Discovering Ulsan!

korea, places, Travel

Ulsan, the seventh-largest metropolitan city in Korea, lying along the Eastern Coast, neighbouring Busan, prides itself on being the country’s industrial powerhouse, home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant and the world’s largest shipyard, both operated by Hyundai as well as the world’s third largest oil refinery, owned by SK Energy.

The facts speak for themselves, painting a picture of Ulsan as an industrious, busy city. However, while that may be extremely true, a recent trip to the coastal city provided me with a different outlook; a city which houses some of nature’s finest work, both of which are free to visit and relatively accessible.

Taehwa River Regional Garden

At a language exchange meetup in Seoul last year, an Ulsanite implored me to visit his hometown making the Ulsan bamboo forest his main selling point. Having never seen bamboo and having always wanted to travel to Japan specifically to wander through a plethora of shoots, the Seoul Ulsanite didn’t need to be super persuasive, I was already sold on the idea and made the bamboo groves in the Taehwa river park my first Ulsan agenda.

Observe my many pictures! My friends and I hung about amongst the shoots for a loooooong time, first wheeling our way through them on the seats of two seater, four wheeler bikes (only 2,000won each for an hour’s jaunt) before heading back once again on foot, snapping a variety of pictures, using a load of filters before realizing the natural look was the best approach.

I loved the variety of colours on display; some shoots were a vivid green, others muddier and there were a few baby ones that were only just transitioning to the traditional green from a golden yellow.

The park has other treasures to enjoy: stepping stones crossing streams, picturesque little corners with European vibes to appreciate, benches made from bamboo to relax on and my ultimate favourite; Ulsan’s very own shout out to the homeland in the guise of a British telephone box!

Daewangam Park

What better way to visualise nature doing its thing than to see waves crashing against jagged rocks? Two of the earth’s elements locked in an eternal battle, or maybe relationship, both magnificent alone and singular but even better combined together.

대왕암 or Daewangam, literally translates to the Great King’s Rock; a vast number of weathered rocks carved by nature and standing 50 or so metres away from the mainland within the vastness of the sea. The rocks are accessible by means of a steel bridge, adorned with LED strip lights, that once illuminated at night time make for an epic sight.

The rocks aren’t the only thing to see at Daewangam; approaching the Great King itself is a 1.1-kilometre-long walk amongst a variety of trees, pine, cherry, camellia, magnolia as well as others included, and right at the start of the walk is a u shape, decked out with a variety of cafes and eateries for visitors to enjoy before or after seeing the park’s namesake.

Additionally, just after the u shape and before the walk to the rocks, to the left and up ahead, is a hiking trail. Take your time doing this, especially when the sun is down from the sky, for it goes up and down and round and round, sometimes over smaller craggy rocks reminiscent of the Great King down by the coast. It makes for an easy hike though, one reminiscent of the Igidae coastal walk in Busan, ultimately leading out on to Ilsan beach.IMG_3091

Honourable mentions:

Bite Me Pizza:

Right on the Ilsan strip, located on a second level, with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the sea, is the Bite Me pizza parlour. Visiting both parks in one day, in a city where buses operate as the only public transport, left us all with growling bellies! The idea of a big old pizza to stuff myself with was far too tempting!

I ordered my classic, pepperoni pizza! The crust was nice and thin, for all who know me well know I despise a thick, bready dough base. The pepperoni was typically spiced, the tomato base rich and not chunky, all topped off with some herby basil – a pretty stellar pizza in my opinion!

One of my friends opted for a Korean twist to their pizza, ordering the Bulgogi one which was superbly fresh tasting, owning to the topping of cherry tomatoes and mixed salad leaves. My other friend went for some spice, selecting the pizza with the chilli pepper warning to the side, and my third friend opted for a pasta dish, a creamy yet tomatoey plate full of flavour!

Bite Me pizza was a well-deserved treat for us all! We devoured our food, paid the relatively cheap bill and headed down to the beach for a little chill before heading to our home for the night to catch some ZzZzZz.

Baeho Hanmaru Apartment:

Lodgings for the evening and what a pleasant place to rest your head! The owner/manager, although speaking limited English, is wonderful and so, so helpful, going above and beyond to accommodate my friends and myself in every which way possible!

The property itself is easily located, a ten-minute walk from the Ilsan beach strip. There is a communal kitchen for guests to use, water and coffee available on tap and each room is well secured with an electronic door lock and well stocked; shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hairdryer, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels to boot. It was a very comfortable night’s sleep after a busy, walk-filled day and at a charge of only 17,000won per person, I cannot recommend Baepo Hanmaru more!

Busan Highlight… Knockout Café! 🤪🥊

busan, places, Travel, Uncategorized

The majority of young people living and working in this marvelous country don’t simply drink coffee; they breathe it. Coffee shops are abundantly available; indeed walk along any city road and you are bound to come across at least one franchise coffee shop as well as a standalone, hipster vibing café. The coffee culture here is so ingrained, so ordinary that to visit a fancy café or simply grab a coffee to go from any coffee chain is a daily activity in Korea. I like to view the coffee culture in a similar way to the drinking culture back home in the UK. Normally, back home, a group of mates or a couple on a date will head out on a weekend to a bar to socialise or talk; sub the bar for a coffee shop, and replace weekend with every day, and you can imagine yourself in Korea.

The coffee culture doesn’t end with the cafés however; convenience stores and their fridges are always decked out with a vast selection of iced coffees, always on a 2 for 1 offer. Co-workers in any company will take pride in offering some of their hand-dripped coffee to their colleague, eagerly awaiting approval about their crafty, dark liquid. In addition there is always a big box of Maxim sachets on offer in every office; an easy to make, 3-in-1 coffee blend there, readily available for anyone and everyone needing a quick caffeine hit.

Have I made my point yet? Coffee is a staple part of life in Korea.

I spent the first year of my time in Busan exploring the many variety of coffee chains on offer; from the world-renowned Starbucks, to more Korean alternatives such as a Twosome Place (lovely cakes), finally ending up with the take-out kings at Compose Coffee (cracking milk tea during the winter months and a lush iced Choco Oreo latte during the summer).

The time felt right to morph in to a hipster and start exploring the more unique, standalone cafés pitched up on each and every single road, ready and waiting for its patrons to snap their insta-worthy shots.

On the daily, I walk around 서면 (Seomyeon), one of Busan’s hottest and more popular neighbourhoods, especially with the younger generations, and therefore my eagle eyes always spot a trendy looking restaurant or café that I add to my go-to list. Knockout café has been a permanent resident on my list for quite some time. Located down a side street, just off a main road (opposite the NC department store – always a good marker for people familiar with 서면), this café is dreamy from the get go.

The name of the café stands emblazoned in pink LED lettering, arching over a walkway that leads on to a stepping-stone path. The main entrance to the café lies to the left; a sliding door that opens to display the counter and till straight ahead with an arrangement of tables and chairs flanking the right side of the room. To the left is a cozy little love seat, padded with a soft comfy cushion, enough room for two people to just lie and relax, hidden away from peeping eyes thanks to the blue curtains containing it. Further beyond are the stairs that wind their way up revealing the true nature of Knockout; this is not just an ordinary café. Each and every seating area is designed and nurtured in such a specific and beautiful way; each table and set of chairs tell their own story. Some are styled to be living rooms, others are dining tables ready to host a dinner party. Go on up further and there is an outdoor seating arrangement: on one side, a wooden platform home to four tents, all snuggly inside with pillows and blankets, on the other, there are tables and chairs arranged under strings of twinkling fairy lights.

The café does not stop there; exit the main entrance and go to the left where there is a stairway going straight up with a doorway to the right. Through this doorway are more rooms with more various kinds of seating areas, all as wonderfully unique and lovely as the room that came before it. In general, the setup of and décor within Knockout are not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also remarkably comfortable, reminding oneself of home sweet home. A place to unwind, relax and cozy on down with a nice warm drink and sweet treat.

Speaking of a drink and a treat, Knockout’s menu provides its customers with a good variety; there are both a number of different coffees and teas, as well as smoothies, milkshakes and a whole load of cakes and other baked goods, such as croissants, scones and tarts, on offer, all lined up and on display ready for people to devour. In regards to the price, Knockout is fairly reasonable costing about 6,000\ per beverage and between 3,000-5,000\ per sweet treat. For sure there are cheaper alternatives when simply buying caffeinated drinks, both Compose Coffee and the Venti come to mind as well as convenience stores, however the coziness of Knockout is not something that can be so easily attained making it a highlight of Busan in my humble opinion and a must visit for all who crave a spot of comfort and homeliness in a city that can sometimes seem so foreign.

Public Bath House: My First Time!

busan, places, Travel

찜질방 (jimjilbang) is a 24 hour, segregated bath house; there are a variety of different baths on offer, massage rooms, a sauna and a communal sleeping room. The fancier kind even have restaurants and spas within their walls as well as entertainment activities such as a 노래방 (noraebang – singing room/karaoke). A visit to a 찜질방 on the weekend with some mates is a common thing to do in Korea and I experienced a bath house for the first time last month.

My Saturday started fairly early; I had plans to hike at Igidae park in the morning, a trek that normally takes roughly 1.5-2 hours to complete ending at Gwangalli beach. Upon arrival at the end point, my legs were tired, achey, suffering after a week in which I had stepped more than 120,000 times. My friends hit me up to meet them at 회심청 (Heosimcheong) hot springs, in the Oncheonjang area of Busan; I think the second largest 찜질방 in the city after Spa Land at Shinsegae located in Centum City. We arrived only to find that the women’s area of 회심청 was under construction and would not reopen until the 1st of June.

A little dismayed, we trudged out, back on the streets of the city with our phones in the palms of our hands looking for the next closest bath house. Naver struck gold and just around the corner was 녹천탕 (Nogcheontang or Noccheontang), a public bath house and only a bath house, that would be open for the next few hours.

We paid our entrance fee of 7,000 won each, and entered the locker room. Upon arrival, you are required to take off your shoes, are provided with a towel and a bar of soap and are given the opportunity to purchase other bath time essentials such as shampoo, conditioner and exfoliation gloves. We bought the lot, only having to shell out a couple of thousand each. You then make your way over to the lockers to prepare for the bath itself; I must admit, prior to the hike that morning, the idea of getting my kit off in a room full of other people shook me to my core, but once there, with my achey AF pins, I didn’t give a stuff! Off with the clothes, where I stashed them away in to my locker, turned the key and made my way in to the bath room.

It is a requirement to shower and clean your body thoroughly before entering the shared water spaces in all bath houses and 찜질방 in Korea (and probably the world over as it only makes sense!). Once squeaky clean, you can go about the house, choosing to dip your toes or relax your limbs in any one of the number of pools on offer. 녹천탕 had a good selection; there were two in the centre, both set to a 45 degree Celsius temperature, over on the back wall were the colder pools, one that was pretty mild but sent a fair few shivers up my spine, the other basically icy, making me whoop as I stumbled in to it and lastly a small pool, full to the brim with steaming water that almost feels at boiling point. An older Korean lady later informed me that you are meant to spend a few minutes in one of the colder pools before heading in to the roasty toasty one after she had seen me ooh and aah in discomfort whilst hurriedly thrusting my legs in to the super hot water.

In addition to the multitude of baths, 녹천탕 also has two sauna rooms; one with wet air whilst the other has dry. I’ve always found saunas a little insufferable to be honest; indeed I find any kind of extreme heat intolerable so I always make a quick dash in and out of the piping hot steam rooms. I did rather enjoy the wet air sauna room at 녹천탕 however; there was something quiet fulfilling about sitting in a densely humid room, allowing myself to simply relax, perspire and sweat. The dry air sauna was a different story altogether; in and out I was, like a flash, hurriedly heading to one of the colder pools to lessen the stifling heat!

All-in-all, the average person spends between 1-2 hours at 찜질방 or a public bath house here in Korea. Many people love to stretch out their relaxation experience by sleeping there for the night, arriving in the late evening to soak before climbing in to a pair of pajamas, tucking in to some food and finding a place to rest their head. I plan on heading back to 회심청 for the full shebang when the female section reopens in early June. Although 녹천탕 did not disappoint for my first bath house experience, I left feeling truly replenished and revitalized after my earlier hike, the timely restrictions based off of the 8pm closing time can be a limitation to others.

Ultimately, I loved the experience! My previous worries of getting nakey nakey have been subdued and I am open to making my appearance at 찜질방 or a public bath house a more regular occurrence!

The many wonders of 삼락생태공원 | Samnak Ecological Park! 🚴🏻‍♀️💨

busan, korea, places, Travel

The great thing about living in Busan is there always being a mountain to climb, a beach strip to walk along or a park to cycle around. A favourite place of mine is Samnak Ecological Park; located in Sasang-gu, you can reach the largest park along the Nak-donggang River by either jumping on line 2 of the subway where you depart at Sasang station exit 3 and walk for 10 minutes or by taking one of the many number of buses that drop you off right outside the park entrance.

The park itself is extremely large; it spans 5 kilometres/3.11 miles of the Nak-donggang River, has built in sports facilities for badminton, baseball, basketball, football and tennis, a convenience store where you can buy a snack and a drink, an extra large swing for both adults and children to enjoy, a bike rental station, various pathways just to take in the scenes of nature as well as secluded, peaceful areas to just sit and chill or even enjoy a picnic, some enclosed under wooden structures, others just open and free to all on the larger grassy patches or land.

It also plays hosts to a variety of flowers throughout the year, displaying each season’s finest foliage. In spring the cherry blossoms make their long-awaited appearance, summer brings with it lotuses and sunflowers, cosmos come when the leaves begin to fall during autumn and lastly winter is not as bare as one would expect, as Samnak displays a large number of reeds, which some may deem bland in comparison to the previously stated flowers, but are still a pretty sight swaying in the wind.

My first visit to Samnak was at the start of summer last year. I got to see the lotus flowers in full bloom! They were stunning! Exotic pink petals splashed across thick green leaves, swaying in a gentle breeze that pushed them ever so softly across they water they called their home. What made the viewing even more remarkable was the lack of crowds; every single flower festival I have thus far attended in Korea has been absolutely heaving, full to the brim with people making the experience that much less enjoyable. Therefore, I found the lotuses all the more charming given I did not have to crane my neck around copious heads.

My most recent trip to Samnak was just over a week ago. The chill around the city has started to lift, spring is indeed on its way and I saw a sunny and surprisingly warm day as the perfect opportunity to head over to Sasang and take in as much of the spacious grounds as possible. As previously stated, the park has a bike rental station available, which is located just to the right-hand side of the main entrance. There are singles, tandems and even sheltered, two-seater, quadricycles. A quick handover of my identification and 3,000 won and I was on my way, cycling around the park for one hour, getting joyously lost amongst the last of winter’s golden reeds that blew ever so elegantly in the wind.

Every time I visit Samnak, the flat openness of the area never fails to surprise me; in fact, I like to view it as potentially the flattest and most open piece of land within the heart of Busan. Whilst I was cycling, weaving my way through the multitude of paths, I could look in any direction and see the park land stretch ahead of me, dotted here and there with trees, with a backdrop of the mountains in the distance. Never once did I feel I had reached an end point or the boundary line. It is such a freeing feeling really; to just continuously move forward, onwards and onwards without the sense of overstepping a limit.

Furthermore the spaciousness is such a contrast to my local neighbourhood of Seomyeon, where the roads are so narrow and long, with buildings piled on top of one another and swarms of people about their day, clogging the non-existent pavements. Ultimately, time spent in Samnak is a welcome escape from the hectic normalities of every day city life and I implore all residents of and visitors to Busan plan to spend some time there for Samnak has something for everyone after all!

Emma’s Food Diary #3: 족발 고집 | Jokbal Gojib 🐷

food, hiking, Travel

After the hike up Geumjeongsan and the visit to Seokbul temple thereafter, my friends and I found ourselves deserving of one hell of a meal. Luckily, being in Korea surrounded by the finest Korean cuisine, we were able to divulge ourselves and devoured a traditional dish called 족발 (jokbal).

Jokbal is literally braised pig trotters; they are boiled in a soy-sauce based braising liquid, normally infused with onion, garlic, ginger and green onions along with some dried chilli peppers, until the meat is just about to fall off the bone. They are then deboned and sliced in to individual pieces, each made up of three distinct layers; the collagen-filled, shiny dark skin (colour created by the soy-sauce liquid and shine provided by rice syrup), the white fat and the actual meat itself, ready to eat with lettuce or perilla leaves, 쌈장 (ssamjang – fermented soybean paste), sliced garlic and green chilli peppers and 새우젓 (saeu-jeot – tiny shrimp that have been salted and fermented, a normal accompaniment for pork in Korea).

thumbnail (1)

The meat along with its many accompaniments: the leaves, the garlic and chilli peppers, the 쌈장 and the 새우것

Many jokbal restaurants add their own twist, through different spices (star anise, cinnamon, cloves and black peppercorns) or other ingredients, to the classic recipe believed to have been created by a North Korean refugee called Lee Kyeong-sun who ran a small restaurant in Seoul during the 1960’s. For sure, dishes using pig trotters have been a staple of Korean cuisine for years and years, however this particular recipe was borne out of a need to survive as the cut of meat itself was extremely cheap and Lee Kyeong-sun flogged the dish at a reasonable price. Therefore, undeniably, the dish became exceedingly popular with demand for it to this day; indeed many people crave the gelatinous goodness of jokbal and order it to their doors as late as 2:00am.

IMG_2100

The OG jokbal dish with two of its three layers on show; you can see the shiny, gelatinous skin here as well as the white fat below

Furthermore, jokbal is a prime example of a Korean 안주 (anju), a term for food that is best consumed with alcohol. Indeed, as well as 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal – barbecued pork), Koreans love to eat their jokbal with soju, beer or 소맥 (somaek – a mixture of beer and soju together). The list of anju does not end here; Koreans tend to eat their fried chicken with beer and there is a long standing tradition of eating 파전 (pajeon – green onion pancake) with 막걸리 (makgeolli – Korean rice wine) on rainy days.

I first tried jokbal in September of last year; after filming ‘Perspective’, my friends and I converged at 족발고집 (Jokbal Gojib – Papago translates this as ‘sticking pig’s feet’ which I’m sure isn’t 100% accurate but let’s go with it) to both discuss our next film making venture and provide us with the opportunity of trying one of Korea’s more famous dishes. 족발고집 is located close to exit 2 of Myeongjang station, on line 4 and is owned and ran by a friend of a friend. As previously stated a lot of jokbal restaurants like to add their own twist to the classic recipe and the owner/chef at 족발고집 likes to add soju to his braising liquid; apparently it not only helps rid the meat of impurities and odour but also adds more overall flavour. I must admit I was rather hesitant to try the meat initially given the foot element but once I saw the dish in front of my eyes, and tried my first helping of tender meat, I was hooked.

thumbnail

The location of 족발고집 from Myeongjang station – the restaurant is the red smiley face and really is a short walk away from exit 2!

Therefore, after traipsing all around Geumjeongsan and building up quite an appetite, I suggested a trip to 족발고집, merely a short bus ride away from our ending point at Mandeok station. We arrived and straight up ordered a large portion of both the spicy and non-spicy versions as well as two portions of 주먹밥 (jumeokbab – rice balls). The rice balls arrive in a large bowl, a mixture of sticky rice as well as a variety of vegetables, normally chopped carrot, green onion and 단무지 (danmuji – pickled radish) with a topping of dried, shredded seaweed, sesame seeds and just a drop of sesame oil. A plastic glove is also provided for you to dig straight in and mix it all together before forming and squeezing your very own rice balls.

IMG_2096

주먹밥 (rice balls) before their formation!

A whole host of other side dishes are also provided at no extra charge; there is a steaming bowl of 어묵국 (eomukgug – fish cake soup, a stone pot brimming with 계란찜 (gyeranjjim – steamed eggs), a platter of 쌈무 (ssammu – thinly sliced, pickled daikon radish; different from the aforementioned danmuji which is yellow in colour), 무말랭이무침 (mumalleangi-muchim – seasoned dried radish strips), a double sided plate with ssamjang on one side and saeu-jeot on the other, as well as each person having a shallow dish filled with soy sauce, chopped onions and a little blob of wasabi on the side, free for you to mix in to the sauce or leave as is.

IMG_2104

Us lot with our two jokbal variations! You can see the shallow bowls of soy sauce and onions in front of each person

I absolutely love everything on offer at 족발고집. I personally love eating the non-spicy version of jokbal as 쌈 (ssam), taking either a perilla or lettuce leaf, placing a piece of meat on it with a slice of garlic, some ssamjang or saeu-jeot on top (one or the other as both have a distinct flavour and are pretty salty) before wrapping it up and putting the entire thing in my mouth. The combined flavours are an absolute umami winner and the meat melts in your mouth so perfectly complimented by the crunch of garlic and leaf.

thumbnail (2)

An example of a 쌈; here we have a piece of meat atop a lettuce leaf with garlic, chilli pepper, onion and 무말랭이무침 (the dried seasoned radish strips)

For the spicy version, I like to wrap a piece in a thin slice of ssammu, for the sourness of the pickled radish hinders the spiciness just a little, allowing my taste buds the opportunity to relish the flavour a little more than they would if I just dove straight in. I must add here that the spicy sauce is normally made with some of the braising liquid mixed with both 고춧가루 (gochugaru – dried chilli pepper flakes) and extra hot dried chilli pepper flakes. It does give a spicy punch but is nonetheless delicious when mixed with the meat, chopped cabbage, sliced carrot and topped with sesame seeds.

IMG_2098

The spicy jokbal that packs a punch!

The rice balls too and the variety of side dishes are all superbly tasty! 족발고집 is a real treat of a restaurant, a personal favourite place of mine to go and fulfill any burning jokbal desires. In addition, I find my skin also benefitting from my love of braised pig trotters, for I like to believe the collagen gives me a more youthful and plump complexion. Ultimately I strongly urge any and all visitors to Korea make trying jokbal, as well as other staple dishes such as samgyeopsal, 비빔밥 (bibimbap – mixed rice) and 떡볶이 (ddeokbokki – stir fried rice cakes) a number one priority. Furthermore, if you find yourself in Busan, keep 족발고집 in mind and head that way for a taste of Korean heaven!

A part of Geumjeongsan and Seokbulsa! 🗿

hiking, Travel

There are numerous routes to take however we started our journey at exit 1 of Oncheonjang Station so I will be giving directions to follow should you ever wish to complete this the same way. Here goes…

A short walk from Oncheonjang, guided by Kakao Maps, leads you to Geumgang Park. Take the path furthest to the right, follow it around until you reach the cable car base (look for the ropeway signs). Pass the office and turn slightly left on to a pathway with a small incline that stretches out in between the parkland.

On and on along this path you go until you reach the trail; you know you have reached the trail when you get to a clearing on your right surrounded by the bushes of the park with a few steps across from you. Up you go, walk a little further along the level ground and then the real hike starts, for 80% of the hike up to the cable car platform are super steep stairs. Climb up, up, up. Even when your thighs are screaming out for you to stop, keep on going! You know you’re halfway up once you reach a small temple stowed away between a few rocks.

Continue on up the stairs… once you’re about 3/4’s of the way to the top you will see an extremely large rock which makes for an excellent viewpoint. I’ve climbed this peak twice now and both times, my mates and I have perched on this slab, chugging water, eating snacks and enjoying the view that stretches in front of our eyes, from the reaches of Nopo all the way to Dongnae, encompassing landmarks such as the Asiad baseball stadium and Busan Children’s Park.

IMG_2043

Atop the large rock

Onwards and upwards you go; the stairs start to level out once you reach a whole bunch of oversized rocks through which you climb, come out the other side and take an immediate left. From there you will find yourself on a muddy surface, still there are some steps but they aren’t as steep as the ones further down the mountain. Follow them through and you’ll find yourself at the cable car platform; a relatively flat area where there are shops, restaurants and restrooms.

IMG_2746

The view of the city from the cable car platform

The path to Seokbulsa also lies here; look for the signpost pointing the way to the South Gate (남 문) for these will be your best guide for quite some time! The path to Seokbulsa can become rather confusing, but you will know once you reach the South Gate, for it is a large decorative archway with a set of double wooden doors. The trail towards the South Gate is on a decline; a muddy route where the gate itself stands at the bottom but then has a sharp turn downwards to the left.

Start to look for different signs at this point; either Seokbulsa (석불사) or Seokbul Temple. Bear in mind that the signs always lead you in the right direction however they tend to give you varying estimations of the distance left to travel. We set off from the South Gate with information from a signpost that the temple lay 3.1 kilometres away; the next pointer told us we were 3.3. Drove us all a little mad but made us laugh nonetheless!

IMG_2052

The confusing signposts: the top sign is Seokbulsa in Hangul and the third is the same destination – you can see the difference in distance remaining!

The majority of the route to the temple is super easy; a mixture of muddy and rocky paths lead you mainly downhill through Nammun village where again there are numerous restaurants and a restroom. Given the time of year we went, in the midst of winter, the trees were extremely bare and looked parched of life, however, it still made for pretty surroundings and I can only imagine how lush the trek would be in spring and summer time.

The last stretch of the journey to Seokbulsa is rather difficult; a winding, steep incline that the signpost will say is 500 metres but feels like a million. I recently learned that many Korean Buddhist temples employ the use of a winding path that crosses a stream leading up to the main gate of the compound. I’m not sure as to the reasoning behind this despite my research however I did not notice a stream climbing up to Seokbulsa but I may have missed it given the burn of my quads occupying all my focus.

The compound itself is extremely unique and superbly pretty; it lies nestled atop a ridge on the mountainside with nature rolling out beneath it. Another characteristic of Korean temples, indeed older ones, is to be situated atop a mountain; the seclusion and therefore impeccable quietness only adds to the peaceful, serene quality Buddhist worship evokes. However, Seokbulsa was only founded in 1930; the particular location was chosen by the founding monk due to the sandstone surfaces that were made of use for purposes I will explain below.

IMG_2081 (2)

The majority of Seokbulsa’s compound

Within the compound are numerous buildings and structures showcasing traditional Korean architectural style and displaying a multi-coloured paint job said to ward off bad spirits thus protecting the place of worship. A stone pagoda stands outside the main hall; this is extremely important for it represents the Buddha and the teachings but also houses a symbol of significance, a relic of the Buddha, an important sutra or other religious artefacts.

For me, the most impressive aspect of Seokbulsa, the reason why the sandstone surfaces are so important and pretty much the reason that implored me to venture there in the first place, are the statues carved there. Towards the end of the compound, you will find stairs on the left that lead you up to a platform surrounded by engraved rock. It comes as no surprise to me now to learn Seokbulsa literally translates to “Stone Buddha Temple”; the walls are covered in sculptures, handcrafted by the monk who founded the temple and some of the carvings stretch high across the rock face, standing at about 10 metres tall. You can’t help but feel like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft standing there observing such a magnificent sight!

Indeed, I now consider Seokbulsa to be my favourite temple out of all those I have visited in Korea. “Stone Buddha Temple” is a real hidden gem; so tranquil, so undisturbed, so noiseless, calling Busan home yet seemingly existing so far from the hustle and bustle of the city and crowds of people milling about below. Furthermore, unlike Haedong Yonggungsa, a seaside temple that is a short bus ride away from Haeundae station, Seokbulsa is not teeming with both local and foreign tourists.

After marvelling at the wonders of Seokbulsa, you can make your way down using the same winding pathway and there on out follow the signs for Mandeok (만덕). The descent itself, as always, is shorter than the ascent and we found ourselves at Mandeok station almost exactly five hours after we began our adventure. Sure, that sounds like a hell of a long time but it was worth every second!

Emma’s Food Diary #2: Oscar’s Taco Shop 🌯

food, Travel

Living in Korea and trying to find familiar food that isn’t a burger (yes, sometimes even this burger queen needs a break) or a pizza (love me some pepp and pine) is not the easiest of tasks. However you can always count on the foreigner friendly area of Gwangan to serve up some delicious, non-native scran!

On my most recent jaunt along the Igidae Coastal Walk, my friend and I decided to continue our stroll onwards towards Gwangalli beach. I had heard about a small Mexican restaurant right on the strip opposite the sand and sea that serves up mahoosive burritos, and after walking with only a few pieces of apple in my belly, the prospect of such a thing was too much to resist…

Enter Oscar’s Taco Shop!

IMG_2281

My friend and I approached it from the ending point of Igidae however it is super easy to get to; make your way to Gwangan subway station, exits 3 or 5 and walk directly towards the beach (about ten minutes). Take a right at the GS25 on the corner and then walk for five more mins along the beach front and here it is! Un poco piece of Mexico right in Busan!! It is a fairly small place, it has a couple of tables inside and one outside on the pavement as well as a breakfast bar type of seating arrangement by the kitchen so keep your eyes peeled for the sign above otherwise you may miss it.

The menu is fairly small; it consists of three burritos, two types of tacos and three quesadillas as well as a variety of nachos with different toppings. I went straight in, HAM, and ordered myself the California burrito. It is the most expensive thing on the menu priced at 15,000₩ however each and every bite is worth a million. The tortilla is jam-packed with not only the staple ingredient of rice but a plethora of other foods; avocado, kidney beans, seasoned beef steak, pico de gallo, chips, cheese (ofc!!), salsa and sour cream. It is a beast of a burrito to behold! The chef even commented that not many can rise to the challenge and polish it off but, as previously stated, I only had a third of an apple milling about inside of me and therefore the challenge was taken on and completed!

IMG_2286

Helloooooo baby!!

Also shout out to the chef for his homemade salsa; I had already taken a few bites before he recommended I try it with and his recommendation proved to be golden! His salsa had just the right amount of a spicy kick and fused well with all of the other flavours popping off in the tortilla; overall its flavour was heaps better than any store bought salsa or hot sauce, something you often find to be the case with food created from scratch.

It is also worthwhile mentioning that Oscar’s is veggie and vegan friendly! Needless to say I am not one or the other but I do have many friends who adhere to a more plant based lifestyle. Indeed the friend who came with is pretty much vegan; she was over the moon when I initially told her about the veggie friendly Mexican joint but was even more thrilled upon ordering and trying her very own (veggie) California burrito. If that seems too large for any veggies out there then you can also opt for the no meat tacos or the strictly cheese quesadilla.

So if you are a local or an expat living and working in Busan or if you pop by for a visit, make sure you check out Oscar’s Taco Shop! I will for sure be going there again if ever I need fulfilling sustenance after another hike but to also try the other Mexican classics available on the menu; mainly the beef quesadilla which I have on good authority is delicious and served with a homemade guacamole dip!!