During both of my trips to Busan (the first time was when I entered South Korea, the second time was so I could use Busan as a base for Jirisan National Park), I stayed at Kim’s House in Busan.
It is a hostel inside a regular single unit residential home in a very residential street near Daeyeon Subway station. I really liked it – I felt like I was living in a middle class Korean family home, yet I could still socialize with my fellow travellers.
Mr. Kim himself is very helpful, and Ms. Kim is also very nice. It’s clean all around.
In their little library of books for guests, they had The Hunger Games, which I happened to read during Busan’s super-long subway rides. For this reason, I will always associate The Hunger Games with Busan.
I remember talking to Taiwanese tourists in Mandarin, and talking to tourists from all over the world in English. I even met a guy who was wearing a Walk Free T-shirt and, yep, he works for Walk Free. He says I was the first person who ever saw the T-shirt and actually recognized the organization (he was apparently on vacation, but I know that Walk Free does work in South Korea, such as stopping South Korean corporations from investing in slavery in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields).
My last night there – when I showed up a day earlier than expected – the female dorm was full, and Mr. Kim let me use a single room for the price of a dorm bed. Like I said, he’s helpful.
I highly recommend Kim’s House if ever need budget accommodation in Busan.
So, that’s shelter. What about food? I’m vegan … and Busan has some good vegan restaurants.
My very first meal in Busan – in fact, it was my very first meal in all of South Korea – was lunch at Wellbeing Namsae Buffet in Seomyeon (i.e. central Busan). I could not have asked for a better meal to introduce me to South Korea. The food was delicious, and since it was all-you-can-eat, it’s good value too!
You can see photos of the food at this blog.
I also loved the vegan buffet Kim Mi Ja (you can see photos here) because a) it was delicious b) it was all-you-can eat for only 13,000 won c) it was within walking distance from Kim’s House and d) did I mention that it was delicious?
I went to Loving Hut – Cafe Hairlatte only once because it is in a location which was inconvenient to me, but the food was good and I remember the woman there being particularly pleasant and eager to ensure that I had a good experience.
All three of these restaurants also sell vegan instant noodles and other convenience food – it might not be the healthiest of food, but when travelling around South Korea, it was nice to sometimes not worry about finding food and just fix some instant noodles (I had container which could hold hot water and noodles in my travel pack).
I of course wanted to revisit Namsae Buffet when I returned to Busan, and I did, and it was delicious again … and just as I was finishing the meal, one of my fillings fell out. I do not blame the restaurant at all – the food was not particularly hard or difficult to chew, that tooth had been feeling strange for a while, and all of the evidence indicates that the fault lay with the filling, not the food. Nonetheless, I needed urgent dental attention.
I made some phone calls, then returned to Kim’s House to find Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim arranged and appointment for me with a local dentist that evening, and I went there. The office looked very clean and sleek, like many places of affluence in urban South Korea. The dentist didn’t speak English well, but Mr. Kim had already explained my situation. The dentist claimed they could not put in a permanent filling, but they agreed to put in a temporary filling which would last a few weeks, and told me I should get dental care as soon as I returned to the United States. The filling did in fact hold for two and a half weeks.
And the dentist did this all at no charge.
Some people are really impressed by that last point.
My first time in Busan, even though I was very excited about FINALLY BEING IN SOUTH KOREA, it was a bit disappointing. Maybe my expectations of South Korea were too high. Maybe it’s because I kept on getting lost in Busan’s streets (Busan is one of the most confusing cities I’ve ever been to). Maybe it was the long subway rides. Maybe I was simply disoriented because I had never been in South Korea before, and didn’t even know about simple things like T-money cards.
I was right to visit Busan a second time. That time, I was in a much better position to appreciate Busan’s charms – friendly people such as Mr. Kim, good food, and a big city which, somehow, goes against the odds and stay relatively relaxed for a metropolis. Aside from the area around Centum City (including Spaland and the Busan Cinema Center), Busan avoids the pretence and high airs of many cities of similar size and wealth.