We published over 2000 photos during our three months in Busan. That’s a record for our site, and a testament to what an amazing city this is. As you’ll see in our final batch of photos, Busan is strangely compelling and offers a little bit of everything, from the beautiful to the amusing, to the downright bizarre. Taking pictures here was always a blast… we’re going to miss it.
A trip to the Gamcheon Culture Village was one of the stranger excursions we’ve undertaken during our time in South Korea. This neighborhood in the west of Busan has dedicated itself to art, with murals, sculptures and installations that occupy entire houses. Visitors are taken on a tour which snakes through narrow alleys and ends at an observation deck with an amazing view over the city.
During our day in Gamcheon, we felt transported back to our months in South America. Walking through this section of town, which is set high on a hill overlooking the city, reminded us of exploring La Paz, in Bolivia. The steep inclines, humble housing, complicated and constricted alleys, and gangs of noisy kids monitoring us… yeah, this could have been the La Paz neighborhood of J’acha Kollo.
One big difference between Gamcheon and La Paz was the colorfully painted houses and community emphasis on art. In this aspect, it was reminiscent of La Boca, in Buenos Aires: another rough-and-tumble neighborhood which turned itself into a sort of open-air art installation. La Boca was a heavily immigrant community, while Gamcheon was populated with refugees from the Korean War. In both cases, historically marginalized groups came together to improve their lot through art.
Furthering the South American connection, Gamcheon Culture Village has decided to refer to itself as the Machu Picchu of Busan. The similarities to La Paz and Boca were clear enough, but Machu Picchu? I didn’t see that at all.
The artwork in Gamcheon interesting, if a little too modern… the rooms of the Light House, for example, are full of stuffed animals which represent (I’m paraphrasing from memory, here) “the birth of man and his continuing journey surrounded by family, and dreams”. Something like that. But I really liked the Mirror Wall, which is a mural that reflects the other side of the street. When you stand in the right spot, it’s like holding a mirror up to the city.
Upon arriving, we were met by a neighborhood representative who provided us with a map and a mission: collect seven stamps from the various installations, to win a couple free postcards. Arrows painted on the sides of the houses led us through Gamcheon, past embankments which boasted incredible views over the port, and into the art houses. Honestly, the artwork was secondary; we had a blast just walking around.
If you’re looking for something different to do in Busan, you can’t go wrong with Gamcheon Culture Village. To get there, take the Orange Line to Toseong-Dong, then grab Bus 1-1, 2, or 2-1 in front of the Busan Cancer Clinic. Regardless of how much you appreciate modern art, the neighborhood is worth a look.
Haedong Yonggungsa (해동용궁사) is unique among Busan’s Buddhist temples in that it lies not in the mountains, but on the seafront. It was founded in 1376, during the Goryeo Dynasty, and completely destroyed during the Japanese invasions. Though the current construction only dates from the 1970s, the temple is a beautiful and much-beloved center of worship. In fact, I can’t imagine it being any more popular.
Of course, we were visiting on the day before Buddha’s birthday, when legions of the faithful had shown up. This was definitely the only time in my life I’ve waited in a 45-minute line to enter a temple or church. But it was a sunny morning, and the queue gave us time to take in the beauty of the temple from afar. Haedong Yonggungsa looks out over the sea, with tall dagobas erected on the rock above, and has as its centerpiece a three-story pagoda protected by four lions. Inside the pagoda are bone relics brought to Korea by a Sri Lankan monk… a neat connection to our previous home.
According to the temple’s website, its motto is “At least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartful prayers.” That’s hopeful, and at least more optimistic than the Christian slogans I grew up with like, “Repent, ye sinner”. The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, thought to reside in the sea, is the main deity at Haedong Yonggungsa. Apparently, she’s appeared to people here, and saying her name over and over will result in good fortune.
It was a little hard to appreciate all the details of the temple, due to the celebrations underway. Lanterns were strung up everywhere, hiding from view anything higher than a couple meters, including a statue of the mercy goddess. And man, do Koreans love taking photographs. You couldn’t move an inch without accidentally intruding in someone else’s frame. It was a little amusing to hear Jürgen — who never stops taking pictures — complain about other people doing the same.
From the airplane, while arriving into Busan for the first time, I was afraid that the city might be too dull. But while the blocks of identical gray apartment buildings might dominate the skyline, once you get onto the streets, Busan offers endless variety. Temples, bars, traffic, cute plush toys and drawings, and… chicken crossings? This city has it all!
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.