This year has been very hard to predict. Change has been the only constant. I spent the first six months exploring different nooks and corners of our apartment. On somedays, I’d feel brave enough to walk in the park and also pick up groceries. When social distancing was relaxed, we started our long dental journey. I hadn’t left our neighbourhood (in Seoul) or met friends for half a year.
Unlike me, Basil had to travel to different parts of Seoul and Korea for work. He had visited Busan earlier and was very keen to have me join him on one of his work trips. After a month of visiting the dentist and learning that I’d have to go for another month, I had reached a point where I had to get out of Seoul. I surprised him by conceding to his plan.
Basic guidelines for travelling in the new normal
- Check local government websites (Official Website of Busan City) to learn about social distancing rules and if it is a good idea to travel at all. South Korea never had a strict lockdown, but rules keep changing as per the situation and number of cases per city/province. Some tourist destinations might be shut if the number of cases rise drastically in a day.
- Wearing masks is mandatory in all modes of public transport and you could be refused a ride if you’re not wearing a mask. Masks are also compulsory in most outdoor spaces including beaches. You can remove your mask during a meal and wear it after you finish. There are different kinds of masks (season and activity) available in the market and you can choose what works best for you.
- Hand sanitisers can be typically found at every store, front desk, and restaurant. We carried our own sanitiser and alcohol wipes. I didn’t have to use public restrooms on this short trip. I carry paper soap, just in case there isn’t any liquid soap. Again, always wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
- We tried to keep this trip very short (about 2 days) and travelled on weekdays to avoid the crowd. We made this trip in the month of June — before summer and school holidays started.
Please Note: Currently, South Korea has enhanced social distancing across the country. The government urges all people to stay indoors and avoid nonessential travel. Check for updates or changes in social distancing rules on 6th September, 2020.
I had visited Busan Station, in 2015, on my first trip to South Korea. Back then, the train to Busan was packed to full capacity. Travel is a lot different now. Although there weren’t temperature checks (or scans) at the entrance of the station or before boarding; regular announcements urged passengers to follow rules, maintain good hygiene, and wear masks. A KTX official checked if all passengers were wearing a mask during their travel journey. Automated hand sanitisers are installed at entry points.
Busan Station is connected to the city subway internally. On the day of our arrival, we took the local subway (with one transfer) to Haeundae Beach (next post). The subway was quite empty on a Thursday afternoon. On the way back, on Saturday morning, we took a direct bus from Haeundae to Busan Station. The bus was packed and I was happy to have the windows open.
The entrance to Busan Station offers a panoramic view of the mountains and quaint villages. There are a couple of famous villages in Busan known for their murals and artwork. We weren’t sure if the tiered houses (in the above pic) were a cultural village or just old housing (villas) in the city.
The topmost floor of Busan Station is perfect to enjoy views of the cityscape and trains. There’s a lot of construction and I doubt we’d be able to recognise the city on our next visit.
I wanted to avoid the rush on a Saturday morning and we started pretty early from Haeundae. The bus journey took about an hour and we still reached way ahead of our departure time. We decided to look for meal options around Busan Station.
I wasn’t expecting to see Texas Street in Busan. It isn’t uncommon to see cutesy themed streets or villages in Korea and we’ve come across quite a few of them. However, most themed villages attract families with kids or young couples. Texas street was deserted in the morning and there was little I could learn about it. However, a quick internet search revealed that this street does a quick flip in the wee hours of the night and rivals Seoul’s Itaewon. According to Frommers, some bars double as ‘girlie bars’ — where clients pay for drinks and a hostess keeps them company. Blogger experiences have been quite different, some call it a foreigner street (now frequented by Russian sailors) and some corroborate Frommers take on it.
Texas Street opens into Chinatown. Chinatown could be recognised from anywhere with those red lanterns. Tourist traps like these are a turn-off. Most shops and restaurants were shut and construction work blocked sections of the road. Few restaurants were very popular and there was a line of young people outside the door.
Murals were painted on the walls of the street. Each mural depicts a story, but I’m not that fluent in Korean to get the gist.
The main gates of Busan’s Chinatown are painted gold and embellished with dragons and red tiles. I’ve visited China twice, and although that doesn’t make me an expert on the country, China is too diverse to be bottled in a particular image or colour. I find it amusing how a single image of a culture — can be replicated around the world — to increase saleability whilst enforcing a cultural stereotype. I prefer director Zhang Yimou‘s interpretation of the words ‘red’ and ‘lantern’. Raise the Red Lantern is a must-watch for anyone who loves world cinema.
Choryang Modern History Gallery
We weren’t in the mood for sightseeing and quickly peeked inside this modern gallery.
A section of Chinatown is devoted to Uzbek restaurants and grocery stores. This is why Basil wanted me to visit this neighbourhood. Last November, he had visited this street and bought non (Uzbek break) and samsa back to Seoul. This was just before our December trip to Uzbekistan.
The original plan was to have a meal at a local Uzbek restaurant and relive our Uzbekistan trip. However, we had a heavy breakfast and I wasn’t hungry enough to have a heavy lunch. We packed bread (non) and some other savouries for Seoul. The restaurant also had a bakery and grocery store. It’s possibly run by Uzbek (of Russian descent) locals and is soul food for those far away from a place they call home. We were disappointed with what we bought and I guess: you need to go to the real place to be able to appreciate the real flavour of a country.