I have now spent over two years living in Korea, and during that time, I have spent most of it in Seoul. In fact, I have rarely voyaged out of the main city to see what other things that this country has to offer. I have often thought of Korea as just Seoul, the capital city filled with intense people that push and shove their way through life to get everything they want. After living here for that long, I have gotten into the groove of this hustle and bustle. I even started to wonder if there were any people in this country that wanted to slow down to experience life at a different pace. That was until I made my way down to Busan.
First of all, let’s get the big question out of the way. Yes, that Busan, the one made famous by the zombie movie released a couple of years ago. And yes, I did take the train to get down there, but I did not witness any zombies during the long voyage, unless you count the people who could barely keep their eyes open as they were gently rocked to sleep in a train car that had the heat up way too high. But it was a great symbol of the change in attitude that happened as we traveled through the rocky landscape of South Korea. The intensity of Seoul start to shed away with each kilometer we ticked away on the tracks until we arrived in the more laid back atmosphere of Busan.
Busan did not feel the pain and destruction caused by the north during the 1950s war. Because of this, there is more of a sense of history about the place. It has been able to hold on to the Korean culture a little more, and is more willing to share it with the world. It might have just been the fact that we stuck to more of the touristy locations while we were down there, and I live more in the suburb of Seoul, but I felt like I saw a bigger blend of cultures in this town than what I experience in Seoul. I think because of this more tolerant climate it has created a community that does not care as much about their appearance and the pursuit of success. People tend to enjoy themselves more because of this. I found myself not stressing out about the worries I had in life and was able to partake in the culture there.
Some of this might have to do with the many expansive beaches hugging the edge of the city. We spent our first day strolling along these. I have been told that Korean people will not visit the beaches after a certain day in the summer, but I found this not to be the case. Even though, they were not overcrowded with people looking for a spot to sunbathe, there were still many people enjoying the views. They just were not getting in the water, but I couldn’t blame them because it was only in the 50s.
The beaches are not the only feature in Busan worth checking out. Many people flock to the outskirts to see the impressive Haedong Yonggungsa temple. This is one of the more ancient structures still standing in Korea. It was built in 1376 and still serves many Buddhists that live in the area. The temple sits on a cliff looking out to the sea. We needed to cross over a bridge to see the massive Buddha built in the trees just above the temple. If you do visit, you need to stop on the bridge and look down to see two stone bowls place in nice pools next to a couple of intricate statues. If you can toss a coin into one of the bowls, you will be granted good luck. Many people gather at the edge of the bridge to try to get that luck granted from this experience.
Even though the temple was a great experience, it was the Gancheon Cultural village I enjoyed the most. The village was originally built during the Korean War as a place where refugees from the north could find safety and get a respite from the troubles they were experiencing. When you wander through its steep steps and narrow alleys, you can see this. It remained an eyesore in the middle of town until 2009 when students decided to spruce it up with a paint job. In Korea, this usually means grey, white or black, but these art students took a different route by supplying it with bright pastel colors, and hiding little interesting pieces of artwork throughout its windy paths. It is a fun part of any trip to Busan, and one that I would highly recommend. We waited until late afternoon to go and visit, but I would recommend spending the better part of a day down here because it doesn’t matter where you go around the place, you’ll find something interesting to see.
I am glad that I finally made it out of the big city to go and see another of Korea’s big cities. Even though Busan still packs over 3 million people in its borders, it definitely has a smaller town feel to it, and I was able to find a heart to Korea that goes beyond the Kpop and fashion world of Seoul. It quickly became my favorite place in Korea, and if you make a voyage out to this part of the world, it is worth the stay.