Half-Day Tour in the Yongdusan-Jagalchi Sightseeing Special Zone of Busan

Over the last 2 days (or 1.5 days to be exact) in Busan, I had stepped foot onto the eastern side of the city (Haeundae area, 해운데), the western area (서구 where Gamcheon sits) & briefly explored the central district (Jung-gu, 중구). As Jung-gu has quite a number of traditional markets, some cultural sightseeing locations & the famous Nampo-dong shopping district that I had yet to visit, it’d be a waste if I skip these! Thus, after visiting Gamcheon, I transferred to the Yongdusan-Jagalchi Sightseeing Special Zone (용두산-자갈치) for a half-day tour in the area.

It was past 1pm when I reached Jagalchi Station exit 7, & I hadn’t have my lunch yet = famished! So of course the first stop in this special zone had to be the Gukje Market (국제시장), about 5 min away from the station exit! “Gukje” means “International” in Korean, not sure why it’s so named, but probably because you can find almost anything you need in this market, originally set up by refugees who fled to Busan & set up stalls there to make a living. In fact, it is one of Korea’s largest markets, with multiple alleys crowded with seemingly endless stalls, that it’s hard not to get lost here.

1 of Gukje Market's entrances - this is closest to Jagalchi Station exit 7

1 of Gukje Market’s entrances – this is closest to Jagalchi Station exit 7

As it’s my 1st time here, I had wanted to find the traditional food stalls where customers tuck into local street food from stalls, & sit on stools along the alley instead of proper restaurant chairs & tables. But I had to give up the idea after fruitless attempts to search for them in the MAZE…. Gukje Market also connects to Bupyeong Kkangtong Market (부평깡통시장) & other smaller markets. You may think you’re walking in the alleys of Gukje, but have already crossed some “borders” unknowingly! 😛

Gukje Market 1

I was too hungry to comb the entire market just to find the old food stalls where I could have some fun eating lunch sitting on a stool, so I settled for Spicy Rice Cake (떡볶이, KRW4,000 / S$4.80) in a eatery (as seen in photo above) nestled along the rows of clothing shops. This was the 1st time I had to use a pair of scissors (provided by the Ahjumma in the eatery) to cut the long big pieces of rice cake, although I’ve eaten this local street food so many times… Interesting, & very spicy! I like! The rice cake was also very chewy, & the spicy tangy sauce made the chewy rice cake even tastier. Sidetrack, the photo of the elderly man with long beard above the menu looks very familiar. If you are a fan of the popular KBS variety show “슈퍼맨이 돌아왔다” (“The Return of Superman”) like me, you may know who I’m talking about, as the elderly man looks like the 훈장님 (discipline master) in the confucian school where he taught the kids etiquette! 😉

Gukje Market 2

Gukje Market really sells almost everything that you need, from food & drinks to household goods to clothing & so on, the list just seems endless. Even though it was a Tuesday afternoon, the market was still quite crowded in many sections. Seriously, I need to allocate more time here when I visit Busan again, so much to see, eat & buy! 🙂

After a satisfying & filling lunch, my next destination was to the Yongdusan Park (용두산 공원), one of the 3 famous mountains in Busan. I remembered reading online that there’s an escalator that would bring visitors up to the park, for a bird’s eye view of the city. However, I couldn’t seem to find the escalator & instead, saw a sign pointing to a long flight of stairs (oh no!) going up to the mountain. So I asked the Ahjussi who seemed to be the security guard at the adjacent carpark if he knew the way to the escalator, & he gave me a shocking answer that it’s no longer in operation, adding that I should just take the stairs to go up…. 😦 I really freaked out at the point because, sorry, I had developed a phobia for stairs in Korea after 4.5 days, especially if they’re long, narrow & look in dire need of maintenance! Deep down in my heart, I was thinking I couldn’t be so “lucky”… Fortunately, another lady directed me to the tourist information booth, where the friendly staff gave me detailed directions as well as a tour map with many of her markings for my easy reference. Phew!

The "life-saving" escalator that would bring me up to Yongdusan Park :P

The “life-saving” escalator that brought me up to Yongdusan Park

Maybe my Korean comprehension skills is still lousy, perhaps the Ahjussi had meant that the escalator was undergoing repair works & may not be in full operations? At least that was what I gathered from the banner in Korean at the start of this 18-year old aging escalator. There are 4 sections to this 87m long escalator & earlier in February this year, unit 2 had malfunctioned & didn’t work for 3 days. So there are plans to replace & repair the aging escalator before unfortunate accidents happen. Glad it didn’t malfunction when I needed to use it! 😉

The weather was perfect – sunny yet pleasant temperature, great day for photo-taking! Filled with mainly locals, particularly the Ahjussis & Ahjummas who visit the park regularly for a relaxing stroll & get-together with friends over a game of chess under the blossoming cherry trees. Hopefully I can lead such life when I grow old like them haha. Just some information about the park, the name Yongdusan, meaning Dragon Head Park, was because it is shaped like a dragon head & people believed it has a spirit to defeat enemies coming over the sea. Here are some photo collages for a glimpse of how the park looks like.

Conscious efforts to rebuild the park after it became a bald mountain from aftermath of 2 fires

Conscious efforts to rebuild the park with the sky-high Busan Tower after it became a bald mountain from aftermath of 2 fires

Beautiful park, no wonder the senior citizens love to gather here

Beautiful park, so nice to be sitting under the cherry trees playing chess (bottom right pic)

The escalator is only upriding, so I followed the instructions given at the tourist information booth to walk down the mountain so as to move to my next destination – the 40 Steps Cultural & Tourism Theme Street (40계단 문화관광테마거리). As its name implies, over at this street, visitors must climb up the 40 step stairway of the ’40-step Cultural Centre’. Based on images online, the stairway doesn’t look “scary”. Anyway, it’s just 40 steps hahaha.

This is a 450m-street which starts from the Jungang-dong branch office of KB Bank, near exit 13 of Jungang Station (중앙역, Busan Subway Line 1). Cafes & restaurants line the cultural street. The entire area was recently renovated so visitors can find a number of monuments depicting life in the 1950s to 1960s in Korea. The 40-step stairway seeks to honour the refugees & those displaced by the Korean War. The street was pretty quiet that afternoon, except for a few locals sitting outside a cafe & some others climbing the stairway.

The 40-step Culture & Tourism Theme Street

The 40-step Culture & Tourism Theme Street

By the time I completed destination no. 3, it was almost 3 hours since I stepped into this special zone. That means I had walked that long (again!) since the only time I sat down to take a breather was at the Spicy Rice Cake eatery. 😛 Making my way to my original destination no. 4 (Yeongdo Bridge, 영도대교) seemed to be an uphill task by then, because my knees were crying for help & I wasn’t sure if they’d allow me to walk for at least another 20 min to search for the bridge! -_-

The easier way was to return to the Jagalchi Station area, as I’d roughly know my way back. Accidentally, I found my way into Bupyeong Kkangtong Market (부평깡통시장) that I missed on my 1st nite in Busan. Wohoo~ It was still early about 4pm so the night market hadn’t opened yet, but the day market was equally interesting. It’s similar to Gukje Market where visitors can find a variety of products, but this section of the market I stumbled upon, was cluttered with food stalls. Just the right time when I was craving for some yummy snacks!

Leegane Spicy Rice Cake (이가네떡볶이) - featured in many local food programs

Leegane Spicy Rice Cake (이가네떡볶이) – featured in many local food programs

There was a constant stream of customers queuing in front of Leegane Spicy Rice Cake (이가네떡볶이) for the 15 min or so that I was there. Out of curiosity, I decided to join the queue & ordered a “튀김 小” (small portion 3 pieces of fried items) for KRW2,000 (S$2.40). Btw there were only standing seats behind the counter where customers order, & it was pretty cramped. So, many customers actually preferred to take out, though I managed to find a spot to “eat in”.

Oh boy, this delightful bowl of 튀김 was so crispily fried & tasty, without leaving a greasy aftertaste in the mouth! It’s been so long since I tasted fried stuff that good! 😉 I saw many customers ordering the Spicy Rice Cake with Fried Items set (떡튀세트, KRW3,000 / S$3.60), guess that’s their specialty since it’s in the shop name as well. Too bad I just had that for lunch at Gukje Market… the rice cake looked very yummy too. 😛 That gives me legitimate excuse to visit the shop again in future hehe…

From Jagalchi Station exit 3, go straight ahead, walk past the 족발골목 (Pig Trotters Alley) to get to Kkangtong Market, where you should turn left at its entrance, then turn right after 1 block to get to Leegane. If you still can’t find the popular shop after some time, just ask & I think most people will be able to direct you there. 🙂

I enjoyed the half-day afternoon tour in this Yongdusan-Jagalchi Sightseeing Special Zone, because part of the fun lies in discovering interesting new things by accident after losing my bearings haha. Moreover, Busan people are generally quite friendly, so when you are lost, just open your mouth to ask! Hope you’ll enjoy this place like I did too. =)

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