15 May Visiting Haeundae, Busan with a Toddler
I’ve long said goodbye to vacations because traveling with kids—especially my kid—is no vacation. But every few months, we somehow forget the trauma of the previous family trip and muster up the courage to stuff our two back packs and embark on another trip. For the extended May holiday, we decided to indulge our wheel-obsessed daughter and take the train down to Busan.
Getting there: SRT (High Speed Train)
We took the SRT high speed train from Dongtan and opted for the “kid-accompanied” (아이동반) car no. 5 to and from Busan. These are just regular cars parents are encouraged to book to avoid nasty looks from other passengers, so there’s actually nothing special or kid-friendly about it. Thankfully, Sabine actually enjoyed the ride and didn’t fuss too much. Children under 4 don’t need a ticket if they can sit on your lap, but we’re glad we booked a separate seat for Sabine (children’s fare are 50% of adult fare), and bring LOTS of treats.
Lodging: Park Hyatt Busan
Park Hyatt Busan is one of the nicest hotels in Busan, and perhaps in the country. So obviously we booked using points (special thanks to Chase Sapphire!). We took a cab from the Busan KTX station to the hotel, and we were literally the only taxi in the driveway. Everyone else arrived in their Maserati. Seriously, I think every single car we spotted there far exceeded our combined annual income.
Park Hyatt is known for its views. We had a standard room with marina view, and even that was pretty nice. To compare, here’s our marina view from this trip (top) vs. the view from a 2013 when I stayed at the Park Hyatt with my sister who has diamond status (bottom).
The distance to Haeundae Beach from the Park Hyatt is about 20 minutes by foot, or 25 to 30 minutes by pregnant waddle. That doesn’t mean it’s secluded—it’s part of the Hyundai iPark Marine City complex, so there are a lot of convenience stores, restaurants and cafes servicing the area.
Make sure to call the hotel in advance if you’re traveling with a little one to reserve a crib (they provided a pack and play), and they’ll also include some gifts. When we went it was a baby bath set and straw cup. We also inquired about their babysitting services, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the trouble familiarizing Sabine with a babysitter for one night. The hourly rate of 22,000 won (33,000 after 10 pm) might have also influenced our decision (the local standard for hourly babysitting in the Seoul area is around 10,000 won).
One of the things we enjoy the most about staying at a hotel is the breakfast buffet, but the Park Hyatt isn’t really known for its buffet. The spread is decent, but not a selection or spread you might expect for the 45,000 per person price tag (although they do a better job than most Korean hotels of representing various Korean food at the breakfast). I think much of this has to do with the sheer size of the hotel and dining facilities as a city high-rise and not a sprawling resort. Regardless, Sabine wakes up between 6 and 6:30 every morning, so we opted for the hotel breakfast on the first night so we wouldn’t have to deal with a hangry toddler. The breakfast is served on the 32nd floor, just above the lobby. The second day, we put together our own breakfast at the little nook of our room. The night before, we went to SGG Market, a premium food mart specializing in fresh organic goods and niche products including imports you’ll be hard pressed to find in Korea. You can expect a premium—for prepackaged goods that you can find at other grocers, prices here are about 15 to 20% higher, which isn’t too bad when you’re on vacation. We got some beverages, cheese and crackers for us and yogurt and fruits for Sabine.
Dining & Activities:
Traveling and eating well with a toddler is still a challenge for us. We had a combination of decent Korean and western food, but nothing good enough to blog home about. I just wish more restaurants in Korea opened before 10 am. It’s even hard to find a decent brunch place that opens before then.
Busan Sea Life Aquarium: Not expansive, diverse or as well-maintained as I would have expected. Sabine’s young and not yet into sea life, so I knew we wouldn’t linger around doing activities and reading about all the sea creatures. I’m so glad I pre-purchased the 17,400 won “happy hour” ticket online that allows admission only after 4 pm (6 pm on weekends). The general adult admission ticket is 29,000 won, which is incredibly pricey for the quality and size of the aquarium (we walked into aquarium at 4 pm, walked the entire course and exited at 4:40 pm). Last thing: the scheming layout of the aquarium requires all visitors to exit through the gift shop (not pass, but actually walk in, around, and out), so you may be forced by your kids to go home with an overpriced stuffed polyester shark. Slightly discounted tickets for tourists are also available here.
Dongbaek Park (동백공원): This was the surprise gem of our Haeundae visit, a small former island that’s now connected to the mainland. You can walk along the stroller-friendly, pedestrian-only road that encircles the park/island in under 15 minutes and enjoy sweeping selfie-worthy views of the Gwangangdaegyo Bridge and the marina.
If we return?
The highlight of this trip was just seeing a toddler really enjoy the beach. Sabine was just so content to play with the sand and roll around in it. Because easy access between the beach and the hotel is essential with a young toddler, we’ve decided that we’ll stay at the Westin Chosun Busan next time because it’s the only hotel on Haeundae with direct access to the beach (you can actually walk out the back of the hotel and onto the sand whereas all the other Haeundae beach hotels require you to cross a boardwalk or cross a bustling two-way street to access the beach). The other perk to staying at the Westin Chosun is that it’s across the street from Dongbaek Park and The Bay 101, a trendy “culture complex” that’s good for brunch (although you really shouldn’t call yourself a brunch place if you open at 11 am), fish and chips or a cool beer on the pier. It’s also very close to the Camilla Haute branch of OPS, one of Busan’s most famous bakeries where I had one of the best chou a la creme ever!