The Busan landscape slips on a coat of russet, yellow and orange as summer slips into winter
There can be no better time to explore Busan than the autumn when the seasonal chill and bright sunshine turn the trees into a glorious palette of red, yellow and orange. For the Thai visitor, whose experience of changing seasons tends to get stuck on wet to dry and hot to hotter, the visual onslaught is amazing, drawing to mind the landscape paintings so loved by Western artists and the words of the English poet John Keats.
“Busan was selected by The New York Times as one of 52 destinations to visit in 2017 and ranked fifth on the list of the biggest and busiest ports in the world,” says Shim Jeong-Bo, president of Busan Tourism Organisation, of South Korea’s large port city, which is known for its beaches, mountains and temples.
“It was to here that the Korean fled during the Korean war. Today, it is a centre for food and culture, a place that gathers together the traditions of all regions. The government is working hard to attract tourists to visit this city. According to a survey conducted by Booking.com, Busan is one of 10 most interesting food places in Asia. And it boasts a convenient transportation system that allows visitors to get around easily. It is also film location of choice, with some 50 per cent of all Korean series shot here, and hosts the annual Busan International Film Festival, the One Asia Festival and the Busan Fireworks Festival,” he continues.
“And the campaign appears to be paying off. Between January to August in 2017, we welcomed 2.2 million more tourists compared with the same period last year. Unfortunately, the number of Chinese tourists decreased by 50 per cent as a result of political conflicts,” Shim Jeong-Bo adds.
Led by Hong Ji Hee, chief executive of Korea Thailand Communication Centre, our motley group of tourism writers stops first at Tongyeong, a port city on Korea’s scenic southern coast, where we board the Hallyeo cable car to the top of Mireuksan Mountain. It is early in the day and while the leaves are already russet, they have yet to be lit up by the sun and reveal their full autumn glory. Nevertheless, the view from the peak is magnificent and we can clearly see below us the former command post of the Korean naval forces during the Imjin War when the country tried to fend off two Japanese invasions between 1592 and 1598. Today, all that remains is Sebyeonggwan Hall, which was built in 1603 and has managed to survive the ravages of time. Tsushima Island in Japan is only 80 kilometres from here.
After our tour of Tongyeong, we head back to Busan proper and gaze in appreciation at the dramatic landscape of Geumjeongsan Mountain where the red leaves glow vividly against the pale blue sky. Geumjeongsan has historically been considered as a mountain conducive to the defence of the country and is home to Beomeosa, a famous historical temple believed to defend and protect the country alongside Geumjeongsanseong Fortress, the nation’s largest fortress during The Three Kingdoms period. The temple is still just as beautiful, particularly in spring, when the wisteria is in full bloom. In front of us is Daeungjeon, the main temple hall, considered to be one of the finest examples of Joseon-era architecture.
Geumjeongsan Mountain is also reputed for having one of the best hiking trails in South Korea but our itinerary is too tight to allow us to check it out and we instead move on to Clayarch Gimhae Museum. Designed to play a leading role in the development of architectural ceramics, it boasts more than 5,000 painted tiles on the exterior of the circular wall, which are collectively known as “Fired Painting”. Designed by Shin Sang-Ho, the structure allows for changes in the display of patterns and colour to give off different effects. This artwork depicts the museum’s philosophy of valuing the environment, practicality and artistic development.
“Gimhae is a major centre of ceramic culture, and can trace its history all the way back to the kingdom of Gaya and the early Joseon period through buncheong plates and tea vessels bearing the inscription ‘Gimhae’. This museum is outstanding and has become a popular backdrop for many Korean series,” says manager Kim Jinho.
We also visit Gamcheon, a cultural village with a pastel village landscape. It is known for its steep streets, twisting alleys, and brightly painted houses that offer great photo opportunities.
Our day ends with a ride on the four-wheel rail bike along with three-kilometre bridge crossing the Nakdonggang River inside Gimhae Nakdonggang Rail Park, after which we take a short walk to the nearby wine cave, an excellent dating spot with its romantic lights and sculptures. Raspberry wine is its signature beverage and we certainly don’t turn down the invitation to have a sip.
- The writer travelled to Busan as a guest of the Korea Thailand Communication Centre.