Di and I left Fukuoka in Japan by ferry to Busan, South Korea. The ferry terminal is about a 20 minute walk from Hakata train station or, for simplicity sake, you can catch a taxi, as we did for 400 Yen or AUD$5.00. Di and I arrived early, of course, and we had to wait for about an hour before we could buy our ferry tickets. We were travelling on the JR Kyushu ‘Beetle’ ferry – no you cannot use your JR pass even though it is a JR ferry. We hadn’t booked a ticket and this was one of the reasons we wanted to be early to get a ticket. The fare was 9600 Yen each (AUD$120) but there was also an oil tax of 700 Yen and a port tax of 500 Yen to be paid. The ferry left at 1pm and takes three hours to Busan. The ferry is actually a hydrofoil and can reach fairly decent speeds.
The ferry terminal soon filled up with people and Di and I were amazed to see the passengers buying tickets and placing their bags in line to be first through immigration. These people then wandered off, yet when the immigration doors opened Di and I just stood up and walked past the bags into immigration.
When we arrived at the actual ferry boarding location, the ferry had not yet arrived from Korea, so we had to wait about twenty minutes. The same passengers now lined their bags up at the ferry entrance in a nice orderly line, the Japanese love a good queue – I can see why they had such great conflict throughout history with the ‘queueless’ Chinese!
Once on the ferry, we found itself and the seating to be pretty good and was completely full of passengers by departure time. Just before the ferry departed all the staff from the Beetle ferry company lined the dock. Then, as the ferry left the staff lining the dock, all bowed and then waved us bon voyage!! It was all rather cute – unless of course they knew something we didn’t!!!!
The seas were dead flat and like glass. The ferry actually seemed to be taking its time as it encountered no choppy water at all. This lack of rolling motion in the water was a heaven-sent for Di and her chundering proneness to seasickness.
Busan is a city built on a mountain side surrounding a harbour. It is a large port and, on entry to the harbour, you sail under a large bridge – this bridge is actually the Gwangandaegyo Bridge and is number three on the Tripadvisor sights to see in Busan; if a bridge is number 3 must see, then tourist alarm bells were ringing as to what else there was to see!!!
We caught a taxi from the ferry terminal to our hotel, the 9St Motel, for 4000 Won (AUD$4.20). Now my Di has been outstandingly efficient over the past 18 months in regards to hotel and resort bookings. In fact, she has been ‘practically perfect’ in an oh so Mary Poppins sort of way – until we arrived in Busan.
We entered the hotel reception and a small sliding window, which was just above groin height, slid open and the loveable Mr Song stuck his head through the window – he looked like something from the Muppets. Mr Song exclaimed in beautiful, loud, broken English, “who are you, we are full’.
To which Di replied “we have a booking”. Mr Song let out a long and loud “ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh’ and withdrew his head and slid the sliding window at groin height closed and came out of the office door. “Show me, show me” He exclaimed. Di then showed him the booking on her phone. ‘That is for Monday, today is Saturday, we are full” Yep, god love her, we had arrived two day too early. Di shrieked!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mr Song was really good; he rang his friend at a nearby hotel that had accommodation for us and he drove us to that hotel where we stayed the night. By the time we checked in it was 6.30pm and we were knackered. Mr Song did have accommodation for the Sunday night so we could return the next day.
Mr Song kindly upgraded us to a better room as he felt sorry for us in our hour of need. On entering our room Di and I stood gawking!! You see after being in the hotel rooms of Japan where, seriously, if you swung a cat it would get concussion (Whittingham, 2017), the rooms in South Korea are vast and instantly I was struck with vertigo and suffered an attack of agoraphobia – I had forgotten what space was!!!
Busan is famous for its beaches and Di and caught the bus out to Songdo Beach. We caught Line 1 metro to Nampo Station and then bus 7 to Songdo Beach – it was all pretty cheap. The bus driver was a lunatic though and seemed confused which foot used the clutch and what the accelerator and the break were for, but we made it to the beach alive.
The beach was packed with people at the waters’ edge and the temperature was, of course, extremely hot.
The surprising thing for me was the vast number of cargo ships moored just off the beach – without exaggeration there must have been 80 odd. I could only imagine the leakage of oil and rubbish into the sea from these vessels and wondered of the pollution levels in the ocean and on the beaches.
There is a cable car that runs from the beach headland over the hill to another bay – we did not take the cable car as it was a little overcast and the view wasn’t very good.
Instead we walked along an ocean walkway that had a glass floor at certain intervals along it. The walkway was not high above the ocean, only a few metres, but people still would not stand on the glass part and resisted their friends’ attempts to make them walk on it. The beach was a good place to visit.
The next day at breakfast, Mr Song said he wanted to dress us both in traditional Korean costumes. The costumes, he assured us, were what the wealthy aristocrats of Korea would wear to special events a thousand years ago. To be honest I felt like Krusty the Clown!!!!
Di wore a costume that we would see on many occasions in other traditional parts of Korea. The costume she wore though seemed very matronly and did little to show off her figure and, in fact, made her look maternal, but gorgeous of course!
Di looked great whilst I looked like a refugee from a flower power, hippy, drug induced pantomime – but I had fun with it. Di and I, well I, Di just laughed, struck the pose and it was obvious we missed our calling and should have been on the catwalk. Mr Song loved it all and said usually the guests get one or two photos taken and stand there like stunned mullets – strike the pose!!!
I did a lot of walking around the streets of Busan on my own as Di simply found it just too hot and humid for long walks. The port area seems to be the centre of town and it is where most of the nightlife in the city area is. There are places like Haeundee Beach, which is further out, that is supposed to have lots of nightclubs and a younger scene, but generally Busan itself seems to revolve around the port. I found Chinatown was okay for a walk around as well as Russian town nearby where a few bars can be found.
Busan was an alright place to stay. We, though, found it to be a very drab sort of place, it seemed to lack atmosphere and vibrancy. I guess Japan and it’s high energy was a hard place to follow. We really enjoyed the hotel we stayed at and, in particular, our charming host Mr Song, but a few days in Busan was enough for us.
We had planned to catch the overnight ferry to Jeju island. However, we again got our days and timings all wrong. The overnight ferry leaves from Busan at 7pm and arrives at Jeju island at 7am but only operates three times a week. The cost was about AUD$60 per person for overnight floor space and we were just not keen to do the trip. Then when leaving Jeju we would have to get a day ferry to Mokpo, on the mainland, and then a train to Seoul, it was all getting very fiddly and we simply did not allow enough time to do all this, so we skipped it.
Instead we went to Jeonju by bus. The bus from Busan left from Central Bus station and takes 3.5 hours. The cost was 24,000 Won each (AUD$26 each).
South Korea was not turning out to be a happy experience for us – it was just one of those countries. In Jeonju Di booked us into a very tacky looking hotel on the outskirts of town near the train station.
The area we were in was full of rather tacky looking dreary hotels – many of these hotels advertised their bars and KTV (a hostess type bar where you hire ladies to ‘sing and dance’ for you) lounges. The hotel rooms could be hired by the hour and are known as Love Hotels – not that prostitutes per se use them, but love hotel also refers to a hotel where say, a young couple living at home can hire a room by the hour to spend intimate time together, or a man can take his wife away for a ‘dirty weekend’ in a themed room, or a business man can hire a room to entertain his secretary – you get the picture – we were there for four nights at AUD$75 per night! Oh joy!!
The hotel was called the Sopoong Hotel. The first night wasn’t too bad, but the second night we could hear karaoke blaring away and the singers were the worst drunken singers in the world. The singing would stop for a little while, perhaps even as long as thirty minutes, but then would start up again in all its moaning glory!!! This went on until just after 2 am and enough was enough – remembering to put clothes on I went outside the hotel to find the source of the noise. Unbelievably I could hear very little from the street. When I went back to our seventh floor room the singing was loud and clear – it was coming from our floor. Down I went to the managers’ office. The manager laughed at first and said “Music room – finish soon”. Then he saw I was not laughing. He then pointed at the clock and said “3am finish”. My voice changed to my pissed off, stern, listen to me buster, voice – he jumped out of his seat and came upstairs with me.
Two rooms on our floor were themed Karaoke rooms where the Karaoke machine automatically turned off at 3am, but prior to that the occupants could drink and sing awfully to their heats content. Then at 3am they could sleep the alcohol off and rest their weary tonsils. Why on earth he put us two westerners, who fall asleep by 9pm each night in the room next to this music mayhem, is absolutely beyond me – we moved to another, quieter, room the next day.
Jeonju is famous for its Hanok village. Hanok is the type of traditional architecture of Korean buildings. In Hanok, architecture, the positioning of the building, and how it relates to its surroundings, is important. Together with this, and the land, and the weather, makes the design. The Hanok village in Jeonju has over 800 Hanok buildings in it. These buildings are all built with a mountain behind it and a river to the front. They all used the Ondol heated rock system for heating and a wide front porch for summer cooling.
The village was only a thirty minute walk from our hotel, but with the heat we caught a taxi. The village is one of those places where the Korean people hire traditional clothing to wander the streets in. They do look very special all dressed up and you can see they are enjoying themselves immensely. You will see groups of young girls, families and young couples all proudly strutting the streets in their hired traditional clothing. It does have some of the vibrancy Busan was missing.
The next thing is both a negative and a positive for the area. Most of the 800 Hanok houses in the village have turned their homes into a business. These businesses are either shops, food outlets, restaurants, bike hire, or costume hire places – every place is trying to sell you something.
There are just so many food outlets, we had chicken on a stick covered in cheese – delicious.
We then went to an ice cream café and ordered ice cream first, followed by mixed fruit on fruit flavoured flaked iced – simply divine!! Having said this though, it has made the area very commercialised and that does detract from some of the charm.
In the middle of the Hanok village is Gyeonggijeon Shrine. It costs 3000 Won to enter the shrine (AUD$3.30). This shrine was erected in 1400 and holds the portrait of King Tae-jo the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. The shrine is pretty basic compared to what you find elsewhere in Asia where the shrines, Pagodas, temples, etc, tend to be over the top and majestic in nature. I think that is the main problem with South Korea, everything is basic compared to the grandeur of the rest of Asia. There is also a museum in the shrine.
The Jeondong Catholic Church is about 100 metres past Gyeonggijeon Shrine and it seemed more Koreans were at the Catholic Church than in the shrine complex.
Once we had visited these three places we had covered the top three places to go in Jeonju on Tripadvisor. The best part of the Hanok village, for me, was seeing the locals all dressed up and enjoying themselves– it presented a real nationalist pride.
On a different day I walked around Jaman Mural Village, which is about 500 metres past the Hanok village entrance. This village is built on the side of a mountain. The houses are so small they are below my chin is some places. The village was originally a shanty town after the Korean War. All the houses now in the village have quirky murals on the outside of the buildings – like an outdoor art show. The streets are narrow and are steep going up the mountain –and it is hot and sweaty walking through them. The murals are very colourful and contemporary – you will see the Avengers through to Popeye and Pikachu. There are some lovely coffee shops there also with great views of the Hanok village. Well worth the visit.
From Jaman village I turned left and after 500 metres turned right into the Joenju Cultural Centre. Behind the Centre is a lovely river walk and restaurants, there I turned right and walked along the river back towards the Hanok Village. I walked past the Hanok village to Nambu Market, from there I turned right and came to Pungnammun, the old Gates of the city. Surprisingly at this point I was only about 200 metres past the Catholic Church where we were the day before. The Pungnammun Gate is a National Treasure and is worth the visit as it is a beautifully restored building. I have read it looks best at night when it is all lit up. It is definitely a grand old site.
This pretty much summed up our stay in Jeonju, although we did also like Gosa-dong, which is the main area for trendy shops and restaurants. Di and I had great Italian pizzas there and went to the movies.
Would I recommend Busan, it is okay and on the ferry route from Japan, so you have to go there. I would recommend Mr Song and 9St Motel, if you do stay a short time in Busan. In hindsight we should have given ourselves more time to visit Jeju Island and have understood the ferry timetables better. Jeonju is worth a visit for a few days but do not stay at Sopoong Hotel it is not worth it.
As I said previously, South Korea seems to lack some life and atmosphere of other Asian countries. It is not on the tourist trail (funny about that) and does not really cater for tourists from overseas. We were now heading for Seoul and I hope the mood and feel for the country will improve there.
The adventure is ongoing … slowly …….