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The Hike to Songjeong Beach

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At the far northeastern end of Busan, Songjeong Beach is a more beautiful and far less popular stretch of sand than the city beaches of Haeundae or Gwangalli. Although you can get there with bus or taxi, the best way to arrive is over a gorgeous three-kilometer hike through the woods.

Busan Beaches

The hike begins near the Jangsan metro station and, like all walking trails in Korea, is well-marked and easy to follow. There’s some workout equipment along the way, but the real reason to tackle the hike is for the amazing views over the sea and the forest valley.

Halfway through, the peaceful silence we’d been enjoying was interrupted by an outlandishly loud alarm coming from somewhere down the coast. After it had sounded for a few minutes, a woman came on the loudspeaker, saying something in Korean. We waited hopefully for an English translation, but it never appeared. And then, the alarm again for at least five minutes. We were all alone in the woods, unable to judge the reactions of others. Were people in the city running in panic for the nearest bunker? Had North Korea pressed the big red button? Had the woman provided instructions on surviving the imminent nuclear holocaust?

Eventually, we saw a family hiking on the trail, at a calm, un-panicked pace. The Korean government tests the alarm system about once a month, bringing all traffic to a standstill, and this must have one such time.

Songjeong Beach awaited us at the end of our hike. Unlike the city beaches, there were no other foreigners here, just big groups of college-age kids playing organized games, and throwing girls into the water — with somewhat more brutality than we Westerners employ. We watched them for awhile, waving off their attempts to get us to join in, and walked to the end of the beach.

A small, wooded peninsula called Jukdo Park caps the beach, providing a shaded relaxation area and a pavilion for views which stretch out over the sea and back towards the beach. There’s less development here than at Busan’s other beaches, and the result is a much prettier panorama. So far, this is one of our favorite spots in the city, and definitely worth the effort of reaching. And if you’re not feeling up to the short hike, a taxi from Jangsan costs about $2.50.

Location of the Hike’s Start
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June 25, 2012 at 12:23 am Comments (0)

Haeundae’s Sand Festival

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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.

Sand Art

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”.

Eat Your Kimchi

Sand Festival Busan 2012
Beach Tents
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June 6, 2012 at 8:10 am Comment (1)

Songdo Beach and Amnan Park

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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.

Korean Baywatch

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.

Songdo-Beach

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?

Location of Songdo Beach
Location of Amnan Park
-Hiking Gear

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June 3, 2012 at 2:21 am Comments (0)

Gwangalli Beach

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Crescent-shaped Gwangalli Beach is one of the most popular hangouts in Busan, offering fine sand, good swimming, and an exorbitant number of cafés, restaurants and bars. We were lucky enough to call it home for three months and spent a lot of time on the its entertaining promenade.

Gwangalli-Beach-Busan

Gwangalli is known as “Café Town”: a well-deserved nickname. If you’re looking for a caffeine fix, there’s an endless supply of cafés to choose from. Angelinus Coffee even has two branches here. These cafés, very Western in style and selection, share the beach front with a large number of bars and clubs, including a few which are known as “foreigner bars”.

By our second weekend in Busan, we’d already spotted three foreigners (almost definitely Americans) passed out on Gwangalli Beach. One girl, still her in Saturday clubbing outfit, was laying completely immobile, face-down on the sand at 1pm on Sunday afternoon. Sigh. We Americans aren’t exactly known for our drinking prowess, but that’s something else. It’s a good thing there’s not much crime in Busan.

At the northern end of Gwangalli is a live fish market and the world’s largest sashimi house, which we visited. An unmissable Korean experience; you choose your live fish from one of the vendors, then take it to one of the upstairs restaurants where it’s sliced up and served fresh.

As much fun as Gwangalli can be during the day, it’s especially lively at night when the promenade fills up with love-struck couples and groups of friends meeting up, for a night on the town. The atmosphere is festive, with lights of the bars and cafes matched across the water by the lights of the sparkling Diamond Bridge. Gwangan Bridge is Korea’s second-longest, measuring in at a jaw-dropping four miles, and the way it encircles the bay is quite beautiful.

Beach season gets underway at the beginning of July, and the swimming at Gwangalli is fantastic. A selection of watersports, such as jet skiing, are available from the nearby Busan Yachting Center. This was a great area to be living in during the summer.

Location on our Busan Map

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May 19, 2012 at 3:57 am Comment (1)