A sculpture of the Little Prince, the main character of the popular French novel of the same title, sits alongside the fox on the top of a fence in Gamcheon village overlooking Busan Harbour in South Korea.

Gamcheon Culture Village is promoted as the ‘Machu Picchu of Korea’ or ‘Santorini of South Korea’. The hillside slum became a tourist destination in 2009 when a public art project was launched. Artists and art students were invited to create street art, including mural paintings and sculptures. The artistic works together with pastel colours of houses make the town look lively and lovely. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

His face is expressionless despite the affection he receives from tourists who sometimes lean on his shoulder, hug him or even kiss his cheek. The sculptures are part of countless street art that attracts visitors to the community, a famous destination in Busan.

Located in the south and facing the East Sea, Busan is South Korea’s largest port and the second biggest city after Seoul in terms of population.

“Busan was home to 300,000 people, but the number surged to more than a million during the Korean War,” said Busan Tourism Organisation president Shim Jeong-bo.

People from the north and the central provinces took refuge in Busan during the armed conflict between 1950 and 1953, resulting in North Korea and South Korea. The refugees built houses in multi-tier layers on the foothills, like rice terraces.

A visitor offers food to seagulls while riding a ferry to Jangsado Island. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

After the war ended, a few returned home. As a result, Busan has a variety of food and culture from every region of the country, Jeong-bo said. Today Busan is home to more than 3.5 million people.

Busan also has another unique character — a modern city that coexists with nature. Yongdusan Park in downtown Busan, is a good example. The park is home to Busan’s famous Green Mountains. It is the venue for hosting the annual New Year Festival when the bell tolling ceremony takes place on New Year’s Eve.

Busan Tower is also in the park. You can ride its fast elevator to the observation decks to see the city from above. Although the city appears too dense, it is beautiful in the light of the golden setting Sun.

In addition to the mountains, Busan’s beaches can easily be reached by an underground train. You may spot visitors with luggage on the famed sandy Haeundae Beach.

Busan is home to the Beomeosa Temple, believed to have been first built more than 1,000 years ago. The temple is a head temple of traditional Korean Buddhism called the Jogye Order, which has the largest followers among the 25 Buddhist orders in the country. The temple was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of Korea in the 16th century and was restored to its present architecture in 1613.

The picturesque panoramic view from the top of Mireuksan Mountain. The viewpoint can be reached by a nine-minute cable car ride, known as Hallyeosudo Viewing Ropeway, and a 20-minute hike to the mountaintop. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

To attract international tourists, Busan also hosts all-year activities, including the annual Busan International Film Festival, Busan Fireworks Festival and Busan One Asia Festival or the Korean Wave Festival, which is well-known among Asean fans of K-pop music.

And yet, Busan needs more visitors.

According to the Busan Tourism Organisation, the city welcomed 2.2 million international tourists during the first eight months of this year. The top travellers are from Japan while Chinese tourists, once the largest group of visitors to the country, has sharply dropped this year due to political conflict. The Chinese government announced a policy to ban both online and offline tour agencies from selling travel packages to South Korea in response to the implementation of a missile defence system for the United States.

Busan has seen an increasing number of tourists from Taiwan and also from Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam.

Jangsado Island is a popular film location. It is famous for a tunnel of red camellia flowers, which bloom in winter. In November, only a few were in bloom. The island is about 1.9km in length and touring takes half-a-day. Island sightseeing includes the Rainbow Bridge, painted in bright orange, large sculptures, greenhouses and the shade of more than 100,000 trees. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

Thanks to its movie industry the film location magic still casts its spell as it lures more Thai visitors. Last year, Thai soap opera Mia Luang was set in Busan while other popular movies, including the zombie terror movie Busanhaeng (Train To Busan), helped attract more Thai visitors.

“We also want Thai visitors to explore more of Busan and nearby attractions,” said Korea Thailand Communication Centre CEO Hong Ji-hee, who recently led the familiarisation trip hosted by the Busan Tourism Organisation for Thai media and tour agents.

Visitors to Busan can spend a day or two in Gyeongsangnam-do, a province to the west of Busan. Jangsado Sea Park on Jangsado Island is a famous filming location for Korean TV series such as My Love From The Star, One Warm Word and even Thai TV drama series.

Galmi shabu is made of vegetables and fresh clams. The clams are boiled in a mild soup for only two minutes. It is eaten with soy sauce or chilli sauce. Thick potato noodles are eaten with it. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

Also in the Gyeongsangnam-do is the country’s longest cable car service. The length is 1,975m and can bring visitors, up to eight passengers per car, to the viewpoints of Mireuksan Mountain where you can get a bird’s eyes view of the busy Tongyeong Harbour.

Lastly, tourists to Busan should also try sashimi, the Korean way. According to Ji-hee, Koreans like to eat sliced raw fish like the Japanese, but in a slightly different style.

In Busan, locals can have sashimi in fresh markets like Jagalshi Market, the largest seafood market in the country. Seafood stalls in the market have tables to serve cooked or raw dishes to customers.

“When we order sashimi, we do not keep sliced fish in a refrigerator for two to four hours like Japanese sashimi. After the fish meat is sliced and ready to serve, we eat it immediately. The fresh fish is tastier and more delicious than cold sashimi,” Ji-hee said.

The coastal city of Busan does not fail when it comes to fresh seafood. Raw octopus, steamed king crabs or clam shabu are all on the menu.

Busan is known for its fresh seafood. Be it at the large Jagalshi Market, a night seafood market not far from the famous Nampodong shopping street, or even on a rocky beach in Taejongdae Park. One dish you may want to try is raw octopus, or sannakji. The octopus is cut into small pieces, but its arms are still active. Our guide advised us to dip sannakji in sesame oil before eating so that the food won’t stick in our mouth or throat. The meat is hard to chew so don’t take a big chunk. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

Busan is for travellers who want to be in touch with nature, but need the comforts and efficient transportation of a metropolis.

Travel info

Korean Air (www.koreanair.com), Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com), EastarJet (www.eastarjet.com) and Jeju Air (www.jejuair.net) all fly from Bangkok to Busan.

If you plan to visit Seoul from Busan or vice versa, you can take the Korean Train Express (www.letskorail.com). A one-way journey is about two hours and 30 minutes.

Visit Busan Tourism Organisation’s website at www.bto.or.kr.

Beomeosa Temple is where visitors can see the beauty of autumn with bright colours of red, yellow and green leaves on tall trees. The temple also has a forest walking trail which is spectacular in May when wisteria flowers are in full bloom. The temple offers one-day or overnight meditation courses. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

At the observation decks of Busan Tower, visitors can see the 360-degree panoramic view of the city and its port. The tower is 118m-high and was built in 1973 at Yongdusan Park. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

People still flock to the famous 1.5km-long Haeundae Beach even in the cold weather. Karnjana Karnjanatawe

News Reporter

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