Busan: The Coastal City

Remember how I said I had a lull in my work so I was going to post more? Well, that didn’t turn out how I expected haha. But this time, for real, there is a lull. I promise. I will be doing more regular updates for the next few months.

Last time I talked about Jeju, an island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. In this post I’ll be talking about Busan, the coastal city on the south-eastern coast of Korea.

Seagulls are kinda scary when they fly so close.

Busan might actually be my favourite city in Korea. It’s the second largest city and it’s filled with a ton of natural, historical, and cultural spots. It has pretty much everything you need for a good and peaceful life. That said, a lot of life in Korea revolves around Seoul, meaning that a lot of events and things are centered around Seoul, which is not necessarily close to Busan.

Regardless, I really enjoy going to Busan. I’ve been there a bunch of times, typically going a few times a year. Busan is most well-known for their nature. They have the country’s largest beaches and like any other part of Korea, also has a ton of hikeable mountains.

A big city with greenery and the ocean, wonderful.

Gwangalli is by far my favourite beach in Busan. Everyone always talks about Haeundae, but Haeundae is boring. Gwangalli is where it’s at. It’s closer to the city center, has an awesome bridge, and is just, better. Pretty much every time I go to Busan I end up going to Gwangalli even if just for a short time.

It’s really relaxing to just be by the beach and eat and drink. At night time the bridge lights up as well and people start shooting small fireworks around and it makes for a pretty great atmosphere.

And speaking of fireworks, Busan also has an insanely big fireworks festival. Every year in the fall they have the Busan Fireworks Festival by Gwangalli Beach where literally a million people show up to watch the show. I’ve been twice and it truly is a spectacle.

Fireworks, lasers, and lights.

The fireworks are big, and it’s all choreographed to music. It’s a really great show. Lots of people, but great show.

Moving away from Gwangalli, Busan also has a lot of great cultural and historical stuff too. During the Korean War a lot of Korea was destroyed but Busan actually stayed relatively intact. As a result it’s actually an “older” city in the sense that not as much of it was rebuilt. Plus, a lot of refugees came to Busan from all over Korea and so it ended up becoming a city that looks visually different from most of the other cities.

Like you have the Gamcheon Culture Village which is pretty unique looking. Korea normally has pretty grey buildings, but that village decided to not be grey and so it’s just pastel coloured. It’s also kind of a hub for some art stuff too, so it’s a neat walk around.

Buildings in the Gamcheon Culture Village are pastel coloured.

Busan just feels more like a city that evolved naturally rather than some other big Korean cities which feel very artificial. The entire place has a sense of (modern) history, which to me is really nice.

Speaking of modern history, Busan also has a war cemetery which commemorates the fallen of the Korean War. It’s kind of an interesting place to go to as well if you are interested in modern history, but it’s a cemetery so it’s not really a super big sightseeing place.

Aside from this kind of stuff, Busan also has a lot of traditional spots as well. One of the most famous is Yonggungsa, which is Korea’s only temple that is by the water. The temple itself is not that special, but it’s cool that it’s by the water. But what’s even more especially cool is when it’s Buddha’s Birthday because then the temples get decorated with a bunch of lanterns.

Colourful lanterns in a temple by the water,

Many temples get lanterns during that time, but of course it’s cool when its by the water because the ocean is great.

There’s a lot of other neat things to say about Busan. One of my favourite is G-Star, a large Korean gaming convention they have every year. I’ve been twice, and it has always been cool to check out some more gaming stuff. I wanted to go again last year, but because of school I couldn’t make it.

Gaming is big in Korea and so I really enjoyed going to a gaming convention. They frequently host esports events and showcase a lot of games and cool technology. In fact, the first time I went was because they had a Brood War tournament with some pros I liked.

Lots of people, lots of interesting games.

There’s a lot I can say about Busan. It’s a cool place and I really like it. I highly recommend others to go visit it. Most people just end up going to Seoul because it’s by the airport, but it’s always worth the trip down to Busan. It even has it’s own (small) airport, which could make it a good stop on the way to Japan or Jeju.

Jeju: The Volcanic Island

So it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been pretty busy with my thesis and stuff lately so I’ve neglected posting anything new here. But I’ve hit a bit of a lull in my work so it seems like a good time to add some content!

I’ve been living in South Korea for almost three years now. It’s pretty crazy when I think back to my time here. It really doesn’t feel like three years, but numbers don’t lie. In my time here I’ve visited a bunch of places, and aside from the south-eastern corner of the peninsula I’ve been all over this country. So, I’ve decided to write a few posts about three of my favourite places to visit, starting with Jeju Island, the largest island in Korea.

As an island south of the mainland, it’s a lot more tropical.

I’ve only been to Jeju once, and that was actually pretty much this time two years ago. I really enjoyed my time there and always planned on going back, but alas I haven’t went back in the time since. Of all the places in Korea though, Jeju is definitely the one place where I actually want to go back to.

After living in Korea for so long, one thing that becomes pretty apparent is that every city is like the same. Seoul is obviously the big city and Busan has the ocean and the beaches, so they’re the most unique. But a lot of the cities just feel.. similar. All the buildings in the cities here are built relatively recently, and probably around the same time too, and they’re all just boring grey buildings. You can go to a completely different city and not even know it sometimes since so many parts of the cities in this country look alike.

This kinda extends to the nature aspects as well. When I first got here I was really amazed at the Korean scenery since it actually looks pretty nice. Lots of rolling mountains, the ocean, and a decent amount of forest cover. But again, the country is quite small so the entire country looks the same. There’s just no variety. Coming from Canada, which is obviously a big country, we have a lot of variety in our landscapes which is something I enjoy. Variety is pretty key, and I think that Jeju is the most visually distinct when it comes to Korea.

Mountains in Jeju are a bit spikier looking.

Being a volcanic island situated south of the mainland, Jeju actually looks and feels different. The air is a bit clearer, the mountains are a bit spikier, and the small villages and towns also have a bit of a different feel to them as well. Pretty neat atmosphere.

Of course, you have to leave the city. Jeju City was pretty boring to me to be honest, since it just reminded me of any other coastal city in Korea. But, the naturey sightseeing spots in Jeju are actually really nice and it’s by far the main reason why you would want to go to the island to begin with. Sure, they also have random stuff like the African Museum of Art, but I’m not really looking to check that stuff out if I visit a volcanic island in Korea though you know?

The main thing in Jeju is Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea. It also happens to be a volcano in the center of the island, so it’s hard to miss. There’s hiking trails that go up the mountain, and despite it not being a very difficult hike up, I’m still not sure if it was worth it.

The crater lake at the top of Hallasan.

It took us four and a half hours to go up, and then another three hours coming back down. I’ve done my fair share of Korean hikes but man, that was a long hike.

The actual crater lake at the top was.. disappointing. Plus there were a ton of flies when we went so it was really gross cause they kept flying around. But I do admit the mountain itself is quite scenic and the fact that you could turn around and look over the island at the top was pretty fantastic. On a nice day you can even see the edge of the island, which we were lucky enough to see. There’s something pretty awesome about seeing that far away and actually getting to see where the landmass ends.

Jeju pretty much positions itself as the volcanic alternative to the mainland. The lava tubes is one of the major attractions as well, and definitely pretty neat. It’s not mindblowing, but it was still pretty cool to walk through this cave and check out the lava formations and stuff.

Lava formations, kinda neat.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been in a cave but it was the first time I’ve been to a volcanic cave though, which was cool.

When I went to Jeju I pretty much just hit up a lot of the main touristy areas since that was the easiest way to do it. But now that I’ve been there once I kinda wanna go back and just, explore a bit more. Either by renting a car or even biking around the island. Jeju has a lot of cool stuff that’s heavily featured in tourist resources, but I have a feeling that there’s a lot of random cool stuff to just discover on your own, which is something I want to check out if I ever go back.

Like we also went to Udo as well, which is a small island off the coast of Jeju. So like, the Jeju of Jeju. We ended up taking a bus around the island but you could also rent scooters or whatever, which in retrospect seems like a more fun option. Having the freedom to just explore is pretty nice.

Even the algae is different.

So in conclusion Jeju is nice. It honestly might be my favourite sightseeing area in Korea, so I do recommend it to anyone that enjoys traditional culture and nature. If possible, rent a car or some other form of transportation that gives you a bit more freedom though, I think that’s what I would do. When we were there we ended up covering maybe half of the island, but not fully of course. If I ever go back I’d definitely want to check out the western and southern sides of the island.

Taipei: The Food City

About a month ago I took a few days off from the lab and went to Taiwan. I figured since I was in Korea, I should make the most of it and visit as many Asian countries as I can. Since Taiwan is relatively close (and small), it seemed like a good place to go to for a short break. I also wanted to go because I’ve heard good things about Taiwan, and after living in Korea for so long I needed a break and just get some Chinese food too.

I wanted to write a post about it soon after I got back but I had a lot of work to do for my lab so I never had the time or energy for it.

But, I’m writing one now so it’s ok. My trip was mostly centered around Taipei, but we took a short day trip out to Jiufen and Shifen as well. Despite the title of this post centered around Taipei, I’ll talk about those two places as well because they’re close enough and don’t really deserve a separate blog post (despite being amazing).

Taipei skyline taken from Elephant Mountain.
Taipei skyline taken from Elephant Mountain.

So despite only being in Taiwan for a few days, I had a pretty good time. Taipei was a nice city and honestly seems like a great place to live. It has all the things you’d think of when you think of a big Asian city, but it feels more.. free? than other cities. Aside from the fact that it seems incredibly liberal, like I don’t think I have seen so many openly gay people ever, the population of Taipei is lower than a lot of other cities like Tokyo and Seoul, so it doesn’t feel as crowded and there’s more open space.

I like open space, open space is nice.

The actual city was pretty interesting too. Some parts of it look like they’re straight out of Japan, which I guess makes sense if you consider historical elements, and others look very Chinese, which again, makes sense. There’s a pretty interesting blend of cultures in Taiwan and as a dude that loves Chinese and Japanese food, I honestly felt very at home in Taiwan.

Ximending looks like it could've just been some part of Tokyo.
Ximending looks like it could’ve just been some part of Tokyo.

The food selection in Taipei is fantastic. Taiwan has like, everything. They have a ton of restaurants catering to different types of food, and to me it was especially important that they had so many different types of Chinese food. They even have a lot of street markets with a lot of random street food that is both cheap and delicious. Just walking down the many street markets they have, sampling just some of everything, is an adventure in itself.

Everywhere, from the restaurants to marts, had good food. And I love me some cheap and delicious food. You could eat different food for days, even weeks on end probably, and still have a ton to eat. I wish I had more time just to eat more food really.

But I guess if you weren’t interested in food, then you’d probably go sightsee right? Well, to me, Taipei wasn’t that exciting for sightseeing.

Seeing snakes outside of snake restaurants is pretty cool.
Seeing snakes outside of snake restaurants is pretty cool.

Normally when I travel I like to see and experience things that I can’t find anywhere else. But when I went to Taipei I didn’t really have that feeling. A lot of times when I was walking around and looking at stuff, I kept having feelings of Hong Kong or Japan, and nothing really struck me as “super Taiwanese”, if you know what I mean. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was probably the most unique thing I saw in Taipei, and despite that being really cool by itself, it didn’t really blow me away like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

Taipei 101 is also heralded as one of the big landmarks in Taipei, and I do admit it kinda looks cool, but it’s not that special. I was only in Taipei for a few days so I probably did miss some stuff, but I think I covered the major things when I was there. So in that way, the trip was a bit disappointing. That said, we did a one day trip out of Taipei and that was really awesome and definitely the highlight of my trip.

The atmosphere in Shifen is amazing.
The atmosphere in Shifen is amazing.

The first part of that excursion was to Shifen, a small town that is known for their sky lanterns. A lot of tourists go out to this small place in the middle of essentially nowhere to write their dreams and wishes on lanterns, and then light a fire and see it rise up into the sky. It does sound super touristy, but man, that was a cool place. The whole mix of the sky lanterns being constantly launched into the sky and the people hopping around on a train track was really unreal. It was even cooler when a train did come because people had to like, evacuate the track, which sounds kinda dumb but just adds to the experience.

I really enjoyed that. It was fun to write stuff with my friends, and even more fun to see our lantern fly into the sky. That was cool and I highly recommend it.

Afterwards we went to Jiufen, which is a nearby town that many people say was the inspiration for the town in Spirited Away. Going at night definitely makes the experience a lot nicer, but I think that it wasn’t really that special. Taipei has a lot of night markets already, and the old town in Jiufen just kinda felt like a more traditional looking night market. The “landmark” there, the tea shop, was kinda cool I guess, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the trip out there.

The Ah Mei Tea House, a very cozy looking building swarmed with tons of tourists.
The Ah Mei Tea House, a very cozy looking building swarmed with tons of tourists.

So overall Taipei was nice, but I think that if you were to visit Taiwan, it might be a better trip if you took some time out of the cities and went to the countryside. That’s what I’ll be doing the next time that’s for sure. I liked Taipei, and I probably wouldn’t mind living there, but aside from a brief respite for food and stuff, it doesn’t seem too exciting from a tourist perspective. Granted maybe I just didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have. Like we went to the National Palace Museum too and I just didn’t get it.

Regardless, would go again, but definitely want to check out some more naturey and traditional spots the next time I go.