A Week in Busan – Colour and Chaos

tGjx02fkR3eDpyUWFEhK5A_thumb_1dc5I thought I’d share my week’s activity in Busan, a place which, after initially overwhelming me, totally captivated and charmed me. I was lucky enough to stay in the Hyu Plus guesthouse, a 7th storey bijou establishment more like an apartment than a hostel, and it being low season and all, I oftentimes had the place to myself. I thought it was a great location next to Nampo Dong subway station. This city is the most generously served with public transport that I have seen yet. All the things I wanted to see were all within an hour or so.

l4Q5HyzuSiiKu3nynKu76w_thumb_1d21I got a weird vibe from this place when I arrived but I soon warmed to it. I have covered the Lotte Mall and Gamcheon in previous blogs. So here are some of my other experiences/impressions/adventures. A really good days hiking was to be had at Amnang Park to the South of Busan, past Songdo Beach. I couldn’t call it leisurely exactly because there is a lot of stair climbing and steep undulation as it follows the coastal headland round. Being stupidly self challenging, I thought the orange loop back went pretty close to the route out, so I decided to take the green route and ended up at the International Fisheries Administration, where I had to be given a lift back to the park from an official. (So grateful!) It was then possible to walk all the way to Songdo Beach via the 1km walkway which winds along the cliff (with another load of stairs).

Or get the cable car – but I’m on a budget remember.  Songdo is obviously very busy in the summer and has a lot of strange, gaudy attractions including some bright coloured concrete, the ‘Cloud Walk’ and the most unusual sea food I have ever seen. Typically, I waited for the sunset to see Hangan Bridge lit up but it was a bit anticlimactic. Although going up in the lift to walk on top of it was pretty thrilling actually.unadjustednonraw_thumb_1cbf.jpg

+TDcPQ5HTOmsSkkQsyQzag_thumb_1c92I caught the bus to Dongbaeksoem Park, one day and saw the APEC building where all the Asian dignitaries meet to discuss matters Asian. I walked all the way from there to Gwangali Beach, some 8 miles, and spend a few hours watching the sun change the character of  the the Gwangan Bridge, also named the Diamond Bridge.  Watching Gwangali come to life was a pleasant evening pastime and I got the subway back.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1c3e

Shattered from walking my average 9 miles, I decided to visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple instead of hiking into the wilderness for the one which no-one can find. It is pretty breathtaking perched on the coast if a little busy. There were some quieter areas walking northwards from the temple along the rocks and it was the perfect day for photos – maybe a little bit of a haze.Gmv+MlA2Tbyl3jXZCGh76A_thumb_1da7

I visited a few markets either inadvertently or deliberately. The Jagalchi Fish Market is a spectacle – with many varieties of uncooked and cooked and dried delicacies – it’s a real working place not a tourist area – I mean, I suspect Busan is not a first stop for most traveling people. I went to the Busanjin Market, an indoor, multi-storey  melee near Beomil Station because my daughter wanted a Hangbok. I’m sure I was a little bit overcharged, but the experience wasn’t altogether unpleasant. Think Aladdin’s Cave. Something that is really quite remarkable is the extent of the underground market that links the Subway. It goes on forever with anything from antiques, iPhones, cosmetics and second hand clothes…anything you might think of. In addition there are very cheap restaurants where you can see that locals eat – I tried a hot stone bibimbap for 5500 – around £3.50. Nothing exciting but pretty good for gluten free me after a week of gimbap and weird rice crispy rolls.

9TA5JlmLSdOpCoY1L46Jiw_thumb_1dddAs a bridgephile, I can say that this country does its bridges proud and, like Japan, celebrates the aesthetic and architectural qualities of them. The Koreans particularly seem to like lighting them up – a veritable joy for me. But if you don’t fancy loitering under the archways after dark, you can go every day at 2pm to the Yeongdo Bascule and celebrate with everybody else, the lifting of the single leaf to let traffic through. And they do it in style.GqnRhHj1QSCSCe4PpCArlw_thumb_1de6


Like many places Busan surprised me and I would go back there  – I felt I hadn’t seen enough of the country. But I think Gamcheon Village sticks out for me as something I have not encountered and probably it might look like Cornwall or somewhere in the Mediterranean that I haven’t been.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1c1e

It wasn’t Japan. People are nowhere near as polite. The spit and smoke everywhere, are louder and there is not the order, or the air of a prosperous, gentile society. But the colourful charm of this city certainly captivated me. There are quite a few English speaking bars such as the Beached Bar at Gwangali and the Basement near Pusan University, as there is large community of ex-pat teachers here. The transport, as I said already,  is the best I have ever encountered in a city. You can get anywhere on the subway or  bus – but not after 11.30pm – then you have to get a taxi. If you haven’t enough cash to pay for the taxi you could try singing 80’s songs such as The Power of Love and Take My Breath Away to the driver  – this worked for me.




Epic Bridgespotting Trek

fullsizeoutput_296I knew it was really late to try and fit two bridges in before a 6.30pm Open Mic sign up in Kitsilano. Was I just drinking coffee all morning or something?  I don’t remember! It was 30 degrees, one of the hottest days yet in Vancouver, and I had water and sandwiches and all that stuff, I had directions and I was relying as usual on the ubiquitous Starbucks for wifi. What could go wrong – right? Scott RoadI got the EXPO line to Scott Road – but I could actually see the Pattullo Bridge from the stop before and was wondering whether to get off there. Too late – too indecisive – too trusting of iMaps. I got off at Scott Road Station – well it sounds harmless enough. It brought a new meaning to the term concrete desert. I had disembarked in a massive Park and Ride car park – interlaced with scary, busy roads, intersections and railways in varies states of use. I could see the Pattullo and the Sky Train Cable Stay (very elegant even though it was not the Alex Fraser) but the process of getting to it was not going to be straight forward, I could see already. I crossed a hazardous road out of the car park to find that there was in fact a MacDonald’s … but it was like none I had ever seen. Imagine a tea and butty van in an industrial estate in the UK; it was like the Mac Donald’s version of that. It only had ‘on their break’ workman as its customers, in the no air con, unhealthy lunch torture. fullsizeoutput_289Auto parts, tires (spelt like that), scrappage, tires, auto choppers, oh hang on, and Funzone! I went though car park after car park in the most intense heat of the day – trying to find a loo and a bridge. I found myself under the Pattullo bridge approaching a stairway,. The footpath was blocked by a sofa and some mattresses so I negotiated the hairy bend to get to the stairway. Well I could get on the bridge – and that’s what I did. I started walking over this great through-arch structure with its striking orange presence. The traffic and the wind was intense. but the sweep up to the arch made a nice shape – and I just grimaced, held on to my hat, and closed my eyes (risky) . After a few snaps of the neighbouring cable-stay and some of the arch I leaned over.

I need to get down there!

At least from there I could see that there was a lovely, beachy, parky kind of place below the bridge, and I also roughly how to get there, but that it would probably necessitate climbing over the railway (it didn’t look too busy) and playing chicken on a couple of freeways. After trudging all the way back across the bridge, and down the staircase, I followed a cycle path that  suddenly stopped so I had to just run the gauntlet over a sort of unfinished verge thing into oncoming traffic at hurtling speeds. I saw a person  – yes a person with a sunshade – there was life.  I found at last a pedestrian crossing but just had to take one of my shortcuts didn’t I? Yes,  a scrap yard to a dead end (should’ve followed the brolly man).  At this point I had done over 6 miles walking without a Starbucks in site and no way of navigating save by the stars – which weren’t visible obviously. To avoid climbing over the barbed wire and onto the railway line, I backtracked and followed the lane – baking, dry and littered until it eventually curved round onto the park I had seen from above. And what a treasure!


Like so many of these secret freshwater gems I had discovered, it was surrounded by ugly shipping/maritime/transportation infrastructure, but offered a stark and serene landscape. I allowed myself to eat my apple and drink water on the sand for just ten minutes,  but was aware that I still had to get to Alex Fraser. I couldn’t come this far and settle for just the one bridge. I watched the time closely – nearly three already. I took my snaps of the somewhat brash but elegant Pattullo from beneath and started heading back towards the Scott Road station. Of course, I passed plenty of bus stops along the way but since I had no sodding wifi, I couldn’t tell if I could get on any of the buses there so I marched doggedly back to the station. The last bus stop I came to said 640  Ladner Exchange, and luckily I remembered ti from my previous day’s research.It was fucking hot and I was a bit anxious and desperate. Time for a flaccid sandwich. At length the bis came and a perplexed bus driver said, “Yea, there’s a stop right under the bridge – Centre St.’ And that’s where I alighted.

Pretty much the same experience awaited. I can’t explain the significance of seeing this bridge. I didn’t have any cable stay bridges of import on my site and was pretty determined to get some shots of this one. The first tower loomed over head, immense and imposing, not coquettish like the Pattullo before it. I tried to orientate myself and discovered a little gravel track snaking along between the rail tracks and the freeway. I kept going further and further along it hoping I could get over the rails and down to the waterside. Not a chance! Hazard signs with serious penalty threats abounded and so I clambered through the undergrowth to meet the road that the bus had just come along. No footpath on this side so there was a bit of playing chicken again.  I resigned myself to the fact that I might not get any shots from this side. IMG_7218So again I started trudging down the road (after marking where the return bus stop was – always a good idea). This was not an ordinary ‘town’ with any kind of conurbation or character that I could see.Anyone who was here was here to work, I don’t rightly know what the place was called …New Westminster? But it was one long, long saw mill. In fact the road went through the saw mill and it had its own traffic lights and everything. Bugger! There were trespassing signs everywhere. How was I going to getting photos of this beauty!

Amongst all the industry I found signs to a cycle path and followed this across the main road and by the side of the lumber yard where a huge fountain of bark chipping was being spewed into the air. The expanse of the cable began revealing themselves in fits and starts. You must remember the heat at this point is claying and very extreme for a Brit. And I have at this point done nearly 9 miles of walking. A bit fighter along I saw what looked to be a break in the fencing and barriers and some folks were picking blackberries. Through the brambly thicket I could see a path of sorts.  Scratched and stung, I burst through the undergrowth to get to a rocky bank which snaked round the back of the lumber yard. But whoa! The views of the bridge were spectacular and as I clambered my way along the shifting rocks thinking this was not very safe, at the same time I was feeling a bit smug.


Don’t forget I had to get back to Downtown for 6pm if I was to make the Open Mic and I was kind of stuck on a brambly cliff in a scene from Insomnia. Bugger it! I climbed up and into the lumber yard – trying to look purposeful but probably not appearing so. I guess in a skulking manner I found my way to the main road without confrontation and up the sweltering mile back to the bus stop. It always feels quick on a return journey and it was quite a relief to get back on the Sky Train as then I felt I was really entering civilisation again. I made it to my Open Mic, getting ready in 8 minutes and on the number 2 bus to Kits in 15 –  but late – hence only getting two songs in. Bit of an epic day – but as usual you can see the pictures on bridgephile.co.uk .