City Guide

Four Hours in Busan

4 Mar 2009

 

Feast on Seafood

South Korea’s main port Busan is bursting at the seams with fresh seafood. Apart from the well-known Jagalchi Fish Market, the neighbouring area of Nampo-dong holds many delights – like Halmae Hoeguksu (Gwangbok-dong Street, tel 82 2 246 4741), a restaurant whose name roughly translates to “Granny’s Raw Fish and Noodles”.

This restaurant is, in fact, run by a grandmother. Too shy to allow her name to be printed, she has been cooking up a red-hot signature mix of ray, soft noodles, vegetables and secret spices for over 50 years. Locals in the area are familiar with Halmae Hoeguksu, so if you can find one who speaks English, they will likely be able to point you in the right direction.

If you do get lost, however, you won’t be overly disappointed, as the quarter is lined with street food outlets, whose steaming scents may even entice you away.

Bum around the beach

Despite the city teeming with tourists during the summer and that it is difficult to find a spot to fully recline on the beach during the off-peak season, Busan is fairly serene. Residents of South Korea’s second-biggest city seem very used to the fact that they live next to the ocean, and you’ll rarely bump into anyone during a dusk walk along Haeundae Beach.

Grab some hot Busan odeng (a flat fish cake skewered on a stick and boiled in broth) from the truck parked near the Westin Chosun hotel before you head to the beach. Then, as the moon rises, walk along the beach to the port to watch the fishermen sort out their nets.

Duck into a café-library

Dalmaji Gogae, or “Moon Watcher’s Hill”, rises to Busan’s rear and features cosy cafés and restaurants with stunning sea and city views. The road up the hill explodes with cherry blossoms in the spring, a floral display that has been getting earlier in the year as the average temperatures on the Korean Peninsula rise with
global warming.

You’ll have no trouble finding a café to duck into, but one of the neighbourhood’s truly unique features is the Choori Mystery Library (1488-9 Jung 2-dong, Haeundae-gu). Established by mystery author Kim Seong-jong, the library stocks thousands of detective novels that you can sink your teeth into over tea. With wireless internet, it’s also a great place if you have to get some work done but don’t feel like shutting yourself inside your hotel room.

Despite the fact that aficionados countrywide come to bask in the glow of Kim’s shrine to suspense, you don’t have to be in the mood to read. You can always soak up the view from the Sherlock Holmes café. Take a taxi to Dalmaji Gogae from downtown.  Cabs are plentiful in Busan and rides are cheap.

Go AU NATURELLE (in a bath house)

Also on Dalmaji Gogae is the Vesta Spa (www.vesta.co.kr). No trip to Korea is complete without a visit to the jjimjilbang or sauna. It is not something you would be able to experience in an environment where different sexualities are more openly accepted.

A naked experience in the most literal sense of the world, the sex-divided jjimjilbang has a wide range of different temperatures and flavours of hot tub and sauna for you to bask in. You can stay in as long as you like, and when you’re finished in the tub, you may want to don a robe and take a snooze on the heated floor.

As in any Korean city, jjimjilbangs can be found all over the place, but the Vesta is special in that it has an outdoor balcony from which you can enjoy the ocean view while letting it all hang out. Fitness and spa facilities are also available.

Try your luck

Although no visit to Busan would be complete without a meal of abalone porridge or eel cooked in the local style – simmered in spicy sauce in a tin-foil bowl – the food can get a little overwhelming. A lot of it is either moving (read: alive) when you order it or still moving when you’re getting ready to tuck in.

For a break from all that, head for the Paradise Hotel (tel 82 51 742 2121) at the eastern end of Hyundae Beach. The Café Terrace (tel 82 51 749 2232 3)
provides excellent Western-style brunch in an exquisite environment overlooking the ocean.

If you’re feeling lucky, visit the casino, but only if you have your passport with you. All the gaming facilities in South Korea, except one, are designed for visitors, and no Koreans are allowed in.

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