Busan is a city of opposites. Here, smelly (but fascinating) fish markets sit alongside gleaming Lotte megamalls. Along the coast, colourful houses (Gamcheon Cultural Village 감천문화마을) sprawl over like lichen in a haphazard fashion, which has earned the city the moniker “Santorini of the East”. Korea’s second-largest city is an eclectic mix.
Busan’s calm coastal vibe is constantly punctuated by some of the loudest, brashest Koreans you will ever find on the peninsula. The Busanites speak a local dialect (or ‘satoori’ in Korean 사투리) particular to the Gyeongsang (경상) region with an accent that sounds like Japanese. Loud as they are, these are also possibly some of the most unpretentious, down-to-earth and friendliest Koreans you will ever meet.
Busanites are proud of their seafood and beaches, and rightly so. Haeundae Beach (해운대 해수욕장) is Busan’s top draw (there’s even a movie title of the same name), and also plays host to a couple of special events annually, such as the Busan International Rock Festival and Busan Sea Festival. However, the event that has arguably placed Busan on the global arena is the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), held in early October. The largest of its kind in Asia, the 18th edition in 2013 saw just under 300 film screenings from 70 countries and more than 200,000 guests in attendance. For more updates on this year’s edition, visit the official website of the BIFF 2015. If you prefer to stay away from the limelight, Gwangalli Beach (광안리해수욕장) is ideal for a romantic evening stroll.
Off-the-beaten-track seekers should check out the Haedong Yonggung Temple (해동용궁사), well concealed in the rocky confines of Busan’s northeast coast. For a more intimate Busan experience, get wet and dirty at the Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치 사장) or go bargain-hunting at the sprawling night markets along Gwangbok-dong Cultural & Fashion Street (광복동거리) and Nampo-dong (남포동).
Alternatively, join the local folks at a free open-air foot spa (Dongnae Spa 동내스파) in Oncheonjang (온천장) or check into one of the pojangmacha (포장마차) – which literally means ‘covered tent stalls’ – for some fresh seafood and embrace the boisterous greetings from the Busanites.
어서오세요! (“Welcome!” in Korean). LS
P.S.: The green-coloured tents are not pojangmacha (포장마차) [i.e. food-and-drink stalls] but fortune-telling stalls. If you fancy another authentic Korean experience, pop into one of these to peek into your future. Of course, it helps to have someone with you who can speak Korean to do the translation.