A Love Letter To Busan
Living abroad, how this city became my first love
Before we met
There once was a time I had never even heard of your name. It’s inconceivable to me now.
While completing my TEFL course in Prague, we hadn’t decided on a country yet, let alone a city. Should we choose Japan, China, or Taiwan? I hadn’t even considered South Korea.
But our friend from our course showed us the light. He recommended a country with jobs where your school not only gave you a generous wage but provided you with accommodation on top AND paid for your flight there. It seemed too good to be true. But I looked into it, and yes, this was the package deal.
Down the internet research rabbit hole, I fell. The further I fell, the more it became clear that, yes, Korea was the one for us.
As for where to live in Korea, I’d only heard of Seoul. The colossal capital was like the sun in the middle of many satellite cities orbiting around it. I enjoy cities, but I didn’t know if I wanted that much city upon city.
Then in the ex-pat forums, I found the holy grail. Busan. The second-largest city in the country. It’s the perfect balance of metropolitan and traditional — city life and nature.
A domestic tourist hotspot is known for its beaches. This was my first time living abroad, and coming from cold, rainy England, I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to live near the beach. Sign me up.
Love at first sight
Adapting to life in Busan
Everything was so new to me. All those minor aspects of everyday life that you don’t pay much attention to became a whole new challenge. Things like how do I pay my bills, work out the local subway system, know what to order off the menu or how to shop for food at the local market? It was all alien to me, but I loved it. I loved figuring out the puzzle of how to live abroad.
My Korean co-workers were angels and helped me get set up. They even did things like take me to the bank to help set up my bank account or to the mobile phone shop to get a contract. I am forever grateful for their kindness.
My Western co-workers, too, showed me the ropes. They took me to their favourite restaurants, out on day trips at the weekend, and introduced me to their friends.
The community of foreigners (waygooks) in Busan was so tiny that it wasn’t long before I knew every one of them in this big city.
There are so many little things that I miss about life in South Korea, you can read them all here 👇
Busan’s beautiful beaches
There are many beaches in Busan, but the two most famous are Haeundae and Gwangalli.
Haeundae is the somewhat flashier of the two, and my God, it is HUGE. It’s insanely busy in the summer but also one of the best places in the world for people watching. I loved the elaborate picnics that families made. I loved watching old ladies bury themselves in sand fully clothed, the volleyball matches, the lifeguards patrolling on Jet Skis, and dutiful boyfriends pulling their girlfriends along on rubber rings.
The fashion was gorgeous and preppy. I was always amazed at how pulled together Koreans are in the sweltering hot and humid summer. They put me to shame time and time again.
Busan beaches have festivals and events all summer, one of the biggest being the sand sculpture festival in Haeundae. Sand artists come from all over the world to draw pictures in the sand.
Gwangalli beach, however, is where my heart truly lies. In the summer, the roads are closed off at night, and it becomes one giant promenade. The atmosphere is so sweet and lovely, everyone is there, of all ages, having good old-fashioned fun. You had to puzzle over whether you wanted Ice cream, patbingsu (shaved ice dessert), candy floss, potato spirals, drinks, or BBQ.
There was always something interesting going on, be it an impromptu puppet show or a full-scale break dancing competition. Then the sunset over the suspension bridge is something to behold.
Gwangali is also the beginning of my favourite coastal walk, the Igidae Coastal walk. This is a must-do in Busan!
Another wonderful coastal walk is Taejongdae Resort Park, a little peninsula of rocky cliffs just outside the city.
Temples to visit
If you’re into culture and history, Busan has it in spades. There are temples galore. You could discover a new one every weekend if you wanted to.
Some of my favourites were hiking up to Seokbulsa. The hike was rewarding enough in itself, but seeing these giant Buddhas and temple guardians carved into the cliff walls is something special.
There’s also Haedong Yonggungsa, otherwise known as the temple by the sea, which has stunning views over the ocean.
Samgwangsa Temple needs a mention of the unbelievable lantern festival held there every May. It is peppered with thousands of lanterns, creating a canopy of coloured light overhead. It’s truly spectacular.
Gamcheon Culture Village is an adorable day out in a brightly coloured arts district, with lots of public displays, sweet cafes, lookouts, and tiny galleries.
If you visit in October the Busan International Film Festival is not to be missed! It’s the largest film festival in Asia and there are always some spectacular and intriguing films on offer.
One of the great things about Busan is all the hiking opportunities dotted around the city. As I mentioned before, the hike up to Seokbulsa Temple is fantastic, and it is part of a network of trails in the region that leads to Geumjeong Fortress and Mt. Geumjeong (the tallest mountain in the city).
Hwangnyeongsan and the connected Geumnyeonsan Mountains also offer incredible views looking over the city.
Food glorious food
I would be loathed, not to mention how incredible the food is in Korea. I have written a whole other love letter entirely dedicated to my favourite dishes.
You can read that here 👇
As a foodie, I enjoyed Busan’s many markets, particularly Jaglachi Fish Market, which is enormous and vibrant with every species of fish and seafood that you could imagine.
You can read more about Jaglachi Fish Market at 👇
I also developed a slight obsession with Cat Cafes!
Shop till you drop
Speaking of shopping Seomyeon is awesome for its maze of underground shopping beneath the Lotte department store. Perfect for getting all your Korean beauty essentials. Man, I miss Korean beauty essentials! The BB creams, the Jeju volcanic clay masks, the snail slime creams, the serums, the makeup, it was beauty heaven!
And if you want to go all-in, Busan is home to the world’s biggest department store, Shinshegae! You could spend all day in this place and you should. It also has some fantastic restaurants and a grand food hall. It’s home to Busan’s most famous spa- spa land, (but I never went because it’s a naked spa, and I’m a bit of a prude).
You can read more about what it’s like to shop in Korea at 👇
One of my favourite things about Busan was just how textbook-perfect the seasons were.
Summer was hot and sticky with every spare moment spent at the beach. Autumn, the changing foliage in the mountains, made for the perfect hiking season. Winters were ice cold and snowy but with bright blue skies.
But the best time of year in Busan was the Cherry Blossom season (late March to early April). If you are lucky enough to be here during this magical time of the year, you must go for a romantic stroll or bike ride along Dalmaji-Gil (road). It’s like living in a fairy tale.
I love that living in Busan helped me to tackle my fear of public speaking by teaching English. Teaching children how to read was incredibly rewarding, and it helped me meet some incredible people and learn so much about Korean culture.
Read more at 👇
This is all just scratching the surface of a year and a half, filled with happy memories.
There are so many things that I will miss about my life in Korea. I have written a story dedicated to listing just some of them.
Busan, you will always have a piece of my heart. I love you.
Thank you for reading! Hearts and tips are always welcome and your support is very much appreciated.
About the author
Hi! I’m Georgie and I share travel stories of when sh*t happens. I think that sometimes the worst things that happen to you traveling, are often the funniest
Follow me on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/sh.t_happens_lost_girl_travel/
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