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Hiking at Taejongdae

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At the southern extreme of Yeongdo Island, a thick forest suddenly gives way to soaring seaside cliffs. This is Taejongdae Park, one of the most emblematic spots in Busan, and a popular place for a walk or, if you’d rather, a scenic ride in a tourist train.

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We arrived at Taejongdae after a lengthy hike along the southern coast of the island. Our day started at a collection of tents set up along the water, selling and preparing clams, mollusks and sea pineapples. We didn’t have any appetite and after our experience at the Millak Raw Fish Market, the sight of a sea pineapple makes me nauseous, but this was a cool area. Sometimes, the waves would crash so high that they’d drench the plates of seafood. I suppose a little sea water on your clams isn’t all that bad.

Our path now went straight uphill, and continued through the woods for a few kilometers. Every once in awhile, we’d get incredible views over the sea, and there were very few other hikers around to spoil the tranquility.

Foggy Hike

The solitude, though, came to an abrupt when we reached the entrance to Taejongdae Park. Even though it was a regular workday, there were a ton of people here. Mostly young couples wearing matching t-shirts. This “Partner Look” is a phenomenon which has amused us since our arrival — often, it’s not just the same shirts, but whole outfits arranged in a complementary fashion. A guy wearing a shirt in the same light-blue color of his girlfriend’s skirt, and both wearing the same baby-blue sneakers. (I shouldn’t smirk too much. Jürgen and I tend to dress alike, too: dirty t-shirts and ratty jeans.)

Most of the people didn’t join us on our walk through Taejongdae, instead waiting for the “tourist train” which circles the park and hits the various sights. There was a lot to see — sculptures, temples, flower gardens. The highlight, though, is the lighthouse and observatory at the far end of the island. With unbeatable views of the nearby Oryukdo Islands to the north and rocky cliffs to the south, this is an amazing area. We climbed out onto the rocks, and took a break before heading back to the park entrance.

Location of the Taejongdae Observatory on our Map
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July 21, 2012 at 6:00 am Comments (3)

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

Hiking through Igidae Park

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The mountains and hills of Busan are easily its best feature, both helping to confine the city’s sprawl and offering parks and natural refuges for residents to escape the stress of everyday life. Among Busan’s wide range of nature walks, the one spanning Igidae Park is among the most popular. We hiked along its 5.2 kilometer coastal trail on a sunny afternoon.

Igidae-Hike

Jangsanbong Mountain occupies the stretch of coastline just south of Gwangalli Beach, and had been under military control until 1993. The whole mountain is now open to the public, though nearly all visitors stick to the popular coastal walk, which takes about two-and-a-half hours. It’s a perfect hike, with magnificent views over the ocean and city, and only slightly strenuous.

Possibly even more than the beautiful nature, the path’s flawless infrastructure most impressed us. Steps and handrails in perfect condition, plentiful information posted in a variety of languages, modern suspension bridges, benches wherever the view is especially good, and even toilets are found along the trail. Busan has clearly invested a lot into Igidae Park, and it’s heartening to see a city so concerned with improving the quality of life of its citizens.

The name “Igidae” comes from a legend set during the Japanese occupation of Busan. Shortly after conquering the city, the Japanese had a victory celebration at the fortress on Jangsanbong Mountain. A few Korean “entertaining women”, or Gisaengs, were brought along to dance for their new lords. Two of them, possessed by nationalistic furor, grabbed one of the drunken Japanese officers and jumped off a cliff, sacrificing themselves for a small taste of Korean revenge (which I bet tastes like kimchi). The name “Igidae” refers to the “two Gisaengs”.

The hike went by in a flash. The park was decently crowded for a weekday afternoon, mostly older people out for a bit of exercise, but we also spotted a lot of fishermen along the coast. Though clearly marked, the path allows for digressions up into the hills, or down to the water. On one of these, we found an expanse of rock marked by the footprints of an Ultrasaurus — an awesomely-named dinosaur native to Korea. Further on, there was a curious rock formation, said to look like Buddha carrying a baby. To me, it looked like an old Korean woman with a bundle on her head. You judge:

Stone Tower Busan

As we approached the southern end of the hike, the Oryukdo Islands came into view. These five rocky islands are just offshore, and uninhabited. They can be circled by ferry — an adventure we would soon embark on.

Igidae is an excellent, stress-free hike, easily accessible from the city. If its popularity on a Thursday afternoon is any indication, I’m guessing the narrow paths can get claustrophobic on a sunny summer weekend. But regardless of the number of other hikers, an enjoyable day out is almost guaranteed.

The Location of the Hike’s Start on our Map
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May 21, 2012 at 7:54 am Comment (1)