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!