Busan is well worth a visit by ship from Japan if you get the opportunity. I recently joined a round Japan cruise on the Costa Victoria through Cruise Planet travel agency (Tokyo) and visited many wonderful locations around the country with a mid-point day trip to Busan.
The atmosphere of Busan is dynamic. Arriving at Busan port by cruise you'll likely dock next to the busy coast guard station complete with speedy frigates and cutting edge helicopters. In addition there were several heavy duty helicopter relics of yesteryear buzzing around us like a scene from 1950's Thunderbirds.
As you can imagine, South Korea takes it's coastal defences pretty seriously and has some impressive hardware on show. Having a perceived threat just a few hundred miles north is an incentive for defence but it also provides a secure safety net for the huge volume of commercial shipping traffic using Busan port.
The immigration process for our day visit was startlingly straight forward. On disembarking the ship, the ship's reception gave us our passport plus a passport photocopy. Immigration simply kept the passport allowing you to take the passport photocopy onto the mainland. The real passport would magically appear back on the cruise ship before departure leaving you to simply enjoy your day in Busan.
From the cruise port I opted for one of two shuttle bus routes which placed us in a renown fishing port suburb of Busan. The other route would have gone to a large duty free mall no doubt full of Korean luxury goods. The traditionally dressed K-youngsters who guided us to our shuttle buses were well educated and displayed finesse in both Japanese and English language for which they were enthusiastically applauded by the Japanese cruisers.
The dockside fish market area is really worth a look with a huge spectrum on offer from huge metre long halibut right through to tiny dried anchovy and a plethora of colourful fresh and cured seaweed. Silver skin was elegantly draped from every every stall. Knots of claustrophobic octopus were busily transported in personal fishnets from stall to stall. The fish sellers have that honest rugged look and most of the ladies beared the popular tight black no-nonsense perm - the Korean hairstyle of choice for a busy working life. If you're not into fish gawping you can head to the harbour-side dock and view the numerous trawlers and tankers crossing this incredibly busy seaway.
In Korea and other parts of Asia the Lotte brand is the Samsung of the snack-world. The Lotte empire is famous for an even wider range of products, resorts and attractions in Korea. If you are familiar with Lotte from any Japanese convenience store you may know it for ‘oishi' chocolate, ice-cream or maybe even Lotteria burgers which are much less economical with flavour than their common US rivals. Lotte have a huge department store in Busan and the 13th floor gives access to a multi level fort-like viewing platform over the docks plus the many bridges and proud civil engineering feats which symbolise Busan. If you visit with kids you can also enjoy a free rooftop petting zoo are see fairly unusual creatures such as White Peacocks, an amusing multi-cockerel crow-off; a battle torn groundhog and a slightly melancholy Deer with an overzealous hind pedicure to likely prevent it jumping off the roof. The view from the roof is impressive. Despite 13 double height floors it seems higher due to it’s elevated location. On a par with Roppongi Hills’ Mori Building in Tokyo for example.
The coffeeshop at the observation deck is a relaxing retreat with great open views and not expensive. The vibe of Busan was a long way from pristine Tokyo style and pleasantly raw and realistic. The cafe conversation style seemed a much more animated 'chit chat' and a little less careful and measured than generally observed in Tokyo. Although courteous to foreigners, not many in Busan spoke English but were forward and helpful with it if they did. Many locals spoke some Japanese though and international relations seemed very healthy between the Japanese tourists and locals on that front.
Although I would highly recommend visiting as part of a leisurely cruise itinerary it is also possible to simply visit Busan by sea from Fukuoka via their hydrofoil ferry service called the JR Beetle. Crossing time is just under three hours. Although costs are comparable with direct flights the experience is completely different plus the bonus of no wasted time in an airport.
Other tourist attractions within easy reach of the Busan port:
- The Maritime Museum and aquarium right next to the Cruise Ship terminal (free entry - great architechture).
- Busan tower for the ultimate bird’s eye view of the area.
- Gamcheon Culture Village
- Haeundae Beach
If you're interested in touring around Japan the relaxed way by cruise please check out my original cruise article outlining the great tour I took through H.I.S. Travel and Cruise Planet.