Christmas Illuminations in Nampo-dong, Busan
Christmas in Korea can often feel like something of a let down to many foreigners who are used to bigger, brighter celebrations. For many of us, Christmas is a time when the streets we live in are illuminated overnight by colourful, flashing lights hung outside our homes, grocery stores, post offices, schools… The list is endless. This lasts for less than a month, considering all the lights are usually taken down around early January, and we plunge back into normality – a world without these colourful illuminations.
On the other hand, Korea is a country where cities are almost nauseatingly colourful by night. Every night. Neon lights and signs are just another part of Korea’s scenery, along with orange taxis and street food stalls. So surely stringing up a few golden bulbs across a glowing Korean city wouldn’t make that much difference, right? It might not even feel like Christmas at all. Nampo-dong, home to PIFF Square in Busan, thankfully saves the day.
Of course, there are Christmas trees scattered around Seoul, including the famous 10 metre-tall spectacle boasted by the Hilton Hotel, but it’s hard to say that Seoul goes completely over the top with Christmas decor in December. In comparison to Nampo, Seoul hardly acknowledges Christmas! If you take the subway to Jagalchi Station and drag yourself in the opposite direction of the fish market (try your hardest, I know it’s tempting), you’ll find yourself in the very centre of Nampo. Those food stalls you’ll see are selling more than your average stall in Seoul and since it’s winter you’ll be able to find the most splendid winter treat in Korea, those warm pancakes full of cinnamon goodness, Hoddeok. Grab one from the vendors before beginning your descent into the sprawling streets of Nampo.
The buildings either side of the main thoroughfare are lined with Christmas lights that also reach out overhead to connect the stores on both sides of the street. Head left at the food stalls with the station behind you and you’ll easily come across the roundabout teeming with people trying to get a picture in front of the HUGE illuminated ‘Christmas tree’. Wander further through this winter wonderland and you’ll be greeted with street-side reindeer and other various decoration-lights of the Christmas variety, not to mention the long row of even more street food.
In winter the vendors hang the plastic walls down so that you can enjoy a meal sat ‘inside’ the stall at a fairly manageable temperature, sheltered from the elements. If you head towards the market stalls you’ll find even more lights suspended from the ceiling of the indoor markets and spread around the stalls. Heading into the markets and the surrounding streets is a great opportunity to explore a taste of life for the locals.
You might be peckish after navigating your way through the maze-like market streets, but there is a large number of small seafood restaurants in this area that you might find a little cheaper than the food on offer within Jagalchi market across the road but just as fresh. If fish isn’t what you’re looking for, Nampo has a great selection of food on offer. You can find all kinds of Korean food, lots of Japanese outlets and Chinese food that always has a queue out of the door! Nampo also has craft beer houses and cocktail bars, if you’re just looking for a drink to warm you after a day out in the cold.
It is worth visiting Nampo at this time of year, if not for the delightful food options, just to see what is possibly Korea’s best attempt at public Christmas decorations. Those missing Christmas back at home will definitely get a slice of Christmas cheer in Nampo, and those who don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t get to experience it much in their native countries will also enjoy experiencing the Christmas atmosphere there.