South Korea is very much an underestimated country when it comes to travel, and is not mentioned as often as it should be. Busan must then be considered one of the most underrated cities in the whole of Asia. Without a doubt, it’s on my list of all-time favourite cities. This is a list of the top 10 highlights in the fabulous city of Busan.
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The top of the list is taken by what is claimed to be the “most beautiful temple in Korea”. This is as much as you’d expect from a temple which began construction over nothing less than a dream. Located on a cliff’s edge on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, Haedong Yonggungsa was built in 1376 under the leadership of the royal consultant Naong Hyegeun. This was the very man who lay the foundations for Buddhism during the Joseon era (1392-1910).
As the country was suffering a terrible drought which resulted in crop destruction and famine, the Korean people began losing faith in Buddhism. It was the catalyst for Naong’s dream of a sea god telling him to build a temple at the edge of Bongrae Mountain, which would solve the country’s problems.
Statues of the Buddha and various halls are scattered across the coast with the waves crashing against the rock’s edge. The sound of crashing waves is the rhythmic beat to the chanting of prayers across the temple’s grounds. It’s truly an extraordinary temple in even more spectacular surroundings.
Nestled amongst the forest-blanketed mountainside of Geumjeongsan Mountain, Beomeosa Temple is yet another spectacular temple Busan has to offer. Passing through several gates you’ll enter the courtyard into a still-functioning temple working away to the rhythmic taps of the monks on instruments.
Constructed by monk Ui Sang in 678, the temple has been home to many devoted monks since its restoration following its destruction during the Imjin War. Within the courtyard, there are several halls of various sizes. Some including Daeungjeon Hall set a fine example of Joseon Dynasty design. Every hall is filled with a regular loyal gathering of Buddhist and worshipping visitors alike.
The entire temple has a peaceful soundtrack of kneeling devotees and their murmured prayers to the rhythmic beat of Buddhist monks tapping away at their instruments before the shrines. It’s an amazing opportunity to sit back and watch the amazing spectrum of devotees worshipping in the tranquil oasis.
Placed within the forest-blanketed mountains of Geumjeongsan, it’s possible to explore outside of the temple, delving into the wilderness. There’s a guided pathway through the surrounding forestry which holds an untold number of plant species. So beautiful in fact that the surrounding woodland and valleys have been designated a natural monument.
The temple like others found in Korea offers a unique opportunity to experience your own enlightenment. Beomeosa partakes in the temple-stay program, which allows visitors to experience Buddhist culture and daily life.
Gamcheon Culture Village
This is a truly quirky attraction and certainly one of the best photo opportunities that the area has to offer. Gamcheon Culture Village is the result of students’ efforts in 2009 which turned this once mountainside slum into one of Busan’s biggest tourist destinations.
Gamcheon Culture Village has an unusual opposing visual spectrum. Clear evidence of “slum life” yet vibrant pastel colours bathing the entire mountainside downwards towards the coast. An extraordinary amount of buildings are stacked upon each other linked with narrow steep walkways that lead down towards the coast. This has earned the village the nickname of “Machu Picchu of Busan”.
The students’ make-over resulted in practically every structure along the hillside being given a bright vibrant colour and a selection of artwork placed on walls, roads and everywhere in between. Artwork varies from murals to graffiti and everything in between. The results speak for themselves.
With the plastic surgery came an influx of businesses looking to capitalise. Among the different streets are several galleries, cafes, nick-nack stores and such welcomed to keep increasing the area’s economy.
This less-than-humble fish market is the largest found throughout Korea, in the prime fishing destination. Busan’s booming development is in no small part due to its advantageous coastal location and the harvest of the sea. Evidence of Jagalchi Market’s influence seeps into the surrounding streets. Each merchant within a mile radius is flogging their own display of sea life on offer for your consumption.
The enormous market has been a landmark of the city ever since the Korean war when it was solidified as a purely fish-orientated market. Within the seemingly endless expanse of the market, you’ll find consecutive rows of endless aquariums separated by each individual’s personal storefront. The classic Scooby-Doo scene of repeated vendors and aquatic life selling identical products seemingly to infinity.
Any and every fish, crustacean, mollusc and everything in-between found in God’s blue seas can be found at Jagalchi Market. Some of the truly mammoth proportions, beyond what you would think possible for a meal, including creatures truly unidentifiable.
Not only do you get the spectacular display of aquatic life for sale, but they’ll also cook whatever you buy! All items purchased can (and SHOULD) be prepared on the second floor above the market. Simply pick and pay for your preferred option from the selection of countless female vendors. These lovely women are known as “Jalgchi Ajumma”, harshly translated as Jagalchi middle-aged women. They’ll lead you upstairs with your catch of the day and hand them to the chefs who’ll prepare it for you in classic Korean fashion with all the trimmings.
UN Memorial Cemetery
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery is dedicated to over 2000 fallen members of the UN during the Korean war (1950-53) and is the only existing UN cemetery worldwide. Within the enormous grounds of the cemetery, the open fields have been segregated into groups represented with each nation’s flag along with their victim’s graves and monuments.
The most striking thing about the cemetery is the staggering amount of nation flags that flutter throughout the grounds. Flags of 16 nations, each nation that fought under the banner of the UN. These included the more obscure nations such as Thailand, New Zealand, Greece, Columbia and even Ethiopia.
Some nations have also dedicated some fascinating monuments for their fallen, which command each nation’s groups of graves. These monuments mostly came from those nations that received the highest number of casualties. Such as Australia, Canada, the USA, Turkey and New Zealand just to name a few.
Along with the staggering number of grave sites, you’ll also find the Memorial Service Hall and Memorabilia Hall. These will provide some deeper history on what brought the fallen to rest here. There are also several other monuments, including the Wall of Remembrance. This particular monument holds the names of every lost soul around a central fountain.
This spectacular island park is found on the southern tip of the little gem of an island; Yeongdo, which stands as a monument to the city. Taejongdae island was named for King Taejong Mu-Yeol of the Silla Kingdom (604-661) who would choose this place as his favourite spot to practice his archery.
Here you’ll be given the incredible opportunity to trek along the picturesque coast on well-maintained roads and regular wooden decks. The most notable attraction to this park is the outstanding natural beauty on display. The park provides an incredible view back across the coast on either side of Busan, showcasing one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A humble development restrained by the rhythmic rise and falls of the untouched misty mountain ranges.
The park holds several individual attractions within, some of which hold their own myths. At the very tip of the island, you’ll find Yeongdo lighthouse, the best photo opportunity the park has to offer. Beneath the lighthouse, you’ll find Sinseon Rock named for the myth that this was once a prime place of relaxation for gods and goddesses. At this site, you’ll also find a statue called Mangbuseok, dedicated to the story of a woman who would stand there waiting for her husband to return after being taken to Japan. Along with two temples on either side of the park; Gumyeongsa and Taejongsa Temple, there’s plenty on offer.
For the lazy amongst you who don’t relish the opportunity to walk along the rise and falls of the island, then there is a “train” driving in between all the sites worth seeing. You’ll be able to enjoy the park at all hours of the day as it’s always open. This means you could both enjoy the spectacular sites at sunset, as well as the lighthouse at its full potential during the night.
Once home to two humble cinemas built following the nation’s liberation from Japanese rule, since then the area has undergone a major renovation for the upcoming Busan International Film Festival transformed the area. Today the square has become one of the centres of Busan’s money and fashion. Not only has the make-over done wonders for the Korean film industry, but has also gone a long way to put Busan on the map as an International city.
Marking the advancements in the Korean film industry, BIFF square represents Busan’s status as an international cultural city. You’ll also find a mini walk of fame. Mostly representing names of major Korean stars, there are a few famous names with the likes of Willem Dafoe and Oliver Stone.
The influence of the squares renovations has spread across the surrounding area, bringing with it the congregation of high-class stores, bright lights and flash advertisements. It’s also another great stop for the foodies amongst you, with the orderly lines of snack stalls of all varieties lining each street.
Noticeable from all around Busan, it stands at 120 meters as a talisman for the city. The spectacularly illuminated tower has been designed to model a Pagoda at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. The tower also offers an opportunity to mount its peak and observe the expanse of the city and the coast.
It will also provide an equally incredible site at night, glowing in consecutive changing colours. Along with the tower, you’ll find several other unique pieces of architecture such as the Bell of the Citizens a flower clock and a monument for the independence activist Baeksan An Hee-je. None greater than the statue of the Great Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
In a city exploring each and every avenue through which they can develop their city into an international travel destination, this beach has become the pinnacle in beachfront property in the city. Undergoing a major cleaning program, and the addition of countless restaurants and branded stores along the strip has brought this beach into the forefront as the choice spot for many young Koreans.
Busan has a fair share of beaches (7 in fact) along its modernising shoreline, providing plenty of beach day opportunities. However, Gwangalli beach can claim to be one of the best. From here you’re able to get the best possible view of Gwangan Bridge, another of the city’s highlights.
The shoreline really comes to life when the sun goes down, as the light show begins. This incredible piece of architecture crossing the city’s coast has been a popular site for many tourist cameras. It has been made even more of a fantastic view at night, with the addition of hundreds of LEDs which now beam the bridge alight.
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.