We’d been debating about visiting Busan for some time so when we received an invite to our friend Louis’ wedding in Gimhae (just outside of Busan) we decided to bite the bullet and venture to the eastern city. Busan (or Pusan, if you like), is a city with some impressive statistics. It’s the second biggest city in South Korea (3.6M people), home to the fifth largest port in the world, the world’s largest department store and Korea’s best beach – Haeundae.
Getting around Korea is a mission at the best of times, throw some perfect weather and a film festival into the mix and getting to Busan becomes somewhat of an ordeal. After some Paris Baguette and a four hour wait at our local bus terminal we finally boarded our express bus to the sunny city. Three and a half hours later we arrived.
After getting confused by the subway ticket machine (partly due to the friendly but pushy Korean man who wanted to help us), failing to find a love motel that wanted our money and figuring out what bus we needed to catch to Gimhae we were tired, hungry and grumpy. So we gave up and headed for Haeundae. Like Seoul, Busan’s subway is clean and efficient. All the stations are signposted in Korean and English and the tickets are a measly 1,000 won (for one stage) or 1,200 won (for two stages).
At Haeundae we were greeted with the smell of salty air and seagull calls… ah beach, we’ve missed you! The area looks very similar to the Gold Coast; a white sand beach lined by a boardwalk and sky-high buildings/hotels. At night it transforms into a sea of neon signs (like most Korean cities), crawling with people enjoying the beach or one of the local eateries.
We had little trouble finding accommodation here, a block back from the beach there are ample love motels of various prices. We opted for Castle Beach Motel for 80,000 won a night with a super king bed and a sea view.
After enjoying some burgers and beer we took a stroll along the boardwalk, soaking up the atmosphere surrounding the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF). The film festival is in it’s fourteenth year and attracts a lot of Asian films and new directors. We were just in time to see William Dafoe (Spiderman, The English Patient) getting his hands printed for his new film A Woman. Also in attendance were Oliver Stone (director of Wall Street), Juliette Binoche (one of my favorite French actresses) and Kim Yunjin (LOST). According to the festival program, Stephen Kang (Korean NZ-er) was also premiering his feature film Disaster.
Further along the boardwalk we took some pictures of Gwangalli bridge, (the largest bridge in Korea), finally called Deon and Sylvia and then headed out for some more drinks at U2.
Early Sunday morning we boarded our bus to Gimhae for Louis’ wedding. We met Louis at orientation, an American Korean, who after several years in the US military was embarking on his first teaching experience to South Korea. Louis met Carrie (his fiance) in the States and followed her to Korea. They are a really sweet couple who were very excited about their wedding and even more excited about meeting their new family member, due in April.
Unlike Western weddings, Korean wedding ceremonies are conducted in ‘wedding halls’ or ballrooms. The rooms are rented by the couple and then decorated to their taste. Often several weddings happen at once on different levels of the facility. Louis and Carrie chose the Gimhae City Hall (Carrie’s home town) and opted for a more Westernized ceremony with a tuxedo and a white wedding gown. After the main ceremony they held a small traditional ceremony for family in which they wore traditional Korean dress.
The ceremony took just under thirty minutes and then it was off to the local dining hall for lunch. Korean wedding buffets often include several wedding groups across several rooms, as opposed to a private function setup, common at most Western weddings. So many wedding guests can get pretty confusing, so make sure you check you’re sitting with guests from the correct wedding!The most common gift for the new couple is cash, which goes towards the luncheon and/or honeymoon. Louis and Carrie will be spending their honeymoon on an island just off the coast of Busan, so we’ve crossed our fingers for sunny weather.
After saying our goodbyes, Carrie’s friends dropped us at the local subway station and we made our way back to the bus terminal. Initally we’d wanted to take the KTX home, but this option was already booked up. Unfortunately when we arrived (at 3pm) the ONLY bus to Cheongju (which hadn’t sold out) was at 8:20pm. After some heated discussion we purchased tickets for this bus and then decided to head back to Haeundae for some beer and Mexican food as opposed to spending five hours at the bus terminal.
We arrived home a little after midnight, completely exhausted and dreading the early start for school on Monday. Whilst we had a lovely time in Busan we didn’t get to see that much of the city so if you’re thinking of doing the trip make sure you give yourself a few days to soak up more of the sights.
Haeundae Beach – Haeundae Station, exit 3/5.
Walk ten minutes towards the beach.