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Plane to Busan

South Korea's port city has a wealth of history, contemporary and ancient

Gamcheon culture village.

Cargo cranes lift colourful containers into gigantic ships at the huge Busan port. Traffic slowly eases toward Gwangan Bridge, passing beaches and islands that scatter the coast. The Sun is about to set and darkness slowly blankets colourful houses on the Gamcheon Culture Village slope. Light from seaside skyscrapers reflects on the seawater at the marina, as restaurants and beach bars light up for the night. Tourists fill the streets, looking for fun.

Busan, a vibrant destination at the southern corner of the Korean Peninsula, never sleeps.

The port city of Busan is always filled with busy moments. The picturesque seascape and artful atmosphere makes it a great place for filming. This month, the Thai TV series Legal Wife, which was partly filmed in Busan, will be aired in Thailand.

Busan Cinema Centre is the venue of the Busan International Film Festival. Its gigantic size makes you feel like a Lilliputian. The centre has the world’s longest cantilever steel roof at 163m-long and 60m-wide. It is 2.6 times larger than a football field. Besides the outdoor theatre with 4,000 seats, it houses three indoor theatres and a performing arts theatre.

"When the series announced it would film in Busan, it created awareness among the Thai audience. We then decided to promote Busan and provide Thais with travel information," said Shim Jeong-bo, president of Busan Tourism Organisation. "We want Thai tourists to realise how beautiful Busan is, particularly during cherry blossom season."

I have never experienced cherry blossom season in Busan, though I can imagine the enhanced beauty of the place. The port city is packed with lush parks, beaches, luxury shopping malls, a huge conference centre and a gigantic venue, which hosts international festivals.

Busan Tower is the place to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. The tower is on Yongdu-San Mountain, one of Busan’s three famous mountains. It was originally called Songhyunsan Mountain, which means a mountain with a view of the sea through a dense pine forest. As the mountain peak looks like a dragon’s head, it was renamed Dragon’s Head Mountain or Yongdu-San. The tower offers a view of Busan Port and nearby landscapes, and is especially beautiful at night when the city glows.

An easy atmosphere blankets the city all year round, compared to bustling Seoul where people are always on the go. Busan is slower, allowing visitors to notice artworks in many parts of the city.

Gamcheon Culture Village is the most vibrant place in Busan. The small houses in different pastel colours densely occupy the foothills of a coastal mountain, earning this village the nickname "Machu Picchu of Busan". Alleys cutting through this community are decorated with murals and sculptures.

It is surprising to learn that this beautiful village once was the poorest area in Busan. After the government's efforts to develop a living standard with creativity, the slum gradually transformed into an art-filled place. Today, it is on the tourist lists to soak up an art atmosphere, visiting small museums, chic coffee shops and creative art outlets.

Learn more about the Korean War, which divided Korea into two countries, at the UN Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery honours fallen UN soldiers who participated in the Korean War and defended the Republic of Korea from 1950-1953. It contains the bodies of 2,300 service members from 11 countries. Its serene park spreads across a grassy plain area of 11 hectares. There are walking paths and lovely landscapes with tributes to soldiers.

Busan is famed for its annual events, particularly the Busan (Pusan) International Film Festival, which is held at the Busan Cinema Centre, in Centum City. On ordinary days, the venue may look pretty quiet. However, once you step inside one of its buildings, you may find a number of cinema lovers waiting to watch art films or classic movies. The venue also houses the Korea Film Archive where you can study about Korean films or watch old movies in personal rooms, too.

Besides its artful atmosphere, Busan lures visitors with great seafood. Thanks to the fertile sea, Busan has two big markets seafood lovers should not miss.

Jagalchi Fish Market offers a great variety of live fish. You can choose the fish or seafood and have one of the restaurants on the upper floors of the market cook it for you. The Gijang Crab Market surprises you with huge spider crabs steamed in front of you for utmost freshness.

Situated on the rocky seashore northeast of Busan, the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is popular for its unique location and great sea view. The temple was built in 1376 by a Buddhist teacher known as Naong. It was destroyed during the Japanese occupation and was reconstructed in 1970. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple houses Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (Seawater Great Goddess Buddha), a shrine and a three-storey pagoda with four guardian lion statues, which represent joy, anger, sadness and happiness. Korean Buddhists visit the temple on New Year’s Eve and pray for happiness.

On Dongbaekseom Island, Nurimaru Apec House has been used as a memorial hall and a prestigious international conference hall since the Apec summit meeting in 2005. The three-storey building was built in traditional Korean architectural style with a hill-like roof, symbolising the hill on the island. Its interior is beautifully decorated with Korean traditional art and handicrafts. Besides the great view overlooking Gwangan Bridge and Dallmaji Hill, Dongbaekseom Island has a lush park filled with flowers and towering pines.

Taejongdae is a stretch of shoreline, topped by a 250m-tall cliff. The cliffs offer a great seascape view. They are also known as Suicide Cliffs because a number of people have come here to end their lives. In hope that people have a change of heart, the local government erected a statue of a mother and her children steps from the cliff. After the installation of the statue in 1976, the suicide rate dropped from a few a day to one a month.

Busan has a long maritime history. Korea’s third largest museum is Busan’s National Maritime Museum, which features more than 12,000 maritime items in eight permanent exhibitions. It entertains children with a special children’s museum, a rooftop observation deck, a massive maritime library, a walkthrough aquarium, a 4D theatre, an auditorium and a variety of restaurants and cafés, which is also in a scene in the Thai TV series Legal Wife. One of the highlights includes the Joseon Missional Ship, the largest replica in South Korea, but half the size of the actual ship.

Travel Info

- Korean Air and Thai Airways International operate direct flights between Bangkok and Busan.

- Visit Busan Tourism Organisation’s homepage at http://bto.or.kr/eng.

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