Busan – my jumping off point for Fukuoka in Japan

Friday, 14 July 2023

After my stay in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, I took the high speed train 330km south to Busan. With a population of 3.4 million it’s the second largest city and a convenient jumping off point for ferries to Japan. I’d been to Busan once before back in 2004 when I also travelled south by train, but on that occasion meandering by bus back along the coast before crossing the peninsula to Seoul. The acclaimed recent film Decision to Leave – which I found utterly confusing! – was set in Busan.

▲ This visit I certainly had good views of Songdo Beach, officially South Korea’s ‘first beach.’ The idea of heading to the sand and then into the water was said to have started in Korea in 1913. I was staying in the 33rd floor apartment of my Korean friend Youngbok Jang whose travel company Shoestring Travel kicked off Korean enthusiasm for Lonely Planet.

▲ From Songdo Beach we took the Busan Air Cruise cable car across the bay to Annam Park from where you can walk across the Songdo Yonggung Suspension Bridge to tiny Dongseom Island or watch the shipping coming and going from Busan’s port. There’s a cliffside walkway paralleling the cable car which was extensively damaged by a typhoon last year, there are no sign of repairs underway.

▲ The multi-coloured Gamcheon Culture Village is a major Busan attraction, the local residents were urged to paint their houses in bright colours and artists were encouraged to move there. The tourist numbers have certainly skyrocketed, but not all Gamcheon residents have been so enthusiastic about living in a tourist attraction.

▲ Gamcheon ‘fish’

Just below Gamcheon is Amidong which was an emergency settlement during the Korean War retreat to Busan. At one stage the North Koreans had almost captured the whole of South Korea, Busan was the final holdout in a struggle which lasted from 4 August to 18 September 1950. Then the war turned around and the North Koreans retreated right back to the 38th parallel, where things had started and where the border is to this day. An enormously expensive and painful stalemate. Amidong was a village for refugees that grew up in an old cemetery and there’s a low key attempt to make this into an educational tourist attraction.

While I was in Busan I also crossed over the Namhangdaegyo Bridge and we walked out along the Jeoryeong Coastal Walk, it’s a bit of a stretch to compare this with the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre, but it’s still interesting stroll. We also drove to Gadeokdo/Daehang where there are controversial plans to build a new airport although nothing has happened yet apart from one airplane model at a lookout point and some protest banners. Daehang (or Sohuinejip?) is a small fishing port on one side of an isthmus between two hills. The airport plan is to build the airport across the isthmus, totally obliterating Daehang, and then on reclaimed land the runways will extend out to sea on both sides.

▲ Tony in Good Enough Coffee – Daehang

On the other side of the isthmus from Daehang, the east side, there’s an attractive rocky little beach, which presumably is marked for destruction as well. And two very new and very large cafes which could be right in the middle of the runway if the airport gets built!

From Busan I had a choice of ferry (seven to 11 hours depending who you believe) or the high speed catamaran ferry (under four hours) for the trip from Busan to Fukuoka (Hakata) on the north coast of Japan’s Kyushu Island, all part of my circuitous trip from Melbourne to London.