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.