Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Days 50-51: Busan, South Korea

Unfortunately, I slacked off in Seoul since I had 4 nights there and was slow in my sightseeing. See, had I known better, I would have picked up the pace and spent less time online, all of which meant I could have come to Busan one day early. But it was not to be for one main reason: I didn't want to go to Busan.

What a mistake I made.

The explanation here comes from what I gleaned from Lonely Planet's characterization of Busan from its latest edition of Lonely Planet: Korea. It said that the city lacks a cosmopolitan feel and is very laid back. Basically, it seemed to say that after Seoul, this is like going to a fairly boring place.

This could not be any further from the truth.

For one, though Busan (formerly spelled Pusan in English) is certainly smaller than Seoul (4 million people vs. 12 million), it is not any less lively at night. It has a terrific fish market; the Semyeon downtown area is bustling for blocks and blocks with street food, shops, cafes, bars... literally everything--and this was on a Tuesday night, when I was there. I could only imagine how crowded it gets on the weekends and Friday night. In the summer and early autumn, Busan's two main beaches, Haeundae and Gwangalli, are teeming with people. It is a huge port city, too, perhaps larger than Incheon (maybe I am wrong, but it is a major port hub in any case). A very pleasant city that reminds me of Hangzhou in some aspects (probably due to its romantic feel).

It's a shame I came here for only one night--and I arrived late from Seoul as is, and now I have to catch a ferry to Osaka in a few hours.

Well, perhaps this means I now have a good reason to come back here. I enjoyed Busan more than Seoul, even judging by the little time I had in Busan. Seoul was great, but Busan was out of this world for what I expected. Perhaps it's all relative to my expectations: I didn't expect anything particular from Busan, while from Seoul I expected a Tokyo-like atmosphere in all districts, which I didn't feel so much. While Seoul certainly has some glitzy Shanghai- or Tokyo-like suburbs, many of the streets are business or residential districts with not many people in the day--perhaps many of them commute to the Central Business District for work.

But I would like to come back to Korea some day. My experience here was great. Seoul is cool... and Busan is amazing. And the Korean people here have all been, without exception, very honest and courteous to me.

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