Busan: Go big or go home-ish

📝: Erin 📸: Jan & Erin

After a whirlwind trip through Japan, we had a choice for our limited time in South Korea: Keep the same pace to zigzag the southern part of the country — including going to an internationally known mud festival — or rest.

We arrived in South Korea via the port city of Busan, thanks to a ferry from Japan. Busan came highly recommended from friends who’d lived in South Korea, and we were in the region during the Boryeong Mud Festival, which Lonely Planet lists as a “must see.” The fest draws close to a million people each July to frolic in giant vats of mud between concerts, raves and other festivities.

And this, my friends, is the difference between traveling in your 20s and … not in your 20s.

The winner is …

Not the raves! I could lie and say it’s because we’re just not into crowds, or the accommodations near the mud festival were crazy pricey (both true). Nope, it’s because my feet hurt and we wanted to simmer down.

So on our butts we sat, watch the ocean we did — all from a private cliff-side patio on Geoje Island, which is just off the coast of Busan. A couple hikes and a big ol’ Korean barbecue were tossed in, in between.

  • Geoje Island

We spent four quiet days at one of the island’s numerous “pensions,” which are small basically condos. The island isn’t easy to get to on public transit. And this particular pension is in a more isolated area that requires navigating a local (and notoriously unreliable) bus route.

Getting there …

We mostly figured out the route thanks to Google Translate and patient locals who graciously responded to my map pointing. (Note: The bus drivers are not among the patient locals — we got yelled at by one for not getting off his bus fast enough. He even scooted the bus ahead to nudge us.)

Once on the island, which is connected to the mainland by bridges, we missed the second bus for the last leg — leaving us alone, on the side of a seemingly vacant road on a forest-covered mountainside.

But a few minutes later, a magical unicorn taxi showed up. The gentlemanly driver whisked us away after Jan showed him the address on his phone (swapping the language to Korean). After about 15 minutes of winding roads, a U-turn and what seemed to be a lunge off a cliff, the road leveled off and we arrived at our temporary home.

The pension …

Jan rented the one-room condo from a wonderfully nice couple — Mr. and Mrs. Kim — who showed up each morning with coffee, one afternoon with cooked potatoes, and the next day with savory spinach and cheese pancakes. (Mr. Kim even took us to the bus station on the rainy day we left, after we asked if he could help us call a taxi. )

We were famished when we arrived, and Mr. Kim took us to his friend’s restaurant, which only has floor-sitting tables (rare, we later discovered, in touristy areas). The meal was huge — likely because, we think, we asked for a double helping. But I did get a laugh and lil’ hug from the chef’s mother when I played a recording of what my language app told me meant, “It was very delicious!”

Geoje Island

No markets?

The only downside to our time on Geoje Island was we couldn’t find a market anywhere, only convenience stores. Not a single cup of yogurt or fresh vegetable could we find.

So our plan to cook each day turned into food creativity, combining fruit, frozen dumplings, rice and whatever else was available from the convenience stores in the two towns on either side of our bay. We likely missed the memo on where to stop for markets on the way in. But that’d be a great Food Network show — menu de convenience store. We’d win it. 

Up next …

We headed back to Busan after four restful days but stayed only for a few hours before catching a train north to Seoul. That’s where our travel took an unexpected about-face: We’d apparently booked a party hostel. Doh!

Pro tip: If you use booking.com to find hostels or hotels, there’s a feature where you can convert the address to the local language. Show that to your taxi driver or a passerby, and that’s an easy way to get where you’re going or at least get pointed in the right direction.

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