Yongmunsa Temple, February 2015. “Hi I’m River, so nice to meet you!” he said, clamping a hand down on my shoulder. It was early morning in Seoul and I was incredibly hungover after a beer-fuelled night of noraebang (Korean Karaoke) had led to full-on alcohol carnage at Club FF. I was a virtual zombie in the car as River sped off for the fifty-three kilometer journey. Located in the sleepy country province of Yangpyeong, the walking trail up to the temple complex begins here in the forest valley of Yongmunsan Mountain.
Muse On LP Bar, February 2015. Busan’s vinyl-collecting muso community can be found at this trendy city centre bar in Haeundae district. I’d been randomly strolling the streets when I saw the sign outside a towering building on Banpo-dong. So I ducked in and made my way up the stairs to the 3rd floor.
Muse On LP Bar, February 2015. A seat at the bar gets you face to face with the house vinyl collection, lovingly attended to by the duty DJ. He doesn’t get involved in serving drinks, he’s exclusively there to keep the tunes rolling, grant requests and make sure everything is filed in the right place. A man after my own heart!
Muse On LP Bar, February 2015. Be prepared to put your hand in your pocket! The beers are pricy but varied and icy cold. There are also plenty of cocktails to choose from and drinks usually come with some salty nibbles.
Muse On LP Bar, February 2015. According to the barman, Muse On’s owner is a sound system buff who’s been collecting antique stereos and speakers for over thirty years. The bulk of these bits and bobs are stored in a corner of the bar.
Muse On LP Bar, February 2015. I made a friend that night, a local boy who was taking some time out from hardcore studying to clear his head, unwind and enjoy some tuneage. I remember it being a wildly eclectic playlist, with the vibe switching between the likes of The Carpenters and Pixies, to Talking Book era Stevie Wonder and The Beta Band.
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Jagalchi Fish Market, February 2015. While on the face of it Busan might seem like an unashamedly modern city, there are plenty of opportunities to tap into its traditional roots. One such experience is the weird and wonderful Jagalchi Fish Market in the commercial district of Nampo-dong. Fittingly located on the edge of Nampo Port, this is the biggest fish market in Korea!
United Nations War Cemetery, February 2015. This beautifully landscaped graveyard, located in Busan’s Nam district, is the world’s only United Nations cemetery. Constructed in tribute to UN command casualties in The Korean War, the fourteen-hectare complex opened in 1951. My self-guided tour started here at The Memorial Hall where a short film takes you through the cemetery’s history.
Haeundae Beach, February 2015. Not only is Haeundae considered the prettiest of Busan’s two beaches, but do a bit of digging around online and you’ll find a bucket of platitudes along the lines of “The most gorgeous beach in South Korea”. My own Haeundae experience came on a grey, chilly February weekday morning. While it’s safe to say I didn’t see the place at its shimmering best, Haeundae still succeeded in channeling a calm and dignified majesty, free from all the distractive trappings of summer tourism.
Seoul Subway, February 2015. I’ve never really done a Top 5 like this before. Maybe it’s because I normally associate subway journeys with claustrophobia, stress, inconvenience and smelly armpits. But in Seoul all my experiences were a total breeze, from the wide, spotless ultra-modern carriages to the pleasingly icy air con and abundance of available seats. Sure, things got more hectic during rush hour, but still a piece of cake compared to the hell-on-earth ordeals of Beijing and London.
Changdeokgung Palace, February 2015. The UNESCO World Heritage listed complex of Changdeokgung is one of five grand palaces in the city of Seoul. If you’ve only got time for one, this is where you should head! Originally built in 1405, a number of Joseon Dynasty kings lived here over the years, chiefly due to the stunning beauty of its palace gardens. Today the palace can only be visited as part of a guided tour. And it all starts here at the main gate (Donhwamun).