Monday, July 9, 2012

Busan Beckons

Executive summary by darmansjah

south korea’s second largest city, Busan, has emerged from the shadow of the capital and into tourism spotlight.

The Southeastern Port of City of Busan has long been one of Korea’s main windows to the world, a place where sailors, traders, an fortune-seekers from different nations gathered. More recently, the city’s improved transport links and knack for attracting high profile events has fueled an influx of tourists, building on its cosmopolitan back ground and making it one of the region’s most dynamic destinations.

The high-speed KTX railway nos whisks visitors from South Korea’s capital and largest metropolis Seoul to Busan in well under three hours. Travelers can also take advantage of a rising number of  international flights and ferry links. However they arrive, they’ll discover a place where mountains and ocean meet to produce an abundance of dramatic scenery, where the traditional sit comfortably beside the contemporary, and with no shortage of attractions to enjoy.

Any effort to explore Busan should begin with the sea. The city’s old downtown is clustered a short distance from its futuristic train station, cradling  a picturesque harbor crowded with fishing vessels. Much of their bounty ends up at nearby Jagalchi Market, a sprawling district of shops and stalls all wholly dedicated to selling some of the country’s freshest seafood. At the market’s central complex, vendors help visitor choose from a staggering variety of live sea creatures that are then rushed up to second-story restaurants, where they’re made to order and served with traditional accompaniments. There are few better introductions to the city than a meal here, surveying the water and the very bobbing boats that may have hauled in the succulent fish on you plate.

The crowded streets that lead out of the harbor to ascend nearby hillside throw up frequent cultural or historical surprises, such as the 40steps, an out doors gallery of photographs and lifelike, sculpture that commemorates the city’s hardscrabble emergence from postwar poverty. Over looking it all is Yongsudan, a tranquil hilltop park lined with walking paths and crowded with the needle-like Busan Tower. From this structure’s observation deck one can appreciate just how striking a natural setting the city enjoy’s, punctuated by forested mountains and jutting out into the waters of the east sea.

If the city center represents Busan’s past, it’ arguably the northern district of Haeundae that  embodies its present an future. Centered on Haeundae Beach, the country’s most iconic stretch of sand, the neighborhood’s energy reaches its zenith in the summer months, when it’s packed with families and water sports enthusiasts. That said, it certainly doesn’t go into hibernation in other seasons. There’s been a spate of relatively recent additions to Haeundae’s already sophisticated landscape of luxury hotels and towering, high-end condo developments, including the art-centric APEG Naru Park and Centrium City, home to Shinsegae Centrum City Department Store-officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World records as the world’s largest shopping complex.

haeundae beach is already is arguably south korea's most famous stretch of sand

A few blocks away is the Busan Cinema Center, an eye-catching structure topped by a wing-like, LED-equiped roof that regularly stages dazzling light displays. The building is the new home base of the Busan Film Festival, an annual autumn fixture that brings star actors and directions to Busan in force and has quickly developed into the leading light of Asia’s film event circuit. Along with the nearby Pusan National University and Gwangalli Beach areas, Haeundae has also become a focal pint of Busan’s nightlife scene, with a host of lively bars, lounges, and local and international dining opportunities. Those in search of a more low-key evening out can head east to picturesque Dalmaji Hill, a quaint, quiet neighborhood dotted with charming galleries and cafes, or soak away their cares in one of the city’s massive, 24-hours spa complexes, such as Vesta in the Dalmaji area.

seafood at jagalchi market

The city also offers plenty of less corporeal pursuits. Its outskirts house Buddhis temples with thousands of years of history as well as some truly exceptional hiking opportunities. To the north, Haedong Yonggungsa is one the only seaside temples in the country, a serene compound perched precariously on a rocky coastal outcrop. Beomeosa, the city’s most famous temple, houses several national treasures, magnificent pagoda, and smaller hermitages, and is lined to a vast network of walking trails that trace the outlines of the former Geumjeong Mountain Fortress. This vast defensive structure of gates, pavilions and walls was built along the ridges that ringed the city over 300 years ago and has been carefully restored, providing trekkers a chance to take in both nature and history during one excursion.

Busan’s enviable balance of past and future, laid-back leisure opportunities and big-city glitz, make it a compelling destination for travelers of all stripes, and look set to boost the city’s international profile further in the years to come.

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