Busan, a coastal town in southeastern Korea and the country's second-largest city, is no longer just Seoul's neighbor to the south; today it is a tourist destination in its own right. White-sand beaches and a crashing surf that give way to a mountainous terrain, colorful thousands-year-old Buddhist temples, and fresh seafood are among its remarkable attractions.
Almost every luxury brand is represented in the Shinsegae Centum City Department Store -- the largest department store in the world, minutes away from the shopping district of Nampo-dong, home to the famous Jagalchi Fish Market.
"Busan is coming on strong," says Peter Jang, chief marketing officer of the Busan Tourism Organization.
With a new airport in the works scheduled for completion in 2026 that will connect Busan to 100 global cities, its position as an international meetings destination is only likely to grow. The sixth-most popular container port city in the world and the third-busiest trans-shipment cargo port, Busan connects thought leaders from these industries to international meeting planners is commonplace, according to Jang.
A labyrinth of terraced houses painted in a kaleidoscope of pastel colors awaits visitors in Busan's Gamcheon Village. The history of this artsy enclave is an interesting one, as it started as an ascetic religious community. Its population swelled during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, when a mass exodus of refugees settled here. This shanty town has been transformed into a funky maze of charming shops, cafes, art, and stunning views. In 2009, artists were invited to add their touches, their canvas -- walls, stairs, and sides of buildings.
Path markers in the form of colorful fish, created by local children, lead the way. A popular photo site is posing next to the Little Prince and the Fennec Fox
, a sculpture by resident artist Na In-Ju that gazes out into the Busan Harbor. In-Ju, one of nine artists who live in the village as part of an artist-in-residence project, is accessible to groups when she is in town.
The Busan International Film Festival, Asia's largest film gathering, is based at the Busan Cinema Center -- an architectural marvel with a cantilever roof soaring over an outdoor plaza that can seat up to 4,300 people. The exterior has 42,600 LED lights synchronized to create magnificent visual displays, in the heart of Busan's conference district.
Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO) is an approximately 295,000-square-foot facility with two exhibition halls, a 4,000-seat auditorium, and 22 conference rooms. A popular venue for dinners and banquets of up to 800 is the Nurimaru APEC House, originally built to host the 13th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2005. The name is a combination of two Korean words: nuri
, the world, and maru
, a summit, and denotes a house where the leaders of the world gather. Situated right on the coast, the APEC House is nestled on Dongbaek Island surrounded by a scenic walking path.
Unique venues to hold special events abound. One of the newest began as KISWIRE Suyeong wire factory and today is F1963, an art gallery, coffee shop, and special event venue.
The world's only United Nations cemetery is also located in Busan -- the last resting place for more than 2,300 UN personnel from 11 countries who lost their lives during the Korean War. The Korean government gave the 35-acre property to the United Nations in perpetuity. Twenty-one flags, representing each country involved in the war, gently blow in the breeze at this peaceful resting place for the fallen. Striking juniper trees line the paths, their bark used by some as incense.
Engraved in the Wall of Remembrance are the names of 40,896 UN troop members who lost their lives during the war. A country of harmony, a pool of water in front of the wall is the ying while an enteral flame in its center is the yang.
Busan's beach is one of the most popular in Korea, just steps away from a forest with the smell of pine wafting through the air as you make your way to an area that locals call, "the million-dollar view," overlooking glistening skyscrapers. How's that for ying and yang?