Travel Diary: A Week in Busan- Gyeongju Tour
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
When I first decided that I was not going home, because I had a whole plan and conviction to stay in Korea for three years or until I have erased my credit card debt, I was going to finish out the contract until the closing day and then take some time off and use my hard-earned coin to leave the country for a couple of weeks. I planned to either visit family in Seville, Spain, or to go on a LONG tour from Vietnam to Cambodia. I was excited to go to Thailand because it used to be Siam, the backdrop for the book, play, and movie adaptations of The King & I or Anna and the King of Siam. Let's be honest Anna Leonowens is the Patron Saint of all ESL Teachers.
Anyway, I had all these different trips and ideas and maps and I was excited to start looking for a job starting in April, and then two things happened. First, they told us that we had until the closing day to find a new job and get out of the accommodations, which was understandable, and shortly after Coronavirus, swept through Asia. Needless to say, I'm not getting on a plane for a while.
I wanted to wait to go to Busan when I was closer to a "stereotypical swimsuit body", and my best friend is here...because she is afraid of the ocean. But now seems to be a perfect time, plus the further you get away from Seoul, the air is cleaner and, according to the Coronavirus map, there are fewer instances and quarantines.
As mentioned in my Solo Trip Planning post, I started by going to Klook and finding some tours. I planned to be in Busan for 4 days and 4 nights, arriving Monday night and leaving Friday afternoon. I really like long train rides and wish that I had had the time to book a trip on the S-train, but I plan to go back again in October for the Fireworks Festival.
Let's start with this hotel. I stayed at Maximum Hotel, right across the street from Busan Station. The price was right and the pictures looked nice. The room was definitely a step up from the Must Stay Motel in Seoul. There was a bidet and a fancy shower similar to what I left in Cheonan, shower essentials, and yes I checked...HOT WATER! What the pictures and the first five reviews don't tell you is that the Maximum Hotel shares a building with some other establishments. Mainly the King's Club which presents a live foreigner band...EVERY NIGHT.
The first night was miserable! The band was so loud that I could hear them perfectly 3 floors above their performance space. I had to check to make sure that the windows were not open. At this point, I started to check to see if I missed the reviews that mentioned the band or if it was a new thing to be serenaded by 80s classics until 4 in the morning. I only found one review that mentioned the band but then I started to find mentions of the hotel being on Texas Street. Maybe I could find mention of club, a blogger had to mention this Disco Haven! No, but they did mention that Texas Street was known for the prostitution of Russian and Filipino women.
That's right, I booked a great hotel, in the Red Light District. Suddenly I was on the cusp of a mild panic attack. What if I was picked up! What if some poor trafficked girl runs to me for help? Why did that woman say hello to me; was she a madam? Was she trying to recruit me or entice me? Can I get a refund a go to the hotel across the street? How much was that again? The girl that was sitting in Lotteria looked Russian, was the Korean guy with her a friend, Mail Order Husband, or Pimp? Is the chick singing "Take My Breath Away" also a prostitute; too bad if she is, she has a decent voice.
I did not check out. I prayed and went to sleep. The Lord told me to turn on the air conditioner to block out the club downstairs and I was just fine. The entirety of my stay I never saw anything that looked like it could have been covert.
My first official day as a tourist brought on its own excitement and adventures. The next morning, when I woke up in my hotel, which may or may not be a front for the Mafia, I went across the street to the Rendezvous Point for my tour of Gyeongju. Upon arrival, 10 minutes early, I was approached by an English speaking Korean man who asked if I was there for the tour. He proceeded to tell me that I am the only one on the tour and I should follow him to his car which is not far away.
There are some things you should know about me. We all know that I am cheap or frugal depending on your translation, a private tour costs $300. There is no way I would have done this. Also, I would not have booked a potentially private tour in such a place with a language barrier to go outside of the city. Now here I am, exhausted from my 80's Hair Band Concert at the Brothel that is not run by Della Reese, and I'm just supposed to follow this man to his car. I don't care how cute you are, I was born at night but not last night! But I couldn't get a refund on the tour if I canceled at this point, so I followed behind him; meanwhile, I texted three people and let them know that I was suddenly on a solo tour and to text me every hour to make sure that I have not been snatched.
Gyeongju was BEAUTIFUL! 48 miles north of Busan, Gyeongju was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom for almost 1000 years. Our first stop was the traditional village, Yangdong Village. It is one of the largest Joseon Dynasty villages in the country. There are still people living in the village and the architecture is still preserved including the houses and ancestral altars of two prominent clans.
The tour of Yangdong Village presented a truth and posed a very important question. The truth was that I was very glad that I was the only person on the tour. I didn't have to try to keep up with a group of people that have a more active lifestyle than I do. The guide, his name was Hayden by the way, told me that he would match my pace, which included stopping half up all those damn hills. This, of course, posed the question. With all these hills, how do Koreans not have a well-toned backside?
Next, we drove up to Mt. Tohamsan only to have to walk back down it to the visit the Seokguram Grotto. Built during the Silla Dynasty, this grotto represents the journey to Nirvana. You take a short pilgrimage from the Bulguksa Temple down the winding path, on the side of a STEEP mountain until you find a small granite sanctuary housing a statue of Buddha sitting on a lotus flower. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the grotto.
If you are planning a trip to see the grotto, make sure that you, unlike me, are not expecting something from The Little Mermaid. Not that I thought that we were going to be venturing under the sea, but I did think that there was water involved; maybe an underground lake. A grotto is just a cave, Ariel's happened to be... under the sea.
While taking a break in Starbucks, I showed Hayden my photo Instagram account, its thefatphotog by the way if you are interested. Anyhow, he looks at me and says, "How's your camera at taking photos at night?" With that mildly accented, sotto voce, it almost sounded like a great classic pickup line. I had half a mind to be upset that it wasn't. We were headed to the last stop of the tour, which was possibly the best. Anapji is an artificial pond built at the Donggung Palace in 674 AD. It was important to visit Anapji after sundown. So important that we had to find a way to kill two hours before going. Anapji is lit up like the Electric Mainstreet Parade after dark. This is, of course, a recreation of the original pond that was dredged and filled in in 1974, but it's beautiful. The ducks in the pond, and the palace reflecting off the water. I also got to do my favorite thing again.
To break up the monotony of shooting one fabulous picture after another, and sometimes to get my creative juices flowing, and sometimes to get people out of the way of what I'm trying to capture, I like to stand at odd angles and see how many people I can get to copy it. Today's count was five!
After all this, I was fit to be tied. I even gave in to talking about politics on the way home just to stay awake. Hayden dropped me off at Busan Station and I went back to the Lee Street Lodge. I was so exhausted, and with my new knowledge to turn on the air-con to block out the Foreigner Tribute band, I fell asleep easily!
I wanted to do the whole week in one post...but that's not going to happen. Next up: Hop on Hop Off Busan Tour!
p.s. send Captain Crunch and Grits!