While Seoul is South Korea’s biggest city with about 10 million inhabitants, Busan comes in second. With a population of about 3,5 million people Busan is almost as big as the German capital Berlin. But what sets it apart from Seoul is it’s location on the coast of the Sea of Japan with a moderate climate, which allows for temperatures above 20°C in September. No wonder Busan is a favorite with the South Koreans when it comes to picking a national holiday destination.
Hiking the city and along the coast line
Like Seoul, Busan is a lively metropolis with some of the World’s biggest shopping malls, modern architecture and beautiful countryside around it. All local beaches are accessable via metro. From Busan’s main station you can simply take the metro on the green line and visit them all. We chose a quiet hotel on Haeundae beach, a 35 minute ride from the main station. Nevertheless, Haeundae is popular with national and international travellers and has all the comfort you might expect: a local market, night clubs, souvenir shops, a lot of restaurants and a Sea Life right on the beach. It’s a perfect place to hang out in summer, getting tanned at the beach or enjoying a meal with friends. But for all of us, who like their travels adventurous and active, Busan offers a perfect net of hiking trails called Galmaetgil Trails.
Galmaetgil incorporates a number of hiking trails both through urban areas as well as the countryside around Busan, including ways to the mountain tops. Luckily, we had just to step outside our hotel and follow the trails either west or east. So on one day we hiked east along the coast to a Buddhist Temple, the next day we took off to the west through streets and along boardwalks and promenades to Gwangalli Beach. Both hikes I am presenting here are about 10 kilometres long.
Tour 1: Hike along the coast line to the Water Temple
On the far eastern end of the Busan area you can visit a buddhist temple by the name of Haedongyonggungsa, meaning ‘Water temple’. It is situated directly at the coast, cut into the bare rocks. It is very advisable to not visit on the weekends as it is now a popular destination and many visitors groups go there by bus every day. Instead take your time an hike there. The first part of the hike is called Moontan Trail and leads you through a very picturesque forest above the sea.
Leaving the forest you can follow the train tracks, which connected central Busan to the little villages along the coast. Today Busan has grown and incorporated those villages and left the tracks as a part of the hiking trail network. On the way you can go out on the Cheonsapo Daritdol Skywalk and have a look at the big waves crashing underneath the glass floor. But be careful: This is not for the faint-hearted! Even a lot of the Koreans we met there took cautious little baby steps. It’s not so high, but the feeling and the sight of the waves underneath make it a great adventure.
After visiting Sonjeong beach, one of South Korea’s surfing spots, you reach the temple. If you are hungry by now, you are lucky: Right in front of the temple entrance you can buy a great selection of Korean street food, accessoires and the usual tourist stuff. Then just enter the temple, go down the old stone stairs and cross the bridge to the main temple area. The temple itself was already founded in 1376 and was remodeled in the 1970s to preserve the architecture. The main attractions are the two statues of Buddha. My personal favourite were the large golden pigs. If you don’t want to hike back again, you can find a bus stop conveniently situated on the street near the temple.
Tour 2: Movie stars and city views – hiking west from Haeundae
While the hike to the water temple gave us some insights into the more rural sides of Busan, the hike westwards from Haeundae was a totally different experience. The Galmaetgil trail leads through urban areas with skyscrapers and highways here. You can really feel the buzzing life of Busan, while you walk on.
Still the first part of the hike has some wonderful views as the way follows the coastline of Dongbaek Island, which today is not an island anymore. High above the crashing waves visitors can walk along the wooden walkways comfortably, while enjoying a wide view over Haeundae Beach and Busan. Down at sea level sits a statue, that looks very much like the little mermaid in Kopenhagen. There is a folk tale about a mermaid, who was married to the king of Mungungnara and was longing for her homeland and shed many tears. Following along the path we reach Choichiwon sightseeing spot with a spectacular view on the Nurimaru APEC house, where the APEC world leader’s meetings happened.
The trail then turns to the right and follows the coast line into the urban parts of Busan. Along the way you can find a lot of information on Korean film history, actors and actresses on a street we called the “movie boulevard”. Unfortunately, most of the texts are in Korean and if you don’t happen to understand the language you can only enjoy the nice pictures. The Busan Cinema Center is located in the nearby Busan Yachting Center. It is the largest single film studio in Korea.
Crossing Millakgyo bridge underneath the gigantic Gwangan bridge spanning the whole bay, the trail leads you onto a wooden walkway and around the bay, where Koreans apparently love to enjoy picknicks and leisure time. Open spaces under concrete roofs make this possible even when the weather is bad. Our final destination for the day was Gwangalli beach, which is surrounded by skyscrapers and high buildings. A lot of ex-pats are hanging out there and all around the beach tons of restaurants and bars give you a good appetite for a hearty dinner.
It’s almost impossible to get lost on both hikes since there are signs all along the way, which you can recognize easily. Also, if you find the hike too strenous or too long, you can almost always find a subway or bus stop nearby. I also recommend taking a break to visit the world’s largest department store Shinsegae in Centum City, which you find on your right after crossing Millakgyo bridge.