Our faulty attempt at seeing the artistry of Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan
I’m curious to know whether assertions like “The Santorini of the South Sea” and “The Machu Picchu of Korea” stem from travel writers enamored with comparative metaphors or from copywriters at a local tourism board. Either way, were we interested in walking amongst colorful homes built into a hillside and scattered with murals and other street art? Yes, please. Such teasers were enough to prompt our curiosity. Cathlin and I decided to spend our last morning in Busan at Gamcheon Culture Village.
Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to underestimate distance when in an unfamiliar city—and, even after a year of getting used to it, still all too easy to underestimate how long it takes to leave with a baby. We agreed on our morning plans at 6 a.m., which would give us more than enough time to reach Gamcheon, wander around a while, and get back for an 11 a.m. hotel checkout. Our main mistake was that we didn’t take a second assessment of our timing when we left more than an hour later.
It’s useful to note that Busan has a population of 3.4 million people, about half a million behind Los Angeles, across a land area nearly two-thirds of the second largest U.S. city—more closely on par with the physical size of Austin, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. We estimated we could cover the distance of roughly 10 miles from Haeundae Beach to Gamcheon Culture Village by subway in about one hour.
One of the niceties we’ve seen in Korea’s train stations is that each exit is numbered clearly and labeled with directional landmarks. Upon reaching Toseong Station, we followed signs for Exit 6 toward Gamcheon Culture Village. Photographs and promotions for our destination adorned the corridors, as if we had all but reached the entrance.
The first sign we saw above ground, however, told another story. It directed us an additional 1.3 km uphill. At our usual pace, the walk should have taken us no more than 10 minutes. For more than 20 incredibly sweaty minutes of a climb—slowed by a few busy traffic crossings along the way—we passed plenty of houses, some with colorful exteriors and unique touches. But before reaching Gamcheon Culture Village, we did reach a point of reckoning: for every minute we went forward, we were beginning to borrow from the buffer we had allowed to return, shower, pack, and check out on time.
This was not one of our finest moments. Neither Cathlin nor I particularly like giving up, even less after investing time and effort to almost accomplish our aim. I was annoyed we hadn’t left earlier and tried to make up for it by pushing further and faster. Cathlin called me out for being in a bad mood, which didn’t help put me in a better one. But as we looked back from where we’d come and ahead at where we had yet to go, she made a fair point of how rarely we’ve been disappointed while traveling.
For almost the entire walk, an American couple currently living in Korea were keeping pace ahead of us with a toddler in a stroller and an infant in a carrier. As we turned back, they went onward. But a funny thing happened once we allowed ourselves to admit defeat and disappointment: the stress of trying to get there dissipated, and we began to see the subtle craftsmanship and art forms we had overlooked along the way:
So a few lessons here:
- If you’re planning to visit Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, be sure to allow ample time to get there and back again.
- If you’re not a fan of a sweltering workout, you might prefer to wait at Toseong Station to catch the 1 or 2 bus instead of walking uphill. Or I suppose a taxi would make the trip even easier.
- If you’re focused on reaching one specific destination, don’t allow that fixation to distract from everything else you can see and appreciate along the way.
- If you’re traveling with a baby, err in favor of a carrier over a stroller on account of the sidewalks and steps.
- Lastly, don’t forget to bring enough water and sunscreen.
Our fizzle of a morning adventure ultimately involved a total of two hours on the subway and about 40 minutes of walking up a hill and down it again, but we did make it back with just enough time to avoid incurring a late-checkout charge. If you’ve attempted to reach Gamcheon Culture Village and didn’t give up, leave us a comment and tell us everything we missed.