Walking through the Sincheon and Hongdae areas in Seoul late at night, four months ago.
The Park Hyatt in Busan, South Korea, is a fairly recent addition to the family of upscale Hyatt hotels. And it’s a pretty good place to stay. Sure, the service does have some ways to go until it reaches the impeccable levels of Park Hyatt Seoul, with a slight touch of hit-or-miss, but it’s nowhere near being a major problem and, in general, it’s a really nice property. Especially from a design perspective with warm and textured interiors, an abundance of trees and leaves in the lobby area, floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden floors.
The hotel opened in 2013 and doesn't have too many rooms, giving it some of the small scale feel you get when staying at the Park Hyatt Seoul. Service is swift and pretty decent most of the time. Once you get to the ground floor main entrance, they will whisk you up to the lobby on the 30th floor and everything happens just the way you would expect it to. The lobby in itself is really quite neat. Plenty of pretty big trees everywhere with lots of green leaves, creating a light, calm and relaxed environment that I really do prefer over the bombastic and dark settings of some other hotels.
Now, the interior designs of these upscale hotel rooms tend to follow a certain set of seemingly unwritten rules, especially the ones done over the last few years. It's basically a given set of lego bricks to be placed and seasoned differently depending on what the property happens to be. Bathrooms are folded into the room in creative ways, blurring the line between bedroom and privacy, and minibars and coffe machines are put into custom fit furniture blending with the walls. And so on. Sometimes it's done balancing on the bleeding edge of contemporary quirkiness (Andaz Toranomon Hills, Tokyo), other instances manage to be bland without much of a personality (The Conrad, Seoul). And some stick with old-school familiarity by staying close to the hotel brand's default way of doing things (Ritz Carlton, Tokyo and Hong Kong).
The Park Hyatt in Busan interiors happen to be designed by Super Potato. Their previous work with Andaz Shanghai and Park Hyatt Seoul share quite a few common traits, but this one is a bit different. And I really do appreciate what they have done. Yes, the contemporary basics are there, but the execution is great. The wooden floor is warm, unpolished and textured. Colors are soft and quite Scandinavian. There's a personality. The giant windows, stretching from floor to ceiling, adds to it all. Good stuff, really. I like it a lot.
And a note on the elevators. At first glance everything seems to be set up in a way similar to the Park Hyatt Seoul where nothing really makes sense (although they recently reconfigured and simplified the PH Seoul setup) – the main entrance elevators go all the way up to the 30th floor, and from there you switch to another set of elevators getting you down to whatever floor your room is on. The thing is, you don't have to do it this way. If you go past the pastry shop a few meters and turn right, there's a separate set of elevators that will bring you directly to your floor. So much easier.
If you opt for casual dining you will end up at the Living Room on the 31st floor. Food has been delicious when I've tried it, and the views are really quite something if you stay near the windows. If you are a party of two, try and get the small table tucked into the corner towards the bridge. It feels a bit like dining mid-air because of all the windows surrounding your table in every direction.
The Dining Room is the more formal of the two restaurants. I have yet to try it for dinner but the breakfast is pretty decent. It can get rather crowded during peak weekend morning hours, though. The spacious ground floor sports a pastry shop, just as you would expect.
The Lumi Spa & Fitness has everything you would expect from an average upscale hotel spa, no big surprises here. The fourth floor pool area is big and airy with giant glass walls providing plenty of light. You get a fairly large, regular pool, and an oversized jacuzzi. The one odd thing is the lack of adjacent locker rooms. Instead, you're expected to change in a small room right next to the pool. I'm not sure if it was me misunderstanding the setup or if it's supposed to be that way, but it's a bit weird.
The hotel itself is not right in the middle of a ton of late night activity, but Haeundae beach is a short walk to the east with plenty of cafés and restaurants on the way there. The Dalmaji Art District is on the other side of the beach and yes, it does take a while to get there, but it's absolutely worth the walk. Once you get up on the hill the views are pretty stunning, especially at night with the Gwangan Bridge in the distance. This post has a handful of photos from around the area, including the beach and the views from way up on that hill.
On a side note, last time I was there I tried to find a place to rent a jet ski for a while. Turns out there is a place called The Bay 101 not too far from the hotel, on the way towards the Haeundae beach, and they do all sorts of stuff – including jet ski rentals. I ended up running out of time and never tried getting an hour or two on the jet ski, but they're there if you need them.
Be prepared to give your taxi driver detailed instructions and a glance of the google maps app on your smartphone. None of the drivers I got knew where the Park Hyatt was. Should you opt for the subway, the Dongbaek station is only a few blocks away.
It seems I can't find the time to do longer posts, and until I do, I'll try to do more photos instead. These were shot in Busan a few month ago while spending a week or so there. Really enjoyed the Ice Bean Café pictured in the last photo, just a few minutes on foot from the Park Hyatt with relaxed, informal and a bit goofy service. Good stuff. Went there a bunch of times, got myself something to drink along with the occasional waffle and sat for hours reading a book while torrential rain was pouring down, eventually creating an insanely awesome rainbow.
A few weeks ago I was enjoying a green tea latte at the Ice Bean Café in Dongbaek, Busan, when the sky presented a picture perfect rainbow. It was pretty close to a full arc but by the time I got out and grabbed the picture, the left part had vanished. Still, a pretty decent rainbow.
Park Hyatt Busan. In Korea.
I'm feeling great, walking down the short hallway from where my spa treatment just wrapped up, the sensation of insane levels of relaxation still making the surroundings a bit fuzzy. Love that feeling. Sipping on the bottle of water I just got from my therapist, I head back to the locker room, get myself a shower and a final dip in the onsen hot plunge pool, then grab my things and walk past the reception. Bye bye, see you next time, thanks, and I'm in the elevator, going back to my room to pack things up and head off to the airport.
Now what I usually would do is get the Park Hyatt people to drive me to the City Air Terminal about a block away, get everything checked in and jump on the next bus to Incheon or Gimpo. This time though, I figure there's enough time to roam about in downtown Seoul for a while before getting myself to the airport and my evening flight to Hong Kong. I leave my bags with the Korean Air check-in lady at the CAT, decline to have them wrapped – a service I believe is provided by both Korean Air and Asiana when travelling in First from Seoul – and then venture down into the Samseong subway station and… well.
It's an insanely hot summer day and the subway aircon is insufficient at best, not doing anything to prevent the constant feeling of being trapped in a boiling tin can. And then it turns out my nicely timed plan goes down the drain pretty much right away, I end up routing myself back and forth through the crazy hot tubes of Seoul's public transport, jumping off Line 7 at Sadang, dazed and a bit confused, following a bunch of people hoping that they, too, are about to get on the northbound Line 4. After a bazillion minutes I'm finally at Seoul station with no time to grab that relaxed afternoon dinner I was looking forward to, instead chasing down the maze of underground stairs and walkways and escalators and ticket gates and then, at last, I get to board the airport train without much time to spare, failing of course to board the express variety. But then again, I guess travelling sideways on a commuter type train with zero comfort isn't all too bad. At least I'm heading in the right direction, for once.
53 minutes later the doors open up onto the platform deep inside the Incheon Transport Centre (architecturally interesting, by the way, done by Terry Farrell back in 1996). My CAT pre-immigration check gets me swiftly through security and immigration and before I know it I'm having a nice, hot shower in the Korean Air First Class lounge. Lovely. And despite being short on time, I manage to down a few pieces of fruit and a tiny jar of Häagen-Dazs before heading off to my gate and the KE607 flight to Hong Kong.
More on that in a bit.