We originally planned for a one-day trip to Busan, but realised that one day was just not enough to cover everything. Hence, we booked a room in Busan for a night! Days 4 and 5 were dedicated to exploring South Korea’s second-most populous city.
On the morning of day 4, we woke up early to catch a 3-hour KTX train to Busan. We skipped the complimentary breakfast (we had snacks of our own) and left the key at the front desk before setting off for Seoul station.
We actually arrived a little too early, in fact, early enough for the previously-arrived train. However, with no guaranteed seat, we decided to play it safe and catch the original 8am train, which we had reserved seats on. We waited patiently at the platform for our train to arrive!
Our train arrived at 7.45am, 15 minutes prior to departure. We walked along its length, looking out for the carriage number shown on our tickets. Half of the seats in the carriage were facing forward, and half backward. The central aisle was narrow, but there were overhead shelves to put our bulky luggage. In between carriages were toilets and vending machines, and food and drinks were sold from pushcarts during transit.
Besides watching the countryside and other cities across South Korea flash past, we spent most of the 3-hour journey catching up on lost sleep haha. Because of that, it didn’t feel as if much time elapsed before the train reached the terminal station of Busan. The weather was foggy and it started raining shortly after.
Our first stop was to be Gamcheon Culture Village. It was originally scheduled for Day 5, but forecasts predicted a thunderstorm. It was between Gamcheon and Taejongdae, and we chose the former.
We were trying to obtain a locker to store our luggage in while we went exploring, but faced difficulties. Thankfully, we were assisted by a friendly ajumma and her son. They even went out of the way to obtain maps of Busan for us! We learnt that they were tourists in their own country, and that they were heading to Taejongdae. As we were leaving the station, the ajumma even showed how to hold the umbrella and put my hands around Clara, Korean style! The encountered left us a positive impression of Korean people and we parted ways after leaving Busan station.
We took the Busan metro to Toseong station and got our breakfast – cheese buns – from a convenience store before taking a bus, up the hill, to the vantage point of Gamcheon. There we finished our breakfast and marvelled at the sight of what was commonly termed the Santorini of the East. Reason being, the houses were set on a sloping hill in a stepped layout, such that every house prospered.
Spotty and Boo looking so awed! Wheehee!
And a colourful Santorini it was! Every house was a different shade of colour. What a sight! This was a result of a rejuvenation project a few years back, when the government decided to inject colour into the drab village and give it new life. Tourists started paying attention, and the influx of visitors brought it to the elevated status today.
We got a map of Gamcheon at a tourist information center not far down the road (it wasn’t free, 2,000 won for one) and kicked off our little quest to obtain all the stamps at the landmarks scattered across the village. We read that upon completion of the stamp collection, we would receive a souvenir to take home with us!
Our first stop was the Little Museum, which narrated the history of Gamcheon, complete with historical photos. During the Korean War, refugees flocked to Busan to escape the advancing forces from the North. They settled down in this area and built houses, and that was how Gamcheon came to be. Even till today, it still remains a residential area.
That was also where we got our first stamp! One stamp down, eight more to go!
The second stop was an Artshop, which sold many kinds of souvenirs depicting the village, many of which were original artworks!
The third stop was Haneulmaru, an observatory we reached after climbing up a steep flight of stairs. It was also where we received our first free souvenir, a postcard! On the second floor of the building was the observatory itself, from which, in my opinion, one can get the best views of Gamcheon. And in the opposite direction, Busan Tower is visible as well. We spent a lot of time taking photos on this observatory, and we would have stayed here even longer if time permitted.
From Haneulmaru, it was a long walk to the next stop. There were lots of shops selling various kinds of goods though! Like this accessories shop, for example!
These hand-painted ‘fishes’ were supposed to be pointing in the direction of the stops! I found them moderately helpful. Murals also pop up along the way.
Ever heard of the Grand Budapest Hotel? Well, this is the doll version of it hahaha.
Along the main road, we also passed by Le Petit Prince and the Fennec Fox, icons in their own right! There was a long queue to take photos with them, so we moved on with our quest!
The “Ocean” photo zone was the fourth stop, and from it, we got to view the village from an alternative angle!
Further down the main road was the Gamnaegol Happiness Power Station, our fifth stop. It contained a cafe, another statue of Le Petit Prince with the Fennec Fox (no queue this time!), a miniature version of the village and a rooftop terrace! It was also the last stop on the main road; the remaining stops were accessible through the winding alleyways. It was time to head down into them!
The alleyways in Gamcheon were narrow and twisting and turning! Losing ourselves in there was a real possibility. Sometimes, there would seem to be no way forward, but we would always discover an even smaller alleyway leading the path!
As a result, it took us quite a while to locate the Houses of Peace and Light and the Modern Man installation. The drizzle, which was turning into a full-fledged downpour, made it even tougher to navigate.
These used to be vacant houses until the rejuvenation project converted them into galleries showcasing art. Looking out from inside, we had a magnificent view!
The last stop was, fittingly, the community centre for the residents of Gamcheon. We knew we had found it when we spotted this:
Housed inside was the last stamp, and we received another postcard as a souvenir upon completion of the map! There was a cafe and a replica of a jjimjilbang. We were soaked then, and stayed there to dry ourselves, before making our way back to Toseong station by bus.
From what we had read, a lot of people gave up at that point and took a cab back, but we were able to locate the bus stop by climbing up the Stairs to See Stars – they meant it literally when they gave this 160-step flight of stairs its name. We didn’t see stars, but that was because we were too tired to feel anything then! XD
Unsure of the bus to take, we took a gamble, and luckily it brought us to Toseong station. It was time to proceed with the afternoon portion!