Homestay in Busan Korea and Seoul

I consider myself lucky sometimes (hehe) and I may just have found another kind of experience that I would highly recommend for future Korea travels. This is Homestay Korea 101 - let me recount one of the guiltless and priceless moments I ever had in all of my trips to Korea. I've had a number of inquiries on this already and I think it's about time I give you another sneak peek at my home away from home in Busan a few weeks ago. For security purposes and for the protection of my awesome host-turned-big-sister, kindly get in touch with me through the contact form if you are interested to stay in this particular host and property =) Update, this host has moved to Seoul so I can recommend for Seoul Homestay too! Woo-hoo. Use the contact form for more info!

A few months before my trip, I remembered emails from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) about a homestay placement program, free tour guides in different cities and free shuttle buses to an from Seoul to Busan and some other provinces. I was already impressed with the Tourist Information Centers all over Seoul and have been using the Visit Korea KTO website since 2009. Now, these new additions are what I call a full-scale tourism campaign, don't you think?! Fast forward to less than a month before the trip, my travel buddy (who took over the arrangements) told me that he booked one property already through an agency (tell me if you would like to book for homestay in different parts of Korea =)). Not sure whether this was a good idea or not and not sure if he followed my instructions to go through the tourism website, we paid online a dollar rate per person per night plus a placement fee. I was actually surprised with the rate, the total turned out cheaper (if you are only one person, if your group is odd-numbered, think double occupancy) or more/less the same with hostels or backpacker inns (if your group is even-numbered) and, of course, cheaper than nice hotels in Seoul and I wasn't sure if this was because we were staying in Busan. We risked it and, as I said, it turned out great and beyond expectations. Let me tell you why:


Our Bedroom
The first bedroom is good for 2 people. Take note that this is a traditional marble bed with a ondol heating system underneath for winter. Cool huh? =) I slept with a very straight back for the first time haha. Some people may not be used to a hard cold bed. You can always sleep on the floor too or on the sofa bed hehe. There are 2 bathrooms - with hot-and-cold showers, sinks and toilets. 


There's plenty of space for my luggage (kept on adding as the days went by haha).


This is the other bedroom - same but smaller marble bed. One person gets to sleep on the floor. Our host gave this up to sleep on another room - the office.


Our Living Room
You can choose to sleep on the softer couch bed. This pad can easily fit 10 people if you're game to sleep on the floor - Korea style =)


I woke up at 5 a.m. one day and passed by the living room. Obviously, this view from the large windows of the apartment took my breath away.


Our Kitchen and Dining Room
We had our breakfast (included) and worked out the itinerary here every day. The fridge was stocked and there was coffee, tea and juices haha. I discovered that the Del Monte Prune Juice was nice thanks to our host. Hey, I asked permission and restocked with a chocolate cake hahaha. I helped cook some golden mushrooms with our host, Min, and she taught me to use sesame oil and bamboo salt. Yummy!


We arrived at night and we were very hungry so our host helped us settle in and called to order some BBQ Chicken for our first meal (bet we couldn't do that without her) hahahaha. I got addicted to the original-flavored ones and the radish squares! Ordering in from Korea's famous chicken houses is definitely a must-do for a Korea trip! Better if you're in a group so that you can finish and share the cost (I think around 15000 won = $15) hehe. Spiiiicy!!! hahaha.


Breakfast and Food
This is Gyeongju's famous Red Bean Bread (called Hwangnam Bang). Our host went all the way to Gyeongju for this and let us taste this while waiting for the BBQ Chicken. Who wouldn't fall in love with her on the first night - so sweet, thoughtful, welcoming and accommodating?! =)


Our first breakfast were cereal and milk but when we asked about a Korean traditional breakfast - we got these and more on the second day! Woah hahahaha. Bulgogi and Leek Omelette with Rice one day...


Kimchi and Curry Rice the next...


Spoiled me kept on eating her personal supply of Salted Seaweed at every meal! Hahaha. Wrap rice in this and put side dishes if you like and you're set.


There are other side dishes with the meal and this was my favorite - her mother's homemade Leek Kimchi. Ako ang taga-ubos per day hahaha =)


Our Host, Getting There and Getting Around
We took the airport bus to Centum City (7000 won each, Bus #1 or Bus #2 stops at Centum Hotel near BEXCO) and from there, it's around a 10-minute taxi ride or if you're lucky like us, our host met us at the bus stop haha. The apartment is "near" the Shinsegae Centum City (Metro Subway stop when you get there), one of the largest, if not the largest, department stores in the world and the Busan Cinema Center - the center of the BIFF (Busan International Film Festival). I say "near" because if you're going there and you walk slow like us, it would take you around 30 minutes (to walk, cross the bridge then cross the street).


On the other side is Gwanganli Beach (Metro Subway stop when you get there). Our host says she can walk all the way there, in around 15 minutes but we are not as fit as her so maybe a minimum x2 that rate (not sure, we didn't try). 


From her pantry window, she pointed us to the temple that she and her mother goes to. Obviously, you can't walk from here to near there haha.


I would recommend taking the bus to go places from here (in front of the apartment complex gate). Either one you take 210 or 83-1, you'll see a stop near the Subway (Metro) station. From the Subway, you can get to Centum City and to other places. Just remember this Millak-dong Prugio Apts. stop (it's the only English you'll get haha. You'll get the hang of it in a day or two =) Oh um always have change (coins and small bills) or carry a T-money card for the bus and subway.


A Night Out with our Host
Our host was so nice! We arranged a date with her one night haha. She took us to a Korean BBQ restaurant where she and her family dine in. The Galbi with Yanyeom sauce was a winner.


She took us to Geomyeon Mountain (Geomyeonsan) next for the Busan skyline. We would have never found this and get here on our own without our gracious host. Wala lang, speechless! I know you've seen this picture before, it's the one I used for asking you what feel-good travel music you would play if you were faced with this spectacular view.


Grocery shopping made more sense when she was around. I still have to brush up on my Hangul skills... everything I see is still boxes and lines hahaha.


My View

I'm missing the awesome Eunni (big sister) and Busan as I write this now. It's a nice thought that you will come home early for this view of the yacht club, the Rainbow Bridge and the Park Hyatt Hotel from high up in the apartment's living room =) It may not be that close for me to the subway stations, you can actually take the more adventurous route and try deciphering the Busan bus system haha. If not, the walk will surely offset all the food and calories you will put on in Korea. Or or take a taxi (it's okay I do it too sometimes) to get where you want to.

What I'm saying is - this is how living in Busan is probably like when you get your own apartment there. It may not be in the most convenient spots but there is always a way to get there. I was lucky enough that our host was generous enough to give us time and sometimes, drive us. Do take note that this is mostly not always the case. The homestay experience is definitely a journey in itself within a trip. How about a family or even just a friend who will welcome you back to add to that experience?

Some tips I could offer include:
  • Just pay ahead so that you wouldn't have to worry anymore. It makes both, host and guest, trust each other more (they are putting their home out there for you too you know).
  • If you're not sure, ask nicely. Don't demand and abuse. Not everything is free and not every request will be granted because you only paid for staying the night. Most likely though, they might be the super generous kind. Just a disclaimer: not all the extra benefits I wrote about here, you'll get like the date night and the car rides haha. The food may also vary and the apartment availability has to be discussed before you book. 
  • Be very careful of their things and be considerate of their house rules. These are not hotels or hostels where you can take off and be on your own without regard. Just spare them from the worries (like getting home late and they don't know where you are) and bring your own toiletries and consumables. Refill if you have to. You asked for a homestay experience, think ahead if you can take sleeping on the floor or on the hard marble bed. They give you the details anyway and you can inquire before you book.
  • Spend some time with them but don't forget to ask if they are busy first. Plan ahead.
  • Keep your host's number at all times and keep multiple copies. He/she can be your only friend in the whole of Busan and your guide if you get lost.
  • Practice and learn Korean with your host!!! It will most probably stick this way. She speaks good English already by the way.

I'm coming up with a recount of my Busan trip soon. In the meantime, head over to my Things to Do in Korea, Off the Beaten Track and Fun Things to Do List for some suggestions.

Are you going to Busan soon? What do you think about my homestay experienceIf you're looking for a homestay experience in Korea outside of Busan, contact me =)

Would you consider staying in this home away from home in Korea? Have you ever done a homestay or couchsurfed? Tell me all about it and your thoughts below!