The Gwangan Bridge opened in 2003, connecting the neighborhoods of Haeundae and Suyeong, and instantly became one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Also referred to as the Diamond Bridge, it’s a beautiful structure, especially after dusk when brought to life by colorful lights.
After a night on the town, it’s something of a tradition of ours to grab an ice cream and sit on Gwangalli Beach, to look at Korea’s second-longest suspension bridge. Sounds kind of lame, bridge-watching, but somehow it never gets old. The lights of the bridge change color and reflect beautifully in the water. When the night is pleasantly cool and you’ve just put another busy day behind you, there’s no better way to wind down.
Apart from the beach, the best spot to appreciate the bridge is from the astronomical observatory on Geumnyeonsan Mountain. A cheap taxi ride from the Geumnyeonsan Metro station will take you there, and the views from the observatory over Gwangalli Beach and Suyeong are unparalleled. It’s also a good area for hiking during the day.
I suspect that, years from now, when I think back on our time in Busan, the Diamond Bridge will be the first image that pops into my mind.
South Korea’s most popular beach is Haeundae, found on the northeastern end of the city. Famous across the country as a place to see and be seen, Haeundae explodes into life during the summer when the entire beach is covered in both parasols and people who are less interested in swimming than looking good.
Unfortunately, this has been a very wet summer, and there haven’t been a lot of weekends conducive to beach time. But the clouds momentarily lifted on one Saturday afternoon, and we went to check out the scene. Haeundae has the world record for most number of parasols on a beach (yes, there’s a “record” for that), and the atmosphere is claustrophobic and chaotic.
We walked up and down the sand — the water was awfully cold (perhaps we’ve been weakened by summers on the southern coast of Spain), so we had to content ourselves with people-watching. Luckily, the people-watching is excellent. There are girls walking around on the sand with high heels, guys carrying fluffy dogs with dyed-red ears, groups of foreigners playing volleyball and thousands of parasols, almost all occupied. Haeundae is a hot-spot for the wealthy youth of Seoul, who come to Busan in droves for the weekend.
There is some structure to the chaos of Haeundae. You can rent the umbrellas at automatic machines, as well as big yellow inner tubes for the water. If you get hungry while sunbathing, just pick up the phone — pizza companies will deliver to the beach. And despite the rigid organization, there are less rules here than at many beaches; you can drink, play ball, and bring dogs.
It’s not exactly the kind of beach experience we normally go for, but clearly appeals to a lot of people. A day on Haeundae is perhaps not relaxing, but it’s certainly entertaining.
The beginning of the summer has hit Busan, and the city seems to be celebrating with a raft of festivals. There’s the International Car Show, a River Sports Festival, an International Dance Festival, a Port Festival, and a Traditional Folk Festival… and this all in the first week of June! We felt a little guilty skipping out on all of them, so decided to check out the Sand Festival at Haeundae Beach.
It was one of the first sunny weekend days of summer, and the beach was packed with people. Not too many of them were there for the Sand Festival, though, and it quickly became apparent why. Where we had expected huge statues made of sand, the sculptures weren’t much more than “paintings” in the sand, carved out of big mounds.
Some of them were quite well done, but we weren’t too impressed and quickly abandoned the festival to spend an extra hour laying on the beach. But we got some great photos worth sharing, and the atmosphere on the beach was a lot of fun… even if we can classify the Sand Festival itself as “skippable”.
Armed with a map of Busan’s best walks, a bottle of water and bellies full of doughnut-power, we set off on a long hike through the peninsular neighborhood of Amnan-Dong, southwest of Nampo. The seven-kilometer route would bring us over the Namhang Bridge to Songdo Beach, and down the coast to Amnan Park.
We got out of the bus at the foot of the Namhang Bridge, where fishermen were throwing lines into murky-looking water. The bridge crosses the western end of Busan’s port and, after ascending in an elevator to the pedestrian walkway, we had a great view of the Jagalchi Fish Market and the heavy maritime traffic bringing in the day’s fresh catch. Construction on the Namhang began in 1985, but it only opened to the public in 2008, due to delays caused by financial difficulties.
At the western end of the bridge, we found Songdo, which was Busan’s first public beach. There were a couple whale statues in the water, but nobody on the sand, save a couple optimistic foreigners taking in the sun. The swimming at Songdo didn’t look all that inviting, thanks to the huge number of barges right off shore, but the beach itself is beautiful; horseshoe-shaped and surrounded by an never-ending supply of restaurants, most of which specialize in fish. I’d bet that when the lights come on at night, it’s a cool area.
On the far end of the beach, we picked up the Songdo Coastal Walkway, which hugs the ocean and offers some incredible views back over the bridge and down to red-colored cliffs. Midway through, there was an open lot with a long line of fishermen on the rocks, and a makeshift market where their wives (I’m assuming) were selling the freshly caught octopus, squid, oysters and sea squirts. Each stand had a small eating area in the back; you probably couldn’t find this kind of meal cheaper or fresher anywhere else.
After the market, the walkway increased noticeably in difficulty. Up and up and up, and then down, then up some more. By the time we reached Amnan Park on the southern extreme of the peninsula, we were exhausted. There was a great view, and some interesting modern sculptures were strewn haphazardly around the park, but we were mostly just happy to be finished, and found a taxi to take us back to Nampo-Dong.
Busan is amazing for hiking — while in the woods along the coast, with nothing but the sound of the ocean for company, it’s hard to believe that you’re still in the middle of a major metropolis. In how many cities of Busan’s size can you feel totally secluded in nature?
We're Jürgen and Mike, from Germany and the USA. Born wanderers, we love learning about new cultures and have decided to see the world... slowly. Always being tourists might get lame, but eternal newcomers? We can live with that. So, our plan is to move to an interesting new city, once every three months. About 91 days.