With the heat wave in Korea reaching the mid nineties every day last week and humidity going through the roof, over two million people hit the beaches in Busan over the weekend to cool off, myself included. But in all my years of beach going, I have never seen a spectacle like that of Haeundae Beach in the summer. Korea’s version of Waikiki or Bondi, Haeundae is a crescent shaped sliver of golden sand surrounded by mountains and skyscrapers while hugging the East Sea (or Sea of Japan according to non-Koreans). Sounds perfect, right? Wrong. Umbrellas a dozen deep stretch the entire length of the beach, covering every available patch of sand and obstructing both the view of the ocean as well as the sun. In fact, there are so many umbrellas that Haeundae holds the Guinness World Record for the most umbrellas on a single beach for many years running. Getting past the sea of umbrellas to the waves is a definite challenge, but even more so is finding a place to swim amidst the thousands of people splashing about.
Fashion in the waves is also uniquely Korean, as many people choose to swim fully clothed. Koreans tend to eschew the sun, preferring to maintain as pallid a complexion as possible. Long pants, long sleeved shirts and hats are de rigeur, making us sun-worshipping westerners feel immodest at best.
The heat is expected to ease up this week as a typhoon blows in from the west. But if there is even a speck of sun, you can bet that the umbrellas will be raised in Haeundae and people will flock to splash. But despite the crowds or perhaps because of them, Haeundae is still among the best beach experiences to be had in the ROK.