South Korea – Busan

RO: O sa fim sinceri. Am preferat sa vedem orasul Busan in loc de DMZ, si-asta doar din cauza ca am citit atat de multe despre locul acesta inainte de a pleca, ca in final, la fata locului, parca nu a mai prezentat interes. Documentarea asta excesiva πŸ™‚ Parea ca l-am vazut de n ori deja, iar incantarea de a vedea fieΒ  Zona de Securitate Comuna (Joint Security Area – JSA), fie tunelurile sapate de nord coreeni pe sub DMZ, fie satul de propaganda vazut din observator, s-a dus, pur si simplu πŸ™‚ Si cum nu suntem tocmai niste straini de comunism (chiar daca l-am trait mai mult prin povestile parintilor si bunicilor nostri), recunoastem ca o vizita la DMZ ar fi putut sa ne strice intreaga stare de vacanta. Si-apoi, gluma-i gluma, dar n-aveam camasuta cu revere calcate perfect la noi, nici pantalonii cu dunga. Si nici dispozitia necesara sa suportam restrictiile de pozat, de zambit, de miscat, de orice. Si-apoi, nu-s tocmai grozave tensiunile din ultima perioada, asa ca am preferat sa evitam orice apropiere de vecina nordica. Dar pentru cei carora le surade un astfel de tur, vom scrie cateva lucruri despre DMZ si de unde intentionam noi sa luam un astfel de tur (pentru ca da, sunt mai multe companii, preturi diferite, activitati diferite incluse in pret). DMZ este zona demilitarizata dintre Coreea de Nord si Coreea de Sud, lata de 4 km si lunga cat tine granita dintre cele doua tari, unde (contrar denumirii), exista nu doar foarte multe forte militare, dar si extrem de multe tensiuni. Pentru ca da, chiar daca razboiul corean (in care fiecare parte s-a straduit sa o asimileze pe cealalta) s-a terminat inca din 1953, incaierarile dintre nord si sud nu s-au linistit… niciodata.

EN: We will be honest. We preferredΒ to see Busan instead of DMZ and that’s just because we read so many things about this place before our arrival in South Korea, that we simply lost our interest in seeing it. Ah, this over documenting πŸ™‚ It seemed as if we have already seen it a couple of times, and the thrill of seeing the Joint Security Area (JSA), the tunnels built by the North Koreans under the DMZ or the propaganda village seen from the observatory, simply faded away πŸ™‚ And we’re not quite complete strangers to communism (even though we lived it more through our parents and grandparents stories), but we have to admit that a visit to DMZ could have entirely ruined our vacation mood. And joking aside, we actually forgot our perfectly ironed shirt and our suit trousers. And our mood for enduring all those photographing restrictions, smiling restrictions, moving restrictions and all types of other restrictions and rules. In addition to that, taking into consideration all those tensions that occurred in the last period of time made, we simply wanted to avoid any close up with the northern neighbor. But for those who are tempted by such a tour, we will say a few words about DMZ and where we wanted to book the tour (because there are several companies offering this tour, different prices, different activities included in the price). DMZ is actually the demilitarized area between North Korea and South Korea, 4 km wide and as long as the border between the countries extends, where contrary to the name there are not only a lot of military forces but also many tensions. Because yes, even though the Korean war (when each of the countries tried to assimilate the other one) ended in 1953, the frictions between the two countries have actually never ended.Β 

DMZ_North Korea_Photo Source CNN
North Korean Soldiers at DMZ – Photo Source:

RO: Sunt mai multe companii care ofera tururi la DMZΒ (nu se poate ajunge altfel la DMZ decat cu un tur organizat, fiind nevoie de escorta militara), noi l-am fi ales pe cel organizat de Koridoor, pentru ca ne-a fost recomandat de catre niste prieteni care au fost cu ei. Preturile sunt cam la fel peste tot (~100$ pentru un tur ce curpinde DMZ/JSA si Third Tunnel), ce e bine de stiut este ca tururile trebuie rezervate cu cateva zile in avans (nu pe ultima suta de metri cum ne-am gandit noi :D), sunt doar anumite zile in care au loc si pot fi anulate oricand in caz ca este vreo sarbatoare sau vreun eveniment militar. Exista reguli stricte de imbracaminte pentru turisti, asa ca nu glumeam cand spuneam de camasuta calcata perfect si pantalonii la dunga πŸ˜€

EN: There are lots of companies that offer tours at the DMZ (you can only visit the DMZ with an organized tour, as a military escort is needed), we would have chosen the one organized by Koridoor, because it was recommended to us by some friends that have been with them to the DMZ. Prices are more or less the same everywhere (~100$ for a tour that includes DMZ/JSA and the Third Tunnel), what should be taken into consideration is the fact that the tours need to be booked several days in advance (not on the home stretch as we were :D), there are just a couple of days when the tours are organized and they can be cancelled anytime if there is a public holiday or a military event. There is a strict dress code for tourists, so we were not joking when we were talking about the perfectly ironed shirt and the suit trousers πŸ˜€

Photo Source:

RO: Bun, toate ca toate, am lasat DMZ-ul, ne-am urcat in tren si am ales sa mergem taman in sudul tarii, in Busan, al doilea cel mai mare si cel mai frumos oras sud corean si cel mai mare port din tara, un mix perfect intre agitatia nebuna tipica Seul-ului si linistea si peisajele frumoase din Jeju. Aproape de 500 de kilometri din Seul pana in Busan, insa cu trenurile de mare viteza KTX se ajunge in doua ore si jumatate (uneori chiar si mai putin). Biletele se pot lua direct din gara sau de pe site-ul oficial al Korail, noi am optat pentru pass-ul de o zi, care era aproape la jumatate de pret. Apropo, se pare ca daca trenurile au intarziere, Korail ofera pasagerilor compensatie (fie o parte din bilet inapoi, fie gratuitate la urmatoarea calatorie) – noi am patit-o la intoarcere. Si inca un apropo, e bine sa fie rezervate biletele si locurile cu ceva vreme inainte (macar cu o zi inainte). Nu de alta, dar nu e tocmai indicat sa ne bazam pe faptul ca sunt trenuri din si catre Busan din 15 in 15 minute. Sunt pline toate! Si nu doar trenurile! In aeroportul Gimpo din oras sunt zboruri (fully bookedΒ toate!) catre Jeju si Busan la fiecare cinci minute!

EN: OK, but all in all, we left DMZ aside, got into the train and went directly to the southern part of the country, in Busan, the second biggest and second most beautiful South Korean city, the biggest harbor in the country and a perfect mixture of that Seoulistic hustle and bustle and that tranquility and beautiful landscapes from Jeju. Almost 500 kilometers from Seoul to Busan, but with the KTX high speed trains we got there in two and a half hours (sometimes even less). The tickets can be purchased directly from the train station or from the official Korail website, but we have chosen to buy a day pass, which was almost half the price. By the way, seems that if the trains have any kind of detail, Korail offers a compensation to the passengers (either refund or a free ticket for the next ride). This happened to us upon return. And yet another “by the way”, it is good to book the tickets and the places in the train beforehand (at least one day ahead). As it is not quite recommended to rely on the fact that there are trains to and from Busan every 15 minutes. They are all fully booked! And not just the trains! In Gimpo airport there are flights (all of them fully booked of course) every five minutes!
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RO: Si chiar daca nu ne incanta de regula tururile “hop on hop off”, neavand foarte mult timp la dispozitie am cam fost tentati sa il luam, nu de alta, dar sa profitam la maxim de cele cateva ore in Busan. Pretul era chiar accesibil (15.000 won de persoana), insa coada de asteptare imensa si principalele doua locuri in care ne doream sa ajungem nu erau incluse pe traseu (satul Gamcheon si templul pe marginea apei de la Yonggungsa). Si-apoi bineinteles, in tara gadgeturilor si-a dependentei de smartphone, nu se putea sa nu existe si o aplicatie a orasului, cu diverse rute facute de autobuzul turistic si-alte informatii despre traseu – BUTI (Busan City Tour). Β Si-acum a intervenit lipsa documentarii πŸ™‚ Daca ne-am fi interesat din timp, am fi stiut ca exista un abonament de o zi la metrou, care costa doar 5000 woni de persoana si cu care poti merge oriunde in Busan cu metroul πŸ™‚ Insa nici o calatorie individuala nu e chiar o gaura in buget (1400 won), si-n doi timpi si trei miscari am si ajuns la statia Tonseong. De unde ne mai desparte un singur deal de urcat ca sa ajungem sus la satul colorat Gamcheon, un fel de favela braziliana in inima Coreei πŸ™‚ Dar cum caldura-i mare, mon cher, lenea si mai si, iar taxiurile ieftine tare, nu ne incumetam sa mergem pe jos πŸ™‚ Satucul e emblematic pentru Busan, chiar daca se afla mult in vestul orasului. Unii il numesc “Santorini Estului” desi pare cam pestrit pentru alb-albastrul grecesc, sau “Macchu Picchu-ul din Busan” pentru casele construite pe terasele dealului. Noi i-am spune insa un soi de “Rocinha coreana” sau un joc de Lego turbat, la cata culoare si nebunie e aici. Totusi, desi in ultimii ani a devenit extrem de turistic, satul este inca locuit. Iar daca inainte era o simpla mahala, trista si gri, folosita de oamenii saraci care se adaposteau si isi construiau aici case temporare ca sa se fereasca de sangerosul razboi civil, din 2009 un grup de studenti s-a mobilizat si a transformat complet cartierul. Peste tot sunt picturi, galerii de arta, centre de informatii si pentru cei mai jucausi din fire, o vanatoare de stampile din diverse case din cartier.

EN: And even though we are not quite thrilled by the hop-on-hop-off tours, we have been tempted to take it now, as we did not have enough time to see all the places in only one day. The price was quite affordable (15.000 won per person) but the waiting line was huge and the two main attractions that we wanted to visit were not included in the itinerary (Gamcheon Cultural Village and Yonggungsa Temple). And then of course, in a country obsessed by gadgets and smartphone-dependent there had to be a city app of course, with different routes made by the touristic bus and other information about the itinerary – BUTI (Busan City Tour). And here goes the lack of documentation πŸ™‚ If we would have read more information about Busan, we would have known that there is a one subway day pass that only costs 5000 won and allows you to go wherever you want in Busan by subway. But hey, an individual trip is not actually a fortune (1400 won) and in no time we are already at the Tonseong station. Where only a hill to climb separates us from the colorful Gamcheon village, a kind of favela in the heart of Korea πŸ™‚ But as there is too much heat and too much laziness and the cabs are soooo cheap, we’re not quite in the mood for walking πŸ™‚ This village is so iconic for Busan, even though it is a bit outside the city, in the western part of it. Some people call it the Santorini of the East, even though it might seem a bit too colorful for the typical Greek white and blue or the Macchu Picchu from Busan, for the houses built on the terraces of the hill. We would actually say that Gamcheon is a kind of “Korean Rocinha” or a type of crazy Lego game taking into account all that color and madness from the village. Nonetheless, even though in the last few years it has become extremely touristic, the village is still inhabited. And if this was a simple slum at the beginning, sad and extremely grey, used by the poor people that were taking shelter in here, building temporary houses to keep away from the civil war, in 2009 a group of students has started to completely transform the neighborhood. There are paintings all over the place, art galleries, information centers and for the playful ones, a stamp hunt in various houses in the neighborhood.Β 
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RO: Si-n drum spre templul faimos oprim o fuga si la cea mai faimoasa si chipurile cea mai frumosa plaja din Busan, Haeundae. La prima vedere ai zice ca toti zgarie norii, cladirile in constructii, traficul, aglomeratia si galagia ar cam stirbi din farmecul plajei, insa toate acestea o cam definesc si o fac atat de renumita printre coreeni si nu numai. Pana la urma, e o plaja uriasa, de mai bine de 1,5km lungime, cu nisip alb si mare linistita. Ce sa-ti mai doresti altceva atunci cand ti se ia putin de haosul “seulistic” dar nici n-ai merge taman pana in Jeju pentru putina relaxare? πŸ™‚ Ce ni s-a parut totusi ciudat este faptul ca la coreeni sezonul de vara se inchide la 1 septembrie. Si cand spunem ca se inchide, ei bine, toate umbrelutele de pe plaja isi iau talpasita, multe dintre baruri se inchid, iar turistii sunt din ce in ce mai putini. Nu c-am avea ceva impotriva, dar vremea-i inca buna si parca nu intelegem ce-i cu abandonul acesta πŸ™‚

EN: And on our way to the famous temple we stop for a couple of moments to the most famous and the most beautiful beach in Busan (as people say), Haeundae Beach. At a first glance one would say that all those skyscrapers, the buildings that are currently being built, the traffic, the crowds and all the noise could ruin the charm of the beach, but all these actually define it and make it so famous among the Koreans and not only. In the end, it is a huge beach, more than 1,5 km long, with white sand and tranquil waters. What else can you you wish for when you had enough of the Seoulistic chaos, but you wouldn’t quite go to Jeju for a bit of relaxation? πŸ™‚ But what seemed odd to us was the fact that the Koreans close their summer season at 1st of September. And when we say that they close it, oh well, all of the umbrellas on the beach suddenlyΒ disappear, most of the bars are closed and tourists are fewer and fewer. Not that we would mind that, but the weather outside is still good and we simply don’t understand what all the fuss with this abandonment πŸ™‚Β 
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RO: Nici la templul Yonggungsa nu-i tocmai usor de ajuns, insa taxiul de la capatul metroului rezolva orice problema logistica πŸ™‚ Apropo, aplicatiaΒ Korean SubwayΒ este tare bine pusa la punct si cuprinde toate orasele care au metrou, cu toate statiile si magistralele aferente. E o mana cereasca pentru calatorii fara internet pe telefon (rusine noua, cei care nu si-au luat modem de internet in Coreea si nici n-au binevoit sa plateasca aproape de 10 euro pe mega-ul de net :D). Iar templul Haedong Yonggungsa in sine e o frumusete geniala! Unde altundeva in Coreea mai gaseste omul un templu budist pe marginea apei, cand marea majoritate a templelor sunt ascunse in munti? πŸ™‚

EN: Getting to the Yonggungsa Temple is not easy, but taking a cab from the last station of the subway solves any kind of logistic issue πŸ™‚ By the way, the Korean Subway app is well organized and contains all the cities in South Korea that have a subway, with all the stations and the afferent lines. It is simply a godsend for those tourists without internet on the phone (shame on us that we did not buy an internet modem in Korea and we also did not comply with paying almost 10 euros per mb :D). But the Haedong Yonggungsa temple itself is absolutely gorgeous! Where else in Korea can we find a Buddhist temple on the edge of the water, when the majority of the temples is hidden in the mountains?Β 
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RO: Si-apoi aventura cu taxiul. Ce-i drept, taxiurile sunt tare accesibile in Coreea. Uneori, pe distante scurte, sunt chiar mai convenabile decat metroul. Insa buba cea mare e ca taximetristii (cel putin cei din Busan) rareori vorbesc engleza. Asa ca in loc sa ajungem la o statie de metrou am fost lasati la statia de tren Songjeong din directia complet opusa πŸ˜€ Si asta cu tot cu serviciul lor de traducere (un fel de 112 al turistilor :D)!Β Lesson learned: intotdeauna sa avem notate adresele locurile in care vrem sa ajungem, atat in engleza cat si in coreana, in alfabet hangul. Buuun, cumva am reusit sa ajungem in centru, la statia Nampo, nebunia shopping-ului in Busan. Dar nu pentru shopping suntem in zona, ci pentru o vizita rapida in piata de peste Jagalchi (cea mai mare piata de peste din tara chiar!), exact la iesirea de la statia de metrou Nampo, si bineinteles, pentru turnul Busan, nou nout, abia renovat si reimprospatat la 1 iulie 2017 πŸ™‚ Scarile rulante din parcul Youngdusan ne amintesc de cele din cartierul Soho din Hong Kong, iar privelistea deasupra orasului, de sus, din turn, este senzationala!

EN: And there’s the cab adventure. To be honest. the cabs are extremely affordable in Korea. Sometimes, on short distances, they can be even cheaper than the subway. But the biggest problem is the fact that the drivers (at least those from Busan) rarely speak English. So instead of getting to a subway station we were taken to the Songjeong train station in the completely opposite direction πŸ˜€ And that happened after calling their translation service (a kind of 911 for tourists :D)! Lesson learned: always have the places where we want to go written on a piece of paper, in both English and Korean, in hangul alphabet. Ooook, somehowΒ we managed to get to the city center, at Nampo station, the shopping madness in Busan. But we did not come here for shopping, but for a fast visit in the Jagalchi fish market (the biggest fish market in the country!), right at the exit of the Nampo subway station, and of course, for the Busan Tower, brand new, as it has been recently renovated and reopened for public at 1st of July 2017 πŸ™‚ The escalators from the Youngdusan park remind us of those ones from Soho neighborhood in Hong Kong, and the view above the city, from the tower, is simply amazing!
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RO: Si apropo, ca tot vedem de sus intregul oras, pana in cel mai mic detaliu, sud coreenii au o adevarata obsesie cu masinile. Toate, dar absolut toate trebuie sa fie masini produse in Coreea de Sud (traiasca Hyundai si KIA!), si daca se poate, sa aiba o culoare cat mai monotona. Si adevarul e ca oriunde te uiti vezi o mare de masini albe, negre, gri sau argintii. Fereasca Sfantu’ de un strop de culoare pe bulevardele sud coreene! πŸ˜€

EN: And by the way, now that we see the entire city from up above, we realize that South Koreans have an obsession with cars. All of them, but absolutely all of them have to be produced in South Korea (long live Hyundai and Kia!) and if possible, to have the dullest color in the world. And truth is that wherever you’ll look, you’ll only see white, black, grey or silver cars. Heaven forbid to see a bit of color on the South Korean boulevards!
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RO: Si dupa cum spuneam la inceputul articolului, am fost extrem de neinspirati sa nu ne rezervam locurile in trenul spre Seul inca de dimineata, motiv pentru care am cam ramas fara varianta de intoarcere. Ultimele doua locuri libere le-am gasit intr-un tren peste mai bine de doua ore, insa hei, cine sa fie deranjat de putin zabovit in gara geniala din Busan si de o imbuibare cu bibimbap intr-un restaurant traditional? Facem noi pe vitejii cu mancatul picant, insa mancarea coreana ne-a cumintit. Atata kimchi, atata praf de chilli si-alte picanterii delicioase, ca nu putem duce!

EN: And as we said at the beginning of the article, we’ve been extremely uninspired to not book the seats on the train to Seoul since morning, and for that reason we were left with no returning options. The last two free seats we found were in a train after 2,5 hours, but hey, who would mind spending some more time in the gorgeous Busan train station, indulging a delicious bibimbap in a traditional restaurant?Β We might seem brave enough with all that spicy eating, but the Korean food was a bit too much for us πŸ˜€ So much kimchi, so much chilli powder and other delicious spicy things – we simply couldn’t take it anymore πŸ˜€
Bibimbap Busan Train Station
RO: Ce-i drept, ar fi fost nevoie de inca o zi in Busan, ca sa fie tacamul complet. Sa vedem care-i nebunia cu filmele (doar aici se tine festivalul anual de film!), sa ne balacim intr-un izvor termal, sa ne plimbam pe podurile suspendate de deasupra marii, sa facem turul plajelor ori sa incercam toate bunatatile locale ale acestui Oras al Zilei de Maine, cum le place localnicilor sa il numeasca, facand referire la dinamicitatea orasului, constructiile si dezvoltarea permanenta. “Seul-ul de la mare” i-ar spune altii, desi intre noi fie vorba, cele doua sunt cum nu se poate mai diferite. Si-o fi Busan poate ceva mai boem si mai relaxat ca Seul-ul, insa parca ii calca pe urme capitalei. In plus, CNN vorbeste despre o de-Seulizare in Coreea si adevarul e ca multe dintre “apucaturile” capitalei incep sa se regaseasca in Busan: cartiere intregi de zgarie nori inalti, hoteluri, tot soiul de companii, investitori, comert, festivalul de film care are loc in fiecare toamna (si care apropo, e unul dintre cele mai mari festivaluri de acest gen din Asia). Si chiar daca toata aceasta dezvoltare este fireasca, ramanem cu gandul la doua dintre locurile cel mai putin urbanizate din Busan: mahalaua Gamcheon si templul Yonggungsa, doua oaze de liniste si autenticitate, in ciuda faptului ca au devenit excesiv de turistice.

EN: Honestly, we would have needed one more day in Busan, to see the entire city. To see what’s all the fuss with all those movies (Busan is famous for the annual film festival), to swim in a geothermal spring, to walk around the hanging bridges above the sea, to tour around the beaches or to try all those goodies of this City of Tomorrow, as the locals like to call it, thinking about the dynamic of the city, all the constructions and the permanent development. “Seoul from the sea” others would call it, but we would honestly say that these two cities are completely different. And maybe Busan is a bit more bohemian and more relaxed than Seoul, but is following the same footsteps as the capital. In addition to that, CNN talks about a de-seoulization in Korea and the truth is that most of the things typical to Seoul are starting to appear in Busan as well: lots of neighborhoods with sky scrapers, hotels, all kind of companies, investors, commerce, the film festival that is held each fall (and by the way, this is one of the biggest film festival in Asia). And maybe all this developement might be normal, we keep thinking about two of the least-developed places in Busan: the Gamcheon slum and the Yonggungsa temple, two oasis of tranquility and authenticity, despite the fact that they have become extremely touristic.
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