Set at the foot of the Baegyangsan Mountain in central Busan, Samgwangsa is a massive temple with enough room for 10,000 worshipers. And there were approximately that many present when we visited on a balmy May evening shortly before Buddha's birthday.
Though Christianity has recently become the dominant religion in South Korea, the country had been a primarily Buddhist land for nearly all of its history. Buddha's Birthday, which fell on May 28th in 2012, is a major celebration across the peninsula. And the week-long Lotus Lantern Festival which precedes it is an engaging reaffirmation of the country's traditional faith.
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.
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!
It took us about 91 minutes walking around Busan to come to a definite conclusion. No way would 91 days be enough to thoroughly explore this city! The beaches, temples, disparate neighborhoods, mountains, street markets, parks... let alone the food. Koreans are known for their work ethic, and I think we're going to have to follow suit to have any chance of seeing even a fraction of the things Busan offers.
Busan, South Korea's second city, doesn't approach Seoul in terms of size or global influence, but is home to a metropolitan population of 3.6 million, and one of the busiest ports in the world. Busan is found on the south-eastern end of the peninsula, closer to Japan than the capital. An important business center full of suits, concrete and convention halls, Busan also boasts popular beaches, nature reserves and an urban landscape shaped by green mountains that pop up almost randomly amid the skyscrapers.