The Land of Sannakji
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 7, 2009
May 1-3, 2009
Last weekend I headed down south to Busan on the 3:30pm KTX train. I got to leave work early because Friday was the last day of exam week. I arrived at Seoul Station in time to meet Mark, a fellow traveler, and have lunch before boarding the train.
Exam week is loved by Native English teachers but hated by both students and Korean teachers. Students obviously have to study really hard to pass exams to get into a good university and therefore get a good job to avoid living at Seoul Station. Korean teachers have to write these exams and then grade them. Native English teachers teach no classes during exam week and can spend their time at work (the week before, the week during, and the week afterwards) blogging their little hearts out. Yes, we still have to come to work even though we don’t do anything, but I usually get to leave early.
I don’t mind. My internet at home is very slow.
Across the country in no time!
The KTX is Korea’s bullet train. It takes about three hours to get to Busan from Seoul on the KTX, but about five hours on other cheaper trains. It costs 48,600KRW for a regular class KTX ticket to Busan, but there are slightly cheaper no-seat tickets.
Although I didn’t thoroughly explore the KTX, I know that it has little internet booths between some of the cars and non-free wireless internet throughout the train.
Every now and then a lady with a snack cart came by selling beer, un-tasty cookies, dried squid, and other horrible snacks. The KTX website claims that there are 13 vending machines on each train. So I guess the lady is there in case you don’t want to walk all the way over to the machines, because the vending machines sold the same horrible treats.
The website also says that the seats on the KTX are “designed to fit the Korean body”. Too bad for you foreigner!
The KTX also goes down to Mokpo.
I would love to stay!
If you are in Busan and looking for a place to stay, there is one hostel that I know of called Arpina. I think you have to reserve a room ahead of time. I’ve never stayed there so I can’t say much about it. The other two options are to find a love motel or a jjimjilbang. The jjimjilbang is a good only if you don’t have anything more than a rucksack; backpacking-backpacks are too big for the lockers at a jjimjilbang. (If worse comes to worst you can always leave your big backpack in a locker at the train station overnight.)
How do I describe a love motel? Well… its name kind of sums it up. It’s the type of place you can rent by the night or by the hour. They usually have really seedy sounding names. In most countries it would be a shady place to stay.
Okay… it’s a shady place to stay in Korea too, but I’ve seen families staying at love motels. Just cover the kids’ eyes when you walk in. Just like motels in any country, some are dingy looking and some look a bit classier. But they all come with free soft porn, so don’t leave the kids alone with the remote.
Busan’s city slogan is Dynamic Busan. Korea is doing everything it can to be the soul of Asia and, Busan is chipping in by posting tourist maps all over the city with advice on things to do during your time in Busan. After consulting with one of these maps we decided to make our first stop… the cemetery.
The UN cemetery in Busan pays homage to all the fallen soldiers of non-Korean countries that helped South Korea fight off the red menace. Most of the soldiers buried there died in Korea during the Korean War in their early twenties. There was one from Australia, a Private J. P. Daunt, who was only seventeen when he was killed.
There are only 36 US soldiers buried at the UN Memorial Park and I didn’t find any that actually died during the Korean War. Some of them went on to serve in other wars then died in the 1980’s or 1990’s.
Why weren’t they buried at Arlington? Who knows?
There was something odd in the UN Memorial Park about some of the fallen Canadian soldiers. Canadians, for years now, have found American jokes about their country being the “51st state” completely unfunny.
In the cemetery, although Canada is etched on the wall as a country separate from the US, one Canadian soldier was placed in the US section as being from a state called Canada that is alphabetically right before Colorado. There are also two pictures of Canadian soldiers in front of a US flag in one of the memorial halls. Sorry Canada…
Next we went to the BEXCO convention center for a little cos-play. I’m not into anime at all, but we were lost and just looking for a subway station when we found some sort of anime geek-fest. I had no idea what was going on and just wanted something cold to drink and a place to sit. Mark on the other hand was like a kid at Disneyland.
Then we went to what I would call “Busan Tower,” Busan’s equivalent to Seoul’s Seoul Tower. Its real name is Youngdusan Tower. Unlike Seoul Tower where your options are to climb a steep hill or to take the expensive cable car, Youngdusan Tower gives you the choice of walking up several flights of stairs or taking a free escalator.
One of the reasons for going to Busan was so that my friend, Mark, could eat a live octopus. He saw some clip on youtube of a couple of guys who went to Busan to eat this weird dish and he wanted to try it. Busan is the city where dreams of eating live octopi come true.
The dish is called San-nak-ji (산낙지) and there are many restaurants in Busan that serve it. The most obvious ones will have a fish market on the first floor, where you meet and buy 3 or more octopi then take them upstairs to have them prepared.
We went to one restaurant along Gwangalli Beach. If you would like to try it just take the subway to Gwangan station on line 2. Take Exit 3 or 5 and head toward the beach. Once along the beach turn left so that you are walking with the beach on your right. You will eventually come to the restaurant in the picture above.
Mark picked out his octopi and somehow I got dragged into his nightmare. They were three for 10,000KRW, but the octopus saleslady could see that we were a bit squeamish. She sold us two of the tiniest ones for 5,000KRW. She put them in a plastic bag with water and told us to follow her upstairs.
She handed the octopi off to a waitress and sat us in a room with a Japanese family. We asked that only one octopus be chopped up and the other to still be completely alive when put on the plate on our table. I ate some of my octopus. It was delicious but I didn’t like the wiggling around in my mouth it did as I chewed and the tentacles stuck to my teeth a bit.
Mark couldn’t eat his octopus. He said that it kept “looking” at him. When we left the restaurant the octopus was still alive, but barely. We assume that he was put back in a tank and sold to someone else. The restaurant charged us another 10,000KRW for not cooking the octopuses and a bottle of soju that Mark tried to use for liquid courage.
No More Seats
We took the Mugungwha back to Seoul. This is the cheapest type of long distance train in Korea. Because of our lack of planning ahead the only tickets left were standing tickets on the cheapest train. A ride on the Mugungwha to Seoul from Busan takes a little under 6 hours and cost 20,600KRW (adult with no seat) or 26,500KRW (adult with seat). There is only a 6 dollar difference in price between the unseated and seated ticket, so I wouldn’t recommend buying the unseated ticket as a means to save money, unless you have an incredibly large family.
Luckily we found the dining car, which was filled with other last minute travelers. In the dining car there was a guy selling snacks, a slot machine video games, computers for the internet, a massage chair, and of course… several norae bangs! The key is to get there early and grab the best seat or space on the floor. During our ride there were times when the car was jam packed, other times it was not so full.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
- Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
- People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
- To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.
- Useful Phone Numbers when in South Korea
- Tourist Complaint Center 02-735-0101
- Police 112
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Eat Your Kim Chi – Life in Korea as lived by 2 Canadians
- Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
- You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
- Use common sense and you will be okay.
- Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.
Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.
- 35°10’51.6″N 129°04’38.2″E
- Go to Seoul Station (the subway station) on lines 1 and 4.
- Go to the long distance station which is above the metro station. It is also called Seoul Station. (Don’t mistake it for the Old Seoul Station which is now a museum.)
- You can buy tickets for a train heading to Busan. Prices and times vary.
- Train tickets will cost 20,000–80,000KRW depending on the type of train you ride and what class ticket you get.
- Busan itself is not an expensive city. The prices for things are the same as in Seoul.
- The beaches in Busan are crowded in the summer, but no one swims in other seasons. It’s not illegal to do so. I have done it. But, people think it’s strange to swim on a non-summer day no matter how warm it might be.
- T-money cards work in Busan, but you need to go to special shops to add money to your card, so top it up before you leave Seoul.
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery and Peace Park
- 35°07’40.5″N 129°05’46.5″E
- FromBusan Station
- take city bus No. 134
- (30 min ride).
- FromBusan Express Bus Terminal
- go to nearby Nopo-dong station.
- Take Busan Subway Line 1 and get off at Daeyeon station (Line 2).
- Then, take a taxi.
- (It takes a total of 1 hour.)
- From Gimhae Airport,
- take a limousine bus bound for Seomyeon
- get off at Seomyeon Lotte Hotel.
- Take city bus No. 25, 68, or 93
- get off at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery and Peace Park.
- (It takes a total of 1 hour and 30 min.)
Busan-si Nam-gu Daeyeon4-dong 779
- 9:00-16:30 (winter)
- 9:00-18:00 (summer)
- History Channel – Tank Battles of Korea
- 35°06’01.8″N 129°01’57.9″E
- by subway
- Go to Nampo-dong Station and leave through eixt 1.
- Walk straight for about 10 minutes.
- from the airport
- Take bus #310
- get off at Gumi Cultural Center in Daecheong-dong (1-hour ride).
- Walk straight for about 10 minutes.
Busan-si Jung-gu Gwangbok-dong
- Park – Free
- ages 19 < 4,oooKRW
- 13-18 3,500KRW
- 3-12 3,000KRW
- 9:00 – 22:00 (Oct-Mar)
- 8:30 – 22:00 pm (Apr-Sep)
There is a free escalator to the up of Youngdusan, but you have to use your feet and your own energy to get back down.