One evening, on returning from my excursion up a mountain, back in December 2017, I decided to do something differently, and have my dinner outdoors at one of the roadside stalls of the place. It was my first experience of street food in Busan.
Roadside stalls with hygiene
Contrary to what you would expect in Thailand, for example, the Koreans do take hygiene at heart. So, vendors do use plastic gloves when handling food and all of their dishes are single-use.
Most of the dishes were simply some form of rice cannelloni as can be seen on the pictures. The sauce was pretty good and in the cold evening of Busan, it did provide a refreshing change from habitual food (although I must say I tried also some delicious kimchi).
Most people just eat standing.
Indeed, one of the lovely things about street food in Busan is also the atmosphere around. The night lights, the stands and the street’s setting combine to give it a homely atmosphere. Eating out should be done more for sharing in the atmosphere of locals. One local student helped to translate for me my order and was quite curious to know from where I was. Koreans have always been welcoming and helpful everywhere I went, and Busan was no exception to the rule.
Finally, if you prefer eating in a restaurant, there are many places where you can eat kimchi or a full set meal for a very reasonable price.
For once, I truly enjoyed “going local”. But then, Korea is a place where even foreigners are gladly welcomed to share the local life. Probably one of my best experiences traveling around Asia. Busan, itself, has a more “rough” feeling to it, but locals are quite friendly and nice.
On my visit to Busan, one of my targets was the Gamcheon Culture village. While being the first place I visited after the Gwangandaegyo bridge, I have waited a while to write about it. In fact, the place is very famous in Busan and the beauty of the setting is so lovely, that it requires some effort to give it justice.
The history of Gamcheon
Originally, Gamcheon did not really have an artistic legacy at all, but was placed in a very interesting spot, against a mountain, with the associated curves and complex turns. Interestingly, most of the inhabitants are refugees from the Korean war and followers of the Tageukdo religion. The Tageukdo is the symbol which is part of Korea’s flag (also known as the yin and the yang).
Nowadays, the followers of this religion are few in Gamcheon. Since 2009, the city of Busan attempted to redevelop this area by focusing on making about 300 empty houses the center of street art. This gave a new impulse and made of Gamcheon one of the symbols of Busan.
Art in the street
The beauty of Gamcheon is that the redeveloped art project is closely mixed to the city life of the inhabitants. You can walk along the main street which circles all around the little village. Or you can delve into the city and try some shopping, like for these cute little bears (3,000 KRW each).
You can find some murals such as the “wall of love”.
There is also a lot of subjects for detail shots in the village. Such as an old and worn out roof.
When looking at details, the tightly packed houses make also for interesting photographic subjects.
You can also check my periscope account to find a live video I made walking through the village.
How to get there?
Gamcheon is not a lost place, but I elected to walk up there instead of taking transportation, and it was a quite strenuous climb.
You must first take the metro to Toseong station and take exit 6. From there, either you catch a minibus, or you can climb all the way to the top. It was frisky on that day, so a good day for a walk! Taking the minibus down sets you back about 1,000 KRW, but the driving is quite vertiginous in those steep streets!
One of the main sites upon arriving in the city of Busan, in Korea, is the Gwangandaegyo Bridge. Spanning 7.4 kms over the Busan bay, from Namcheon to Haeundae, it offers a gorgeous sight from the Gwangalli beach. Obviously, that was the first spot I hit upon arriving in Busan.
A bridge which looks its best at night
The bridge is illuminated at night, so it is no wonder that it looks its best then. Beyond the spectacular view on the bridge spanning across the bay, this bridge can also be seen from a mountain nearby, called the Hwangnyeongsan.
But on my first evening in Busan, I just went down to the Namcheon beach, as it was the more accessible area to shoot the bridge. That evening, I was lucky as the moon shone over the sea, giving the whole area a perfect flavor.
To the left, there are a number of buildings, offering an interesting contrast to the bridge, and further down the animated area (where I confess I did not go).
But the real best shot can be taken after a short hike up Hwangnyeongsan.
The view from the mountain
As mentioned, Hwangnyeongsan has the best views on the bridge and the bay.
The climb is steep, but the whole road is paved, so not much of a challenge.At a point, you will find a viewpoint platform. In winter, not a lot of people do this hike, so I had the whole place all to myself.
In the sunset and during the blue hour, Gwangandaegyo Bridge then becomes magical. Obviously, you must use a zoom to exclude all the trees in the way, but still, the general view of the bridge is quite impressive.
As the night sets in, the colors and the impression gets closer from what you you can see when you are on the Busan beach.
After this, I went back down, this time looking for some food.
How to get there?
There are two places where I shot the pictures in this post. The first one was near the MRT Geumnyeonsan, and involves walking down to the beach.
The second place is up on the mountain, but I could not retrace exactly the place; suffice it to say that at a point, after climbing Hwangnyeongsan, you will come across a viewpoint on Gwangandaegyo bridge, on the right of the road.
I was in Busan for a couple of days already, and it was my goal to try and see the fish auctions of the Jagalchi fish market. Descriptions and indications are pretty sketchy on how to get to see these auctions given the early hour at which they take place.
Nevertheless, as there was no public transportation at that time, I grabbed a taxi to get to Jagalchi fish market, and arrived there around 4.45 AM.
A profusion of fish
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Jagalchi, is the profusion of fish available everywhere.
The Jagalchi fish market is one of the most well-furnished markets in terms of fresh seafood, and this general reputation was confirmed seeing the market at 5 AM.
I found out one of the main halls where wholesalers present their produce. While it looks astonishingly clean, the floor was drenched in water and there was quite a “fishy” smell in the air.
It seems unfortunately that I was quite a bit late there, since I did not manage to find the actual auctions of fish. All I did manage to find was an auction for clams. On the whole, Jagalchi fish market has the reputation of having vendors who are quite hostile to pictures being taken, but my experience was quite the contrary. It is maybe because I look European, or maybe also because I did smile and engage my subjects when taking photos.
Life around the market
The interesting thing about a market is the life that gravitates around that market. In fact, vendors need also to feed themselves and need also to rest or have their needs tended to. So, you have plenty of small businesses thriving around, like a sweet potato vendor using an old coal furnace.
The feeling was extraordinarily atmospheric, being out at 5 AM in the cold and seeing first the market, then the scenes such as this small merchant. The world belongs to the early risers, and this is especially true for photographers.
On the technical side, of course, shooting at night is a challenge, but I equipped my Nikon 20mm F.1.8, and this helped me to handle the difficult lighting condition. You could obtain the same results with a (cheaper) 50 mm F 1.8, but then, the inconvenience is that you must stay further from your subject. And nothing engages as much as close range photography for your viewer.
A local breakfast
My original plan was to enjoy a local breakfast at the hotel. However, on the way, my attention got caught by a local shop grilling fresh fish in front of the shop and serving local breakfasts. I think the owner of the shop got scared seeing a foreigner, as she attempted to tell me her shop is closed, before eventually relenting when a local patron invited me to sit down in front of him.
The breakfast was every bit hearty and delicious as expected, with several pickles, a fish soup, and of course, the grilled fish. It was a perfect restoring meal before heading to Haeundae beach, my following stop.
“Train to Busan” always evokes a famous Korean zombie movie, which also is a sort of satire, criticism of social inequalities in Korean society. But such was not my purpose in this post, which is mainly to recount my train travel from Seoul to Busan, and my first impressions of this Southern city.
There is high speed train and there is slow train
Of course, “train to Busan” was a movie featuring the high-speed “KTX” train, which uses Alstom machines. But there are also other, cheaper and more lengthy manners to get to Busan. I mean here the Mugungwha (super-slow omnibus) and the ITX-Saemaul (express train). Sometimes, the pleasure is in the journey and not just zipping from one place to another.
KTX is reputed for being tight and a bit a sort of “Concorde” of trains in second class. I prefered taking the ITX-Saemaul, partly because I was on vacation, partly because I wanted also to experience the pleasure of traveling by train. Sometimes, the pleasure is in the journey!
But taking the time does not necessarily mean renouncing to modernity, so I availed of the possibilty to reserve my tickets online via the Korail website. Prices as of January 2018 were, for a one-way ticket to Busan, of 42,600 KRW for the ITX Saemaul. As a comparison, the same ticket in second class on the KTX would cost 59,800 KRW. Savings is not really the main focus for taking this train thus, comfort and being relaxed was.
The train itself is pretty comfortable and well-arranged, with larger space for your legs than on a KTX. Stations are announced in Korean and in English, so you cannot miss your station, unless you are sleeping.
The trip itself was uneventful if lengthy. But with a good book, time passes quickly!
The train did arrive in Busan
In “Train for Busan”, the KTX train never makes it to Busan, overcome as it is as much by dissensions between passengers as by the zombies. My ITX did arrive in Busan, where I had some slight issues finding the metro. Thankfully, a gentleman went out of his way to help me find the entrance of the metro, even trying to help me to buy a ticket (but I had my cash card from Seoul).
I checked in at my hotel, in a pretty animated area of Busan, near the metro Seomyeon. The hotel I chose was the “Home Hotel”. Pretty newly built, the hotel offers the comfort of modern hotels and the welcome of a family pension. Staff are always very kind, and breakfast, although not very varied, is pretty good. The room does not have much of a view, but when you are in Busan, the last thing you want to do is stay locked in your hotel.
I arrived too late in Busan to enjoy the sunset, so I set out to go and see the famous Busan bridge which extends across the Busan beach. That night, it was in the low negatives (0° to -3° C), which is not a big deal per se. However, where it became though was that on the Busan beach, there was a strong wind blowing in from the sea that got me all but frozen while shooting pics.
That night however, luck was with me, as I managed to capture the Busan bridge with the full moon in background.
Of course, at night and in that cold, people were basically deserting the beach for cafes and bars. Nevertheless, in the distance (and I didn’t make it until there, I am afraid), I managed to see some of the lights and animation of the festive beachfront.
Once I froze myself completely shooting these pictures, I rushed to the nearest Starbucks to grab a hot choco and try to warm myself. And, being ready to explore Busan the next day, I headed back to the hotel while the night was still young.