Hello, Busan: A Weekend in the South, Part 1

Last week was quite the whirlwind.  Besides having midterms, my friend Will and I were in the midst of planning our weekend trip out of Seoul.  While there’s still a plethora of things to do here in the capital (take a look at my “to do list” for the specifics), I wanted to take advantage of my one 3-day weekend of the semester and go on an adventure.

I’d been wanting to go beach camping for awhile, so when Will said he’d be down to go, I set out to make it happen.  He suggested Busan, which was a bit further south than what I was originally thinking, but I figured why not?  After doing a little more touristy research, I learned that Geoje-do, Korea’s second largest island (after the famous Jeju-do), is only an hour-and-a-half bus ride from Busan.  We decided that a Busan + Geoje trip would be ideal, and planned to camp on the beach for one night at each.  To maximize our time down south, we booked redeye train tickets for late Thursday night that would get us to Busan before sunrise on Friday and KTX return tickets for Sunday evening.

Now I know this doesn’t sound like much of a plan…  Not having every detail planned was a bit of an adventure in and of itself, as those who know me might have guessed.  But, like I said, I wanted to go on an adventure, so the intentionality of that helped me chill out (a bit) regarding the planning process.  The lack of a detailed, thought-out plan didn’t make my parents very happy, though. (Hi, Mom and Dad!)  I figured worrying is as much a part of parenting as changing dirty diapers, so I didn’t lose any sleep over that.  In the end, they got over it and were quite encouraging and supportive.

Anyways, here’s how it all went down (I’ll stick to the first day of our trip in this post):

In terms of preparation, we sat down one evening to make a packing list, outline our budget, and determine what we needed to acquire before leaving.  We planned to sleep on the beach without a tent or sleeping bags (the weather forecast predicted lows higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit), so what we needed were towels, bug spray/a mosquito net, some non-perishable snacks, fire supplies, sunscreen, and a tarp or some sleeping pads.  Namdaemun Market, a pharmacy, and convenience stores covered most of these items.  We had some trouble finding a mosquito net, so we settled for bug spray; there was a great nut and dried fruit stand in Namdaemun Market that sold the perfect ingredients for a great GORP (aka trail mix); and we found the best little hiking store in Namdaemun that fulfilled our fire starter and tarp needs and was run by a wonderfully friendly and helpful family.  We pretty much did all of this in the two days preceding our departure, and it was hardly stressful.  Busan is a large city after all, so there was always the option of finding supplies down there if necessary.

Great family-run hiking store in Namdaemun

We also had dinner at a street stand after shopping around in Namdaemun.  I fulfilled a couple of the items on my to do list that day —  Namdaemun Market and ddukbokki from a street vendor.


The ddukbokki was surprisingly good — chewy but not too sticky, bite-size (I don’t like having to bite my ddukbokki in half), and spicy with a little sweetness.  Mmmm, street food.  I had also found some delicious mandu earlier to snack on, so the ddukbokki and odeng on a stick was enough for my dinner.


So, after a somewhat hectic day on Thursday of finishing my midterms, picking up last minute supplies for the trip, and finalizing the weight distribution of my backpack, Will and I set out for Seoul Station to catch our 10:50 pm Mugungwha train.

And we’re off!

Older mugungwha train


At slightly over five hours with frequent stops, the ride wasn’t exactly conducive to sleep.  But, we had anticipated this, and planned to head straight to Haeundae, Busan’s most famous beach, upon arrival so that we could splay out on the sand and catch some shut-eye.  When we arrived at the beach around 4:45 in the morning, we were surprised to find it busy with people.  There were lots of groups drinking or just hanging out (probably after a long night of drinking at a nearby bar).

Haeundae Beach at 4:45 am

We headed down the beach to a quieter spot to get some much needed sleep, although we did stay awake long enough to see the sun rise.

Sunrise at Haeundae

A little after 7, I woke up to the sound of people moving things around us.  It was perfect timing, as one of the young men setting up umbrellas along the shore approached us to say sorry, but we needed to move because this section of the beach was reserved for these umbrella plots.  Still a little groggy, I nodded okay and shook Will awake so we could get out of their way.

And the umbrella set up begins…

As it turns out, it wasn’t just that section of the beach; it was the entire beach.  I got some clarification from a man who was also setting up umbrellas further down and learned that we essentially had to buy a spot for 5,000 won to be able to lay out on the sand by the water.  That struck us as very strange, because it’s not a private beach, so we walked our confused selves down to the main road and looked for someplace to grab breakfast.

Unlike us, the shops and restaurants were not quite awake — and honestly, I think both of us wished we could still be asleep as well.  We washed up instead and headed back to Haeundae Beach to buy an umbrella spot.  We realized 5,000 won isn’t too bad when you get the spot for the entire day (until 6:30 pm) and can come and go as you please.  Plus, we were there so early that we got a prime spot right in front of the water.  We decided to head out again for brunch around 11 (we had snacked earlier so we weren’t too hungry) and passed out on our shaded mat.

Umbrellas along the shore

The umbrella spot we bought for 5,000 won

It got really hot really quickly, so I went for a swim right when I woke up.  There were some other people playing around in the water (fully clothed – it’s a Korean thing), which made me feel oddly obscene in my bikini.  I understand shirts and shorts and all that — modesty is a big deal here, as is pale skin — but I saw a guy in jeans who really made me wonder.  A tiny part of me wanted to go up to him and shout, “THIS IS THE BEACH!”

Jeans, really?! (second figure from right)

Rather than worrying about my beach appearance, I contented myself with swimming in neck-deep water and floating around, marveling at the peacefulness of a good float — until that moment a little water got into my eye and made me lose my balance and panic for a fleeting second.  Happens to me every time.  It’s like I’m waiting for the moment to hit, which makes me appreciate the peacefulness even more because I know it won’t last for long, which in turn makes the moment of panic even more startling.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Soon it was time for brunch/lunch, so Will left his sandals on the mat to mark that we were coming back and we set out to explore the area around the beach.  We came across “Haeundae Market”, a long alley lined with restaurant and shop stalls (similar to Namdaemun Market), within a few minutes, but didn’t find a place we wanted to eat there.  We did see lots of live fish and other types of seafood, though.

Eventually hunger trumped indecision, and we sat down in a boribap restaurant.  Boribap is essentially bibimbap but with barley as well as rice, which adds a different texture to the mix.  Since I had never tried it before and love bibimbap, I was a happy camper.

Barley rice

Really salty sauce/topping

We weren’t quite ready to head back to the beach after lunch, so we walked around some more and then took the subway to the Busan Museum of Art.  We had no idea what to expect, but it’s hard to go wrong with art and air conditioning on a scorching summer day.  I really enjoyed strolling around the museum, and it was the perfect break from carrying around our backpacks and sweating like pigs outside.  A few photo highlights from the museum:

Busan Museum of Art

Incredible installation/sculpture


We left the museum a bit after 3 pm and were back on the sand by 3:45.  I do love public transportation.

Back at Haeundae, large, yellow inner tubes dotted the ocean along the entire bay, and the shore was chock full of people.  It was insane.  Fortunately, our spot and Will’s shoes were still there, and we passed the time reading, people watching, and swimming, of course.

Back to the beach – afternoon at Haeundae

Now this is what I would call a crowded beach.

Goodbye, Haeundae

Once it hit 6:15, the umbrellas started to come down, so we packed up and headed to a nearby PC-bang (internet cafe) to plan a little for the next day, Saturday, when we’d be heading to Geoje Island.  Then we were off to Songjeong Beach, our dinner and camping spot for the night.  I’ll pick up there in my next post — queasy (and vegetarian or vegan) readers beware; dinner was an adventure of its own…



    • Hi Suzie gomo! Will and I are just friends – we met in the dorms as he’s here for a different summer program. He’s from SoCal as well and is one of the few people I’ve met here who enjoys camping and the like. Luckily we both wanted to go on this kind of trip out of the city (and I certainly wasn’t going to go alone), and I’d say we made pretty great travel buddies!

  1. Pingback: Live Octopus & Beach Camping: A Weekend in the South, Part 2 « tasty adventures

  2. Pingback: Student By Day, Tourist By Night (And Day) « tasty adventures

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