I manged to cross of quite a few things on my Korea bucket list this weekend. I've been wanting to visit the peninsula's second largest city since arriving here. Busan has a reputation for gorgeous beaches, good public infrastructure, and a loud, brash, and relatively laid back population. It also houses a number of internationally acclaimed universities, some of which I have recently applied to for English lecturing positions.
Since Thursday was the school's birthday, and Friday was Buddha's birthday, I had an extra long weekend and was able to get a head start on the long weekend traffic, which I have heard nightmarish stories about. I played Ultimate with a few students in the morning, and packed a quick weekend bag and hopped on the bus. As i traveled south, the insanity began. As the end of Thursday's work day approached, the freeway and bus stops became more and more crowded. By the time we stopped in Andong there were all out shouting matches over standing room in the bus aisle.
Five and a half hours and one transfer later I arrived at Busan's central bus terminal, which is conveniently located directly on the subway. It took me another hour to get to Dadaepo beach, where Busan's annual "bids on the beach" Ultimate tournament was being held. I grabbed a swanky love motel, showered under multi colored lights in an enclosed glass water fall shower, and then passed out in a king sized bed. Little did I know it would be the last good night's sleep I would get in Busan!
Because of the long weekend there is a lot of competition for rooms....so the hotel wouldn't let me re book the room for the whole weekend. I was told to come back at 8 pm the next day to claim one.
I checked out and headed to Beomeosa, Busan's biggest buddhist temple. I know it would be insane, being Buddha's birthday and all, but I was unprepared for the 500 meter line up for the bus. There were continuous busses leaving the stop for the temple (literally bumper to bumper). The temple itself was packed, a constant stream of humanity pouring up the steps to bow and pray. Amazingly, the temple was also feeding everyone giant bowls of vegetarian bibimbap (for free - if you were willing to stand in line for it). And of course the paths were lined with vendors selling food, ice cream, rice wine, and offerings for Buddha.
I found some solitude in the amazing cloud forest of wisteria and bamboo (over 6500 flowering wisteria trees), and then headed back into the city to see Busan's most famous beach, Haeyundae (also packed), and then finished off the day at beautiful Spa Land, a giant jjinjibang with multiple floors, indoor and outdoor pools, and all manner of amazing things. After soaking in the hot pools, I accidentally fell asleep on the heated marble floor...so of course I was late getting back to Dadaepo, and by the time I got there every room was booked up. :/
The love motel I eventually found with a room was one of the sketchiest places I have ever slept. The only exception I can think of is the hostel I slept in Peru on Easter weekend: that one was literally just a tsunami-ruined shell with a door that wouldn't lock, surrounded by shady looking Peruvians who definitely seriously considered robbing us. This motel was only less sketchy in that it's Korea, so robbery is almost unheard of. The owner greeted me through a tiny, dirty window with a glare and a toothbrush sticking out if his mouth, shoved a key in my hand, and slammed the window again. The room itself had about two inches of cigarette grime on the walls, one tiny window, and was hot and damp. It was the kind of place where you feel like you could catch an STD just from standing in it. But, it had a bed, so I couldn't really complain.
The next day I coffee'd up and headed to the beach for Ultie. Dadaepo is a gorgeous place, and is relatively difficult to get to, so it was not nearly as crowded as Haeyundae. It actually has the feel of wilderness, if you don't turn around and look at the giant apartment complexes that back it. It was gorgeous and sunny all day, and we won every game. I finished sunburned and happy. Afterwards there was beer on the beach until 1 am, and, since the tournament was Game of Thrones themed, all out running battles with foam weapons. I didn't stay late, being old and un fun.
Accommodation was equally difficult to secure my third night, so I decided to try over nighting at a jjinjibang, something else I've been wanting to do since arriving in Korea...but thus far I have never quite been desperate enough to willingly forgo a bed. The great thing about jjinjibangs is that there is no limit on your stay (usually), and they will provide you with PJ's blankets, and little square pillows. They are wonderfully communal places, used by all ages and all levels of society. I can't speak for the men's experience, but the woman's side is always full of laughing friends, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and children...all totally naked and bathing together, and all totally cool with it. Unlike the serene Japanese Onsens, Korea's jjinjibangs are noisy, rowdy, chaotic places. Kids are splashing around, teenaged girls are giggling and running from pool to pool, women are scrubbing eachother down, yelling at kids, and gossiping. Public baths have erased any discomfort I may have previously had about my own body. I think they should be mandatory for insecure teenaged girls and stuck up body shy westerners.
After stretching in the sauna and soaking in herbal scented pools, I headed up the the relaxation rooms (mixed gender). I read my book and ate a red bean/ice dessert...then retreated to the warm granite floor in a darkened women's sleeping chambers to try and catch some sleep. It wasn't easy...not only was the room stifflingly hot, but I am also not accustomed to sleeping without a mattress. It was insanely crowded with snoring asjumas, younger women, and restless children covering every surface. But even though I didn't sleep well, there is definitely something comforting about curling up on the floor amongst your fellow humans, reduced to near anonymity by the ubiquitous PJ's and the darkness.
This morning I headed back to the beach for about 20 minutes of play before I had to catch a bus back to my town.
Photos are out of order, since I uploaded from my phone! Haeyundae beach, Dadaepo beach, wisteria forest, the nice love motel, and Beomeosa pics included!