Monday, June 6, 2016

[Travel/ Food Guide] Itinerary to Busan (釜山), South Korea (韩国).

The second largest city of South Korea (after Seoul) is Busan Metropolitan City, which located at the southeastern tip of the country. Busan gained its popularity and international spotlight through its annually-held event- Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). Celebrities, film directors, producers from other countries all over the globe will gather and hence, receives international spotlight. The event started many years ago; fast-forward to now, the city has turned into a center for medical tourism. Nevertheless, Busan is also famed for its astonishing natural landscape.

Busan is easily accessible whether by plane (internationally/ domestic) or train (domestic). If you are flying in from Malaysia, you should land at Gimhae International Airport, approximately 30 minutes away from Busan Station. If you must know, we flew in to Incheon International Airport, Seoul and transferred to KTX Train to Busan. 

If you are planning to visit Busan soon, check out HotelsCombined for the best hotel deals for your stay! 

Transportation to Busan Station from Seoul Station: KORAIL/ KTX
Cost: 3 Day KORAIL Pass (back and forth- from Seoul Station to Busan Station) @ 97,800 KRW (would be cheaper if you travel in a group). For your reference, we bought 2 tickets in one go at 175,800 KRW.

Foreigners are required to pre-book KORAIL tickets before their arrival to South Korea but the amount would not be charged to your credit card until you have exchanged it with the actual ticket at Korea. Tickets can be booked via their official website. You may choose to travel from Seoul Station (to Busan) or directly from Incheon International Airport (to Busan) but the tickets from Incheon International Airport are selling like hot cakes (we touched down as early as 6 am in the morning and immediately went over to the counter *though the immigration took us a while to clear*, the train running from Incheon Airport to Busan was fully booked) . 

Look for the KORAIL counter and they are able to do the exchange of tickets for you (with the booking ticket you printed out). In order to secure a comfortable seat (unless you prefer to remain standing throughout the journey), it is wiser to exchange for your return-trip ticket too. The KTX Trains runs punctually and the seats are comfortable. Passengers are allowed to purchase food and drinks to be brought to the train and enjoy (there's also an in-house vendor that sells food... at a premium rate of course). For those who can't live without internet, high speed wifi is installed too.

Our trip was a swift and comfortable, the journey from Seoul Station to Busan Station took us approximately 2.5 hours.

The places we visited during our trip:

1) Haeundae Beach (海云台浴场)/ Haeundae Market
Direction: Metro Line, Haeundae Station (exit 3 or exit 5), walk approximately 600 meter towards the beach (there will be directions indicated in the subway station). You will walk pass the Haeundae Food Alley, a short 10 minute-walk before you could reach the beach.
Admission Fee: Free

Hotteok (1,000 KRW)

Mizu Shingen Mochi (30,000 KRW)

Taiyaki (3,000 KRW)

Soy Milk Jelly (1,500 KRW)

Tteokbokki (3,500 KRW) and Korean Fishcakes simmered in broth (500 KRW/ stick)

Haeundae is strategically located (40 minute train ride away from Busan Station)... blessed with many food eateries and tourist attractions around. Plan your itinerary carefully, though the process can be tedious. If your itinerary is centered around the Haeundae district, we'd recommend you to stay here for easy access to food and planned destinations.

There was no shortage of food during our stay at Busan, especially with Haeundae Market was within walking distance from our hostel. There are countless of traditional Korean delicacies available as well as some newly invaded Fusion treats. One phenomenon we noticed was the patrons will hold at least one serving of Hotteok per person, we followed them to a stall with the longest queue. Mochi-like (chewy Glutinous Rice dough) dough (dusted with Cinnamon Sugar) will be deep fried till perfection and generously stuffed with sweetened Sunflower Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds. The outside was crunchy while the filling was nutty-sweet. It can be rather addictive.

We wondered how the strange-looking Soy Milk Jelly would taste like and decided to give it a try. The Soy Milk was extremely thick and creamy... possibly seasoned with Salt. It carried a sleek salinity, the overall flavor was peculiar and only those with trained palate would know how to appreciate. While we've tried very hard to finish the whole thing, we'd literally have to think twice if we were to be offered another serving. Some notable highlights include Tteokbokki, Korean Fish Cakes, Korean Rice Juice, Korean Fried Chicken etc. 

2) Stir Fried Sea Eel with Spice
Location: Haeundae Food Alley
Price: 38,000 KRW (for 2 pax)
Business Hours: Evening till late

Curiosity kills Ken! On our first evening, we noticed a long snaking queue congesting this particular shop and thought we should check it out on the next day.... and so we did. The shop specializes in serving Sea Eels; there's a lady near the entrance, showcasing her trained skills in beheading the Sea Eels and slice them off in preparation to be served to the diners. 

Movements were noticed on the freshly killed Sea Eels, a huge splash of chopped Garlic was served along with condiments (Onions, Spring Onions and Cabbage) heavily dressed in Gochujang sauce. The server assisted us in cooking (one of the servers speak Mandarin) and the dish was ready in no time. The Gochujang sauce did not overpower the dish, the sweetness was brilliantly balanced to our liking. What caught us by surprise was the crunchy texture of the Sea Eel. Having eaten grilled Unagi and Anago for many times, we did not expect the texture to be so different! The Mandarin-speaking server told us that the correct way of enjoying the dish would be to wrap the cooked fish using Sesame Leaf and Lettuce. This is one of the traditional Korean dishes that brave food explorers should never miss (be sure to reach there as early as 6 pm)!

It's not wrong to say Haeundae Beach is one of the most representative tourist attractions in Busan, the beach is always happening and constantly filled with excitements (Polar Bear Swim Festival on every January and Sand Festival happening every June). If you are in the mood, there's a casino housed in Paradise Hotel... facing the beach and accessible from the beach (you will need your passport, only foreigners are allowed to enter the Casino). We'd recommend visiting the beach in the evenings and if you are lucky, there will be street performances too.

3) Beef Gukbap Street (牛肉汤饭)
Direction: Metro Line 2, Haeundae Station (exit 1) and walk towards Haeundae Beach. You will need to make a left turn when you notice a stretch of shops selling Gukbap. The street is also opposite to Hotel Riviera Haeundae. 
Price: 4,000 KRW per serving
Business Hours: Morning till late 

Beef Gukbap (4,000 KRW per portion)

If you are staying at Haeundae area just like us, walk to the Beef Gukbap Street (5 minutes walk away from the Metro station). The Korean Seonji Rice is best eaten as breakfast. We toured around the area and found this particular shop with the most regular patrons.

It didn't surprise us when we found out that the shop was established since 1962 (apparently the name is read as 48-nyeon Jeontong Haeundae Wonjo Halmae Gukbap). We visited in May so the weather was comforting but the wind can be chilly in the morning. A good portion of piping hot Gukbap would warm our stomach so much.

Gukbap literally refers to Beef Rice Soup; Korean Rice simmered in Beef broth with a generous serving of Beef Tenderloin and topped with aplenty of crunchy greens. The Beef Tenderloin was expertly cooked to the right doneness, chewing was unnecessary. It was so tender (yet maintaining the shape) that it literally melted in the mouth! The broth was expertly seasoned with a gentle spicy-kick. We enjoyed every single bit of the Gukbap and would recommend you to try it out (if you do eat Beef).

4) Jagalchi Market (札嘎其市场)
Direction: Metro Line 1, Jagalchi Station (exit 10), walk for 300 meters toward Jagalchi 1-gil.
Business Hours: 5 am to 9 pm. Opens Daily.
Admission Fee: Free

Mountains of Sea Pineapples

Sea Intestines

Fresh Live Seafood ready on sale

If you visit Busan and have yet to visit Jagalchi Market... you haven't really visited Busan after all. It is one of the must-visit destinations in Busan. Jagalchi Market is also known as the largest fish market in South Korea. It's the ideal place for one to understand the local food culture and the importance of seafood to the folks in Busan. There were some uncommonly seen seafood over there (Sea Pineapples for instance) so it was an eye-opening experience for us. For your information, the Koreans believe that eating Sea Pineapples will bring medicinal benefits.

The walking distance from the Metro Station to Jagalchi Market is approximately 10 minutes. You will have to walk pass a stretch of seafood stalls before reaching the building. The 6-storey tall building named Shindonga Market houses many fresh seafood stalls (on the ground floor) and countless of seafood restaurants on the first floor.

Visitors can purchase their preferred seafood from the market and bring them up to the restaurants. The restaurants will prepare them for you... at a cost of course. We've tried asking the locals and it seems like the difference (in prices) is small. 

Steamed Fresh Abalones (6 for 30,000 KRW)

Live Octopus (30,000 KRW)

[Sashimi] Sea Pineapple/ Steamed Scallop/ Steamed Prawn

Flat Fish and Stingray Sashimi

The Korean's way of eating Sashimi

Korean Pancake

Fish Pot

We don't speak Korean and thus, did not purchase any Seafood. We went straight into the restaurant and ordered the food there. Unless you are well-versed in Korean, buying things at Jagalchi Market is not easy (most of them don't understand English). Besides, not like the total bill could be cheaper... just that you get to pick what type of Seafood you prefer. 

On the second floor, there are plenty of Seafood restaurants available. Most of the servers do speak Mandarin and they will try to grab you so be careful and stay firm on your decision. From our experience, the Seafood may be fresh but the prices are not cheap... at all. You can probably get cheaper rates out there, not too sure if this is again... another tourist trap. It is a quintessential thing to do nevertheless.

We picked one restaurant that offers Sea view and were immediately greeted by the Mandarin-speaking server. Most items on the menu are expensive but if you must order, go for their Set Meal (in our case, 30,000 KRW). The set meal consists of Sashimi platter (in huge portion), Ban Chan (Korean appetizers), steamed Scallop/ Prawn, Korean Pancake and Fish Pot... while other dishes are priced exorbitantly. Imagine the live octopus being priced at 30,000 KRW per portion (equivalent to Rm 105).... The texture was somewhat different to what I was expecting- crunchy and slightly resilient but well-coated with Sesame Oil. We could taste the natural seafood sweetness of the Octopus and not a nary of fishiness can be discerned. If only the price could be lower...

Anyway, we finally get to taste the Sea Pineapple, a type of sea squirt that is not commonly seen in Malaysia... unfortunately, our untrained taste buds could not approve nor appreciate the delicacy. It possesses slimy texture and fishy flavor... adding salt to the wound... it carries an exquisite acidic-bitter-after taste. It was an extraordinary gastronomic journey for us nevertheless. 

5) BIFF Square
Direction: Metro Line 1, Jagalchi Station (exit 7), walk 300 meters toward Daeyeong Cinema.
Business Hours: Daytime

BIFF Square resembles the characteristics of Avenue of Starts in Hong Kong. There are celebrities' hand prints on the floor but apart from experiencing the booming of filming industry in Busan, you get to shop and try out the different types of local delicacies available as well. The entire area spans across few streets and most brands can be found here (including skin care brands like Nature Republic, The Face Shop etc).

BIFF Square is within walking distance from Jagalchi Market and it is highly recommended that you check out the market first (perhaps for brunch) and take a casual stroll at BIFF Square. 

6) Gamchoen Cultural Village (甘川文化村)
Direction: Metro Line 1, Toseong Station (exit 6). Once you are out of the subway exit, walk straight until you reach the first intersection. Continue walking up the slope until you find a bus station right in front of the Busan Cancer Center. Take bus 1-1, 2 or 2-2. Alight at Gamcheon Cultural Village. The bus trip should cost approximately 900 KRW.
Admission Fee: Free

Also known as the Machu Picchu of Souh Korea, the winding yet narrow alleys in the form of colorful terrace houses on top of the sloppy coastal mountain would make an attractive pull factor for tourists. The walls are artfully decorated with art work; handicrafts and Korean snacks are sold along the alleys. We'd recommend spending an afternoon here if you wish to fully explore the area.

7) Gamnae Cafe
Location: Near the entrance of Gamcheon Cultural Village, few minutes walk away from the Bus Station
Business Hours: 10 am to 7 pm. Opens Daily.

Persimmon Bingsu (5,500 KRW)

There are countless of cafes and small eateries at Gamcheon Cultural Village and one would be literally spoilt for choices. We did not know what to choose either, nor little did we know what they offer (we don't read Korean). We tried our luck at Gamnae Cafe, a short walk from the bus station at Gamcheon Cultural Village.

There's a steep flight of stairs right in front of the cafe, the al-fresco setting is amazing, overlooking the entire Gamcheon Cultural Village. The standard cafe beverage menu is of course available but one specific item that lured our attention was their Persimmon Bingsu. Sweetened Iced Persimmon served atop of shaved ice and sweetened Red Beans as well as Walnuts. The shaved ice was lightly flavored, with some milky element but the real draw of the was the Persimmon. They were robust in flavor, not entirely mushy but just firm enough to pull out the ideal texture (biteable, not entirely squashy). It makes a good match with the shaved ice, we could go without the sweetened Red Beans though. 

8) Taejongdae Natural Park (太宗台)
Direction: Metro Line 1, Busan Station (exit 7); walk out to the bus station (note that there are few bus stations along the street, go to the third out, confirm by checking the bus number written on the notice board). Transfer to Bus 88 or 101. Alight at Taejongdae, a few minutes walk from the main entrance.
Admission Fee: Free (2,000 KRW for the Danubi-train)

Head south to the most southern point of Yongdo Island, Taejongdae Natural Park offers spectacular sea views. According to the official tourism brochure, Taejongdae is the closest point to the Japanese island of Tsushima. 

Unless you wish to walk for hours or sweat like a pig ; there are two other options available- Danubi Train or sight-seeing boat. We chose the first option... at the cost of 2,000 KRW per person. The Danubi train runs from 10 am to 7 pm daily. Train riders can purchase the tickets near the bottom of the hill (but approximately 5-10 minute walk from the main entrance); you can opt to alight at any point during the journey and ride on the next train (after you have completed touring the area) but do be mindful on the last train that runs at 7 pm. Those with good stamina can opt to walk down the cliffs... which will bring you scenic grandeur of the sea. It's good for those who enjoy natural landscape or to take a break from the stressful shopping.

9) Gwangalli Beach
Location: Metro Line 2, Gwang-an Station (exit 3 or 5), walk 700 meters towards Gwangalli beach (approximately 20-30 minute walk)
Admission Fee: Free

For a breath-taking landscape view, take your chance to Gwangalli Beach; few metro stations away from Haeundae Beach will bring you to this 1.4 km long beach. The authorities have taken good care of the environment- pristine clear sea water and fine sand. The best time to visit would probably in the evening (for sunset and the evening breeze). There's a stretch of eateries facing the beach so if you are in the mood of a leisure afternoon tea to stretch your shopping legs, this district is an ideal place to explore.

Have Fun in Exploring Busan!