Sunday, April 19, 2009


In late March, I finally took the opportunity to explore South Korea's second largest city, Busan, which also happens to be the world's fifth largest seaport. Located on Korea's southern coast, Busan is a popular destination for beachcombers, foreign sailors, Japanese tourists, and perhaps in 2020, Olympians. Busan is vying to play host to the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Enjoying some hwae (sushi) on Haeundae Beach. Photo by Matt Kelley.

A chilly Haeundae Beach

Now that you have the same image of Busan I had before seeing it in person--seafood, sandy beaches, colorful vistas--I can't help but share my actual first impression of the city. My KTX train chugged into town after dark on a Saturday evening and, since my cronies were stuck in traffic an hour away, I spent my first two hours upon arrival perusing the vicinity of the station. I was quickly lured into "Chinatown," a neighborhood seemingly inoccuous from afar. Despite the oriental moniker, once I ventured past the red lanterns hanging around the perimeter I began to wonder if I had somehow detrained in Vladivostok. The area may be the closest thing Busan has to a Chinatown, but it's every bit as much Russian sailorville, Southeast Asian prostitiuteburg, and American GI City. I suppose it's just like me to unknowlingly head straight for the seediest part of town, and then start taking pictures.

Chinatown, a.k.a. "Texas Street"

Thankfully, there's plenty to enjoy beyond Busan's mixing bowl of international vice. The ports, beaches, narrow alleyways, and cool bridges are all fun to check out on foot, but my favorite part of the trip was viewing the city from the sky. A trip up Busan Tower reveals a colorful, hilly port city oddly reminiscent of Latin America and San Francisco all at once. It sure ain't Seoul!

Haeundae is one of the nation's most famous beaches, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every weekend during warm-weather months. Unfortuantely for ornithophobes like me, it's also a hot spot for pigeons, seagulls, and the crazies who like to feed them. If I ever decide to overcome my fear through shock therapy, Haeundae would be a prime location to undergo treatment.

My worst nightmare on Haeundae Beach. Photo by Matt Kelley

For more detailed information about Busan, check out Matt Kelley's Discovering Korea blog.