What’s a Chungdahm teacher to do during Chuseok 추석? Having a Monday and Tuesday off due to what is known as Korean Thanksgiving or Autumn Eve presents many great opportunities. Traveling to Busan, Korea’s 2nd most populous city, for the 4 day weekend is a great choice. Busan is located in the south-eastern province of South Gyeongsang and is a must see and bucket list item when in Korea.
Booking a Room
Seoul experiences a kind of mass exodus during this holiday, but despite many rooms being full, a great option was available through booking.com. Booking.com is a fantastic way to book a room as you can see past reviews and ratings, photos, and how many rooms remain. Another advantage is reserving the room without a credit card and paying when you arrive, but keep in mind there is a fee should you decide to cancel.
I booked a room at Terra Guesthouse which is about 50 minutes south of Busan Central Bus Terminal in Jung-gu. It had solid reviews from past guests, and I was fine with a bed in a dormitory for 3 nights. It cost KRW 40,500 for 3 nights, which is approximately $40 CAD for 3 nights or about $13 CAD per night! You can’t find a room much cheaper than that.
Quick Tip: install the booking.com app on your android or iPhone as you can keep track of all your bookings along with confirmation number. I contacted the front desk through the app by message and phone several times while commuting and it came in handy.
Commuting to Busan
I explored several options including airplane, train, and express bus. This is busy season for traveling in Korea, therefore, flying was out of the option. The KTX from Seoul to Busan is another popular option, it costs KRW 59,800 or about $60 CAD one way, and takes just under 3 hours. I really wanted to take the Mugunghwa train as it has been in operation since the 1960s, making it the oldest passenger train in Korea. However, all Mugunghwa trains were booked, despite being slower and taking over 5 hours to Busan, the appealing aspect is the wider and comfortable seating and it costs half the price of the KTX at KRW 28,600 one way.
The Express Bus was what I settled on and my ticket was purchased at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal (Gyeongbu/Yeongdong Line) for KRW 23,000. It’s not as fast or comfortable as the train, but I was willing to sacrifice a bit to save some money to use on better things while in Busan and for further traveling in the future.
It took about 4 hours and 15 minutes to reach Busan Central Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. There was a 15-minute stopover for a restroom break and to grab a quick coffee or snack. The bus quality was fine, but the seating in this particular bus made for an uncomfortable ride as leg room and spacing between seats were sparse. Next time, booking the Mugunghwa train in advance will be priority. However, arriving in Busan was the main objective.
If you have a Korean credit card you can reserve your Express Bus ticket online, if not, you can look up the schedule, fees, and seats remaining on the English site below and purchase your ticket at the station:
Getting to Terra Guesthouse
At Busan Central Bus Terminal, I proceeded to follow the signs that said “Tracks to Metro” and eventually hopped on the train starting from Nopo on the Orange Line 1. Thankfully, the T-Money card I use for the Seoul Metro can also be used for Busan Metro.
It took 24 stops to reach my destination of Jagalchi station and then after exiting the station I wasn’t too sure which direction the accommodations were located. This is where the Booking.com app came in real handy as I directly called front desk, and they gave directions. This particular hostel is very difficult to find, so I called again and the manager named Kim was kind enough to come out and find me in the middle of the busy intersection and lead me to my room.
I personally recommend Terra Guesthouse if you visit Busan, Kim, the Manager, was very warm and welcoming and made sure my stay was comfortable. The dorm room with bunk beds was up to standard as it was clean and more than sufficient for the short amount of sleep I would be having each night. The washroom and showers were clean too and it also had a nice ocean view from the patio deck.
Bupyeong (Kkangtong) Night Market (부평시장(깡통시장)
Next order of business was checking out the Bupyeong Kkangtong Night Market. This is a 15-minute walk from the guesthouse and it comprises of kiosks and vendors selling imported goods, street food, fresh fish, clothing, electronics, and anything in between. You can most definitely bargain with the vendors, I did this to bring down the prices of a couple items I purchased. As always, delicious street food is available to enjoy while walking around. For more information visit:
Jagalchi Market (부산 자갈치시장)
Jagalchi Market was a stone’s throw from the guesthouse, and it is Korea's largest seafood market, selling all kinds of fish and seafood. The smell is ubiquitous, everything from dried fish to fresh raw fish to whale meat is available to buy and eat. Walking through the market, the ajumma’s (아줌마) or middle-aged or married woman, selling the fish try to sweet talk people into eating at their designated tables, it’s actually quite amusing. This is a seafood lover’s paradise.
Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을)
To reach this popular destination, take the Orange Line 1 to Toseong station and go out exit 6. Taking a designated bus will drop you off right at the front gates in about 5 minutes. I chose to walk and it took about 20 minutes even with an uphill trek to the "Machu Picchu of Busan." Walking through the many colourful alleys decorated with paintings, murals, and sculptures is an impressive sight especially since this community used to be a slum. There are many shops and cafes nestled throughout the village and there is even the opportunity to rent a hanbok and walk around. I really enjoyed walking through the nooks and crannies of the alleyways and exploring this unique residential community on the mountainside. This is another must see on your visit to Busan.
Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장)
To get to Haeundae Beach, take the Green Line 2 and get off Haeundae station and exit either 3 or 5. It was a short 10 minute walk to the beach that was great for just relaxing on an overcast day. Not many people were swimming on this day, but it was nice to lay on the sand and enjoy the ocean. Exploring the side streets, I noticed they were lined with hotels, motels, and restaurants for the many tourists and those vacationing beachside. This area has become a very popular beach vacation destination from people all over the world.
Right near the beach is the Busan Haeundae Traditional Market (부산 해운대전통시장). Vendors are lined up offering a variety of seafood, meat, vegetables, and desserts for those hungry and looking to stock up. Please check out the website below:
Spa Land Centum City (스파랜드 센텀시티)
Spa Land is conveniently located in Shinsegae Centum City Department Store, just take the metro Green Line 2 to Centum City and take exit 12. Unfortunately, the largest shopping complex in the world, Shinsegae Centum City, was closed during my visit for the Chuseok. However, the jjimjilbang (찜질방) of all jjimjilbangs was open for some relaxation. It cost 18,000 won to use the facility and you are given a wrist band key to use for any extra purchases like massages or food and beverages. Shorts, a shirt, and towel are also provided, so there is nothing you will need to bring.
The 1st floor houses traditional saunas from all over the world along with open spaces for lounging and relaxing. The different themed saunas were my favourite as you can switch between rooms with varying temperatures and choose the room that induced the best effect for your body. Not being a fan of communal public nudity, these saunas were great as males and females were able to just relax and indulge in the therapeutic heat.
The 2nd floor had the pay for services such as massages, a restaurant and cafe, oxygen room, vibrating massage chairs, and a pc room. Another great area to enjoy is the relaxation room, where both genders can lounge or sleep on comfortable lazy-boy type chairs. I had a nice time dozing off while having a drink and listening to music. Here is the link to this fantastic Korean Sauna:
For Chungdahm teachers, if you have some vacation time or there is a long holiday awaiting, Busan is a great city to visit in Korea. While Seoul has the big city feel like Toronto or Chicago, Busan felt like being in Vancouver or Seattle as a port city. There is plenty to see and do, and I’ll definitely be back sometime in the future to explore and experience more of what Busan has waiting to be discovered.
Brian Lee began his second stint teaching in Korea for ChungDahm Learning in February 2018. He previously taught at the Main Mokdong branch back in 2013 and is currently placed at the Mokdong2 branch. He enjoyed his first time so much that he decided to come back for a second time in order to continue exploring and experiencing all that Korea has to offer. Brian is a native of Canada where he graduated from both the University of Toronto and York University.