I can’t say that South Korea was high on my list of places to visit. However, when your buddy is getting married there, it’s a good opportunity to visit. While I only had a few days to experience the southern city of Busan and even less time being able to spend it with my good friend Dongil, it is a place worth visiting for the food, beach, and hiking.

the decision

Continuing with my previous Singapore report, the destination of this trip was also determined for me. Dongil, my good friend and the former postdoc in our lab, was getting married. Fortunately, he scheduled his wedding for just after our conference in Singapore to make travel easy for us. The destination of the wedding was in Busan, South Korea.

Pictures from this post consist of a collaborative effort from Kevin, Gabby, Mark, and myself.

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planning

The planning for this trip as mentioned in my Singapore report, is unlike typical trips. My flight to Busan (PUS) was covered in by my advisors since the cost of our entire planned itinerary matched comparable flight prices for roundtrip flight to Singapore (SIN), the location of our conference, from our home airport Roanoke (ROA).

Our original open jaw roundtrip Delta ticket flew us from ROA to SIN via Atlanta (ATL) and Tokyo Narita (NRT). From SIN, my flight would take us to Bangkok (BKK) and then onto PUS for our destination on Thai Airways. That was a separate one way ticket to connect the open jaw roundtrip Delta ticket. On the way home, my Delta flight routing goes from PUS to NRT, ATL, and then to our home airport in Roanoke (ROA).

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Originally Meg wasn’t going to be able to make it to South Korea for the wedding, but last minute change in her teaching schedule afforded her the time to come. Unfortunately, reward redemption was very limited at that point and ticket costs were expensive. We ended up using our Chase Ultimate Reward Points (UR) to purchase her tickets at USD$0.015 per point through Meg’s Chase Sapphire Reserve. The total cost of her flight was around USD$1300.

Her flights on a combination of American Airlines and Japan Airlines and her original itinerary went from Baltimore (BWI) to Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) on American Airlines metal and DFW to NRT to PUS on Japan Airlines metal. The return for her itinerary went PUS to NRT to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) on Japan Airlines metal and finally to BWI on American Airlines metal.

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transportation

Ride shares are not allowed in Busan, but the taxis are well priced and there is an app that you can download to utilize taxis (Kakao T – google play). However, Dongil told us that there are issues with foreign numbers. We ended up just waving down taxis when needed. As part of the effort keep rideshares out, taxis were very fairly priced.

For travel from the airport or long distance travel, there are buses referred to as limousines, unlike their meaning of the word in English. They look more like the tour buses or chinatown buses here in the US. They are usually the cheapest way to reach the city center from the airport.

communications

Again for phone and data service, Google Fi (my referral link) worked well for me there. Mark was able to purchase phone service at the airport. There were several companies selling hotspot devices or phone sim cards as well.

In term of communications, English wasn’t as common as I had imagined. This lead to much charades the utilization of our phones for translation purposes. The difficulty with character based languages like Korean is that we couldn’t even figure out what the sound of it would be. This must be what it is like for others to travel to China.

trip report: getting in

Mark, Brennan, and I were on a red eye flight in from Singapore and it was uneventful, as described in my previous report. From the airport, we took the limousine bus from the airport. The bus driver did not speak English, but others taking the bus were very helpful and made sure we got onto the right bus and to the right place.

We were met by Dongil, Meg, Kevin, and Gabby. Meg, Kevin, and Gabby had all gotten in the previous day. Meg’s flight was uneventful on American Airlines and Japanese Airlines. Her lounge access was limited as the priority pass lounges she had access to was under construction in at Dallas Fort Worth and there were no airside lounges in terminal 2 at Tokyo Narita.

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Busan – Haeundae

For the few days we spent in South Korea, we stayed in Haeundae district of Busan. Specifically, our airbnb was at the Worldmark building. Airbnb is not allowed in Korea, so we were staying with “friends”. Dongil recommended the area since it was close to the beach and central to the nightlife. He also graciously covered our airbnb for a few nights. Thanks buddy!

Korean food

On many occasions while drinking or hanging out with Dongil’s during his time here in Southwest Virginia, he would lament the food found in his hometown. I finally understand why.

The food we had most during our time in Korea was barbeque. For our first meal, Dongil took us to the traditional place called Haeundae Sonumnam Amso Galbijip (tripadvisor) with utilizing charcoal wooden place.

On our next occasions were local places just around the corner from our airbnb. Neither of which I could find on tripadvisor as they are local places and they were always busy.

The next one we went to was a simple place (google map location) that had good kimchi and was the cheapest of the ones we went to.

On our last day (also Meg, Kevin, and Gabe’s first day as well), we headed to busier one that featured the popular pig skins (google map location).  This place isn’t always open and is very busy. It’s best to get there early or leave your name and number with them an hour beforehand. The pig skin was very chewy and a bit tough, but it was worth the wait. I still prefer more the other places though.

Being by the coast, we also had to explore the seafood options. That included still moving octopus tendrils. We didn’t have a specific location in mind, we just walked into a random restaurant around Haeundae beach called Marado Sashimi Restaurant on top of a ferry building (tripadvisor).

But of course we also had a fair share of street food from dumpling to fried seafood to Korean pancakes. We could have spent days at the street food vendors off of the main street Gunam-ro (google map). But there were also so many small food vendors like my favorite of the dumpling places around the corner of our airbnb (google map).

Lastly, you can’t talk about Korea without talking about drinking there. Soju is the drink of choice there and it is very cheap, especially from the convenience and grocery stores. They are not very very high in alcohol content at about 20%, but you end up drinking a lot. There are different versions too like filtered, unfiltered, bubbly, and different flavors. Meg wasn’t big on Soju, but she did like the aged wine (left picture second from the left).

If you still want beer, there are brewery around as well. However, beer is much more expensive way to drink than soju. We visited Galmegi Brewing (tripadvisor) and I found it decent, but didn’t really stand out. Their sours were actually the best there and they can to order, which is pretty cool.

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Haeundae beach, Dongbaek Park, & surround areas

Again, our airbnb was located around the Haeundae area in Busan, the main nightlife and beach area of the city. Our exact airbnb was in the Worldmark building just to the west of the beach.

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A good path to explore the area would be to first start with Dongbaek Park, the entrance of which is next to the Westin Hotel (google map location) and the location of the mermaid statue made of plastic cleaned up from the ocean. This reminds us of how much trash we produce and the need to do a better job as a society to recycle and the need for innovations regarding waste management.

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There is a path around the peninsula of Dongbaek Park, but we took a path to climb to the peak. Along the way, we found several feral cats that live in the park along with some monuments and temple looking building.

Continuing south, we reached the tip of the peninsula for a view of the bridge and hills across the bay.

We then continued around the park on the eastern side of the peninsula where we see local fisherman fishing. From there we continued onto the wooden bridge and path

heading toward the beach. There are some nice viewpoints of another mermaid statue overlooking Haeundae beach and the skyscrapers under construction in the distance.

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Once we exit the park, we are at Haeundae beach. It is a very popular spot during all times of the day. However, it was never so crowded that you couldn’t have your own part of the beach. At night on a weekend, we saw local performers spread out along the walkway along with lit up photographic attractions. Behind the walkway was a street food area with all sorts of seafood and drinks. However, those stalls don’t open until later in the afternoon.

For more food in general, including more variety of street food as I discussed earlier, the beach intersects the main nightlife street in Haeundae, Gunam-ro. Here you can find street entertainers, games, markets, bars, restaurants, and street vendors of all sorts.

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Haedong Yonggung Temple & Fisheries Science Museum

Visiting a temple was one the list of day trip excursions and the Haedong Yonggung Temple seemed to be a popular place. For this excursion, a 30 minute taxi ride was required from our airbnb in Haeundae. Located next to the temple as we found was the National Fisheries Science Museum with a night walk along the coast.

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We were dropped off at the parking area for the entrance of the temple (number 3 on the map above; google map directions). There is parking here for a fee, but entrance to the temple is free. The street leading up to the temple is a market selling souvenirs and street food.

After the vendors, the path continues by several statues

before descending into the main temple area.

Half way down the stairs is a path branching off to the left that continues along the coast toward the National Fisheries, but we’ll return to that later. For now we headed into the main part of the temple crossing a bridge. The temple was packed. The ritual of Pouring water over the buddha statue can be found at several different locations around the temple and symbolizes cleansing of body, speech, and mind (chinabuddismencyclopedia.com)

From the main courtyard, we ascended further up to another large statue, where the ritual was to walk around the statue.

Afterwards, we returned to the initial steps into the temple and took the path that would take us along the coast toward the National Fisheries Science Museum. There was a gazebo here and provided a good view among the temple among the sea coast.

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The path continued around the coast passing by another buddha. There were outcrops along the way you can play around on. Building cairns on the rocks here seem to be a popular activity.

As we reached the fishery area, we saw many local youth participating in an activity in the tidal pools.

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The museum itself wasn’t too interesting other than one of the buildings is the carcass of a fairly large boat. There were a few exhibitions of living sea life, but majority of the exhibits were of art or interactive informational programs targeted toward the youth. It was fine to stroll through, though I didn’t take any pictures.

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day hike: Dongbaek to Seongbulsa on Jangshan

South Korea is an area with only 30% of lowlands while majority of its terrain is covered in mountains. So a hike is what we did on our last day in the area.

trail information

  • name: Dongbaek to Seongbulsa on Jangshan (gps track – wikiloc & alltrails)
  • type: through hike, but loopable with walk through the city as we did
  • distance: 5.5 miles (8.85 km)
  • elevation change: 1549 ft (472 m) ascend & descend
  • time: 2:50 hours, 2:15 moving
  • location: Dongbaek, Haeundae, South Korea (google maps to trailhead)

The aim of our hike is to head up the side of Jangshan. There are multiple ways up the mountain with many trails that form a pretty extensive network. It also means that you can get lost without navigation. We followed a previous track I found on wikiloc.

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From our airbnb, we made our way to the starting point of the trail at the Dongbaek bus stop where we can access the trail. We first got onto a paved walking/biking path before turning left up a dirt trail that cuts between a few houses.

Along the trail, we found many wildflowers blooming.

During this section, there are a couple of peaks and several different trails that you can take here passing workout areas and a couple of openings among the trees,

however it doesn’t matter which one you take as long as you head north since they all end up converging back onto a main trail that heads up the Jangshan at a pass of sorts before the main climb starts.

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During the climb up, we passed what looked like a military training area and can even hear gunshots from the gun range on a nearby base. Mark decided to give the training a try, and he lost his shorts in the process.

The rest of the uphill was in the tree covers but we were still feeling the humid heat as we continued out. Along the way, we saw many elderly Koreans doing their daily walk among the trails on the mountain. They seemed to be entertained that a much of foreigners would be up here. As we reached the next network of trails, we took the path continuing up by taking the left trails a couple times to reach another workout area at a small gap. We continued by taking another left and headed up further before reaching a crest of shorts with a set of stairs heading straight.

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The sign for the peak of the mountain pointed to the stairs. We weren’t sure if we would head to the summit of the mountain since the top is just a military base, but we decided to check out the view from the stairs and the gazebo at the top. The climb up the stairs were not so bad, but the sun was pretty brutal on the climb. Kevin was not as happy as he appears on the climb up.

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From the gazebo, we has a little bit of shade as it wasn’t really a full roof but the breeze was nice to cool us down. The vista of Busan and Haeundae in the smog was still pretty cool. We could see down to the bridge continuing down the coast.

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We were satisfied with the view from the gazebo so we decided to head down and continue on our loop after a short break and before any of us could get sunburned.

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At the bottom of the stairs, we turned right and continued along the side of the mountain. The next section was probably the coolest of the hike as we crossed several rocky areas with openings overlooking the city and coast. Since we were a little further down, the city stood out more through the smog.

Keeping to the left as the next couple of intersections, we headed down the mountain at a steeper decline.

That is until we came to a paved road and another gazebo. We turned left on the road and continued to head downhill toward the golden statue in the distance.

When we reached a road, we were at the Seongbulsa temple. There seemed to be a lunch service there, but we couldn’t piece together enough Korean to figure it out. We did fine that there was potable water here, which was great since we were out due to the sun, humid, and heat that day.

From the temple, it was a road walk back to the city. Along the way, we found a shoe cleaning station. So much hiking infrastructure here.

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Once we were back in the city, we walked back to our airbnb to meet up with the other members of our party before promptly heading for food.

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ratings (range: 1-5; see link for explanation)

  • views: 3. The hike provides some nice overlooking vistas of the skyscrapers in Busan and Haeundae backdropped by the ocean, bridges, and coastal mountains in the distance. The flower were in full bloom as well here. In addition, you’ll come across some cool rocky areas and a less busy Seongbulsa temple. These qualities makes the hike worth the effort.
  • difficulty: 2. There was moderate elevation change through the hike. The humidity and the heat of the Busan summer required more endurance. However, there are many elderly locals that walk the mountain on a daily bases and they move at swift pace.
  • technical: 2. There are many trails that run through Jangshan mountainside, so having a map and knowledge of the trails is a must know before you start on the trail. There are signs on the mountains, but are mostly not in English.

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trip report: getting out

Meg and I flew out of Busan (PUS) on the same day but on our different itineraries. Unfortunately, we were blessed with Dongil’s terrible luck while flying.

The wind at Tokyo Narita (NRT) lead to problems the entire day. For Meg, her flight from PUS was redirected to Tokyo Haneda (HND) and they shuttled her to NRT airport. The turbulence during landing was so strong it made her throw up. The delay lead her to miss her connection, but Japan Airlines was able to put her on a flight to Boston (BOS) shortly after where she connected to Baltimore via Jet Blue.

My flight was probably one of the worst experiences I’ve had flying. My initial flight on Korean Airlines (KAL) out of PUS was delayed, but was still in time for my connection to my Delta flight to Atlanta (ATL). The wind definitely made the landing at NRT a rocky affair, but the KAL pilots did a good job. Then came the rolling delay with Delta. My original flight scheduled to depart at 4:30pm was pushed a couple hours, then a couple more. We finally boarded to flight around 9pm and were in line to take off until we turned around back to the gate with the flight cancelled and rescheduled for noon the next day. The reason given was a sound restriction, though other aircrafts were still taking off. The more likely reason, as was given the day after, was that the attendants timed out.

The next part was the most ridiculous part. First, Delta had failed to secure any hotels since they acted late, not anticipating their attendants to time out even though they have all that information. Second, all international passengers were not allowed to leave the immediate boarding area or enter Japan in efforts to book accommodations for ourselves, which my credit card’s travel insurance would have covered. We were given instant noodles, sleeping bags, and pillows for the night. The next morning when the terminal opened again, the service was better including some real food, 7500 Yen food voucher, and a voucher for a shower. Later, we were given a compensation of USD$100 voucher for future flights or 12.5k Delta Skymiles if our frequent flyer number was attached. Mine was not since I was earning Korean Miles, which was still more worth it for me. All in all, I ended up stuck in NRT for 24 hours and sleeping overnight in the terminal. It’s not the worst thing and I’ve definitely slept in airports before, but the lack of overall planning was the most disappointing.

The flight itself was uneventful other than the entertainment system was out of order. Luckily I had enough entertainment on my phone and my external battery (amazon affiliate link) with me. We got another USD$40 voucher for the inconvenience. I can almost book a 1 way domestic flight now, Yeahhhhh…

When I arrived in Atlanta (ATL), a nasty thunderstorm was hitting the area and I find my connecting flight was delayed. In fact, it had not even arrived. I checked with an agent to see if the next scheduled flight was at ATL already and it was, so I asked to switch onto that one. By the time my last leg of my flight was in the air, my original flight still hadn’t landed, I took any win I could at that point.

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final impressions

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Our time in Korea was too short since the main purpose was for Dongil’s wedding and even shorter with Dongil himself. We all stayed a few days extra to enjoy Haeundae and Busan. While the main attraction of the area seem to be the beach, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and stuffed myself silly at every chance. Surrounding the area, there were plenty of mountains as well with a nice trail network. I imagine there are plenty of great hikes in the area, though more along the lines of Southwest Virginia and the Appalachians rather than the Sierras or the Rockies. The coast may also provide some additional hiking elements. I can see myself going back and exploring more of the peninsula, just not an overly high priority unless to visit with Dongil and Chorong.

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Written by John

I'm a graduate student that likes to hike and travel.

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