Busan Take Two

Today, we were in Busan, South Korea for a rather weird and unusual port day… weird because it’s Sunday and stuff was less open than usual, and unusual because the ship didn’t arrive until 3pm and was scheduled to depart at 10:30pm. Given we have been here before, we weren’t too bothered about having a strange half day to go to town, but I felt sorry for people on the ship’s tour who signed up to go all the way out to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple… it takes about an hour to get everyone off the ship, the temple is easily an hour’s drive away, followed by about an hour worth of steps to get down to the beautiful seaside temple, only to end up there in dusk – or worse, in semi-darkness. Not the best scenario for photography or for admiring the intricately painted and carved temple.

Never mind. Our plans only extended as far as going to town, finding a coveted transit card on the metro, checking out the fish markets, heading to a local shopping centre and being back on the ship for to see the lovely bridge all lit up for sail away.

We took the free shuttle bus – the one the ship doesn’t tell you about – to the Busan Metro Station and managed to nail our first objective pretty quickly. Only of course after finding an ATM because none of the ticketing machines accepted credit cards… what’s with that Asia? Everywhere else you can tap and wave for just about anything from a can of Coke to a $100 purchase – here, it’s ‘cash only’ just about everywhere. South Korea and Japan are known as technologically advanced nations and yet, they seem stuck in last century’s financial payment systems.

Anyway, got ourselves some ‘cashbee’ cards for the collection and took a train to the famous Ja-Gal-Ch’i Fish Markets, whereupon we were greeted by nearly every edible fishy thing under the sun. Some of which was already half-gutted and prepared, some of which was being dehydrated for purposes unknown, some of which was alive and kicking in tanks, and some of which was doing its best to escape said tanks! The Fish Markets cover an enormous area including this building where you can buy your fresh seafood and take it to one of the many restaurants upstairs and have them prepare/cook it for you. The entire tray of oysters in the photo below was only10,000 won, and while I would normally have been keen to try all the things, we were here at about 4:30pm, and I was not at all hungry.

After this, we went looking for, and promptly got lost in the Lotte Mall – one of the world’s biggest shopping malls consisting of three interconnected 13 storey towers of shopping as we hunted for the observation deck and coffee shop. With the enormous size of this place, the last thing we expected was to discover the observation deck was only accessible from one tucked out of the way elevator, but eventually, we found the right one. The views were admittedly a bit uninspiring – Busan was, 20C overcast and very hazy today.

After this we made our way back into the shops to potter around, find a snack and bludge some wifi in a coffee shop – as you do, before making our way back to the ship around 9pm. I took some lovely and slightly dodgy photos of the sail away (you try taking night photos off the back of a moving ship with no tripod!) but I kinda like their fuzzy weirdness anyway  😉

Grand Japan – Busan, South Korea

Today we went to South Korea (Best Korea!) as the international port on this cruise for all the Japanese passengers – without it, they don’t get their duty free allowances. So the first half of the cruise stopped in Korsakov, Russia; the second half of the cruise calls in to Busan.

Busan is known as Korea’s summer capital, and has ‘superb’ (for Korea) beaches, impressive hot springs and mountainous scenery. It also appears quite striking for its gorgeous temples and inspiring infrastructure… so many seriously adventurous bridges that look more like roller coasters, and incredible highway systems. Awesome. 

We started our day stepping out the cabin door to the back terrace and not being able to see more than about 5 meters either side of the ship. I have never seen fog like this before in my life. It was thick and cloyingly humid, and visibility was non-existent. Kudos to the Captain and his crew for navigating into berth through the pea soup. From the expressway… 

 Given we were here just for the day, had little to no Korean and no time to waste figuring out the transport system etc, we were on an organised tour for the day. We had a great bus drive (worst bus driver we’ve seen in a while, but very interesting drive) across town to the Haedong Yonggunsa Temple (Dragon Palace Temple) which look out over the ocean. The temple dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (approx 1376AD) and is one of Busan’s most well known and striking landmarks in part due to its unusual location on a rocky outcrop by the sea.  

   The landscape is rugged (approximately 108 steps to get down/back), the temple is stunningly beautiful and there are many shrines and points of observance along the route.      

The temple is not like any of the Japanese temples we have seen so far. The Japanese Buddhist temples are generally plain brown, with some inlaid wood carved and painted, and brass accents… this temple, designed to look out to the Gods of the Sea, and protect the port of Busan against the weather… however, this Korean temple was also designated by the King (according to our guide, she did not specify which King, so I will have to research that later when I have better internet access), as a ‘palace’ as well as a temple – so it is brightly coloured and painted with murals and covered in coloured lanterns.          

 Outside the temple is an enormous Buddha with huge drooping ears (‘so Buddha can hear you best, and know everything’… I think he’s a bit like Santa Claus), as well as a large gilded turtle with a dragon for a head. The turtle/dragon is a symbol of the dragon guardian preventing bad weather.     

 Inside the temple are more statues, lanterns hung to honour and pray for individuals. Also are thousands of small lit icons with family names on them to show the prays of various temple patrons. This temple was so beautiful and also had many other spots where one could make a donation and say a pray for – road and traffic safety (this one has my name all over it!), for educational excellence, for lucky and good fortune, and for the wishes to have a son (a favourite spot to stop, say a prayer and rub Buddha’s belly, for Grandmas from all over Korea by the looks of it).        

After the Haedong Yonggunsa Temple, we made out way to the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Centre, where the 2005 APEC Conference was held and the more recent 2014 Asia Conference was held. It’s a beautifully designed building, large round dome jutting out on the peninsula surrounded by lovely parks and gardens.   


In the front foyer is one of the most amazing pieces or art – an enormous wooden inlaid piece of lacquerwork, full of mother of pearl and abalone shell created by Kim Gyu-Jang, a master craftsman of Korea. The design is 6m x 2.2m and shows 12 symbols of longevity – the sun, clouds, mountains, rock, water, cranes, deer, turtles, pine trees, bamboo, mythical peach and the herb of eternal youth. Absolutely stunning.   

 After visiting the APEC centre, we drove back over the longest suspension bridge in Korea – at 7kms long, the Gwangan Grand Bridge connects Dongbaekseom Island with the mainland. Here we visited the International Markets and wandered among the street food, knock off designer goods, souvenirs shops and ice cream vendors. Had only a short wander around (sooo bloody hot!), before heading back to the ship. For Equinom:  

 This was what you might consider a ‘advertising tour’ of Korea… you’d definitely have to come back to see what the place was really about, and I’d seriously like to come back again one day – only perhaps not in high summer!