Busan was my first stop on a two week trip through South Korea by public transport, which took me to Gyeong-Ju, Daegu, Songnisan Ntational Park, Gongju and Seoul. Travelling by bus through South Korea is ideal as they go nearly everywhere and the distances between places are always relatively short. For the roughly 400km between Busan and Seoul the bus takes about 4 hours. I think I actually never spend more than an our or two on the bus.
The Jagalchi Fish Market
After having landed in Busan and having dropped my luggage at my hotel I headed towards the Jagalchi Fish Market as I absolutely wanted to experience South Korea’s largest fish market and I was a bit peckish. As I approached the market there was a definite whiff of fish, sea and salt in the air. Wandering around the narrow streets of the outer fish market it seemed as if every weird and wonderful kind of sea creature was represented here. The eel-like hagfish, the bizarre sea squirt and the stingray are all here along with many other residents of the deep blue ocean that I’ve never seen before in my life. The stalls are Stalls at Jagalchi are run by the ‘ajumma’ – the Korean word for the married or middle-aged woman – who have sold seafood here since the war times when the market thrived despite most men being away fighting.
Jagalchi Market is free to visit, so it is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon in Busan without shelling out any cash. The magic of Jagalchi Fish Market is simply wandering the stores to your heart’s content, marvelling at one of the largest arrays of sea creatures ever to be assembled in one spot. A great way to finish your trip is to have a seafood lunch after your visit in one of the restaurants at the market – you’d be hard pressed to find seafood fresher than these places.
The Geumjeong Fortress Hike
After a nice mooch around the Beomeo Temple I headed up the Geumjeongsan Mountain towards the North Gate (Bukmun) of the Geumjeongsan Fortress. Following the Japanese Invasion of 1592 and the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1637, awareness of the necessity of national defence was heightened, especially against attacks from the sea. As a result of this awareness, this fortress was built in the 29th year (1703) of the reign of King Sukjong. The inner and the outer walls were mainly built of natural stones, but weak portions were reinforced with artificially worked square stone blocks. The walls are about 17 kilometers in length and from 1.5 meters to 3 meters in height. The area surrounded by the fortress is about 8.2 square kilometers. It is clear that fortresses had been already built on this site before 1700. Yi Chi-Hong, a naval commander, left a record in 1667 in which he mentions traces of an old fortress on the site. The construction of the fortress began in 1701 at the recommendation of Jo Tae-Dong , the Governor of Gyeongsang-Do, and was completed in 1702. In 1707 the walls were built around the main structure of the fortress. This fortress fell to disuse because it was too large to maintain. After lying empty for a century, it was repaired in 1807, the seventh year of the reign of King Sunjo. Oh_Han-Won , the Dongnae Magistrate, took the responsibility for building the west gate in 1807, and the other gates the following year. There is a stele recording the building of the gates. The fortress was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945), but began to be restored in 1972. The East, West and South gates were restored by 1974 and the north gate was rebuilt in 1989. Today, thanks to the restoration efforts, much of the walls and the four gates still stand.
From the North Gate I continued hiking along the western Fortress wall, which affords great views of the city of Busan (assuming it is not too hazy) until I reached the South Gate (Nammun) of the Fortress. The walk from Beomeo-Sa to the South Gate is about 9km with one or two steep-ish sections, one of them being the initial stretch from the Temple to the North Gate. Chances of getting lost are very small as there are plenty of signs along the way. The majority of those are in Korean but some of them are in both English and Korean.
After taking a few pictures of the South Gate I continued a little it south following the signs for Nammun Village. Nammun Village only consists of a few small houses but the main attraction for me at that stage were several large tents which were serving food. Having ordered a bowl of noodles and a coke I settled down and watched the world go by. Fellow hikers were having a meal, music was playing and some people were playing a ball game that looked a bit like a cross between tennis and football. Three quarters of an hour later I picked myself up and continued my walk towards Seokbul-Sa. Again, it is pretty impossible to get lost as there are plenty of signs keeping you on the right track.
Because is relatively difficult to reach, no buses go there, Seokbul-Sa is always pretty quiet. When I visited the temple was pretty much deserted apart from a few people that were praying. The temple itself consists of a U-shaped enclave that has been carved into the rock. Two massive boulders, 20 meters in height, jut out from the mountainside, Buddhist images having been chiselled into both of them. Seokbul-Sa was built in the 1930s by a monk named Jo Ilhyeon and has became famous for its scenic beauty despite only being a branch of Beomeosa Temple and having a relatively short history. Seokbul-Sa is a pretty small temple so it does not take very long to see all of it, although it is a nice spot, to take a breather as the view over Busan is not to be laughed at.
After having seen Seokbul-Sa I walked down the cement road from the temple which emerges close the Mandeok station on line 3. Alternatively you can head back to the Nammun Gate and follow the signs to the cable car. from Mandeok station I headed back to Seomyeon in search for some dinner
On my last day in Busan I visited the Tongdo-Sa Temple, which is one of the of the “Three Jewel Temples” of South Korea, the other two being Haein-Sa and Songwang-Sa.
Founded by the great monk Jajang in 646CE upon his return from China, it was originally built to house his collection of Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha) relics that he had acquired on his travels. He put the most important relics into a reliquary stupa, on a platform he named Geumgang Gyedan, which can still be seen today. Because of this, Tongdo-Sa is considered to be the most important of the “Three Jewel Temples”. Incidentally, legend has it that Jajang is also the founder of the Magok-Sa Temple in Gongju.The temple survived the fall of Silla and thrived well into the Goryeo period (918-1392CE). Over time it became the largest temple in South Korea and nowadays there are more than 50 buildings spread over the temple grounds. However, what you want find is a single statue of the Buddha. Because of this Tongdo-Sa is often referred to as the “Temple Without a Buddha”
At ithe height of its prosperity in the mid 15th century, Tongdosa may have contained hundreds of buildings and thousands of monks. Though most of these were destroyed in the Japanese invasions at the end of the 16th century, one building—the Daeungjeon—escaped the flames, and was last repaired in the early 17th century. Nowadays, the temple houses about 500 nuns and monks and there are about 18 hermitages dotted around the complex.
The nice thing about Tongdo-Sa is that most of the buildings date back to the17th century and have not really been renovated since. As a consequence their weather-beaten facades lent the whole temple an air of autenticity that is lacking in other temples.
Tongdo-Sa can easily be reached from Busan as it is just loacted a few kilometers north of Busan’s Nopo bus terminal