“Get rid of your politicians, then”, Jin, our tour guide commented while on a bus trip.This was her frank response to one tourmember’s comment about the dismal state of our roads compared to Busan’s , due to corruption in our government. Indeed, Pusan‘s infrastructures and road networks are world class, which made us ,Filipino tourists ,wept when reminded of the sorry state of our roads .
Our tour group were on a five day tour of Pusan, South Korea. We arrived at Gimhae International airport after approximately 4 hours air travel from Manila. Our first stop on the first day of tour was the Busan Tower which sits atop Yongdusan Hill.The viewdeck at the top gives an idea about Busan’s landscape which is dotted by numerous buildings , set against the rocky mountains. One could see from atop, the busy harbor, because Busan is South Korea’s main port for international cargo.It is very near Southern Japan, that on a clear day, it is said one can even see Tsushima Island of Japan.
South Koreans must be a romantic lot.Padlocks brought by lovestruck couples adorned the fence outside the tower.
Afterwards,we passed through the submarine or underground tunnel on the way to HALLYEO NATIONAL PARK which is composed of 400 islands and islets.Many tourists, local and foreign ,visit this scenic historical park. Admiral Yi, defeated the Japanese invaders in 1562 using turtle ships so called because the ironclad ships had protrusions like the shells of turtles. We reached one the islands, Sinseondae ,via cablecar.It was the place of victory of Admiral Yi.We hiked to the top of Mt.Mireuk at 461 meters.
Colorful blooms dotted the paths .The view was breathtaking—the islands and islets set against the calm blue sea, were postcard pretty.This place is a must see when you visit Busan.
As dusk fell, our bus made a hurried trip to the Goseong dinosaur Museum in SANGJOGAM COUNTRY PARK. Our tour guide told us to run because the museum was due to close for the day.She was going to show us the spot where we can see one of the fossilized dinosaur footprints, said to be over 100million years old.After almost a kilometer of hurriedly jogging ,and then climbing down slippery steps to the beach, she showed us the footprint. Our groupmates, huffing and puffing, were dismayed to undergo such hardship only to be shown some rocky indentation .
We were skeptical about our guide’s claim. Anyway, we just enjoyed the beautiful scenery and landscaped garden on our way back to the main building.The museum had an interesting collection of real dinosaur fossils and footprints on exhibit. There were also a number of giant dinosaur models.
We arrived at our hotel very late at night,because our bus driver, even with the aid of a GPS, was lost a number of times, once even almost ditching the bus into the water. We were very tired because of the day’s activities but the luxury of our Hotel C Palace resort in Geoje assured a restful sleep.Our room was very nice as it overlooks the sea with the mountain as backdrop.
GYEONGJU -We had an early start the next day.We proceeded to Gyeongju ,the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla , the ruling dynasty of most of the Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. A vast number of archaeological sites and cultural properties from this period remain in the city. Gyeongju is often referred to as “the museum without walls” where several historical treasures can be found. The rain didn’t dampen our curiosity in making our first stop for the day– the SHILLA Millennium Park ,a theme park which showcases the history and culture of the Shilla Period.It is also famous as the shooting place for the Korean show Queen Seondok .
The park has entertainment sites where cultural shows were held . The park features structures that depicted how the Koreans lived during the Silla dynasty.Chinese influence was very evident in their architecture.
Our next stop was TUMULI Park (Cheonmachong), an ancient burial site of the Silla dynasty.
This park (known as Daereungwon in Korean) has more than 20 large and small tombs, most of them mound shaped, and has been declared a historic site. The tombs are presumed to be those of royalty and high court officials.
Nearby is ANAPJI POND, which was built in 674 as a recreation site by the Silla Royal family.
It was a luxurious garden with a large man-made pond. Rare animals were said to have been added originally.
Next day, our tour guide joked that she was treating us to a hearty breakfast because we will need the energy for the day’s activities, and reminded us to wear our walking shoes.Our bus climbed up the winding road which was made interesting by the wild blooms and rich foliage of the mountain. We were on the way to SEOKUGRAM GROTTO. Seokguram is located near the summit of Mt. Tohamsan, east of the historic city of Gyeongju.
It was a long walk/jog along the mountain ridge,to the grotto but I enjoyed it because the weather was cool ,the air smells pure and fresh, and the scenery was calming. The eight century cave temple is a classic example of Buddhist sculpture.Unlike those in India, the grotto was not carved from the rocky mountain but instead an artificial cave was made from granite. Buddhism which originated from India, reached Korea in the fourth century through China . During the reign of Silla dynasty, it was officially recognized as the state religion. The grotto was built not only as a site for worship but also for supernatural protection from invaders as the early rulers believed .
Our next stop- the BULGUKSA TEMPLE , literal meaning Buddha Land, which was built in year 528. In 1593 the Japanese invaders destroyed it. In 1970 ,it was completely reconstructed and it was recognized as an international cultural property in 1995 by UNESCO. A large crowd was starting a beeline to the entrance when we arrived. However, even with the big number of tourists, the place did not feel jampacked because the temple compound is vast.
Before reaching the temple pagodas, we passed by a number of small bridges, said to be national treasures. The compound was also home to numerous old trees, and flowering plants. Outside the temple is a beautiful park where cherry blossoms bloomed profusely. Hawkers were nearby selling snacks that looked like insects.
Onwards our bus sped to Busan.To give us a break from the series of Korean meals,we had lunch at Outback restaurant where the steak servings were huge. We strolled along the boardwalk of Pusan’s famous beach, Hyundai beach which was near the restaurant.
The sun was unbearably hot despite the cold wind so we decided to head towards Busan Aquarium, the biggest aquarium in South Korea which houses thousands of marine animals belonging to hundreds of species.
Our last stop was Dongbaek Island, to see the NURIMARU APEC House, noted for the meeting of APEC’s 21 member nation in 2005. Local and foreign tourists abound in this area not only because of the historical importance but also because of the beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the sea. Security was tight in the sprawling compound and vehicles were not allowed . The Apec House looks like a spaceship with its dome shaped roof.
Inside,we were given a tour of the modern designed building where we saw the huge round table where the leaders conducted their meeting. The Apec House compound is a great place for jogging or even walking. The roads are well-paved, the garden aesthetically planned and the sea breeze is refreshing.
On our last night, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner– the seafood buffet at Oase Seafood Restaurant located at Jagalchi Market Building . Each table was equipped by a griller to cook one’s choice of fresh oysters, prawns, different kinds of fish, or even marinated meat .
The variety was overhelming. For those who were too hungry to do the grilling, there were cooked food choices like tempura,japchae,soup,dimsum,salad,sushi,kimchi ,etc. Their dessert choices are also plentiful—assorted cakes,pastries,fresh fruits,ice cream-if one still have a place for those.
Although tiring and fast-paced ,which was usual for packaged tours, we enjoyed this brief tour in Busan. This second visit to South Korea increased my admiration for its people ,whose workers are known for putting in the longest hours in the capitalist workplace.Their discipline and industry are evident in how they made the most of their meager natural resources .