Friday, May 1, 2015

1 May 15 – Day 1 (Busan)

Touched down at 6:40am KGT, guessed both SWT and I were still drowsy from our flight, we joined the shortest queue in front of the immigration counter even though it was stated that the counter was for Korean passport holders. I had my doubt while queuing yet I could see no other counters opened for foreign passport holders. When it was SWT’s turn, the immigration officer directed her to another counter which was on the other side of the area, blocked from our view. By the time we got to the correct counter, there was a very long queue. 

Finally cleared the immigration and collected our luggage by 7:30am. We followed the directional sign to get to the KTX counter, which was at the basement at one end of the airport, to get our 3-day Saver KR Pass. Read from TripAdvisor (TA) that one needs to show the passport, the reservation printout as well as the credit card used during reservation in order to get the pass. However, I was only asked to show the passport and the printout. Asked the lady at the counter for a timetable of the train and she said that this counter in Incheon International Airport does not have timetable of train. She then asked where we were heading to and we told her Busan. She then informed us that the next train for Busan departs at 9:07am. She handed me the KR pass and told us that it was a standing ticket. SWT and I were confused but we just accepted the piece of information without clarifying and moved off to the nearby 7-11 to get the T-money that cost W3,000 each. Remembering that it used to cost W2,500, I thought perhaps price had increased due to inflation. We then proceeded to one of the kiosks near the KTX counter to top up the cards. The machine was touch-screen and easy to use since there was an English option.

Since it was still early, we sat down to wait. SWT read the material that came with the T-money and I found out that the usual T-money still cost W2,500. The ones we paid for came with the Citypass+ option hence cost more. We were not given the normal T-money option while making our purchases. Oh well… Perhaps the convenient stores in the airport only sell T-money that come with Citypass+. Not convinced that we only need the KR pass to board the train, we checked with the lady at the KTX counter again asking if we needed any tickets for the train. She repeated that the KR pass was a standing ticket. We still did not understand but we had no other choices. We went through the gate about 8:40am and went down the track to look for Train 125. As we were not allocated any seats, we just went up car number 10, loaded our luggage at the luggage area and were considering if we should take the seat on both side of the doors. In the end, we decided to sit in the last two seats in the car number 9.

The train departed at 9:07am sharp and made stops at Geomam and Haengsin. When the train came to the Seoul station, many passengers came onboard. The father of a family tried to communicate to us that they had the right to our seats and tried to show us the e-ticket on his phone. It was pretty clear that we had to give up the seats because we were supposedly to be holding on to a “standing ticket”. So we stood up and moved to the section where our luggage was. There were already many people standing in that section, so we just took whatever space there was. A nun was facing us and she tried to strike a conversation but we had communication problem because she did not speak English and we did not understand Korean. She tried to ask a young lady beside her to translate and it turned out that she was trying to say that it would be another 2+ hours from Seoul station to Busan. The young lady asked us if we know that there was no more tickets available, we replied that we only knew about it when we tried to change for tickets. She said the same thing happened to her and we continued the rest of the journey in silence.

The train made stops at Gwangmyeong, Cheonan-Asan, Osong, Daejeon, Gimcheon(gumi), Dongdaegu and Singyeongju. During one of the stops, a young lady boarded the train onto our section. She then took out a piece of paper, placed it on the floor and sat on it. She then proceeded to take out her makeup stuff and did her makeup on the moving train. After she was done, she went on to do a beaded mobile phone charm for her mobile phone. Talking about dolling up, this young lady really takes the cake. There were many movements up and down the section because other passengers from car number 9 had to pass us by to get to the toilet. Train staff also walked up and down to check on the passengers and there were pushcarts selling drinks and snacks passing through. When a train staff saw that young lady sitting on the floor, he said some things in Korean to the rest of the people in the section. No idea what he was talking about but I was guessing that he was trying to embarrass the young lady; however, it had no effect on her as she continued to sit on the floor for the rest of her journey.

The train journey was leg-breaking because I was holding on to my heavy backpack and supporting my own weight on my two feet. Initially we were still joking about the seats at the side of the two doors; we ended up regretting not taking them in the first place. Gradually, the section got less crowded. At the second last stop, Ulsan, the seats beside the doors were empty so SWT and I quickly took the two seats. Finally, we reached Busan station around 12:46pm and tried to follow the direction given by the Pusan Inn Motel website to get to the motel but we could not find the stated exit. There was a tourist information booth in the train station so we went in to ask. Turned out that instead of the exit 10 stated, we should look for exit 9 instead. We managed to find the motel, which was not far from the station, left the luggage there and went back to the train station to try to get the train tickets for 3 May back to Seoul. Unfortunately, we were told that there are no more seats for trains starting from 5+pm onwards and those with seats are from 9+am onwards. Now I understand what “standing ticket” means. It meant that even though KR pass is cheaper than single-trip ticket, it does not guarantee you a seat. If the seats of a particular train are all fully booked, the KR pass will still allow you to board the train but you will have to stand for the entire journey, hence “standing ticket”.

Went to look for the subway station but could not find it so went to the tourist information booth again to ask. We were told that the subway station is actually located outside the train station so we went outside to look for it. We took some quick photos outside the train station before the hunt began. While looking for the subway station, we found the place where we need to queue for the bus tour tomorrow. When we failed to see any signs indicating a subway station, we resorted to ask a local aunty who gave us directions in Korean. Continue the hunt and finally found a small sign indicating the subway station. Took the subway to the Jagalchi station and took the exit indicated in one of the TA posts to look for the Jagalchi Market. Walked around the area, snapped some photos and marveled at the different kinds of big and fresh seafood available in the market, some of which we have never seen before, for instance we saw a lot of this particular seafood that look like yellow balls with red tips. Went up to the second floor of the actual Jagalchi Market, walked around to compare prices of the different stalls before deciding to settle lunch at one of the stalls which the aunty was able to communicate in Mandarin and also provide customization to the set menu to cater to our requirements.

The set menu which cost W60,000, included a big plate of fish sashimi, two abalone sashimi, two fresh prawns, two fresh oysters, a few pieces of boiled octopus, a few pieces of that yellow ball with red tip (which we later found out was called sea squirt), a plate of live octopus bits, a plate of squid pancake, one fried mackerel fish, three side dishes and a big pot of spicy seafood broth. SWT is a smaller eater than me and we could not tell the size of the portion from the picture so we insisted that we can only take the smallest set available. In this stall, we had the option of having some cooked food instead of having all seafood in sashimi style, which was offered in the earlier stall at W40,000. The aunty told us that we can have the set for W50,000 since we didn’t want the plate of live octopus bits and we requested to have one of the abalones to be grilled.

Sat down and waited for all our food to arrive so that we can take a photo with the food before digging in. It was close to 3pm when we ate lunch, the food was fresh and I like the chewy texture of the fish sashimi. Half way through eating, the aunty distributed plates of tempura to every table and said they are on the house as a kind of promotion gimmick. Nice touch. SWT and I managed to finish all the raw seafood and were left with half a fried fish, small portion of pancake and 3/4 pot of seafood broth. It was a very good meal and we left the place about 3:50pm, feeling very satisfied. We walked around the nearby areas such as the BIFF Square and Gukje Market Food Street. These two places were super crowded so much so that both SWT and I were practically being pushed along the flow. There were food stalls selling boiled fishcakes, tteokbokki, fried snacks, etc in the middle of the walkway and many people just stood round the stalls to eat.

We got out of the crowded area and headed towards the Busan Lotte Department Store at Gwangbok. We were pretty tired and once we were inside, I remembered reading in one of the TA posts that the 4-storey fountain show is a must-see in the departmental store. So found a good spot and sat ourselves down to wait for the show to start at 6pm. The show lasted for about 15 minutes and it was really good. After the fountain show, we walked around the food area but did not get any food because we were still full from our late seafood lunch. Took the subway back to Busan station and explored the area near our motel. We discovered that there is a Chinatown just across Busan station and inside is a big compound housing kindergarten to secondary schools with very nice mural on the compound wall. Perhaps it was in the evening, the Chinatown was pretty quiet.

Crossed back to the Busan train station and saw the installation that we passed by earlier in the afternoon in front of the station lighted up. We took some photos of it before entering the train station to go to Paris Baguette to get bread as next day’s breakfast. Passed by this shop with very long queue and I thought maybe it is a very good bakery shop but SWT later pointed out the shop sign indicating that it is actually a shop selling all kinds of fishcakes. Recalled seeing a fishcake museum sometime during the day and thought to myself, people in Busan are really big on fishcakes. There were some stalls outside on the second floor of the station selling cooked food such as boiled fishcakes and tteokbokki but we were too full to eat any. Passed by the lighted installation again and a fountain show was going on, so we stood around to watch. Got back to Pusan Inn Motel, settled the payment and lugged our luggage to our room on the second floor.

It was a small, simple room with a double bed and a dressing table in front of it. On the table was a flat screen tv and stuff such as toiletries, hair dryer, etc and below it was a mini fridge. Settled down, took shower before packing and firming up the plan for the next day. Finally I went to sleep close to 11pm.

Thoughts: This is my first time taking KTX and so was not sure how it actually works. Now I finally figured out the pros and cons of KR pass versus single-trip ticket. This is my first time to Busan and I find that it is not as tourist-friendly as Seoul because most of the directional signs were in Korean, most people do not understand nor speak English. Despite that, the people are very friendly and try their best to help us. Compared to Seoul, seems like Busan has more local street food and I was really tempted to eat little bit of each. Unfortunately, both SWT and I are small eaters and could not fit in anymore after our heavy late lunch. The variety of seafood was really wide and really fresh, the seafood meal was every penny well spent.

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