Even though I travel to Korea at least once every year, I still wasn’t sure what to expect on my very first trip to Busan (부산), a place far beyond those parts of the country I’m most familiar with (namely Seoul and Gyeonggi-do). Yet after spending just three days in this incredible port city on Korea’s southeastern coast, I emerged absolutely sure of one thing: I can’t wait to go back.
Here’s day one.
The day began with Mass at Seoul’s magnificent Myeongdong Cathedral, consecrated in 1898.
After a quick breakfast and a relaxing stroll across Seoullo 7017 (which I first visited on the previous day), I collected my bags and headed for Seoul Station. There, I boarded a KTX service bound for Busan – click here to read my full report about that train journey.
And here we are: Busan Station, the main gateway to South Korea’s second most populous city.
I dropped off my luggage at a nearby hotel, then crossed the street and hopped onto the next available Busan City Tour Loop Bus. The hop-on-hop-off service, nicknamed BUTI, shuttles visitors around the city on three intersecting lines (more like two full lines and a spur), with scheduled stops at many of Busan’s best-known tourist attractions. KRW 15,000 buys you a one-day pass for unlimited use across all 3 lines.
I’ll refer to specific BUTI stop numbers in the remainder of this post, but do bear in mind that the operator may change their routes (including the order and number of stops) at any time, without prior notice.
It was already afternoon when I reached Busan from Seoul, so I decided to hit just a few key sites before calling it a day. My first stop, number 2 on the BUTI Red Line, was the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (재한유엔기념공원), or UNMCK.
2,300 Korean War dead are interred on these hallowed grounds, representing 11 nations (not counting unknowns). 22 countries – including the Republic of Korea itself – supported the U.N. side during that harrowing conflict, but 7 of the 18 countries that suffered losses eventually repatriated all of their fallen servicemen. Nonetheless, every nation that participated in the defence of South Korea is commemorated in the UNMCK, whether or not its citizens are buried here.
The Philippines sent 7,420 soldiers to fight under the United Nations Command. 116 were killed in action, all of whom were brought back home; hence the absence of Filipino graves amongst those in the UNMCK. Even so, our flag flies proudly above the symbolic plot reserved for the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea, and the sacrifices made by those who participated in the conflict are remembered in a handsome granite memorial dedicated in 2009 by then-Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.
After a few moments of quiet contemplation, I returned to the street outside the main gate and boarded the next BUTI service. I got off shortly afterwards at stop 3 on the Red Line, the Busan Museum (부산박물관).
It’s not particularly large as city history museums go, and a large section was closed off for remodelling or exhibit renewal at the time of my visit. That said, I still thought it was a worthwhile stop.
Back on board the BUTI bus, and a quick stopover at Red Line number 5: Gwangalli Beach (광안리해수욕장).
Now then, if you’ve known me for any length of time, you’re probably aware that I absolutely hate going to the beach. Sun, sand, salt water, water sports (indeed sports of any kind) – not my cup of tea, any of it. So why on earth did I get off the bus here?
Well, I wasn’t exactly interested in the beach as such. I was interested in something one could see from the beach…
…the massive Gwangandaegyo (광안대교), a suspension bridge that spans the mouth of the cove on which Gwangalli Beach is located.
After taking a few snapshots, I abandoned the heat and the gritty sand for the safety of another BUTI bus. I didn’t get off at any other stops from that point, but my seat on the open-air upper deck allowed me to continue my sightseeing without interruption.
After crossing a river en route to the Haeundae area, I spotted a dense concentration of very tall, very expensive-looking towers in the distance.
As it turned out, there was a stop on the Red Line (number 7 to be exact) next to those buildings, which collectively make up Busan’s upscale Marine City (마린시티) development. Even without getting off the bus, I was able to enjoy a neck-breaking worm’s eye view of the soaring residential towers.
There were several stops after that – the famous Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장) amongst them – but I wasn’t interested in them for the moment, and it was getting rather late in any case. (Don’t be fooled by the bright blue skies; it was already early summer and the sun was working overtime.) Indeed, the bus I was riding was already the penultimate service of the day. If I happened to get off at a stop and missed the next bus, it would have meant an expensive taxi ride back to my hotel.
So I stayed on, leaned back, enjoyed the cool breeze and savoured the sights from a distance.
In due course, the bus began to swing back east on the return leg of the Red Line loop. Along the way, it rumbled onto the enormous causeway leading to Gwangandaegyo.
I’d seen the bridge earlier, from Gwangalli Beach – but those massive towers and suspension cables were an absolute treat to appreciate from up close.
Later, as we headed towards the BUTI terminal at Busan Station, we crossed another major road link: the Busan Harbour Bridge (부산항대교). Different design, same awe-inspiring sight.
Ahh, what an awesome view to end the day with.