One of the most anticipated events that CIEE did this semester was a weekend trip to Busan. Busan is located on the south-eastern tip of the peninsula and is the second largest city in South Korea. This port city is a popular tourist destination with many beaches, mountains, temples, and culture spots, offering visitors a vastly different experience compared to Seoul. Having the program plan all the logistics made it easy to participate and see different parts of the country. The trip was free and included train tickets, a hotel room, and spending money for food. They even offered an optional guided tour of two locations.
The train was a great experience. The public transportation is quite, clean, and very user friendly, even to foreigners, with instructions and announcements usually given in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese. The high speed train reached speeds of 305 km/hr, much faster than any trains in America. We were able to get to Busan in less than 3 hours. For fans of the movie 'Train to Busan', yes- we literally took the KTX train from Seoul to Busan. It was really cool to see spots that were featured in the movie. Fortunately, we did not see any zombies during our trip, haha.
Once at Busan, we walked around a street market and got food. The street was lined with small stores and stalls selling all sorts of fresh seafood and popular street foods. I got tteokbokki and walked to the nearby Haeundae beach to eat my lunch by the ocean. Although the weather was beautiful, no one was swimming in the ocean. This is because at many beaches in Korea, you are not allowed to swim. You can however walk along the beach or play in the shallow end of the ocean. There are specific beaches where you can swim, surf, or boat.
After the beach, we drove up to the temple. The Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is located on an ocean cliffside. It is one of the only temples not built on a mountain. Our tour guide explained the history of the Buddhist temple, saying, “There was a terrible drought and famine in the area. One night a monk went to sleep and in his dream, the Bodhisattva of mercy, came to him and told him to build the temple by the ocean. When the monk awoke, he began construction right away. As soon as the temple was completed, rain fell over the land and the drought was over”.
The temple is still maintained today and is commonly known as the most beautiful temple in Korea. Built on a cliffside by the ocean, the temple has many outdoor spots of worship and several large Buddha statues including a statue of the Bodhisattva of mercy. Walking through the temple with the sounds of the ocean crashing against the rocks and the sea breeze blowing in my face, I was blown away by the power and beauty of nature, and the insignificance and impermanence of human beings. It truly inspires awe in visitors. I wish we had more time to explore the temple, but after and hour, we were on our way to the hotel.
For dinner, we went to a large indoor fish market where you can pick out live seafood on the first floor, and then eat it in the restaurants on the upper level. I really enjoyed just walking around looking at the different sea creatures up close. The shopkeepers were all very nice. One older man even let me touch one of the sea cucumbers… before then squirting all of us with sea cucumber water! It was a really fun time.
I am so glad that I got the chance to visit Busan, and I can’t wait for what the rest of the weekend has to offer.