4 days of exotic food and technological cities in Korea
AsiaJapan, South Korea4 days / September 2019
Highs & Lows
Going up the Lotte tower
Apparently blankets are not standard in some South Korean hotels
After a brief but well spent week in Japan it was time to jump to the next destination: South Korea. Planes are convenient, but boats are a lot more fun! so I decided to take the ferry. I took the Camellia line, one of two ferry options to cross the Tsushima/Korea strait from Fukuoka (Japan) to Busan (South Korea). You can take the day trip which takes five hours or the overnight trip which takes eleven. I took the day trip since I always want to see it all, even if it’s only the open sea. After going through customs I boarded the ship and was assigned a place in a bunk. There was an onsen inside the ship with a big window to enjoy the view, so I grabbed a beer and relaxed. I was one of only two westerners in the ship, also the only ones enjoying the onsen and the beer vending machine. A very exotic sail on the other side of the world indeed. Walking around the ship you realize it is super quiet, so unlike other ferries I’ve been in, there’s absolutely no music or any loud activities going on and most people were sleeping even though it was noon. Make sure to have enough Yen or Won to spend on the ship, your dollars or euros are worthless here.
When I arrived at Busan, from first sight I realized how wrong I was for thinking it would be very similar to Japan, the city was a bit more disorganized but somewhat more alive and it had a more relaxed vibe. I took a cab from the Busan port to the hotel, it was only 5000 won (roughly USD 4.00) so this easily became my only conveyance, although busan has a very efficient metro system. After checking in the hotel it was time to explore the city. I had a hard time communicating since my phone wouldn't work here and english is less widespread, but locals tried their best to help me find my way and somehow I ended up in Jung-gu District sipping soju and eating ultra spicy mini octopuses with some old folks. I walked around the district to get an impression of the korean nightlife and found the beautiful Yongdusan Park where the Busan tower stands. The view from the tower was amazing! The Gwangbokdong Food Street and the Nampo Dong Market are also worth visiting to try some local food or buy souvenirs. Busan is a city where korean hi tech and laid back beach vibes mix wonderfully.
I took the fastest train I found from Busan to Seoul. It took about three hours across the countryside and the beautiful hilly landscape. When I got to seoul central station I found myself in the middle of this concrete jungle, super wide avenues with huge futuristic buildings everywhere. I stayed three nights in a tiny, back alley hotel just two blocks away from the station. First day I walked all the way to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, it took about 30 minutes and I got to see the Sungnyemun Gate and the Gwanghwamun square on the way. Once I got to the palace I got a glimpse of antique korean culture, architecture and even music. This is one of the most picturesque spots of the trip, with a lot of people wearing the traditional hanbok. I regret not booking a guided tour on this one. Next I went to explore the Bukchon Hanok village, it is some sort of historic district of the city. Going up the Lotte tower (the 5th tallest skyscraper in the world) was not on my plans, but I gave it a chance. Stepping on the skydeck is totally worth it, here I could see just how massive this city of green rooftops is. The legend says you can see North Korea from the tower top, but I can't confirm. My plans of going to the DMZ were frustrated by a national holiday I was not aware of, so I spent my last day in Seoul exploring the Gangnam district and bar hopping in Hongdae.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
I would have stayed a couple more days in Busan to see the Haedong Yonggung Temple
Anything go wrong during the trip?
I couldn't go to the DMZ because of a national holiday
Different kinds of Korean bbq's. If you don't tolerate spicy foods make it very clear to the waiters.
Tips you would give a friend?
Some foreign phone companies don't work, buying a local chip will save the day
Seoul can get a lot colder than Busan so bring a jacket
If you are not in super tied budget taking taxis everywhere is not so bad, although in Seoul there are two kinds of taxis: the regular ones and the "luxury" ones which are black, so it is better to take the colorful ones
In the hotel in Busan there was only a plain mattress and a cover, no blankets, I tried my best to explain that I needed a blanket. This is so weird when the hotel was rather nice
hoteles.com was the cheapest option