 18th wedding anniversary and we were at the place where lovers come to lock in their love for eternity with colorful padlocks and messages from this viewing spot. Needless to say we were not the only couple up there and almost immediately a couple of friendly locals offered to take our photo for us. It is perhaps the only place in Asia where “single selfies” are abandoned in favour of couples photos. Having walked up one side of the hill, we decided to descend the other side and found an escalator! An actual covered, moving escalator. Rather bemused, following it to the bottom, we found ourselves in the pedestrian shopping streets and Busan’s Film festival street, complete with hollywood style studded pavements. This city is full of surprises. The “love motels” are more like fun themed rooms decorated by teenagers and not sleazy as you might expect (even if you do get a condom at check-in). We also got plenty of bathroom products (in 1.5 liter bottles) and so many other grooming items not usually found in a typical motel room, but it was the incredibly friendly service – even without communicating in a common language – that made us feel so welcome.
No visit to Busan would be complete without a visit to the famous Jagalchi fish market – visitors from all over South Korea and Japan come here just to visit this market. Wandering around and looking with amazement at some very strange sea creatures was interesting. Most shocking was the price of a lobster in the cafe above (astronomical at US $240!). More lively are the lanes around the fish market, which are buzzing with the fishermens wives selling that days catch. Around here we ate some great BBQd mackerel which came complete with extra side dishes. These side dishes are called banchan and accompany nearly all meals in South Korea and vary in the number delivered with your meal from 5 to about 15 as far as we can tell. The ladies that cooked our mackerel for a very reasonable price included drinking water and plates of kimchee, vegetables, rice and other bits, making it probably the best value meal we had in South Korea.
Specialist food areas are all over Busan. We found “Pigs Feet Alley” and “Sea Eel Alley” which do sell exactly what you think they will. The town is famous for its “Healthy Busan Fish cakes” and the wide variety of seaweed too. We have had “Korean BBQs” before but not in Korea and they are quite different in-country. Typically you cook your own at the table but we obviously seemed so clueless, the waitress basically cooked ours for us, replenishing the BBQ, dividing up the meat and refilling the banchan dishes we favored. She also helpfully told us which items should be eaten with which items and how to put them together. Another example of Busan hospitality. (More on South Korean food to follow soon). Perhaps my favourite odd moment was when two girls did an impromptu dance at the train station, or perhaps the biggest potato chip challenge. No, actually, I think it was when a whole audience applauded a water feature in a shopping centre that appeared to dance to music. Busanites are a happy bunch !
There is a YouTube clip of the water feature if you want to see it on this link :- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Df5YoxagDUM