When in Busan for a short trip, it’s important to determine what you’re in town for to know which area to stay in. If you’re here for the beaches, then look for lodging near Haeundae Beach, not the Nampodong fish markets or Gamcheon Culture Village. Both areas are must-visits, but the reason I point this out is because it takes a good two hours by metro roundtrip, so for me, visiting Haeundae became a day trip, and the rest of my time in Busan was spent eating, shopping, and hiking. What else?
I chose to stay near Busan Station, closer to Jungang Station at Boutique Hotel YTT Nampo, since it made it easier to take the KTX back to Seoul. The best thing the hotel has going for it is its location. Otherwise, lower-end hotels such as these in Korea apparently can be confused for “love hotels.” Upon browsing cheaper hotel options, you’ll quickly notice that reviewers will often mention the fact that such places are “love hotels,” but are otherwise totally okay.
I didn’t think that the one I chose would belong in such a category—until I opened one of the boxes of toiletries and found complimentary condoms and…gels.
You can bet I bursted out laughing in amused disbelief.
Anyway, while I enjoyed my stay at YTT, the picky-wannabe-design-nerd in me absolutely hated the room’s bathroom layout and design. Online reviews of the place already point out how slippery the bathroom floors are, but I would go a step further and call for a complete redesign, with shower space entirely too big and an unnecessary divider that is too wide and high, forcing you to awkwardly straddle over the divider to go in and out of the shower—among other gross injustices to an otherwise pleasant hotel.
Before I headed out for my first full day in Busan, I tried asking the hotel staff on the best way to get to Haeundae (sadly the hour-long metro ride is best), and before whom I assumed was the hotel manager could fully grasp what I was asking, a hotel guest hanging around the lobby interrupted to help me instead. From my experience, it seemed that the hotel staff’s command of English was mediocre at best. As the guest was finishing up, as if to make it seem like he actually could help, the hotel manager gave me a printout of the metro map, circling the stop. But with the Korean metro app installed on my phone, I didn’t need it.
An hour later, I finally arrived at Haeundae to breezy, beautiful weather, a nice change from last night. I walked through the main street to the beach just to take an initial look before going to look for lunch.
There was one corner restaurant with a line out the door for what I could only guess was pork bone soup, but of course I chose a restaurant that offered bibimbap.
Satisfied, I made my way back to the beach, with no plan to spend much time on the beach, instead just dipping my feet into the water, hiking along the shores on Dongbaekdo Island, and checking out the Nurimaru APAC House.
Looking back, I’m thankful for how perfect the weather was all day. Weather conditions definitely define experiences, and if it had been raining or even cloudy, I’m not so sure I would’ve enjoyed such pleasant strolls along the shores and on the streets.
I then made my way to Pattiserie OPS, a short walk from Haeundae Beach and located at the edge of Marine City, for a break before making my way to Shinsegae Centum City, home of the “must-go” Spa Land!
Following my GPS, I walked through what I later found out was Marine City, a part of town that I found to be fascinating yet terrifying for the odd juxtaposition of the sandy beaches and the looming modern skyscrapers surrounded by mostly empty streets.
I soon found myself on the Street of Cinema, which was “part of a special tourist zone revitalization project by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism” and was completed just last January. Here, you’ll find movie posters for some of Korea’s most famous works, and I was surprised to see the movie about dogs I remember crying so much when watching…
Then underestimating how far Spa Land was from here, I walked along a long bike path, enjoying the nice weather but also wishing I had found a faster way, as I looked longingly at the occasional biker passing by. Marine City is unique in that although everything is beautifully clean and modern, you hardly see anyone on the streets. So you can imagine how weird it felt to walk along such an empty path. It was peaceful, but disconcertingly so.
Eventually, I made it to the Shinsegae mall, and seemingly like all other Korean department stores, this one was no less extravagant. I enjoyed a cup of smooth green tea ice cream inside the massive food court before going to Spa Land.
Spa Land. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t my first time stripping naked in front of strangers 😛 When in Marrakech, my friend and I experienced one of those bath scrubdowns, but rather it be in a public bath, we found a place that offered more private experiences. And then in Bangkok, I tried a Japanese onsen spa but at least wore undergarments while soaking in the baths of various temperatures. In Spa Land, you don’t have such luxuries of a private room or undergarments, which may scare off foreigners, but I truly had an amazing time and never felt more carefree.
There’s a lot online already about Spa Land, so I won’t go into too many specifics—but I will note that admission prices seem to increase regularly. The weekend price for me was 18,000 won, plus 20,000 for the (aggressive) 20-minute body scrub. Still, an affordable and worthy experience!
It wasn’t until I had changed back into my clothes that I realized there’s actually another section where visitors can take photos and mingle with the opposite gender (hence why couples come despite the gender-specific bath area) in specially designed rooms boasting various benefits to the mind. I walked around briefly but figured such rooms are best if you actually want to take a nap or take pictures and hang out with friends. Otherwise, it seems gimmicky.
Afterward, I explored the rest of the giant mall, including the duty-free section, where I bought a box of Leaders face masks and was sold into signing up for a Shinsegae membership, which offers 15% discounts on duty-free purchases. I easily could’ve bought so much more, but I’m happy I managed to hold back and only get the face masks.
Walking through this section was a bit overwhelming, as employees were mainly preoccupied with packaging and scanning all the duty-free purchases already made and being prepared to transfer directly to airports for the passengers to pick up.
All in all, another long but great day. Unfortunately, because of the sheer amount of things I’ve done these days (and how I’m reflecting weeks afterward), I’m not able to go into as much detail as I would like about such experiences. But if you’re interested in hearing more, please feel free to ask 🙂
Next up: Finally a less eventful day in Busan—thanks to rain!