Posted by: Matt Kelley | 18 April 2009

Busan’s Yongdusan Park


What do Melbourne, Osaka and Chicago have in common?  Well, they’re all considered their nation’s second cities, metropolises in their own right, yet wrapped up in feelings of both inferiority and superiority, thanks to always being in the shadow of the Sydney’s, Tokyo’s and New York’s of the world.

Korea’s second-largest city, Busan, is no stranger to such feelings towards its big brother, Seoul. Although it would be impossible for Busan to match up to the nation’s capital in terms of sheer size or cultural influence, the people of southeast Gyeongsang Province are rightly proud of their gorgeous and special city.

20090417_yeongdoviewThe view of Yeongdo Island from Busan Tower (click for larger).

Text The Gyeongsang region is famous for its feisty, hard-working people, and as Korea’s major port city, Busan can boast the natural beauty and international exchange typical of cities by the sea. Now, I’ll admit that Busan has received short shrift here on Discovering Korea, but I hope to change that this summer with frequent visits to popular Haeundae Beach.

20090417_busantowerThe modern Busan Tower stands beside a more traditional pavilion at Yongdusan Park.

But until then, I thought we’d start with a profile Yongdusan Park (용두산공원). “Yongdu” means dragon’s head, and “san” means mountain. It’s said this mountain park resembles a dragon’s head emerging from the sea. Today, this 69,000 square meter parcel of land hosts 70 different types of trees and is Busan’s most popular park.

20090417_yongdusanparkA statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin with Yeongdo Island and cranes building the massive Busan Lotte Tower.

In addition to a statue of Korea’s 16th-century naval hero, Yi Sun-shin (이순신), the bust of writer Ahn Huijae (안희제) and a monument marking the April 19th anti-government student protests, the park is home to Busan Tower, a 120-meter high pillar with a pagoda-like top. Made to resemble the famous Dabotap Pagoda in Gyeongju, Busan’s tower can’t boast the size of Seoul Tower – uhoh, here I go again – but it does offer a spectacular view of Busan’s dynamic and colorful coastline.

20090417_yongdusanviewThe colorful northwest view from Busan Tower.

The observation platform’s 360-degree view offers a high, but not too-high perspective. You can still see the details of what’s going on in and around the harbor. Impressive bridges and wharfs stuffed with small-time fishing boats compete with the working port’s container ships – dozens of which await being unloaded and loaded again. On a clear day word has it you can also see Japan’s Tsushima Island. On land, a virtual sea of modest turquoise, tan and sea foam green box-shaped houses crowd the areas around and in-between Busan’s many hills and Yeongdo Island. The effect looks less like Korea to me than, perhaps, Latin America?

20080417_lottetowerAn artist’s rendering of the 510-meter Busan Lotte Tower, now under construction.

But Busan’s skyline is in for a major change. Now under construction, the Busan Lotte Tower is rising fast directly in front of Yongdusan Park. The 110-floor supertall will top off at 511 meters (1,675 feet), conspicuously dwarfing the city around it. Depending on your perspective, these new behemoths either complement or desecrate the view.

20090417_busantower2Busan Tower at Yongdusan Park.

Also on site is the Museum of World Folk Instruments. The two-story museum includes instruments made from fruits, human knee bones and, rumor has it, rat skin. Lucky for you, visitors can try playing the instruments. There is also an Exhibition Hall of World Model Boats on hand. Some 80 models of traditional Korean yellow-hemp sailboats and turtle ships to world-famous luxury cruise and warships are on display. 

And, finally, every Saturday at 3 pm a traditional arts performance is held from March through November, and a folk music show will be performed at the same hour every Sunday starting in June. So, whether it’s for the beach or Busan’s famous seafood and odaeng (오뎅), I strongly suggest a visit to Korea’s wonderful second city.

More Information:
Yongdusan Park Official Site (in Korean)

Getting There:
map_busan→ From Seoul, trains leave Seoul Station (subway line 1, exit #1) for Busan Station several times per hour. Prices and times range from the under 3 hour journey on the highspeed KTX train (47,900 won) to the 5 1/2-hour Mugungwha train (26,500 won).

→ From Busan Station, cross the street and take the bus to Nampo-dong. Then, walk 10 minutes and ride the escalator at Gwangbok-dong Street. If you’re taking the subway, get off at line 1’s Nampo-dong station. Walk 10 minutes.

→ Buses leave the Seoul Express Bus Terminal (subway lines 3 and 7) every 20 minutes between 06:00 and 21:00. The 4 1/2 hour ride costs between 19,800-29,400 won.

Entrance Fees:
→ The park is open 24 hours and is free. Busan Tower is open 09:00-22:00 (opens at 08:30 during the summer) and costs 4,000 won for adults. The museums are open 10:00-18:00 and cost 3,000 won (Folk Music) and 1,000 won (Model Boats). Purchase all three tickets for a discount. Limited parking is available.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on April 25, 2009.)


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