As much as you can read up about a certain place, it sometimes takes being there to realise some things might not have been the most planned out.
This most recent trip was not my first to Korea, but considering my last was 2011 as a teenager, everything felt pretty much new.
However, I hadn’t been to Busan before, and after a few days in South Korea’s second biggest city, here are a few things I wish I knew before heading to Busan.
1. Busan is very spread out
I’d planned Busan for a good 2.5 days, thinking everything would be alright, but with a delayed flight, I ended up spending the wee hours of the night in Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport instead of being on a plane bound for Busan.
With half the day gone, I basically only had one full day left in Busan and two half days, which made getting around tricky.
It isn’t just the city that’s spread out, the must-see sights are too.
It took a good one and a half hours to travel from the airport to where I stayed at Haeundae Beach, and between the districts of where the main attractions in Busan are, it takes almost an hour on either a bus or a subway.
Haeundae is also pretty much at the end of the subway line.
Granted, because I was travelling on my own, I could move between sites relatively quickly, but if you aren’t travelling solo, I’d opt for at least 2 to 3 full days.
2. Haeundae might not have been the best base
As mentioned, Busan’s attractions are spread all over the city, you have the airport somewhere in the west, then Nampo (Jagalchi Market, Gamcheon Cultural Village, Taejongdae Recreational Park), followed by Busan Station, then Seomyeon (Jeonpo Cafe Street, Busan City Hall), then Centum City (Shinsegae Department Store, BEXCO, Busan Museum of Art), then Haeundae (Haeundae Beach, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple) moving further and further northwest of the city and coast.
This means that in comparison to the other districts, regardless of whether you’re entering or leaving Busan via the airport or train station, the area of Haeundae is located the furthest away.
It took one and a half hours to get to Haeundae from the airport by train, and another 45 minutes by bus from Haeundae Beach to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.
Had I known, I would’ve probably stayed somewhere near Seomyeon.
Even though it’ll take a while to travel to both the areas of Jagalchi and Haeundae, Seomyeon is technically downtown Busan, close to Busan’s City Hall, and therefore the most centrally located out of all the neighbourhoods.
Haeundae has many bars and a nice atmosphere, but I’d only opt for it if you really need to be near the beach during your stay.
3. There’s no need to reach the train station too early
I left Busan for Seoul taking the slow commuter train (mugunghwa 무궁화호), and I decided to arrive at the train station 30 minutes before the train was meant to depart.
I wasn’t too sure how the process was going to go, but I’d already made ticket reservations online on Korail.
And if you have, there’s no need to go anywhere in the station to redeem your tickets as your e-tickets are good enough.
I took a screenshot of the ticket and reservation and sent it to my phone to display it if need be, but was never asked for tickets during the entire train ride.
There was also no need to go through bag checks and therefore I learned there’s absolutely no need to arrive anything more than 10 minutes before your train’s departure time.
Mind, Korean trains do actually leave on time so don’t cut it too close.
Things also change if you’ve purchased the Korail Pass which is reserved for foreigners, where you’ll have to head to the station to collect your tickets, so plan to get to the station at least 30 minutes before.
All in, I’m glad I managed to squeeze pretty much everything that I wanted to see even on such a rushed timetable. I only relied on a taxi once, and that was to get to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple before the last light of day. I still found myself spending far too much time on the subway and the buses, but Busan is not a city you can walk through, so it’s the only way you can get around.
If you can’t resist getting lost in the streets and myriad of stores, or whiling the afternoon away at a nice cafe, you’ll absolutely have to make more time for Busan or you’ll be finding yourself uncomfortably rushing just to get everything covered.
Busan’s a beautiful city and deserves your time, and hopefully these tips will help make your planning easier.