Korean’s work more hours a week on average than just about any other country in the world. Because of this, they make very good use of any time off. English teachers in Korea like to complain about how much they work and use any excuse to travel and relax. Thus, it was no surprise that Busan, Korea’s second largest city and southern beachfront metropolis, was overrun by tourists over the three day weekend celebrating Korean Memorial Day.
I only had a little over 48 hours to spend in Busan and needed to prioritize. Seafood and the beach came out on top. Easily. My first stop after getting off the KTX high speed train and checking into my hotel was Haeundae Beach. Haeundae is the place to be during the summer months in the city. During peak season colorful umbrellas line the beach making it nearly impossible to see the sand. This weekend, though, there an international sand sculpting contest taking place along the shore which provided a nice backdrop for some insanely good people watching.
Once enough of an appetite was worked up it was time for dinner. An acquaintance of mine who is from Busan guided the taxi driver up the steep hills to a restaurant located on a rocky part of the coastline a few kilometers from the main drag. Cooking on a grill at your table is very common in Korea and in Busan in addition to the typical beef and pork, there’s an abundance of clam bakes. My friends and I grilled a variety of clams, which were all fresh and delicious, and then finished off the meal with a spicy seafood ramyeon cooked in sea water.
After spending most of the next day soaking up some sun we were off to a fish market style restaurant. The ground floor is filled with tanks of sea creatures of every type and behind every tank is an older Korean woman beckoning you to come buy from her. It is loud, smelly and if you aren’t a Korean speaker probably very difficult to successfully navigate. We picked out our dinner, watched it being killed and then headed to a restaurant upstairs that prepared the fish sashimi style and supplied the traditional Korean panchan (side dishes). I abide by an “I’ll try anything once” policy, and while the fish was tender and light, I will never again be eating sea cucumber or sea squirt. Crunchy, rubbery, and mucus-y are the three adjectives that first come to mind. Not good. Not good at all.
From there we did drinks at some bars on the beach and when we got hungry again a few hours latter we nommed on eel, veggies and rice in a spicy eel sauce. Feeling refreshed we soldiered on and may have finally returned to the hotel when the sky looked like this.
After a breakfast (or third dinner, or second late night feast, your choice) of cold noodles. Only in Korea.