After a few days in Seoul, my mom and I were en route to our next destination: Busan.
Our tour company arranged for a driver to pick us up from our hotel and take us to Seoul Station, about a 30-minute drive. From there, we were literally on a train to Busan.
If you’ve ever seen the Korean movie on Netflix, you probably caught the reference. For those who aren’t familiar, “Train to Busan” is a horror film that follows a man who becomes trapped on a train during a zombie outbreak in South Korea — so not exactly the type of scenario I’d like to find myself in on a three-hour train ride. But, we had to get to Busan somehow, so I sucked it up, looked out the window, enjoyed the scenery whiz by and thought, hey, I’m actually on a train to Busan. Who gets to say that?
We arrived at Busan Station, where a preppy, 20-something man sporting a bowl haircut, gray Reebok sweater and jeans greeted us with a friendly smile.
“I’m Young,” he said, shaking our hands. In nearly perfect English, Young explained that he and our driver would be taking us around Busan during our two-day stay in the city. Helping us with our luggage, he led us to the tour van that would be taking us to lunch.
The van took us to what looked like the Chinatown of Busan. That’s where we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for jajangmyeon black bean noodles, one of my favorite dishes that I had last time we went to South Korea. Though our driver didn’t speak much English (he could speak Japanese, though), Young did most of the translating, telling us a little more about themselves, what Busan is like and what our tour of the city would entail.
After a delicious lunch, we walked through the Chinatown area, snapped some photos and hopped back into the van to get to our next stop: Gamcheon Culture Village.
Once a dilapidated community that housed refugees after the Korean War, Gamcheon Culture Village underwent a complete transformation back in 2009 into a vibrant arts area. Today, the “Machu Picchu of Busan” is a picturesque town characterized by rows of colorful painted homes lining the foothills of a coastal mountain — reminiscent of iconic destinations in Europe like the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre in Italy or Santorini in Greece. In a nutshell, it’s an Instagram paradise.
Walking down the winding pathway through the area, we passed by several cute shops (where I bought a new hairbrush and headband for myself), eateries, giant colorful murals, and painted staircases.
Knowing where all the millennials go for their Instagram photos, Young even offered to show me a spot full of colorful and creative staircases that he figured would make for unique shots.
After snapping a few photos, we trudged up the stairs and out of the narrow alleyways to get back to the top of the hill, where the van was waiting for us.
Our Busan tour proceeded with short stops at the Songdo Skywalk and Beach (unfortunately, the skywalk was closed due to the typhoon that hit Busan a few days prior) and Gwanghan Beach (where we saw some of the damage left from the typhoon, including some leaning sign posts and debris scattered around).
As the sun began to set and I looked out at the still water, I felt an overwhelming sense of tranquility — taking in every second and acknowledging how grateful I was to be here to enjoy everything this unique city — and country — had to offer.
We later drove up to a lookout point on the hillside, where we got a breathtaking view of the city skyline. That’s where I thought to myself, Busan looks like any other big city. In fact, in many ways, I almost preferred being here over Seoul. In Busan, you get the best of both worlds: the city life, the beaches and the culture.
Our driving tour was supposed to end at a charming waterfront area, but Young agreed to take my mom and I to a restaurant for dinner while our driver left us for another engagement.
Our last stop: A traditional Korean restaurant, where Young ordered up a wide assortment of dishes for the three of us to share — a delicious spread ranging from seaweed soup to japchae noodles to a sizzling beef bowl. It was satisfying way to end a long day in Busan — a place I now hold near and dear to my heart.