The first thing most people say when I tell them I’m visiting Korea is, “Where to? Seoul? Jeju?” Those places are popular for good reason, but you’re missing out if you leave Korea’s second largest city out of your itinerary.
We’ve put together a list of the 5 places you should stop by:
1. Gamcheon Culture Village
Google Busan and Gamcheon Culture Village is likely to be one of the first few searches that pop up. This is also one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing in person. More than 200 houses are stacked one of top of the other, resting on foundations of rock cut from a mountain.
In the 1950s and 60s this place was originally a slum after refugees from North Korea and the Northern part of South Oorea moved here after the war. They built houses out of anything they could find, including fish boxes procured from fishermen. After two revamps in 1970 and 2009, it now pulls in droves of people keen to cafe hop and line up at photo spots for selfies.
Aesthetically it’s reminiscent of a little Cinque Terre or Positano nestled in Busan. I enjoyed sipping my smoothie at one of the nearby cafes and gazing out at the cheery little houses. This cafe also offers one of the best views of the village and lets you bypass the queue of people outside waiting their turn to document the moment for the ‘gram. Speaking of which, the vast crowds during the weekend is rather off putting to me. Plan to come during weekdays and steer clear of national holidays. The items sold here lean towards the pricey side too; try not to buy anything you’ll be able to find elsewhere in Korea, like clothes and accessories. If you must get something, Gamcheon Culture Village specific paraphernalia and souvenirs are a good bet.
2. Bulguksa Temple
History or cultural buffs would want to include Bulguksa Temple in their itinerary. Note that is this located in Gyeongju, about an hour’s drive from Busan. At the time we visited, beautiful multi-coloured lotus lanterns adorned the temple to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. This temple was destroyed during the Japanese invasions known as the Imjin Wars (1592–1598). It has since been restored over the centuries based on ancient descriptions and manuscripts. Sadly the temple complex today is only a fraction of the original’s sprawling splendour. Despite being a shadow of its former majesty, the temple still inspires awe. One can only imagine how impressive it looked backed in the day.
3. BIFF Square
BIFF Square’s food street was made for ravenous Singaporean appetites. Row upon row of sweet, savoury and sometimes strange flavours all waiting to be devoured. Come with an empty stomach. You’ll want to allocate a couple of hours for exploration and wanton gluttony. This was one of my favourite places; I only regret not eating more. I don’t recommend fashion street however, it was frankly a disappointment. I came expecting Korean street fashion but was greeted with tables of mainly imitation accessories and piles of socks. The branching alleys were reminiscent of Bugis Street, minus any attractive clothes.
4. Salon Chaconne
Salon Chaconne was one of the best finds on this trip. When we stepped in we were greeted by the light, lilting melodies from Lala Land played by a violinist, flutist and pianist trio. The owner herself is a professional violinist. Come see the musicians every week on Saturday and Sunday at 8p.m. for a free live performance and let their music accompany your meal. The sight of their cheesecake brought immediate exclamations of delight. Made to resemble a giant slab of cartoon Swiss cheese, it tasted a bit like Crème anglaise with a touch of lemon.
5. Hilton Busan
I cannot recommend the Hilton Busan enough. Your experience here starts right when you walk in the door and are greeted by their iconic arched chamber. It’s made to evoke a sense of awe and luxury the moment you step in and does a damn good job of it. It sets up your expectations for what you’re about to experience and then, impossibly, manages to surpass them. To sum it up succinctly; wow.
Designed by architect Sungjin Min and opened for business in July 2017, The sheer size of the hotel room is astounding, from the massive super king sized bed (a fellow traveler told us she could roll from one end of it to the other 3 times) to the pool, which is the biggest outdoor pool in South Korea. I love how thoughtfully the power outlets and USB outlets were placed, one on each side of the bed, prominently and within easy reach. In other hotel rooms you would have to hunt high and low for them, even resorting to unplugging lamps or fighting your partner for the side of the bed that has powerpoints (totally speaking from experience). The bathroom was spacious as well with twin sinks, a shower and a bathtub.
My only gripe is they do not offer complimentary Wi-Fi. I’m only willing to overlook this because everything else was wonderful.
Flying to Busan with SilkAir
In the past it used to be a bit more troublesome to get to Busan because it required a stopover in KL or some other place in the region, depending on the airline you take. With SilkAir’s new direct flights to Busan, getting there is a breeze. Busan is SilkAir’s first ever Korean destination, with SIN-PUS flights leaving 4 times a week, each flight lasting about 7 hours long. On the trip back to Singapore the weather was kind to us and the pilot managed to shave almost 2 hours off the total flight time.
In honour of this new destination, you’ll now be able to order Korean cuisine such as Beef Bimbimbap and Beef Japchae for your in-flight meal. These dishes are sure to whet your appetite for all the Korean meals you have to look forward to on your trip.