Holland America Westerdam docked in Busan, South Korea on a slightly hazy, mostly sunny day. The haze could have been either weather or pollution or maybe a little of both. Since we just had the one Korean port everyone had to clear customs when disembarking the ship, and pass through again for exit customs before getting back on. The disembarking was done by numbers that people picked up when they were ready to leave and then left when called, which kept the lines once off the ship pretty short. The waiting time from getting a number to having it called was about 15 minutes at the time we got ours, which was shortly after the process started. The wait may have gotten longer later on.
We had no specific plans for this port. The terminal had free wifi and an information desk with maps and people to answer questions. Just outside the building a bank booth offered money exchange. We got South Korean Won from our bank at home before the trip, but exchanged the leftover for American dollars on the way back to the ship since we had no other Korean ports.
We took the free shuttle into town, which dropped people off at Yongdusan Park. The main attraction there is Busan Tower. We got there shortly after 9am and the tower didn’t open until 10 so we decided to wander a bit. The area near the tower had a sea monster type dragon statue, some sort of pagoda, and a giant gong. Down a stairway sat a row of little booths, all closed up.
A long series of stairways with an escalator in the up direction led to a street filled with shops. The stairway empties onto Gwangbok-dong Fashion Street in an area with lots of shoe stores. There’s plenty of clothing stores, and stores with hair and skin products and make-up supplies on that street too.
The stores seemed to be grouped together with other stores selling similar things – a block of mainly shoe stores, with the next block mostly clothing and the next one something else. These are mainly brand-name stores, a lot of them from the USA. Various bronze colored statues dot the street, along with the best décor of all – no smoking signs.
A short distance down the road hiding between stores a nondescript alleyway that would be easy to miss offers entrance to the Gukje Market, with shops and booths running for quite a distance in all directions. There are bargains to be found there and some shopkeepers are even willing to haggle over the price. Unfortunately there are not any no smoking signs there. We even saw a shop owner sitting at the entrance to his store with customer repellent in the form of a smoking cigarette, and no customers in his store. Like the fashion street, stores in the market often seemed to be somewhat grouped with like stores where one area had lots of stores selling socks, in another area they had purses and backpacks, and one alleyway had electronics and tools.
Kitchen stores popped up randomly and not all stores of any one item were within the grouping. The narrow passageways between shops seemed more like walkways than roads, but people frequently came by riding motorcycles. Many of the alleys were covered over with dome-like structures. We walked around for quite awhile up and down different lanes through the market and probably didn’t cover half of it judging from the amount of covered walkways we saw later from the tower.
The bad thing about Busan was that passing near any of the numerous sewer grates meant getting a strong whiff of sewage smell wafting up from the underlying sewers. Like China, South Korea vents their sewers to the street rather than using fully enclosed pipes, though the streets we walked on in China did not have nearly the sewage smell the narrow alleyways in that market had. Even the main streets in the fancier shopping area smelled worse than anything we saw in China near sewer grates, but not as strong as the smaller alleys in the market.
We found a few things in the market to buy as Christmas gifts for various relatives before making our way back to the fashion street. Mostly purses and socks. We looked in a few shops as we worked our way down the fashion street as well, but their products were far more costly than those in the market and we didn’t buy anything.
The park was quite different when we went back. Instead of looking deserted except for newly dropped off cruise ship passengers it had lots of activity going on. All the little booths were opened up into tiny shops except the information booth which was still deserted. Rows of tables and chairs were set up for outdoor eating in an area near the tower entrance that had just been open space earlier.
We paid our entry fee for the tower, which translated to about $16 for two. We got the ticket only option. For a bit more they offered popcorn and soda or popcorn and beer. There was also a burger place on the lowest level and a coffee shop just above the burger joint.
Access to the tower is by elevator. There were enough people there to make a line, but we didn’t have to wait long. Ever-changing light scenes on a wall keep people entertained while they wait for the elevator. Before boarding the elevator you have the option to have pictures taken, which they put with tower backgrounds and offer for sale at the top. Videos of scenes of the city play on the roof as the elevator rises. The elevator attendant gave out all sorts of information on the way up, but since the whole spiel was in Korean I have no idea what she said.
There’s a 360 degree view from the top of the tower. You can walk around and look out all the different windows for a variety of different views. Distances to far off places are displayed on the windows. One would assume each place is in the direction you are looking from that particular window, but the view is definitely not so far into the distance as to actually see any of them.
The view from the top is spectacular. It’s quite a large city. We could see the ship from one side of the tower. An immensely tall building towered above all the other tall buildings out another window. The covered alleys of the market sprawled for many blocks between buildings.
A large monument to the Koren war sat on a hillside, visible from the tower and other locations including the ship. The monument is at the only United Nations cemetery in the world. People from 11 different countries who fought in the Korean War are buried there.
As you work your way around the top of the tower you pass by the picture sale desk and then into a gift shop area. These things are all near the center while the outer edges remain open for viewing the city and taking photos. A barricade keeps people from making a complete circle back to the elevator, which you have to descend one level on a narrow stairway to take back down.
After descending the elevator exits into an area with black and white scenes on the walls. As you work your way through the maze you pass over windows in the floor with lights down into the deep, a dark area with an ever-changing light show, and another dark area with lighted scenery. The doorway is a couple stories up from the ground. It leads to the café or an elevator to the ground with a sign saying if you want to walk down there’s a stairway in the café. The burger place is on the lower level under the café.
The view alone makes a trip up the tower worthwhile, and all the little fun things along the way going in and especially out add fun and whimsy to the experience.