The Kimchi-ite: Busan, South Korea’s Seaside Second City

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling

South Korea‘s second city, Busan, has become the county’s gate to the ocean, known for beaches, an extremely busy port and rich seafood culture. Located on the exact opposite end of the country from Seoul, it’s unique from the capital in more than just location. It offers more open space, a distinct dialect and a much more laid back atmosphere.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Gwangan Bridge with ships passing by makes for romantic views.

Many of the beaches on the western coast of Korea have muddy sand and murky water caused by sand storms coming from China’s Gobi Desert. However, Busan has earned a reputation for having the best beaches in Korea, with golden sand and rich, blue-green water, often drawing comparisons to Miami.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Korea’s mountainous landscape is present down by the sea.

But with fame in Korea come the crowds and by far the most crowded is Haeundae Beach. During peak times Haeundae is the perfect image of the country’s overpopulation. It is also home to much of the activities for the Busan International Film Festival, one of the most important film festivals in Asia.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Shopkeepers at an outdoor market prepare eomuk, a famous fishcake skewer.

Fresh seafood comes into the city’s harbours everyday and most often finds its way into eomuk (often referred to as odeng), a skewered fish cake and one of Busan’s most famous dishes, which is cheap and can be purchased virtually anywhere.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Busan Tower stands as one of the city’s unique landmarks.

Busan is a great jumping off point for getting to other parts of Korea, such as Jeju Island, as well as international destinations, such as cheap ferries to Japan and affordable flights throughout the rest of Asia.

For more on Korean culture, food and more, check out the “Kimchi-ite” archives by clicking here.

Interactive Website Shows Cleanest, Dirtiest European Beaches

beaches, Cyprus
Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.

Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.

Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.

Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.

The Beach Snob’s Guide To Cancun

So you’re not the Cancun type. That’s no reason to pass up a cheap flight to its airport, a gateway to lots of anti-Cancun destinations. The area has more than 80 miles of white-sand Caribbean beaches, and only a few of those are confined to the cheesy place you’ve been avoiding.

I’m a certified beach snob, and Cancun-area sands are some of the best for the money and the time it takes to fly there from most parts of the United States. The scenery and beach quality rival Turks & Caicos, the most postcard Caribbean beach I’ve ever seen.

The trick is to look beyond Cancun’s strip to the broader area called the Mayan Riviera, and your options expand to include laid-back islands, secluded luxury resorts and yoga retreats that feel like they’re located at the end of the earth. Some destinations are 30 minutes from the airport, some two hours. You can be on the beach with a thatched-roof balcony and your own hammock for around $100 per night – and no Senor Frog’s for miles and miles.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Cancun type. The spas in the hotel zone are underrated, for one. But I like quieter places away from the crowds, and more placid waters than Cancun’s. If you do, too, it’s time to reconsider Cancun airfares. Snap up a deal and trust that you’ll find a place your speed; shoulder season in late April and May (and again in September, October and November) is a great time to go because you avoid high-season hotel rates and the scorching summer weather. Here are a few destinations you might not have heard of:

The Island Vibe: Isla Mujeres
A slice of real Mexico, this small island is the closest Cancun alternative to the airport. Located six miles off the coast of Cancun and reached by ferry (pictured at top), it’s anchored by a lively town that sits right on Playa Norte, a postcard soft-sand beach. The extended shallow water appeals to families with young kids. The most popular mode of transportation is a golf cart, and for such a compact place, there’s an remarkable number of restaurants and places to stay. I like Ixchel Beach Resort for a new condo (via VRBO.com), Playa la Media Luna for a tropical beachfront bargain and Casa el Pio for a cute, cheap, in-town option.

The Luxe Life: Playa Mujeres
Quietly, this upscale area has cropped up just north of Cancun, in the opposite direction of the Mayan Riviera development and therefore totally under the radar. It’s a secluded, almost untouched stretch of coastline (pictured below) with nothing else around, the kind of place where you won’t leave the hotel unless it’s on a boat to go fishing or snorkeling. The resorts are extremely posh and expensive – think marble showers the size of a car wash and in-room Jacuzzis with indoor and outdoor access, like those at Excellence Playa Mujeres.

The Soulful Escape: Tulum
This is the only place where I’ve ever picked up hitchhikers. Bumping along a dirt road lined with small, economical beach hotels south of the well-known Tulum ruins, we passed dozens of budget travelers walking to and from the highway, where they catch a bus to Cancun. We gave a lift to an older German couple with wheeled suitcases. Every year, they said, they fly to the area without hotel reservations and call around once they land.

Tulum is located at the far southern reaches of the Mayan Riviera, a good 90 minutes from Cancun and not far from the Belize border. The beaches here are some of the most pristine on the Yucatan. Traditionally an off-the-grid backpacker’s haven, it’s now attracting vacationers who like the good life but aren’t high maintenance. The New York Times called it the fashion in-crowd’s new Miami last year. There are dozens of small hotels in this area alone, including yoga retreats and chic eco-friendly casitas. Casa de los Olas gets high marks.


[Photo credits: from top, Megan Fernandez; 917Press, Scarlatti2004 and Mr. Theklan via Flickr]

Wrestle A Shark, Become A Hero And Get Fired

shark
Back in January we showed this amazing video of a man wrestling a shark on a beach in Queensland, Australia.

Paul Marshallsea, 62, became an Internet sensation when he pulled the 2-meter-long dusky shark away from swimmers. Unfortunately for him, fame came at a price.

Marshallsea has been fired from his job as a project coordinator at the Pant and Dowlais Boys and Girls Club in Wales. In a letter quoted by the BBC, the club trustees said that although he was on sick leave during the incident he had apparently been healthy enough to wrestle a shark. The hint being, of course, that he was faking his illness.

Marshallsea objects that he wasn’t on sick leave for a physical ailment, but for work-related stress.

In a statement on their website, the club states that he was dismissed for a “variety of issues” unrelated to his holiday in Australia.

It’s a case of he-said, they-said and it’s difficult to see who’s right since the club is refusing to make any further statement to the press. You think they could have cut the guy some slack, though. If he can wrestle sharks, he can probably handle a bunch of Welsh kids.

[Photo courtesy SeaWorld, Queensland. The shark-wrestling incident did not involve a SeaWorld shark]

The Kimchi-ite: Jeju Island, An Escape From The Metropolis

In many corners of the world, winter offers nothing but a biting cold that demands we stay indoors until the flowers start to bloom. But with spring stretching its legs, it’s time we start to do the same. The best way to mentally prepare for spring and summer is to reminisce about trips from the past and to plan a new travel adventure built around shorts and sandals.


Here in Korea, Jeju Island is one of the first places that come to mind when seeking warm weather travel. A popular honeymoon destination, Jeju Island is a small, volcanic isle just south of the Korean peninsula, famed within Korea for its beaches, seafood, unique mountains and tangerines. It’ll be hard to miss the tangerines; they are sold everywhere on the island and are in anything that you’d consider edible.

A sparsely populated, laid-back island, Jeju is the perfect escape from the Seoul megapolis.

Its craggy, volcanic coast is not lined with unlimited sandy beaches like some tropical islands; however, the beaches that it does have are what I consider to be perfect, with large areas of warm, shallow, postcard-worthy, blue water.

Hyeopjae Beach, a gorgeous beach that many Koreans can’t believe is in their own country.

My favorite beach is Hyeopjae (pronounced Hyup-jay). It is far from a well-kept secret but thankfully not quite the “must-do” like Haeundae Beach back on the mainland. The view of the island mountain just across the water is a sight to behold. When I would show my Korean friends back in Seoul photos from the beach, they had a hard time believing that this was in their own country.

Seongsan, a beautifully unique rock of a mountain, known for its sunrise views.

Seongsan Ilchulbong
is a bizarre looking dormant volcano that juts out of a flat landscape, seemingly placed there by accident. It’s a great place to catch the sunrise, lending to its other name, “Sunrise Peak.”

Formed by the now dormant volcano, Hallasan, Jeju is a smattering of volcanic rock.

The most well known of all points of interest, however, is Hallsan, South Korea’s tallest mountain and one of the islands three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s an odd looking mountain that in some ways is actually the entire island itself. Hallasan is an extremely popular hiking spot offering some very accessible trails for beginning hikers.

Fishing is a part of everyday life on Jeju and raw fish is a common part of most meals.

Going hand in hand with fishing, boats can be seen at all times when near the water.

The beautiful Manjanggul Lava-tube is great for a summer day, with temperatures inside dropping to the 50s.

Manjanggul Lava-tube is one of the largest in the world and with Hallasan now dormant as a volcano, it serves as an impressive cave system. Upon first descending down into the tube system, the temperature instantly drops down more than 20 degrees, a welcome bit of natural air conditioning. Beautiful rock formations, rare animal species and awe-inspiring preservation contribute to it, too, being listed as a World Heritage Site.

The sunsets on Jeju, one of the quietest, most laid-back places in Korea.

Jeju Island is the perfect weekend getaway from the city’s mess of towers and people. It is just a short one-hour flight away from Seoul and during the right time, tickets can be in the $200 range. It’s a great place to hop on a bus and get off when something out the window looks interesting. The island doesn’t have a wealth of things to do or see, but sometimes that is the point.

To see more posts on the life, culture, food and excitement of South Korea from “The Kimchi-ite” click here!

[All photos by Jonathan Kramer]